Landscaping: Not Just Pretty Flowers Anymore

My front and back yards are a landscaper’s dream. My front lawn is a north-facing patch of dirt dominated by a mulberry tree, while the back is another brown patch dominated by my two dogs. I essentially have blank slates for a creative green thumb to transform into something beautiful and practical.

In fact, landscaping may be my best long-term investment for reducing my home’s heating and cooling costs, protecting me and my family from crime and, if I lived in the East Mountain’s or near a near an open space or forest, from fire.

I’ve got several goals in mind for my yard, not the least of which is water efficiency. There are other considerations, as well: allergy reduction, attracting wildlife like hummingbirds and butterflies, and crime prevention.

Most of us know that certain plants wreak havoc with histamine levels each year, so controlling pollen is a goal for some. As a rule, anything with a pretty flower is pollinated by insects and not by the wind and is friendly to the nose. Most nurseries carry a chart that lists the pollen count of plants so homeowners can pick varieties less likely to aggravate allergies.

To attract hummingbirds, we’ve got a huge number of options here in our place. Your local nursery should have a list or be able to suggest varieties appropriate for your yard’s sun level and your own watering preference.

Fighting crime with plants isn’t a new concept, but it is one of the easiest ways to enhance a home. Trim any bushes to below the level of your windows, which will allow neighbors (and police) to see your property and into your house. That way no one can hide behind a bush and break into a window. And keep lower branches of trees trimmed to 6-8 feet from the ground so that someone can’t hide behind it and take you unawares. Rose bushes and pyracantha have lovely thorns, too.

With more and more people moving to forested areas, the need to do as much as possible to protect dwellings from fire danger is growing. The idea of firescaping is to create a defensible zone of at least 30 feet around a home. No stacked wood next to a building, and no coniferous trees within the zone (pines, junipers, cedars, etc.). Within the ‘mid-zone’ (25-30 feet), deciduous trees that drop their leaves in the fall and grasses to hold topsoil create the balance you need. In the summer, their leaves shade your home, while allowing winter light in.

Closer to the house, firescapers can plant smaller groupings of drought resistant plants and shrubs at least 20 feet apart, complemented by walkways and flagstone. The small groups of plants will be isolated from one another with the goal of preventing the spread of fire from the building to vegetation or vegetation to structure. Using gravel, concrete or flagstone in this area removes fuel entirely.


Bathroom Remodeling Ideas: Turning Your Master Bath into a Spa

Almost everyone loves the experience of a nice, large master bath, with plenty of space for a walk-in shower, and a separate Jacuzzi tub. Making your bath into a center of attention will not only provide many hours of pleasure, but will add immeasurably to the value of your home, and adds to the resale potential. Consider some simply tips to adding luxury to your bath without breaking the bank.

The major consideration in any bath remodel is space. Older homes suffer from the master bath being closet size, and give new meaning to the old term “water closet.” Today, we see the master bath in design magazines as a big, luxurious room, with ample space and beautiful design. Therefore, every bathroom remodel should start with considering if there is hidden space that can be incorporated to make the bathroom larger. What is on the other side of the walls adjacent to the bath? Is it possible to add on to the house and expand the bath outward? While moving walls and adding to the structure are expensive, the new look and space will certainly increase appeal and value. While I might not go to such great lengths in planning to sale a house, if I planned to remain in the house and/or resale in five years, I would definitely consider these options.

For such extensive remodels, you will definitely need an architect to draw plans, and you should carefully choose the contractor to make the changes. Be sure to get a permit for the work, and do your due diligence in checking out the contractor. Always check references and his rating with the Better Business Bureau.

To attain a spa like feel in the bath, consider extensive ceramic tile work. Choose a flooring company that reflects your values. Pick warm colors and use some design techniques to add style. Simply changing the direction of the tile can add a new dimension. Small design details can add much to the look and offer many decorator options. If replacing windows, always consider larger rather than small windows, and make every allowance for natural light. Earth tones are a beautiful way to give your new bath an earthy, natural feel.

Consider adding steam to your shower set up and always think ahead about handicap accessibility. Having a self contained shower that allows for a wheel chair is worth doing. It is always cheaper to do it now rather than later. Replace commodes with comfort height fixtures and replace cabinetry with a new look and material. A master with a modern vanity and counter tops with either undermount sinks or the new vessel sinks will make the bathroom pop. Consider using as much “green” materials as possible and recycle old cabinetry and fixtures by donating them to Goodwill or other charities. The tax receipt helps reduce your investment.

If ceramic tiles are too cold for you, consider the new heating grids that are installed with the tile, providing warmth and making tile a better option. It might also be worth considering the new heated towel bars which heat your towels, and are a nice touch to your new spa-like bath.

Make the shower area as open as possible by incorporating the new clear blocks as a way to retain some privacy, while giving more light to the inside of the shower. Be sure to add a seating area in the shower to sit and enjoy the steam, or simply relax to mediate as you enjoy your new retreat.

