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.


Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

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.

Garden Clutter

Oh, it’s been a long winter, as evidenced by the copious amounts of garden ornament and furnishings (often still in the boxes), awaiting warmer temperatures.  Those enticing garden catalogs were hard to resist, as their focus is on wonderful outdoor summer life; something that seemed so far in the future.  The down side to all this early buying is that it was purchased before the garden was designed.  So instead of asking, ‘”How many people do you typically entertain?” or “What sort of play areas and spaces do you want for your children?” our challenge is to make all the styles, colors and themes fit together cohesively in the landscape.  Clutter is confusing and can negatively affect the energy of a space.   In design, it’s truly putting “the cart before the burro”  Style should be determined first.  Traditional, contemporary, arts and crafts, country home, etc. and then the spaces determined by desire and need.  If the client is set on ‘collections’, than vignettes may be the solution to organization and simple hardscape materials to provide a canvas for the ‘stuff’…I mean, ‘ornament’.

Bottom line; start with a theme/style; lay out the desired functional spaces and then coordinate the furnishings and ornament within those defined spaces.  Above all; work with a professional before garden surfing. This is more cost effective, reduces clutter anxiety and ultimately provides positive energy.

Petro lends a helping hand…

designingFor the last few years Petro has worked closely with the staff at Pecometh Camp & Retreat Ministries.  Petro donates their time and design eye for the development of the group’s most recent undertaking: the new Adult Retreat Center!

The volunteer designers at Petro became an integral part of the design team providing valuable suggestions regarding layout, grading, drainage, and material selections during the design/development phase.  To start, the designers at Petro spent time facilitating workshops with key staff.  They worked together to select building color schemes, re-align driveways to ease circulation, evaluate species for the Storm Water Management area, among other various tasks as well, all to provide the most efficient, sustainability, and aesthetics for the center.

The building phases are now complete, and the ribbon cutting was held last month.  Currently, Petro is donating time to help with the courtyard design.  The Retreat Ministry will be looking for Donors to create the pavers for this area.  Petro has connected with Increte, a contrete contractor who will ALSO donate time, materials, and installation of over 2,000 square feet of concrete to the project!

The new retreat is located on the Eastern Shore in Centreville, Maryland, with beautiful tranquil views to the water.  What better place to have a retreat!  It has been Petro’s pleasure to work closely with the wonderful team at Pecometh to help them attain the best design possible

For more information on Pecometh Camp & Retreat Ministries, visit www.pecometh.org

 

Inside Looking Out…

What is your seasonal window view…?

…Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…

The view to the outside changes dramatically through the seasons.  Are your views taking advantage of what Mother Nature offers every year…?

Extend your residence from the interior to the exterior by properly taking advantage of your viewsheds.  A landscape does not always need to be experienced by exposing oneself to the elements but can be enjoyed through lovely framed “views” from your cozy interior.   Add a focal point , perhaps some lighting, and your views can give you something to look forward to during the short winter days.

Take a glance out your window…walk through your home…sit it in your favorite chair… Are the views to the exterior maximizing their potential…?  Let Petro Design/Build help plan for all seasons!  Contact us  info@petrodesignbuild.com  or  301.249.9000

Before

After

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 is Growing a Vegetable Garden

Petro’s yearly vegetable garden is growing, Growing, GROWING… This year, with the expert guidance of Kathleen, we have cultivated habanero chili peppers, tomatoes, figs, and several herbs, including basil, dill, and rosemary.  Our staff lunches have been supplemented by this lovely harvest from our “Edible Garden”.

Contact us if you are interested in edible landscaping.

Peppers in a Vege Garden Pepperbowl in a vege garden
Basil in the Garden Our Harvest for the week