David Marciniak

Author Archives: David Marciniak

Are there warm LED landscape lights?

Late at night you’re driving down a dark, deserted suburban avenue and trying not to think about the Stephen King novel you re-read last week. Suddenly, in the corner of your eye, something catches your attention. You turn and scream at the balls of faint blue light hovering like tiny sad ghosts in the yard next to your car.


Relieved but embarrassed, you drive on.

Why do LED landscape lights have to be so bad?

That’s the problem with the solar LED landscape lights sold at the big box stores. They put out almost no light, and what light they do emit is a sickly blue glow. The reason solar lights look so bad is that they’re just not putting out enough juice to cast reasonable light, and they’re using cheap LEDs. Unfortunately this leads to a lot of homeowners assuming that all LED landscape lights are cold and blue-hued.

Color Temperatures and LED Landscape Lights

Luckily, there is an objective way to know how warm or cool the color of your LED landscape lights will be. Westinghouse explains it on their website thusly:

The color temperature of a light source is the temperature of an ideal black-body radiator that radiates light of comparable hue to that light source. The temperature is conventionally stated in units of absolute temperature, known as Kelvin (K).

Simply put, we can determine what the light output will look like by looking at the stated Kelvins on the packaging. Lower numbers (generally less than 3000 Kelvin) will produce very warm hues. Higher numbers become more of a pure white, becoming more blue at the far end of the spectrum. This chart sums it up well:

LED landscape lights chart

The bottom line is that there’s no need to fear LED landscape lights! The energy savings over halogen is amazing, and that lower power consumption also means an LED system is more flexible when it comes to installation. Lower lifetime cost + the same warm-hued light you love = a win all around. Need help with your landscape lighting project? Contact us today!


November 25, 2015

What is it like to be a landscape designer?

This week I did something terrifying and lived to tell about it: I spoke to several marauding groups of middle school kids. The fine folks at Marsteller Middle School in Bristow asked me to come be a part of their career day. It sounded like a fun time, so I said sure, I’d come. It was actually a lot of fun, and I met some bright kids who I really enjoyed talking with.


The way they set up the event was each professional was at his or her own table. Groups of kids moved from table to table that interested them at timed intervals for an event that was very similar to speed networking, if you’ve ever done that. The teachers gave them a list of interview questions, and many of the kids also asked their own questions. If you’re considering a career in landscape design, or if you’re my neighbor and you’re unsure just what I do all day, you may find the answers to these questions interesting.

How did you become interested in this kind of work?

Secret confession time: I never planned on being a landscape designer. At various points in my childhood I wanted to be a naturalist and a writer, but anything remotely related to yardwork – which I hated – wasn’t anywhere near being on my radar. I realized in college that I was actually pretty good at the artistic side of the business and I worked on that for a bit after college. In my late 20s I studied interior design for a couple of years but decided to apply those skills to the outdoors. I went full time as a landscape designer in 2004 and really haven’t looked back.

What three (3) characteristics should someone in your profession have?

Creativity – because without it, your projects are boring and uninspired.

You have to love working with people because this business is 100% about learning what people want, what they need, and how you can solve their problems and bring their dreams to them.

Flexibility/Resilience – my military friends love the phrase “no plan survives first contact”. When it’s the height of the season and you’re running in six different directions at once, your plan for your day is out the window by 9 am.

What do you do during a typical day?

Or as I’m sure my neighbors wonder: “What DO you do???”


What I do varies on what’s going on. If I have jobs in progress, a day might  involve loading plans and other materials in the Mighty Landscape Subaru and heading out to the site. There, I check in with the client, check in with the crew, and make sure that everything is going the way it should. I may also run around and meet with vendors, pick out materials, and meet with new clients.

If I’m in the office it’s not all about drawing and designing. There’s email – there’s ALWAYS email – plus writing blog posts,  invoicing, writing proposals, paying bills, returning phone calls, strategic planning, and all kinds of stuff. I don’t get bored.

What is acceptable dress?

On an office day? Fuzzy pajama pants, slippers, and a hoodie. If I have a Skype consult scheduled, I’ll throw on a dress shirt but know that I’m still wearing fleece pants with monkeys on them. If I’m out and about, I wear work clothes if I’m getting dirty, nice clothes if I’m not.

What special training, schooling, and/or experience is required?

As I told the kids, there are two ways to become a landscape designer:

Path 1: Go to college and major in a field like landscape design, landscape architecture, landscape construction, or horticulture. After college, work for a firm that will teach you a lot. Suck a lot at first and eventually get better.

