I’m getting older – what that means for my home landscape

It was time to reclaim what was mine. I swung my Hori knife like a machete, slicing through thick stalks of pokeweed and tangles of morning glory vines. Woody saplings fell before my expensive, ergonomically designed pruners. In a matter of minutes I built a pile of cuttings and weeds that dwarfed the nearby pallet of fieldstone. I was once again a proud steward of the land! 

And then I tried to stand up straight again. 

Picture of a jungle temple, with text that says my body is a temple... ancient and crumbling... probably cursed... hardoring an unspeakable horror

It’s amazing how quickly the landscape can get away from you at the best of times. 2021 sure hasn’t been the best of times. Foot surgery just before Christmas 2020 caused my back problems to get even worse, which led to back surgery in August. I quickly fell behind on landscape upkeep. My success at soil amendment hastened my failure at keeping the weeds from overtaking the beds. Mindy and I once again had That Discussion, the one where I insist I can handle it and she reminds me that I’m no longer 22 and I have a (hopefully) temporary disability. It’s pretty awesome being married to a smart woman, but the thing where she’s perpetually right does get a tad bit annoying. It’s time to make some changes. 

Step one – better plant decisions

I would love to say that my backyard is a carefully curated collection of one of a kind plants, but I’d be lying. My rear garden is a jumble of jobsite leftovers sprinkled with a few really cool specimen plants. I yanked out all the shrubs that were likely to cause maintenance issues, but I need to make some tough decisions re: perennials. 

Photo of Echinacea in my landscape bed

The thing is, I’ve been doing this long enough that I know what will behave and what will get away from me. I just need to curate what comes through the gate. 

Trees – I’m just about maxed out on trees. Dwarf conifers and smaller Japanese maples are probably ok, and I might sneak a fig in there, but anything bigger is out. If I had more space, I’d focus on slow growing, robust trees like oaks; moderate growers but heavy show-ers, like saucer magnolias; and maybe some hollies like ‘Mary Nell’ and ‘Emily Brunner’ because I think they’re neat. I’d also make it a point to avoid messy trees. The leaves that American hollies drop hurt, the leaves from evergreen magnolias are a nightmare, and walnuts sound like a sprained ankle every other week during nut season. That is not low maintenance. 

Photo of a columnar culrivar of magnolia grandiflora at George Washington's Mt Vernon
Magnolia grandiflora

Shrubs – Knowing that space is limited I won’t be doing anything big like a lot of viburnums or common lilacs. As much as I love pruning I can’t count on being able to fight a plant’s genetic programming for size.  I don’t consider a little leaf drop from a small to mid-sized shrub to be anything problematic, so I’m going to focus on unique shrubs that make me happy. That means cool shapes and forms, unusual foliage, or flowers and/or berries. Instead of random inkberry hollies clogging up my plant beds, every shrub needs to earn its place. 

Perennials – I’m going to make dumb choices with perennials, but let’s lie to ourselves and say there’s a plan. Piet Oudolf-style big swoops of perennials that fill out the beds are my best bet to out-compete weeds and lighten my mulch load. My eupatorium ‘Gateway’ are floppy and annoying this time of year so they should go (but they won’t). I’ll content myself with avoiding perennials that will make impenetrable mats of roots like Leucanthemum or Miscanthus, so my mistakes can get moved. 

Step two – use landscape design to limit my plant impulses

I’ve already started down this path. Keeping the plant beds a little shallower means I need to use my best judgement when planting. Theming certain areas – succulents, ferns, pollinator plants – gives me constraints. And, of course, the increasing shade as my maple grows will be a limiting factor. Now that we’re down to one dog, and he’s a lazy potato, I can play with the edges of the lawn to get some funky shapes going. 

photo of Jazzy Dawg, a gorgeous copper colored hound mix

Step three – create destinations that will pull me out to at least see what needs done

Even if I need to pay my crew to do the actual work, I need to know what’s ready for some TLC. I have 15,000 lbs of stone sitting at my friend’s farm, just waiting to be made into a killer water feature. I promised Mindy I’d build her an A-frame outdoor office/reading nook. And, even if it has to go in the full shade of the river birches, I’m building my greenhouse at some point. 

