Continuing from our last newsletter, this month we wanted to update you on a project where we took the driveway seen below and reimagined it into a more meaningful space for its owners. These renovations have benefits to the families living in the homes as well as to the surrounding environment and help to address some of the impacts from climate change. This project is currently in progress, so we don't have the final photos yet, however, here's a behind-the-scenes look at the process as it happens!
When people want to create a more contemporary planting design for a yard, they will need to use perennials and grasses that come back year after year. This means you need to pick the right species for the job. This way of thinking is a completely different mindset than those more interested in growing veggies or who’s in love with annuals. Only when you use the correct plants for your hardiness zone will you see them come back after the bitter snows melt.
Winter is the best time for cold weather blooms! And if there’s ever been a winter flower it is the genus of Helleborus, commonly known as Hellebore. Don’t let them name foul you, it’s anything but bore-ing! I freaking LOVE these plants! They are absolutely gorgeous and they are fierce! They like cold and they can manage deep, deep shade. I’ve found them growing under mounds of matted invasive vines looking happy as can be.
It’s getting colder and as winter sets in I love to think about the spring soon to follow. But before the flowers burst in April and May, you can get some extremely colorful blooms from the genus Hamamelis. This group of small trees & medium to large shrubs are famous for their flowers in February and March. What’s better than seeing pellets of orange, yellow and red sprouting out of branches while snow is on the ground?
This project takes a completely different approach than the first project we showcased. With this project, we redesigned the backyard to remove a big chunk of the driveway. We wanted to replace it with more lawn, native plants, lighting and a more decorative patio for the space. In essences, the goal was to create a lively yard where family trumped blacktop.
This is the first of two projects we’ll highlight that exemplify how rethinking your driveway can give you more of what you want while being more sustainable. This project didn’t get rid of the driveway as a driveway, but it did completely eliminate every inch of asphalt and made it entirely pervious.
Over the last 2 years, we’ve started working with homeowners to help them re-envision their driveways. That might sound a little pedestrian, but it’s exciting news. For generations, every house has craved to have a little private road leading to their garage. These short roads are problematic. Blacktop is toxic and it contributes to flooding. For many suburban places, driveways take up a huge proportion of land. Before asphalt, drives were made with stone, oyster shell or just plain ol’ dirt. But somewhere along the way, we decided to replace those options with blacktop - some of the most toxic stuff you can find - right beside the very place they call home. Now we are removing the blacktop and replacing it with life!
I come across this image from time to time on Pinterest or when I'm looking through Google Images. It is one of the best examples of why native plants are so incredible. It's a fairly straight forward diagram showing the depth of many native plants compared to a standard lawn grass. The lawn grass is on the far left. The lawn grass is Kentucky Blue Grass and the root system that supports it is less than 4inches deep. The roots can't keep the grass alive in hot, dry times of the year because they aren't long enough to find water beyond their depth. This is why you have to water it so much.
Seeds are the gateway to new life. By caring of seeds in your planting beds, you get a front row seat to witnessing nature at work. However, the entertainment is subtle. A recent trip to the the South Orange Rain Park became a great refresher at just how amazing ecology is and how everything is interconnected. Its beauty isn’t an extrovert but goes about its business out of sight. Seeds have a secret I can’t stop thinking about.
When I'm not working on residential projects, I do lots of work with public space. It's one area that needs more attention. As more people learn about my efforts in this realm, I get questions about how to start and complete a project like this. To help as many people as possible, I've started to create a booklet called the Citizen's Guide to Renovating Public Space. Keep reading to learn more.
Last Sunday (Oct. 27, 2019), we won the first-ever Idea Competition held by Montclair Design Week for our project called Watchung Plaza Plaza. Watchung Plaza Plaza is a placemaking project aimed at rebooting Watchung Plaza to be more creative, safe, connected and desirable place for pedestrians, lovers of design and nature. We hope it is only the very beginning of reimagining the larger ward of Montclair into a flagship example of a more livable, sustainable neighborhood. As the winners of the competition, we received a $1000 grant from the Awesome Montclair, a local branch chapter of the Awesome Foundation (a global community advancing the interest of awesome in the universe)
In 2017, we designed and built the world’s first Rain Park in South Orange, NJ. It was a huge deal for us and really set a new direction for the thinking around green infrastructure, public parks and community engagement. However, things didn’t go as plan for getting lots of amazing plants to grow in the new space. The lack of flowers and other nice things to look at caused a bit of an uproar, so we have doubled efforts to get the Rain Park moving in the right direction. The new direction has given us a chance to also show how landscape design can be as much an art form as a gardening and maintenance.
Invasive plant species are a huge problem. They have overtaken giant expanses of the landscape. As they do, they erase the ability for native plants and animals to thrive, and there’s no easy solution to get rid of them. But there is a bit of a silver lining. When I was walking along the bank of a river about a week ago, I came across a few very amazing plants that had beaten the odds among a mess of knotweed and porcelain berry (two of the worst offenders of the invasive mob).
It's the first official day of spring and things are definitely heating up in my studio. We have lots of really exciting residential projects going on as well as a few other types. One project that I'm super excited about is a stream side and habitat restoration project. It's very, very early in the process, so I can't even say 100% that we will be able to do it. But I'm excited none-the-less. The project entails restoring a piece of land on the border of South Orange and Maplewood, NJ. I did a video about the project, and you can watch it through the break below, or going to my company's Youtube page.
If you watched my recent video about the Rain Park, you know that I’m a big fan of cutting back perennials and grasses in the spring instead of the fall. There’re lots of ecological and aesthetic reasons for that. I’d recommend the Rain Park videos if you are interested to get more details. Or you can read this blog – because I’m taking a bit of a deeper dive on why spring cleanups are better for the environment and your sense of wellbeing. Get the facts after the break.
The goal is to make this blog a resource for helpful tips and sustainable ideas. I create original content that shows projects in progress and the behind-the-scenes of installation. And, I try to have as much fun as I can doing it.