Monthly Archives: February 2011

Southworth Consult

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The Southworth Family recently purchased their first ‘brand new’ home and had never put in landscaping before.  Like many new homeowners, they suffered serious sticker shock when they realized that it would be far more expensive than they had budgeted to have the landscape fully-installed.

Design Resource helped them plan their landscape to include the desired ammenties then provided them with a basic black and white on-site sketch.  Even our site sketches are done ‘to scale’ so that accurate materials estimates can be generated.

Ultimately, the Southworth’s contracted out several of the site preparation services to sub-contractors (site grading, concrete, trenching and sprinkler installation) but did the rest of the work themselves, ultimately saving a significant amount of money.

DIY: How To Install Landscape Edging

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I know what you’re thinking- why in the world would I want tacky plastic edging? Well, because it’s only tacky if it is improperly installed, and it is almost ALWAYS improperly installed! Done right, inexpensive edging will keep grass in it’s place while also serving as a swale ( a rounded depression) to collect excess water and a catch-all to prevent run away mulch from ending up on the lawn.

Initial trench being dug for landscape edging.

Sean Jones and the crew of Solscapes (a Salt Lake City based Landscape Construction firm) are going to show us how to install inexpensive edging in a way that looks great (or more importantly- looks invisible!). First, we start with a good-quality edging. For homeowners, Sean recommends the contractor-gradevariety available at Home Depot or Lowes or other big box store. While you are there, pick up a large box of landscape staples- you can find these near the weed barrier mat products. Do not buy any of the landscape stakes made to go with the edging – you won’t need them.

Sean demonstrates the needed hardware

Wrong way: The problem with the ‘recommended’ installation is three-fold:

  • Edging with soil packed in on both sides can easily “frost heave” which means it is pushed up out of the ground with the freezing and thawing cycle of soils.
  • More importantly, the standard install gives you LITTLE barrier against invading grass.
  • Loose mulch is likely to slip right on past the edge and into your lawn.

The WRONG way to install andscape edging. Don't follow box instructions!

Done the RIGHT way, inexpensive plastic edging will:

  1. It will collect any mulch or bark which sloughs off your planting area and ‘hold’ it until you can rake it back where it belongs rather than cluttering up the lawn.
  2. The most IMPORTANT function is that the swale makes it very difficult for any grass root runners to hop the edging and get into your garden bed. Roots which find their way around your plastic edge will only find air on the other side- not soil- and thus there is nowhere to dig those roots in and RUN. This is why it must be deep and wide- to ensure that it outwits encroachment by our very determined lawns.
  3. It provides an area for excess water to collect and percolate into the ground.
  4. It creates the visual illusion of bermed (mounded) planting beds.
  5. It creates a crisp transition line from lawn to bed that is all but invisible from the lawn side (the most common viewpoint).

Landscape edging done my way (which makes it right!)

    Now, let’s install it!

    To begin, lay out the rolls of edging on the lawn to warm in the sun which will help them become more pliable. While that’s going on, dig down the edge of your border. And I mean dig down- a good 4-6 inches! This is the first place people mess up the installation. You should have a crisp, straight edge. Now go back over it and make sure there are no lumpy spots on the lawn side of the edge you’ve created.

    You want to create a swale that is at least 4-6 inches WIDE before you slope back up to your landscape bed. This creates the illusion of bermed beds (or makes the berm appear taller than it is- thus saving on the amount of soil needed to create them). The open swale is there for three reasons:

Note- you cannot make a swale as shown above with concrete edging. It will undercut and destabilize the concrete, eventually causing it to fall into the swale and break. Just one of MANY reasons I personally do not like concrete edging (gasp!). The technique described here CAN be used with aluminum or steel edging if you have the budget to buy the expensive stuff!

    Now, the installation. Lay your edging in the swale and create any joints needed to connect the pieces. The edging comes with small plastic rods that you are told to insert end to end to connect the pieces. Don’t do it that way! Instead, you are going to use a sharp knife to cut about a foot of the round bead off the top of piece one and a foot of the flat plastic edge (but not the bead) off piece two. Place the rod in beaded ends and connect with the pieces overlapping. This will create a MUCH stronger joint that will not come apart easily.

    Top of edging is just above soil line on the grass side.

    The edging should be placed so it is about 1/2 inch above the soil line on the grass side. Most of the edging will be visible from the bed side- even after the soil is packed in place and the bed is mulched. Use 2 staples to secure the end against the edge. Hammer them in with a rubber mallet or heavy duty hammer. The staples should go in horizontal or with a very slight downward angle. If you created your swale properly, it’s easy to hammer these in because you’ll have good access. You will note that there is still and inch or so of soil below the edging- that’s fine. Apply more landscape staples as needed along the edge about every 12 inches or so- use your judgment.

    Once the edging is in, use discarded soil dug from the trench to fill any gaps between the edging and the lawn and pack it down well. Make sure you walk the bottom of the swale and pack that down well too.

    Now sculpt the bed edge to make the swale nice and gentle from that side, making sure to leave the bottom in tact. Apply mulch or rock to the beds and you’re done! Installed this way, the edging will be invisible from the lawn side, creating a crisp visual transition, and it will STAY installed for many years to come!