Step four – put beds-to-be into suspended animation

What does that mean? Arborist wood chips! Anywhere that I’m planning to put plants, but not for a while, will get a hefty 6-12” of wood chips. Conditioning the soil while suppressing weeds is pretty great. Hopefully I’ll heal enough that I can at least schlepp around something as light as a few wheelbarrows of chips. 

That’s the plan. I think it’s totally doable, and it’s really just following the same advice I’ve been giving my clients for years. If you’d like to be one of those clients getting awesome advice, contact us today! We’d love to make your landscape the best on the block.

Custom stonework

As you look through our portfolio you may notice that we love natural materials. Our team takes pride in crafting beautiful plantings, artistic wood and steel structures, and of course, custom stonework. Stone is available in a wide range of colors and textures, demanding that the craftsman knows what it can and cannot be asked to do.

copper pot still set in fieldstone wall culpeper va

What type of stone is best suited for your project? I would have paid more attention in my 8 am college geology class had I known how important stone would become in my career! Basalt is widely used for columns and accent stones in water feature. The soft stone on historic buildings in the Manassas area is a rich red that was once quarried locally. Pennsylvania fieldstone is easy to shape with a hammer; New England granite is not.

Custom stonework means that we can design and fabricate stone in myriad ways for your project. With the help of cad landscape design we can have curved stone steps precisely cut to fit. The brackets that support this fireplace below were drawn and sent to a quarry that made them to our specifications, from stone that was local to them:

before and after of interior fireplace

You can even select special stone finishes. For example, flagstone can be natural cleft, which just means that you get it just how it was split. You can get it thermal treated, which means a kiln is used to create a smooth, even texture that’s sort of like an orange peel. For mantels and firepits, you can even get a glass-smooth honed finish, like we did for this custom stonework gas firepit:

photo of custom stonework gas firepit arlington

If you want to see what beautiful stonework we can design and install for you, contact us today!

3D & CAD landscape design

When you look out at your yard, do you see the same problems that have bothered you for years and you can’t figure out a path forward? That’s where our 3D and CAD landscape design comes in. We not only provide a fresh perspective, we can create drawings that will help you visualize everything your landscape can be!

photo realistic 3d computer rendering of a patio

Once we’ve agreed on the details of the design, we start the process of site analysis – a fancy way of saying we measure and document everything that matters. We measure windows and doors. We locate trees, we locate patio edges. If there are plants we want to reuse, we ID what you have and create an inventory. Since we find crawling around in the bushes relaxing, it’s like a spa day for us!

That site information is then basemapped in AutoCAD. This gives us a dimensionally accurate starting point for the cad landscape design. From there we start working out concepts, seeing what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes the ideas we discussed with you at your home work as planned. Other times, we have to move on to something even better.

For the 3D design work, we use a program called SketchUp. Sometimes we complete the cad landscape design and then move to 3D. In some cases we need the 3D to help us work out details before finalizing the 2D drawings. 3D modeling has helped us complete projects on time and on budget simply because we can identify potential construction problems in the office – not in the field.

hand rendered landscape plan

We don’t always do everything on the computer. Sometimes if it feels right, we do all or part of the design by hand. After years of designing, we’ve worked out some techniques that give us the beauty of a hand rendering with the precision of a computer generated drawing.

Above all, we recognize that the end goal isn’t creating pretty plans that don’t get built. The design work is just a tool to get us to the most important step: creating a gorgeous, one of a kind landscape that’s perfect for you.

If you want to find out just how much you’ll love working with us, contact us today!

Outdoor Kitchens in Virginia

Food cooked outside just tastes better. I can’t tell you why that is, but I can help you have more fun cooking outside and get better results. The right equipment is critical to quality outdoor kitchens in Virginia.

Revolutionary Gardens sells a wide range of outdoor kitchen and outdoor living products. We also custom fabricate items like built-in ice bins, utility backsplashes, and more. I love to cook, I know what is possible to achieve in and outdoor kitchen, and I have strong opinions. These are three things you want to find in whoever says they can design outdoor kitchens in Virginia.

Grills & appliances for outdoor kitchens

Cooking requires heat, which is why we start planning your outdoor kitchen around the grill. We offer gas grills (both propane and natural gas), charcoal grills, and ceramic egg cookers. Many of our manufacturers also offer companion appliances, including side burners, warming drawers, and refrigeration. We offer Fire Magic, AOG, MHP, Delta Heat, and many more.