While not cheap, adding a spa-like atmosphere to your main bath is both appealing and a good investment. The rule of thumb is that the master is one of two areas where investments will ultimately pay off in a nice return. Be sure to incorporate an interior designer into your planning to help with color, style, and design considerations. Their services are invaluable if you are to get the look you want.


Easy and Fun Gardening

Here’s a quick, and not dirty, way to keep pots bursting with color. Pick a pot, a window box, or other container and fill it with packaged potting soil. Now you have a place to garden for the entire season. Plug in long-lasting plants such as succulents, then tuck in a little flash-small daffodils or African daises. When the flowering plant is spent, remove and replace it. In some instances, you don’t even need to pull the plant out of its garden-store pot; just pop the whole thing into the planter.

Mix or match sun lovers or shade plants, depending on where you want to cultivate your container garden. Daffodils can play a starring role for a few weeks, then scoop them out with a trowel and replace them with something coming into bloom-a miniature rose or a patio clematis, for example-that will continue blooming all summer or possibly until killing frost in the fall.

Imagination, ample light, enough water, and the right temperatures are the keys to success. Plants do come and go quite naturally, so when something turns brown or stops flowering, remove it, and in the hole left behind, drop in something fresh that’s just caught your eye-guilt-free gardening!

Carpet any exposed soil between plants in containers when fern like selaginella, creeping sedum, creeping thyme-or polished stones.

Follow Daffodils With Roses

Miniature daffodils from a 6-inch pot nestle into a container bed of Blue Wonder campanulas and fernlike selaginellas. When the daffodils finish, use a trowel to remove their root ball and replace with miniature roses from a 6-inch pot; the roses will bloom all summer. Change out the roses in early fall and drop in their place a dwarf aster or chrysanthemum for the season’s last hurrah.

Go For The Orange Stars

Newly available, this South African bulb, a chincherinchee or ornithogalum, blooms from early spring to early summer in sun and temperatures above 40 degrees F. Drop the root balls into a planter with blue-green rosettes of echeverias; carpet any exposed soil with polished stones. This carefree tabletop garden will look beautiful indoors or out, as a deck or porch table centerpiece, or on a sideboard. If the planter has no drain holes, be sure to pour off excess water that could collect in the bottom.

Cooling Effect

When the Orange Stars finish blooming, around June, pull out the root balls and insert in their place two dwarf conifer trees. With the echeverias, the evergreens provide refreshing green to the end of the season requiring no deadheading or special care other than enough water to keep the root balls moist. Dwarf conifers can be planted in the garden before freezing weather or wintered over in a cool, sunny window. Keep echeverias barely moist over winter in a frost-free place-a sunny window or fluorescent-light garden.

Fit for a Tabletop

Set the scene in a round black galvanized tray with boldly beautiful succelents for all-season color-Desert Rose echeverias with glowing red leaf edges and a smaller variety with blue-green leaves. Add planting pots of seasonal flowers, such as the newly popular bi color lewisia, which blooms in luscious shades of yellow, pink, peach and rose. These long-blooming tidy plants are native to the western U.S. mountains. They need perfectly drained soil and plenty of sun. Removing spent flowers promotes another round of bloom. Fill in the tray with creeping sedum or selaginella and black polished stones.

Stack Pots for Drama

stacked-pots-gardeningHere’s a little rose garden with the promise of all-season flowers. Fill a 10-inch pot with packaged potting soil. Set a 5-inch pot on top, in the center. Plug in miniature roses around the perimeter of the larger pot. Set an echeveria with red-edged leaves in the top pot. Place to grow in at least a half day of direct sun. Water the roses often enough to keep the soil moist; apply rose fertilizer regularly, as directed on the product label, and clip off any spent flowers. Miniature roses are cold-hardy if planted in the garden and watered well before frost. Winter over the echeveria in a sunny, warm window garden.

Aglow With Plants

Lanterns needn’t be for candles alone. Turn them into elegant greenhouses to showcase individual plants in peak bloom, such as lewisias. Position in bright diffused light, not in direct sun, lest the plants suffer from too much heat buildup inside the lantern. This idea works with any small seasonal flowering plant; simply drop it, in its growing pot, into unglazed clay, glazed ceramic, or your favorite cachepot. Enjoy a lantern garden as decoration for any occasion; then, depending on other plants used, you can transplant them to a larger container outdoors or into a garden bed.

Uplifting Tiny Roses

Today’s miniature roses have larger, longer lasting flowers on the most diminutive bushes imaginable. Grown from cuttings, the plants are brought to market in full bloom, growing in pots small enough to drop into a demitasse-or a pretty tin cup. Place several on a cake stand to center an entertaining table. They’re adorable favors for a child’s birthday party . Like all roses, these need a half day or more direct sun, fresh air, and soil that is consistently well-moistened. Clip off spent flowers and apply rose fertilizer diluted in water to promote more bloom.