    If you’re still reading this- great! This topic may be a little dry but it is one of the main questions I am asked by DIY Homeowners. And now you know how to install it too!

Succulent Topiary

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The 2011 Spring Home & Garden show is rapidly approaching. This year we will be collaborating with the new DIY Landscape Center to offer a wider range of products and services for homeowners who wish to achieve the high-end look- minus the high end price.

Although we don’t design a full garden for the show because it’s not cost-effective for our business (though our egos would LOVE to do it sometime), we can still come up with some cool special effects that our clients can duplicate. One such effect is adding succulents plants, both hardy and tender, to your landscape. We’ve done it up two ways- the easy way and the hard way.

Easy Way:

Succulent INSIDE the Topiary Frame

Pot up a larger succulent, like the ‘Flapjack’ plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) in that same container and do the reverse. Obviously, this is a MUCH easier method! (and about 2 hours into the topiary project I was WISHING I’d opted for this route).

Cagged Kalanchoe Closeup

Hard(er) Way:

Basic design elements, ready to assemble

A simple wire frame, filled with moss and soil, then carefully planted with a gorgeous array of succulent colors and textures. We’ll provide a complete tutuorial over on  The “finished” topiary below isn’t really “finished”.  The plants that were already rooted need to establish themselves.  Over time, the topiary will fill in until little moss is visible.

Topiary is planted and will now be greenhoused to ensure good rooting occurs.

Note: Utah Garden Blogs is a collborative, non-profit blog that seeks to improve the many aspects of climate-specfic gardening and design through a ‘virtual garden club’. Design Resource founded and sponsors Utah Garden Blogs but the blog is the work of a number of talented amateur and professional gardeners. End note!

Succulent Selection

As so many people enjoyed they ‘greenwall’ we created last year with flats of mixed sedums, we’re hoping to offer up something even better this year. We shall see if it all comes together or not but whatever happens, you wont’ be disappointed in either our products OR our services!

Portfolio Project #1

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Portfolio Project #2

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Design Don’ts- The Landscape Island

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The ‘before’ yard was rather generic and unfortunately I don’t have a picture of it. You’ll just have to trust me that it was the standard ‘Utah’ yard- complete with landscape island!

So, what is the deal with the landscape island anyway? It seems that nearly everyone in Utah believes they are supposed to have one- whether it makes sense in their yard or not! If YOU have one of these, consider eliminating it in favor of a landscape peninsula. What’s the difference? See below.Originally, the planting area on the right side of the photo was just an island. There was grass between the island and the house and neither the house nor island were ‘grounded’ in the landscape.

Landscape islands are psychologically uncomfortable and often improperly scaled or illogically placed. They go against your natural instincts and often camouflage the architecture landscaping is supposed to enhance. Sometimes, in an effort to avoid hiding the house, they are pushed the edge of the yard leaving bits of unusable grass that nevertheless requires a lot of water and maintenance.
The addition of a path and reconfiguration of the island shape now connects the island on one side to the house and foundation plantings. The island is ‘anchored’ into the landscape and the house blends into the landscape better.

In the landscape shown in this entry, we took an existing island and ‘anchored’ it by adjusting the shape and creating a path between the former island and the foundation plantings.

The path also creates a way to drag the garbage cans out on their proper day without messing up the lawn- a landscape still needs to function for the way real people live. Now, here is the part that is confusing because while an island is USUALLY a no no, you CAN create a peninsula (jutting out but attached on one side or end) and have that ‘feel’ just right. Confusing I know so I guess you’ll just have to trust me.

I’m not sure where the ‘before’ photos ended up but the island area was just a big circle of random plantings plopped into the lawn with little thought or reason- something everyone has seen dozens of times on any given street. There was no pathway to the backyard and the whole thing was BORING.

Here’s how we solved the problem. Oh- and notice the grade change we created within the beds, that also creates a feeling of ‘enclosure’ or protection that IS psychologically comfortable. I don’t think this landscape is my ‘best’ work because I’m finding my own style more and more with each subsequent landscape but I’m still happy with how it came out.

And a couple more photos of the rest of the front yard.

The pink flowers are one of my favorite- ‘Coral Canyon’ Diascia, common name Twinspur. This is the only Twinspur that is hardy in Utah and the Intermountain West. It will perform like an annual, bloom begins in late June and continues until it’s just too darn cold- as late as December for me in my Zone 6b landscape. It certainly makes the list of ‘Best Underused Plants’ and as an added bonus, it is waterwise!

Landscape Design: Cynthia Bee, Design Resource

Landscape Installation: Sean Jones, Solscapes

  • Recent Posts

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      DIY: How To Install Landscape Edging
      I know what you’re thinking- why in the world would I want tacky plastic edging?...
      Read More »
    • February 20, 2011
      Succulent Topiary
      "We're kicking things up a notch for the 2011 Salt Lake Tribune Spring Home and...
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    • February 12, 2011
      Design Don’ts- The Landscape Island
      The ‘before’ yard was rather generic and unfortunately I don’t have a picture of it....
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