Learn from the Experts: Petro Design Blog


Kathleen Litchfield President of Petro Design/Build, Inc. Kathleen Litchfield
President of Petro Design/Build Group, is one of the Washington area's leading landscape and garden design experts. Her insightful advice on landscape design, construction, and practice has been published and quoted innumerous regional and national magazines. She has developed and taught accredited courses in horticulture and has lectured for garden clubs, the National Association of Remodeling Industry, the Landscape Contractors Association, the Smithsonian Educational Series, the George Washington University landscape design program, and the Washington Design Center.

Kent Richard Abraham, Principle Architect with Abraham/Petro Kent Richard Abraham,
Principal Architect with Abraham/Petro a division of Petro Design/Build He is a member of the US Green Building Council 2006. His education includes Bachelor of Architecture, 1970, University of Nebraska, With Honors (Cum Laude),Awarded the Faculty Award, Outstanding Senior Student; Master of Architecture, 1971, University of Pennsylvania, Studio of Louis Kahn. He has served as Chair, Thesis committee school of Architecture and Planning, The Catholic University of America Washington, DC since 1978.


Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Beware of the “End-of-Season Nursery Sales”

The weather has cooled, after a record hot summer, and what a perfect time to get your yard back in shape.  It’s always the best time to plant (warm soils with cool air) and the nurseries are desperate to reduce their inventory before winter sets in.  The sales are irresistible!

Specimen plants with a canvas of mulch do not 'frame your home or guide you to the front door'

Specimen plants with a canvas of mulch do not ‘frame your home or guide you to the front door’

A confusing, high maintenance bargain.

A confusing, high maintenance bargain.

Nurseries are inspiring places and you can easily lose yourself in the end of season energy and crisp oxygen high.

For some, finding something unique could be the very thing to enhance their; well… “I’m not sure where I’ll put it but “IT’S JUST SO COOL!” 

Remember, plant material is not furniture or accessories.  They are living, growing and sometimes invasive, disease/fungal carrying, damaging long term additions to your real estate.   They are not something you can easily move to a different location or re-cover if you change your mind about their color to coordinate with the new color of your shutters.

Landscape design is most cost effective when considered on paper first.  There are lots of questions to consider that start with your basic premise for wanting plants in the first place and end with how much maintenance you are willing to commit to.  As a rule of thumb; your front plants should frame your home and guide you to the front door.  Flexibility can be used in the rear yard extending the views from the inside – out.

Before our initial meeting we request that the homeowner complete a 5 page questionnaire to help them organize their thoughts, needs and desires, on paper and provide us with the background information we need to guide them in the right direction for their site and personal taste.   Even a one-on-one consultation on site with an experienced professional landscape designer and/or horticulturist could help you avoid costly impulse buying at the nursery this fall.  Yes, nurseries do have horticulturist and, sometimes, landscape designers but remember – they need to move their stock.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

It seemed like a good idea at the time

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Mulch Mania!!!

It is truly amazing every single year how we continue to pile on the mulch.  I’ve tried to analyze the mentality of this manic practice (specific evidently to the Washington area) like I’ve tried to get my mind around why someone would throw a piece of trash out a car window.  What chronic disorder would possess people to invest hundreds of dollars and time on a seemingly ritualistic annual self-imposed duty?

Is it because the neighbors bought a truckload of mulch and are doing it? In other words ‘sheep syndrome’ or ‘neighbor envy’?

I know that nurseries make huge amounts of money encouraging the practice. So; great marketing, but on what basis? Granted that over-mulching is a number one contributor to death and decline in plants so it makes sense for a nursery to encourage this practice.  It’s a win- win for them!  Nurseries also sell a variety of edgings to hold your mulch in the beds!!  Brilliant!!

A few years back I designed and installed a landscape for a stone yard to draw attention to the use of stone within a planted area.  About 6 months later I went back to see how it had matured and was shocked to see that all the groundcover had been removed and the natural shapes of the plants had been tortured into tight balls; your typical gas-station variety.    I asked the owner ‘What the   ?”  His reply was that no one could see the MULCH!!!!??  So; it IS about the mulch itself?  Maybe this is really the reason as you can purchase a variety of interesting colors to display.  So, why buy plants if it’s about the mulch?

Mulch is a by-product of the lumber industry.  They had a problem disposing of the bark.  Someone came up with the idea of redistributing it instead of hauling it away.  This initially might have been a good idea but, somewhere along the line, it got way out of hand.

My understanding is that developers encourage mulching as a way to redistribute the clear-cutting methods they used in development.  Piles of chipped trees were costly to remove.  Why not make a profit with a campaign for necessity?  Once I saw a Cadillac pulled over at a construction site on a Sunday with the driver shoveling a pile of left-over wood chips into the trunk; but I digress. Anyway, we’re now talking about wood chips which are even more detrimental to plantings.

Love the smell? Could it be a great way to get your hands dirty without getting really all that dirty? What else?

Let me tell you what the over-use of this by product DOES do.

