What is Resort Style Living?

Well, have you have heard of “stay-cations?

Smart people have been investing in their property and finding ways to have the same experience they would at a fancy resort right in their own backyard.  

About 18 months ago we saw a trend where customers came back—somewhere around 2-3 years after we had done a huge detailed landscape design for them, and were now ready to take the leap.  Those investment dollars could have gone to a new beach condo, or a camper or RV.

They told me, “we decided not to do the beach thing”, or “we can travel on our points whenever we want the beach or skiing”, and ” its wasn’t going to be worth the maintenance and service headaches having an RV”. At the end of all that time, the common theme was to have more of that resort style at home.  Family is the most important element.  Being able to entertain at home saves time, there is not traffic, there are no calls from an HOA that there is an emergency, no HOA fees, no TSA delays, no parking fees, no maintenance headaches.  And if you already travel 3-4 days a week all you want to do is get back home.  Let us make it easy and enjoyable.

Here is a survey that shows the popularity of items being invested in that turn backyards into resorts.  Are any of these on your list?  Do you notice them when you go away on vacation?  Why not have them at home?

ASLA reveals top 10 trends in Landscape Architecture for 2017

ASLA reveals top 10 trends in Landscape Architecture for 2017

I recently attended the Techo-Bloc Contractor Showcase when it rolled into Annapolis.  WOW!  3 semi’s of materials and a rocking presentation by “Paver Pete” and friends.  A single day wasn’t enough to get my head around all the cool combinations we now have available.    We studied every element of what you’ll see next.  We did workshops on using better tools, being safer, underground structures like drainage and permeability, and best practices for installers.

Take a look at these shots from a build completed by Techo-Bloc just last year.

Techo-Bloc Borealis Seating, Raffinata Fire Pit

Techo-Bloc Borealis Seating, Raffinata Fire Pit, Lighting and water falls

Outdoor sound systems

Coastal Source Sound

Coastal Outdoor Sound and Lighting

And Lighting on the same wire as the Sound System

Grill, Pizza Oven, Root Beer Keg over a wood plank look called Borealis

Grill, Pizza Oven, Root Beer Keg over a wood plank floor look called Borealis

Resort Style Living

What does it cost to visit this resort? Nothing, it’s right outside your back door!

Resort Style Living

An Investment in Resort Style Living–It seems to be catching on!

It all starts with a phone call.  Tell me you want a resort style back yard and I’ll bring in the Landscape Architect who will get all the details right so it fits your needs, works in the space provided, and has that WOW factor I just experienced.  Then we’ll bring the best technicians and craftsmen to grade, create drainage, stabilize and install the finest paver materials available.  This can be yours!  Your call means we’ll start NOW!

Drown You Cares Away

I have built some neat backyards. Water slides through boulders, bridges over ponds, deck/patio combinations, a fishing hole you could swim in, lots and lots of pergolas, pavers, walkways, and steps–you name it. Lately we have been doing pondless waterfalls. Smaller versions of what you think of when I say “pond” but without the fish and mess and safety concerns for kids falling in.   Wait, did you say pondless?

Yep. Take a look—

Pondless Ceramic Pots, Water Feature

Pondless Ceramic Pots Water Feature

Large Mushroom Water Feature

Large Mushroom Water Feature

So with these systems we can add beauty and have a functional water feature in a limited space.  And there is very little maintenance compared to a pond that everyone should have one.  I’ve installed a few but never had the chance to hang out with the homeowners and see what it’s really like.  Busy busy busy.

I had that opportunity this weekend and a cookout.  Yes, a January cookout.  Great Idea, by the way.  It wasn’t all that cold and when night time came the fire pit was the perfect gathering place which kept the party going longer than it probably should have.

But the best place to relax was on the patio near the water feature.  Sitting in a chaise lounge, you really could really be in the moment.  There is something about the sound of water that clears your mind of all distractions and allows focus.  It complimented conversations and music alike.  Subliminally, it put all your busy-ness on hold. There is a certain calm to the sound of water.  I should put one on my desk, although I’m rarely there for long.

Pondless water feature design

Pondless water feature design

It can also look just like a mini-waterfall with plants and boulders.

But does it fit in my tiny back yard? Exactly!

Pondless waterfalls are achieved by recirculating the water after it passes through filtration and sediment control but on the surface, all you see is small stone and your choice of decor (boulders, plants, statuary, etc.).  Up at the top of the one shown here is the spillway for the waterfall, and there is a fibrous filter up there that you simply hose out if flow appears to be slowing. About once a month in summer is enough.  We do recommend to pull the pump out for the winter through that tall black spout in the picture, but we have people for that if you don’t want to mess with it.

Aquascape Inc. is a pond company in Illinois. They call themselves “The Pond Guys”  They’ve even been on TV show called “The Pond Stars”.  These guys are brilliant.  Zoologists and Construction guys who together come up with some of the most unique ways of making ponds more enjoyable.  This is one of their systems.  And I know they work better than anything else.  Take a look at their catalog for more ideas.  Most can be installed in one day.

 

Water Features are also good for attracting birds, but keep an eye on the water level.  They’ll spend hours splashing around in the basin or on top of the mushroom getting a drink.  We recommend either a timer on a hose bib set to refill daily for a certain period of time or, if you have irrigation, a zone can be installed for this purpose and set up in your controller.  Add some lighting in the splash zone and you won’t believe the look.