Path 2: start at the bottom and learn everything you can. Move up the ladder but stay in the field and out of the office. Take night classes in design of any sort. If you don’t have design opportunities at work, freelance. Suck a lot at first and eventually get better.

I took Path 2. I’m happy with everything I learned along the way, but Path 1 probably means a lot less time moving large quantities of stone and coming home covered in mud and chicken manure.

What school subjects/activities were helpful for you?

In hindsight? Almost all of them except gym class. Eff Mr. Greco and his stupid class.

Math – I hated math. Still sort of do, but I use a lot of it. I seem to be finding for X a lot.
English – I do a lot of writing and speaking
Science – plants are biology. Concrete is chemistry. Decks and porches are physics.
History – we’re in Virginia. Historical styles and context actually play a sizable role.
Spanish – my Spanish is atrocious but it gets the job done. Mostly.

What previous jobs have you held?

I’ve held a LOT of jobs, especially in this field. Notable ones would be senior landscaper at the Salk Institute, 911 dispatcher in college, and my one night as a line cook that showed me that while being a skilled home cook is fun, my career doesn’t lie in the kitchen.

What are your hours of work? Are they flexible?

As I told the kids, the great thing is that you can control your income in large part based on how much and how hard you’re willing to work. Winter, you work standard eight hour days with plenty of flexibility. Come spring, though, 5 am to 10-11 pm isn’t unheard of.work from home

Do you commute?

To get to my office, I walk out my bedroom door, turn right, walk 12 feet, and turn right. It’s pretty sweet. But there are pitfalls…

What opportunities are there for advancement in your field?

Unless you’re in a small town, the opportunities are vast and wide open. As long as you’re not afraid to work.

What do you like most about your job?

The people. I solve problems for a living, and I also surprise and delight clients. Nearly every design is met with “I never would have thought of that.” Also, the people in the landscape industry are wonderful and everyone has a fascinating story.

What do you like least about your job?

Mornings. It’s important to get up and out in the morning, especially with a crew, but I’d rather do the bulk of my work between 9 pm and 3 am.

If you could live your life over again, would you choose this line of work?

Way to hit me with a crazy deep and potentially depressing question, kids! In all seriousness, though…

I might have taken a different (smarter) path to get here, and my focus might be a little different, but for the most part – yeah, I’d do it again. I get to meet a lot of people, and I get to help a lot of homeowners get a result they never even knew was possible. I get to help landscape contractors sell more effectively and achieve successes they didn’t think were within their reach. I get to design unique projects, I get to choose which contractors I want to work with, and I get to bring my dog to work. It’s a pretty great gig.



November 13, 2015

Grilling vegetarian food is awesome. I’m serious!

A few weeks ago we got the unsurprising news that processed meats were bad for you. Look, if you thought eating hot dogs and Spam was going to make you healthier than your crazy paleo/crossfit neighbor, you get a big ol’ “come on, son.” But now another study has come to light that makes a lot of unpleasant claims about grilled meat. Grubstreet sums it up thusly:

The study’s findings fit the WHO’s ruling on red meat, but cancer experts have long argued grilling or barbecuing is, from a health standpoint, sort of akin to subjecting your meat to cigarette smoke. These researchers say so-called “exposure to meat cooking mutagens” is the best explanation for why the rate of kidney cancer is on the rise.

Well that’s not awesome news. But before you give your grill one last hug (what, you don’t hug your grill daily? Weirdo) and set it out at the curb with a “free but don’t blame me” sign, all is not lost. Meat is not the only thing that’s amazing on the grill. All that smoke and heat means flavor. Here are some of my favorite dishes on the grill.

Don't abandon your grill!

Don’t abandon your grill!

Grilled pizza

I’ve talked about grilled pizza before, and that’s because I think it’s among the most perfect grilled foods. Why? Because it cooks lightning fast, it’s actually more forgiving than you’d think, and you have loads of topping options. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • have a two-zone fire. On a charcoal grill that means all the coals to one side; on a gas grill, shut off half the burners.
  • have a disposable lasagna pan handy to put over the pizza to help melt the cheese and heat the toppings.
  • go light on the toppings. It’s not a deep dish pizza, mass quantities of toppings will result in messes and disappointment.
  • have your assembly line laid out close to the grill ahead of time.
  • making 2-3 batches of dough is no harder than one batch, and the dough freezes beautifully.