Cabinetry that lasts!

When I built my first outdoor kitchen in the 1990s, it was a massive concrete block affair with very little in the way of usable storage. It was, in other words, just like every outdoor kitchen built back then. Times have changed and so have outdoor kitchen storage options!

outdoor kitchen with stainless cabinets Danver

We’re proud to be a dealer for both Danver stainless steel cabinets and Brown Jordan outdoor kitchens. Their cabinets are just like the cabinets you have in your kitchen, except that they’re built of stainless steel to withstand the outdoors. We have rain gaskets, soft close doors and drawers, and you can even get the cabinets powdercoated to match your outdoor decor. If you purchase a Summit, True, or Hoshizaki refrigerator or icemaker with your cabinet order, we can even have the doors coated to match your cabinets!

We also offer cabinets, doors, and drawers available from our grill and appliance partners, so you have a lot of styles and price points to choose from.

Sustainable landscapes

Linden VA landscape w pavers and Virginia native grasses

I can’t think of a single argument against sustainable landscapes. If I told you we could design a landscape that would require less maintenance and fewer inputs, would last longer, would cost you less in the long run, and was good for the planet, would you be interested?

What makes a sustainable landscape

The American Society of Landscape Architects describes sustainable landscapes thusly:

Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, re-generative, and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities. Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value through significant economic, social and, environmental benefits.

Let’s focus on regenerative landscapes. A regenerative landscape helps restore the environment, it withstands the challenges of weather and climate, and it increases biodiversity. Restoring the environment means reducing the wall to wall grass lawns and incorporating plants that welcome birds and pollinators. That leads to increased biodiversity in plants and in animals. Even a tiny water feature can draw in frogs, and native plants can welcome back some of the local fauna.

Willowsford VA sustainable landscape with creek bed

Withstanding weather and climate keeps getting more important each year. Our Virginia clay soils have never been great at absorbing stormwater and they can get hard as rock in a drought. We work with the contours of the land and with the site soil to manage all that water and to sustain a beautiful landscape through the hottest months. This all comes from our core belief that while no landscape is maintenance free, a well designed sustainable landscape can make life a lot easier.

If you want to learn more about how sustainable landscape design could make your property better, contact us today! We’d love to chat with you, see your property, and figure out how to create a beautiful and sustainable space for you and your family.

Virginia Native Plants

eupatorium Virginia native plant perennial
Eupatorium pupureum (Joe Pye weed)

We love Virginia native plants, and you will too! More and more homeowners are discovering the benefits of incorporating natives into their landscape designs. These plants are a vital part of the ecosystem. Monarch butterflies, as well as other species, depend on certain native plants for food. The flowers found on many Virginia native plants are fantastic for attracting pollinators. A lot of critters rely on fruits and nuts from native plants for energy, especially in the colder months.

You may be asking “but Dave, I’m neither a songbird nor a squirrel. What can native plants do for ME?” Well, first and foremost, a landscape designed with native plants can be beautiful. Whether it’s the subtle grace of Virginia switchgrasses swaying in the wind, the bright flowers of native irises and butterfly weed, or the bold berries and gorgeous fall foliage of chokeberry, there’s a Virginia native plant that will thrill you. If you want a terrific source for learning more about natives, the Virginia Native Plant Society is a good first stop.

Clethra alnifolia a Virginia native shrub
Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet, Sweet pepperbush)

Native plants can also reduce your maintenance needs. Being well suited to our climate – their climate – means they thrive with fewer inputs from us humans. I’m a lazy gardener. The plants in my landscape have to earn their place by being awesome and by handling the periods where I’m way too busy fussing over other peoples’ plants to fuss over mine.

Will I like the look of Virginia native plants in the landscape?

Whatever you do, don’t dismiss a landscape featuring Virginia native plants as “messy” or “too wild”. A wild, natural looking landscape is a terrific look, and one we tend to love here at Revolutionary Gardens. We’ve also created formal landscapes, modern landscapes, and even commercial projects that celebrate the beauty of native plants.

If you’re ready to see how native plants can make your landscape more beautiful we can’t wait to talk to you. Contact us now for a consultation!