  1. Over- mulching encourages surface rooting.  Think about it.  Roots are starved for air and water and climb, gasping to the surface, in an attempt to survive.   Winter comes and the roots are in a loose medium that cannot protect them from winter freezes
  2. Mulch acts like a wick. In dry periods it sucks the water away from the roots and in wet periods it wicks water and holds it, providing an environment which encourages the growth of root rot, stem canker and a variety of other fungal organisms.  Have you ever noticed a pile of what appears to be “dog vomit” on the top of your mulch?  This is truly what it is called in the trade. I’ve seen it covering the branches of an azalea which, by the way, is one of the many fibrous rooted plants that suffer terminally from over-mulching.  This “dog vomit” is the product of high humidity levels, irrigation systems or rain with mulch and can be deadly to plants. Plus, it’s gross.
  3. Over mulching raises magnesium levels in the soil causing a collapse of the structure of the soil leading to its inability to absorb and drain water.  When the soil becomes wet it expands and when it dries out it gets very hard.  This expands and contracts the root system.   Rather than mulching year after year; cultivation would alleviate this condition.
  4. Mulch is anywhere from $25 – $50 per cubic yard.  Plus labor and/or your time x 2 times per year…adds up over time.

As a contractor, I shouldn’t discount the business potential of mulching.  I could get myself a truck-mount mulching rig and certainly reduce my recession stress.   As a horticulturist, a recent graduate of the Watershed Academy (which included 6 months of sustainable awareness training), and as a responsible contractor, I won’t do it. In fact; once the initial planting installation is completed and  mulched with 1” in  groundcover areas and 2” in planting areas I can assure my clients that, as the groundcover establishes, their maintenance and watering will be reduce considerably, as will their maintenance cost.

If weeding is your concern; weed seeds root much easier in loose mulch than in soil and typically even arrive in the mulch.  Groundcover helps hold water in the soil, chokes out weeds and is considered a ‘sustainable’ practice.

Here’s the depressing but unavoidable bottom line; the nurseries are jammed with people filling their trunks with bags of mulch. Homeowners, encouraged by the reasons above, are having truck loads of mulch delivered and installed this very moment.  I have lectured, written and pleaded with homeowners about this topic for close to 30 years and those very same people will be the ones with over mulched beds yet another year.

To me; mulch mania falls in the same category with plant shearing, Round-up® mania and possibly, littering.  People are still going to do it regardless. But, at least, I’ve made yet another attempt to reduce this practice.

First Impressions…

AFTER

 

BEFORE

As Spring approaches let Petro Design/Build getcreative and design a custom “First Impression” for you…

The new entry seen below practically beckons you to enter.  The doorway is highlighted by beautiful Upright Hornbeams, while the rest of the architecture is softened by the additional plant material.  The previous gravel drive was transformed into a drop-off area for guests.  A garden bench is tucked into the perennial garden for a visitor’s respite.

 

Spring Garden Inspirations

Are we ready for spring yet? The good thing about lots of snow and ice is that it does make you appreciate spring even more. I’m planning my garden tours, lectures and articles while sitting by my fire at home.
I just received the latest Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage Tour schedule. What a great opportunity to see some of the most beautiful homes, estates, historic sites and gardens in the state! My interest is in the details (good and bad) that I gather for lectures and articles. Things like – ‘great ways to deal with drainage and erosion issues…or really bad ways; interesting ways to screen utilities; the use of plant materials in unusual circumstances and the like. Very fun and educational.

Go to www.mhgp.org for information on the upcoming House and Garden Pilgrimage

Early Spring in Timonium

Feel, smell and see spring early this year at the Maryland Home and Garden Show. Petro Design/Build has been on the judging panel for over 10 years and, it’s true that the displays ‘just keep getting better and better.’ This years theme is ‘Beautifying your Outdoor Living Space’.  Go to www.mdhomeandgarden.com for dates and times.

Fall is the Time for Planting

fall is the time for plantingIf you thought Spring, the time of natural renewal, was the best time for planting, you might be surprised!   FALL…. is actually the best time to let roots take hold and give your new garden time to develop and grow.  The parts above the ground may have to deal with the cold onset, BUT the roots will continue to grow and prosper till the soil below starts to freeze, well into winter.  This gives the plant months to “take root” versus trying to immediately acclimate and produce leaves/flowers/etc.  in the hot Spring and Summer months.

Currently, Petro has several great planting jobs in progress, including a job along the water in the Mount Vernon, Virginia area.  This planting features native buffer plantings, framing beautiful veiwsheds to the water.  Species included native grasses such as Panicums and Carex, tolerant perennials such as Salvia and Rudbeckia, and, beautiful roses.   A second plant installation nearing completion is located in woodlands outside of historic Ellicott City.  Specified in this project are unique natives like Winterthur Viburnum and Mahonia, better known as the Oregon Grape Holly.

If you are thinking about new plantings, now is the best time.  Contact Kathleen to schedule an appointment.  Or if you are looking for planting ideas, visit a botanical garden.  Petro recommends Meadowlark Botanical Garden in Northern Virginia by Wolf Trap or Brookeside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.