Last weekend we made a fabulous grilled pizza with caramelized onions, grilled portobellos, and Parmesan. Popped a nice red wine, lit a fire in the firepit, and had a wonderful fall evening. You should totally try it. Here’s my riff on a favorite recipe:


5-6 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed in a garlic press
½ teaspoon dried herbs (see what you have)
teaspoon ground black pepper
1 ¼ cups water
2.5 teaspoons instant yeast
teaspoon white sugar
cups bread flour
¼ cup cornmeal
teaspoons table salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet on low heat. Cook the garlic, herbs, and black pepper together till the garlic is nice and soft. Let it cool.
2. If you use active dry yeast you need to proof it. I hate that step, which is why I use instant yeast. The quantity I use is roughly equal to one packet of active dry yeast. Anyhow,mix the yeast, sugar, cooled flavored oil from step 1, and warm water together and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor add the cornmeal, flour, and salt and pulse it a few times to integrate everything. Then turn the machine on and slowly pour in the yeast/oil mix till a ball forms. Add flour if the dough seems too wet, water if it seems too dry. Leave the dough in the bowl top rest for a few minutes, then come back and process it till the dough is smooth (about 30-40 seconds).
3. Turn the dough out, roll it into a smooth, tight ball, and then pop it in an oiled bowl covered with a damp cloth for 2 hours. It should double in size.
4. Punch the dough down, then divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each of these pieces into a ball, drop them on a floured counter, cover with a damp towel and let them hang out for half an hour.
At this point you can freeze the dough balls for 3-4 hours and then Food Saver them for longer term storage, or roll ’em out and make awesome pizzas.

Grilled chile rellenos

My arteries hardened looking at this. Grill 'em!

My arteries hardened looking at this. Grill ’em instead!

I grew up in New England eating very New Englandy food. When I moved to California a whole new world was revealed to me. Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory? It was like that. Mexican and Southwestern and Tex Mex and all that food is terrific. Traditional chiles rellenos are deep fried. Grilling them is totally worth it, and it’s better for you than fried food. Weber has a great grilled chiles rellenos recipe here

Grilled sweet potatoes


Baked potatoes are good but they’re nothing compared to grilled sweet potatoes. I’ll get a bed of coals nice and hot and then nestle sweet potatoes right in there. Wrapping them in foil keeps them from getting too charred, but I don’t typically worry about it. Let them cook for about 45 minutes or until soft and creamy on the inside, then bust them open and drizzle with melted butter mixed with ancho chile powder. It’s so simple but so amazing.

Baba ganoush


Seeing this (awesome) comic about hummus got me thinking about baba ganoush. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a dip made from smoky, roasted eggplant. It’s amazing with crackers or flatbread – heck, you could use the pizza dough recipe above and grill off a bunch of dough brushed with olive oil and have a great snack!

Alton Brown is the only celebrity chef who will cause me to completely melt down if I ever get to meet him, so I’d suggest his baba ganoush recipe.

This is the best webcomic ever. Seriously.

This is the best webcomic ever. Seriously.

I’m not known for taking great care of myself – I need to eat better, exercise more, and not wait till webMD tells me I have bubonic plague before calling my doctor – so I can’t really say how much these latest revelations will keep me away from grilled meats. No matter what, though, this list shows that you can avoid grilling meat without having to give up the greatest cooking appliance mankind has ever created: the grill.

Got a fav vegetarian grill recipe? Leave it in the comments, or share it on my Facebook page!

September 16, 2015

Guess who was on the Mike Nowak show???

Give up? It was me!

A while back I got a phone call out of the blue from Mike Nowak, host of the (appropriately named) Mike Nowak Show. Mike talks about everything from gardening and horticulture to how what we use in our gardens impacts the environment. It’s a really cool show and you can learn more about his gardening radio show here.


Anyhow, Mike is working on an ordinance in his area related to the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp. In the course of his research, he came across my video testing the claims about vinegar-based weed killers against RoundUp and decided to invite me on his show.

The interview lasted around half an hour and the time flew as we covered a ton of ground. Thanks to the awesomeness that is the internet you can listen to my interview here. I hope you have as much fun listening to it as I did recording it, and be sure to check back to hear Mike’s show regularly.

Open Office Hours: I’m Starting a Live Online Landscape Design & Garden Chat!

Whether it’s a home show, a small group talk, or a consultation across the kitchen table from a client, I love the opportunity to share what I’ve learned over 20+ years in the landscape business. I also love technology. Now you and I can chat about your burning landscape questions no matter where you are! I’ll be hosting “open office hours” every Wednesday from 7 pm – 8 pm Eastern using Google Hangouts.


What can you ask? Anything about designing and building a landscape, general plant questions, things like that. I’m not awesome with pest and disease questions – that’s why I have expert friends and referral partners – so those probably won’t get a great answer but who knows?

Curious? All you need is an internet connection and a device with a webcam, mic, and speakers. Click here to register and I’ll see you there!