Can I lay pavers/brick/flagstone over my crappy old concrete walk?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

When someone asks me, “can I lay pavers/brick/flagstone over my crappy old concrete walk?” I think about the difference between frugal and cheap. Frugal is shopping at stores like Aldi or Lidl. Cheap is shopping at stores like the grocery outlet in El Cajon, where I purchased – and ate, don’t judge – Mr T cereal… in 1998. 

PeeWee Herman eating MR T cereal

Sure, it had been discontinued for years at that point, but 50 cents a box is 50 cents a box. Trying to save money in the wrong place on your hardscape projects can cause more issues than an upset stomach. 

Here’s a great example of what can happen when you lay a new brick sidewalk over top of an old concrete walk. 

Herringbone brick walk with crack along width

Do you see that line where one row of brick is heaving upwards and away from the adjacent one? The homeowner definitely noticed and asked us what we could do about it. To figure out the fix I had to find the cause. It was as easy as removing a couple of the bricks.

Cracked concrete slab visible under brick walk

See that big yawning chasm in the concrete underneath? That was a weak point in the slab. More than likely, the ground under one part of the walkway settled or eroded. Because concrete doesn’t want to span holes or voids unsupported, it did what concrete does and it cracked. That crack telegraphed itself all the way up to the brick. Because the brick was dry set on top of the slab it just got pushed up. If the brick had been mortared to the slab, the joint may have cracked or it may have even cracked across the brick itself. 

Ok what now? 

Diagnosing the problem was the easy part. The fix isn’t quite so straightforward. One option would be a technique called mudjacking. The contractor digs along the side of the slab to find the void, and then pumps it full of concrete until the slab is leveled out again. It’s not cheap, and there’s no guarantee that this same problem won’t happen 15 feet farther down the walk. 

We could also cut out and repour that section of walkway, and replace the brick. That still leaves us with the problem that there’s no way to guarantee the portions of the walkway we didn’t repair. The only way we could guarantee the result would be a complete redo of the entire walk. That’s because at the end of the day, we have no way to know if the slab is thick enough along the entire length. Based on what we saw here, there’s probably no reinforcement in the slab to help carry the weight. 

This has been a long-winded answer to the question, can I lay pavers/brick/flagstone over my crappy old concrete walk? The bottom line is that you can, but you’re taking a risk. As accident prone as I am (Culpeper’s hospital needs a jello punch card or something), I’d rather spend a little more up front for a safe and durable walkway.

Are travertine paver patios slippery when wet?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Virginia may not be that far south, but our summers do get crazy hot. It’s especially challenging for our clients building patios or pool decks with western exposure who want to be outside in the afternoon. Travertine is a great choice for a cool, light colored paving material, but our customers often worry: are travertine paver patios slippery when wet? 

closeup of travertine

I like any question that can be answered using data and objective measures so I love this question! Many flooring or paving materials are tested to determine their coefficient of friction. The data we have for travertine pavers comes from the older ASTM-C1028 test, which gives us the static coefficient of friction (SCOF). 

According to the Tile Council of North America, “static friction (from which SCOF is determined) is the frictional resistance you push against when you start in motion. A slip occurs when you push off with more force than the surface can resist.” [source] The accepted standard for patio and pool deck surfacing material is a coefficient of friction of 0.60 or greater. 

walnut colored travertine paver patio in Culpeper VA

So does this mean travertine paver patios are slippery when wet or not? It depends. If you use honed or polished travertine, a little moisture is going to create an incredibly slippery surface. Antiqued and sandblasted travertine surfaces are safer. One of the travertine vendors we use is Marmiro Stone, in part because they make their testing data available. For example, we’re currently working on a patio using their antiqued Grano travertine. I can look in their catalog and see that it has a (dry) coefficient of friction of 0.76, which is definitely greater than the minimum recommendation of 0.60. 

Are travertine pavers slippery when wet? The bottom line

Antiqued travertine is a good choice for patios and pool decks. The color palette is much lighter than most flagstones and concrete pavers. There are colors that complement the rest of your home and landscape, whether you need warm or cool tones. And, most importantly, travertine pavers have a decent amount of “grip” so you can feel safe walking around. Just remember that I said walking. You’re still not allowed to run near the pool! 

Have you been trying to find a landscape company that researches their materials extensively and can talk nerdy to you? That’s us! Contact us today to set up a consultation and we’ll make your landscape the best on the block. 