Lechuza Self Watering Planters

PETRO RECOMMENDED PRODUCT OF THE MONTH: LECHUZA self watering planters

lattice wall with flowers

 

Form meets function in this innovative growing system by LECHUZA. LECHUZA self-watering planters feature a sub-irrigation system that allows appropriate self-watering for up to 12 weeks depending on the plant type, planter size and location. In addition, LECHUZA planters include removable drainage plugs and an interchangeable plant liner to be used indoors or outdoors.

This delightful product includes simple elements such as a water level indicator, a supply shaft to make watering and adding fertilizer quick and easy, and a separator, which forms and separates a water reservoir within the planter. This system makes at home plant care simple and carefree for frequent travelers or those who simply can’t find extra time in the day to exercise their green thumbs.

The secret to LECHUZA planters doesn’t lie solely in the mechanical pieces, but in the plant substrate used in place of soil. The plant substrate, called LECHUZA-PON provides optimum watering and supports root aeration. Nutrients are stored and released only as the plant needs them and unlike soil, LECHUZA-PON does not compress by itself. The mixture is reusable and adjusts ph-value as well.

 

Petro has successfully installed self-watering LECHUNZA planters for multiple residential projects. These planters are high quality, durable products that are UV and frost resistant and will maintain their appearance for years. Below are photos of design projects where we’ve used self-watering planters to provide aesthetically pleasing outdoor accents to private homes. 

For more information regarding LECHUZA self-watering planters and related products, please visit the LECHUZA website at http://www.lechuza.com.

Petro has on staff LEED AP!

Landscape Architect, Colleen Bathon is LEED AP certified! LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is an internationally recognized certification system highlighting the importance of green building and sustaining our environment.

The program was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and provides building owners with a framework for implementing and measuring practical green building design, construction, maintenance, and operations. Using the LEED process will help promote sustainable design, buildings and development.  This certification can be applied to both residential and commercial building types. LEED aims to achieve high performance in several areas of human and environmental health including sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and environmental quality.

If you are interested in how your home/building could apply for LEED status, OR interested in learning more about sustainable applications for your site contact us.  info@petrodesignbuild.com

For more information on LEED, visit www.usgbc.org.

Chicken Gardening – Sustainable Landscapes

What better way to ensure that you have fresh, organic eggs than to have your own hen house?  Today’s site development plans are no longer limited to vegetable and herb gardens, berry cages and compost bins; they include ‘designs’ for a family run hen-house. Yesterday’s hobby of water gardening is today’s producing chicken garden.

As a child growing up on a few acres, my father raised 45 chickens, several ducks and honey bees, seemingly to help sustain our family of 11.  I’m sure, though, he enjoyed the challenge, variety and fun of this endeavor.  He even grew mushrooms in our cellar!   These practices have come full circle as families, again, try to sustain from within.

It’s more than a personal interest;  reducing reliance on mass produced eggs and chickens reduces the waste run-off into critical waterways, eliminates the energy and fuel consumption necessary to transport and refrigerate, and sends a message about the cruel conditions that mass produced chickens are raised under.

Hen house ‘designs’ can be stylish and fun but keep in mind that this is not a weekend hobby. They must include security, shade, nesting areas, feeding areas, ventilation, protection from storms and weather, lighting, access and adjoining (or close-by) storage for ease of maintenance.

You do need space.  The average chicken will need 4 square feet of coop/house space and a minimum of 10 square feet of ‘run’.  Free range chickens are, naturally, just that and require much more space.

Make sure to check your local zoning laws before investing, as cities, counties and towns all have varying criteria.

Earth Day 2010

Happy Earth Day from Petro Design Build Inc.

Branch out and celebrate Earth Day this Thursday!  April 22, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary.  Events, lectures, etc. will be taking place through the weekend in celebration.  We’ve listed a few below around the metro area we think would be great opportunities to “branch out”.

Thursday, April 22

2nd Annual Green Drinks for the Bay: 5:30pm, Severn Inn, 1993 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd., Annapolis

AIA Spring Lecture Series: Jerry van Eyck, Narration of Urban Settings through Integral Landscapes, 6pm Brown Center, MICA, Baltimore

Historic Sherwood Gardens is in full bloom with 80,000 tulips!  Absolutely breathtaking, a must see if you are in the Baltimore area.

Chesapeak Ecology Center:  Volunteer Needed,  Orientation: 1-3pm, Chesapeake Ecology Center, 245 Clay St., Annapolis

Saturday, April 24th

Earth Day and Family, Music & Kite Festival: 10-3pm, Quiet Waters Park, 600 Quiet Waters Road, Annapolis

16th Annual Sierra Club “Earth Day” 5k: 8:30am Quiet Waters Park, Annapolis

Sunday, April 25th

MD House and Garden Pilgrimage: Tour Historic Guilford in Baltimore City, home of Sherwood Gardens

St. Georges Day: PG Historical Society with gather at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upper Marlboro to celebrate the 314th anniversary of the establishment of Prince George’s County.

Earth Day Climate Rally: Washington DC on the National Mall