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D.I.Y. or NOT

When it comes to doing something myself; either for the adventure of it, as means to create a healthier product or just save some money, I’m interested. Sometimes my efforts and time prove to be worth it in the short and long term. Other times, things have not gone as smoothly as planned or promised and end up costing me much more in time and money. Because of these experiences, and what I have seen the average homeowner implement over the years, I’m more than happy to direct my clients on practices and/or projects that would make sense for them to do themselves. In landscaping and landscape construction, this means leaving the initial ground work and design to someone who has either the right conditioned muscles or design or horticultural experience. I believe that I have ‘fixed’ as many D.I.Y. projects for homeowners and property managers as I have implemented anew. Sometimes just having a new perspective by someone, not intimately involved with your site, can help you with the details and the whole picture. I’m always very careful about asking who was responsible for the existing work, as I know that I am sometimes dealing with embarrassment, pride and even…

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Hide and Seek

So; here I am again at another newly purchased home where the previous homeowner has implemented additions that have compromised the safety and structure of the home and left the new owners with unexpected cost. As the Washington, D.C. population continues to grow, I'm dismayed to see so many young new homeowners having to deal with these issues.  Typically, children are already living in the home - which makes the amendments even more immediately dire. At this particular home the front entrance was moved from the middle of the house to the right front. Fine - Nice - Makes sense. The original front entrance porch was correctly tied into the home with a concrete ledge extending from the foundation of the home itself.  The foundation of the original porch boxed in an open space between the outside of the porch and the foundation of the house so that, when the porch base was removed, it exposed brick and block that, at the time, were not exposed to the ground and did not need to be waterproofed.  The previous contractors ignored this detail and filled the open cavity with soil hence, exposing open celled concrete block and brick to soil moisture.  To make matters worse - the…

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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! 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;…

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Experience Matters

About 25 years ago I was called to provide pricing for a rather extensive drainage project in Bethesda, Md. The homeowner had consulted with an experienced builder and drainage expert who had provided recommendations for keeping existing underground water (springs) away from their home. I was asked to review their site and then talk directly to the gentleman who had made the recommendations. This was my first introduction to Alvin Sacks. Since this initial project together, through numerous other collaborations on storm water and site drainage over many years, Alvin has provided me with a wealth of information, advice and sound common sense when it comes to hydrology. To know that water flows down hill is simply not enough. Alvin says you must understand the “science” and how it relates to the structure of your home and site. Approximately 10 years ago, Alvin invited me to be a member of a group of professional business people in the Metropolitan area whose purpose was to help each other in business through information and leads. Alvin is one of the founding members of Metronet and, as far as I know, has rarely missed a meeting. I learned more about Alvin at these…

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What difference does 1 Lousy Rain Barrel make?!

Through a series of coincidental meetings (the third being a clear indication for action) I enrolled and was accepted into the Watershed Stewards Academy (WSA). For the next several months I have/will attend evening classes at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Severn, Md. along with weekend intensive trainings in various locations throughout the County. "The quintessential role of Master Watershed Stewards (which I intend to be one of) is to organize community action toward the restoration and preservation of our watersheds” and, in particular, to learn, in depth, pollution source reduction strategies – Capturing water at its source is still the best way to reduce the pollutant load it carries to a stream. During one of the first evening lectures Stephen Barry, the coordinator of the Outdoor/Environmental Education, told us future Stewards that we would be getting our very own rain barrel.  I thought, great, 1 barrel - how much good will that do; I don’t even have gutters.  Don’t get me wrong, I know the value of water and never take it for granted; turning the shower off while I soap up and the like.  I’m incensed when the media refers to rain as a ‘threat’ as…

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Proper Insulation Can Save your Plants!

This past snow was exciting, beautiful, and for some, provided much needed time indoors.  For others, the snow and subsequent colder temperatures cost much more than they anticipated. Attic spaces that are not properly insulated can allow heat to escape.  Melting of the snow/ice will ensue (in our case from this storm, up to 3 feet of snow in some areas!!!) thus creating an avalanche of destruction on the foundation and plants below.  In some cases, it will bring the gutters with it!!  Additionally, trying to shovel the snow off your plants will only make it worse. Properly insulating your home not only saves you on your direct energy cost but will avoid potential subsequent repair cost and is the MOST COST EFFECTIVE amendment you can make to your home at this time!

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Petro lends a helping hand…

For 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…

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Lessons from Hurricane Lee – continued ‘Surface Drainage’

I recently saw a ‘grab’ line in an advertisement for a drainage company that stated “The most common solution to drainage is a system of French drains”.  No! This is wrong.   A French drain in the wrong location can be a costly mistake. Here are a few basic rules for handling surface drainage: If the area can be graded to divert the water, this should be the first approach.  A minimum of 2% slope on turf is sufficient to move water. If grading is not an option a surface drain, or better yet -a catch basin, could be an option.  The inlet point must still be 2% higher than the outlet point.  Excavation and distance are key financial considerations. For standing, percolating ground water a French drain system is a viable option.  Water takes the path of least resistance so gravel surrounding an open perforated pipe draws the water in.  The pipe still needs to be diverted to a lower elevation in order to remove the water from the area rather than just gathering it. A turf swale is a good conductor of water Catch basin with atrium grate to intercept surface water French drains should not be located next…

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