2019’s Holiday Poem

‘Twas mere days before Christmas, but we hadn’t slowed down

We were digging and building, criss-crossing the town.

Not just us, oh no no, it’s everyone this year

For some reason it seems we’re all missing some cheer. 

Then into my inbox popped an unforeseen plea:

“It’s been quite a while but we’d like our new tree!” 

Oh please no, oh my gosh, was all I could think

I have not the time, nor the coffee to drink!

But I am that classical middle born child,

I just can’t say no (I’m so tender! So mild!)

So I said, with a sigh, let me get crackin’

And I’ll see what my magical elves can make happen. 

The actual tree! (Nursery elf not included)

The tree that they wanted was a large Norway spruce,

So big and so wide it could swallow a moose.

I got out my pad and made marks like a mystic

Until I had figured out all the delivery logistics. 

We got that tree there, and as I watched him review it

My client reminded me just why we all do it.

“I love it! It’s huge! So much more than I knew!

I need to go buy more lights, not just one strand or two!

We’re new in this house and our family will be here,

This tree all lit up will give them ALL holiday cheer!”

I’ve been sort of a humbug, I’m not proud to say

But my heart might have grown three sizes that day. 

As we rolled down the road, the smell of mulch in the air,

In my mirror was a tree that needed neither partridge, nor pear. 

Our happy homeowner, so full of delight

Was already starting to wrap it with lights. 

I crested the hill and of the tree I lost sight,

But I heard him call out “Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night!”

From all of us here at Revolutionary Gardens, thanks for being part of our family. Have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year!

What do you need to build a pond?

Every backyard garden pond is different, but they all require the same parts to function. The exact size of each component varies depending on the size of the pond but a pump is a pump, a skimmer is a skimmer, and so on. Here are the different pond parts and how they work together. 

1. The liner

If you build a water feature but don’t provide a way to keep water in it, you haven’t built a water feature. You’ve built an inefficient lawn sprinkler. Most backyard ponds utilize a 45mil EPDM rubber liner. This liner is super tough, conforms to the shape of the pond underneath it, and lasts for many years. Rubber pond liner is often sold in rolls, with widths in 5 ft increments. 

To ensure that the liner doesn’t tear or get punctured, after digging the hole we rake out any rocks and roots. We then install a layer of sand. Next is a fabric underlayment, and then the liner. The sand and the fabric help to cushion the liner and protect it. 

2. The skimmer

The skimmer is a large (usually plastic) box that is attached to the liner via a compression gasket. A pond skimmer does exactly the same thing a pool skimmer does. Water is drawn into the skimmer where large pieces of debris are stopped by brushes, and smaller particles are caught in a net. With the manufacturer we use, the lid is a lightweight piece of plastic made to look like a flat rock. What draws the water into the skimmer is the pump. 

3. The pump

Inside the skimmer sits the submersible pump*. Water is drawn in through the bottom of the pump and is discharged into the flexible PVC that feeds the waterfall. We like to install a quick release, so that the pump can be easily removed for maintenance or winter shutdown. We also install a check valve. When the pump is shut off, the check valve prevents the water in the PVC line from flowing back downhill into the skimmer and overflowing the pond. 

* = there are, of course, other types of pumps, but submersible pumps are the most common for this application

4. The PVC plumbing

For centuries, humans have worked to find the best way to get water from point A to point B without losing any. We use flexible PVC pipe for that. Flexible pipe means we can avoid using a gazillion elbows and fittings. That’s a good thing because every time we ask water to make a hard “turn” we lose a little pressure to friction. The flex pipe is what connects the pump to the waterfall. 

5. The waterfall box

We need a way to filter and clean the water and we need a way to move water into the stream. Waterfall filter boxes are the industry’s way to solve two problems with one product. Water enters the box through a fitting towards the bottom. As the water rises it passes through several layers of filter media. These both help grab smaller particles that got through the skimmer, and provide a site for beneficial microbes to live. These microbes play a huge role in keeping the water clean and clear. When the water reaches the top, a spillway either IS the waterfall, or directs the water towards the next drop. 

There are other components you can add like ultaviolet filters, underwater lights, and more, but these are the basics every pond needs. If you’re looking for help creating a beautiful pond in your backyard, contact us today!