 

 

 

7 Deadly Sins of Landscaping

We spend and inordinate amount of time listening to how you will use the space we create. Why?  So at the end it exceeds your expectations.  We apply a lot of resources educating buyers on what works and why, how it’s built, what the construction process will look like and how they will celebrate at the end when we finally leave them alone with their new backyard paradise. Of course a solid landscape design plan goes a long way to paving the road to a more satisfying installation.

But there are a few things that every good buyer should be aware of that may not seem top of mind about Landscaping.  Along the way we have run into all kinds of “trunk slammers”, guys with a truck who did just enough work somewhere else to think they can do this cheaper and faster and not get caught. And those prices, man, they are tempting.  We charge a great deal of money to fix those blunders and we’d like to help you avoid the pain, frustration and expense from selecting the wrong landscaping company by doing it right the first time.

Here are a few things you should be asking when interviewing a prospective Landscape Designer

1.) References.
All the marketing gurus will tell you the testimonials from existing satisfied customers carry the most weight. No one can tell your story better than someone for whom it played out according to plan. That would be our customers. Getting them to do a video for the website or write a review on Google, Houzz, Angies List etc., for your review provides a broad scope of work to ensure you’re getting the best value for your money.  There is so much more to it than getting a good price. And will the design really work for you and your family or many years to come or will you always wish you had made a change?

2.) Scheduling.

Don’t give your deposit without a solid commitment to when the job will start. Any landscaper who doesn’t know the date of the next open slot isn’t doing good business. Exceptions? There are a few. Weather is the worst. If it rains for two days, it’s still too wet most times to work on day 3. If you live downhill from the neighbors, you could be getting water perking through your property for several days. Its a judgement call but your landscaper should be in contact with you daily to adjust the schedule. Material availability is another exception. Most of the time we have two weeks to get ready so that’s not going to be in play very often. Permits can definitely wreak havoc on the schedule. Otherwise your landscaper should be on top of scheduling. And he/she should be talking to you, at least a text or email before you have to call and ask what’s up.

3.) Plant sizes.
There is no rhyme or reason to plant sizes. Used to be a 1 gallon pot had a one gallon sized root ball and the plant would always be a certain size for it’s variety. Now we see pots half filled with pine bark and a tiny little thing trying to grow roots. Ask you landscaper about the size of plants being installed. It should be spelled out in your contract anyway and be aware of how they will grow to fit the landscape design you are paying for. Say, you just spent all that getting the front redone, you don’t want them growing back up over the windows in 5 years.

4.) Disturbances on you property.
Face it, it’s construction and there’s nothing clean about working in the dirt. You might see some footprints or tire marks on the driveway, sampled grass from the 100 trips to the back yard with a wheel barrow. Landscaping is a little like open heart surgery…we open up the ground, construct whats on the plan and put it back together. That doesnt happen without some foot traffic, machinery and a lot of dust. Some dirt marks will fade in time with a little help from the rain. Another option is for the landscaper to agree to powerwash hard surfaces on his way out at the end of the job. That should be in your contract if you want it done. If they aren’t going to finish by the weekend, or your job will take multiple weeks like a pool deck might, then how will they stage materials and equipment so you can enjoy you home while they are off duty? What about your neighbors?  Do we need to go visit them before we start so they aren’t angered by all the commotion?

If things work out this year we are going to video this process so you can see for yourself what you are getting into. I think the dust and disturbance is the most shocking thing homeowner don’t expect to see. Of course, it comes together beautifully in the end.

5.) Staging Areas.
Parking multiple pallets of pavers in your driveway can inhibit your use of the garage. Are you ok with that? Make sure you understand and specify what you want prior to signing the contract. Landscaping projects will certainly cost more if we have to spend hours walking to the street and hauling heavy wheel barrows of paver material to the back yard, so we like to be as close to the work site as possible. But it’s your house and if we are planning to be there a couple weeks you might want to discuss staging of materials, parking of vehicles, etc.

6.) Watering. Too Much, Not Enough? Both? It happens.
Plants come from the nursery where they are watered 2-3 times a day and live in perfect oil with extra fertilizer tossed in to make them look strong. They they go in the ground and you off to work but when you get home they are wilting. You water at the worst time of day but it’s better than nothing. Are you sure how much water you put on the plant? Did someone else from the household water too? Next thing you know there are bugs attacking your new plants because they are in shock and under stress. Plants have virtually no warranty because of this. No one can stop Mother Nature but you can work with her if you follow instructions. I’ve even seen people go a couple weeks and think things are great and start to forget to tend their new baby plants. Death ensues.

7.) No Maintenance Follow Up.
Not following up with clean ups, mulching, proper pruning (sore subject for another time) makes no sense to me. Why spend all that time and money on a beautiful plan thats executed perfectly to let it turn to a mess. A decent landscaper should have a follow up program you can enlist them to do that work. They know what to look out for and when to do things. Especially one who is Certified for Pesticides and Fertilization, which is a Maryland Law, should be able to identify weather conditions that cause fungus and disease. Plants and lawns can be sprayed to combat this natural occurrences that plants cannot defend themselves against.

The deadliest sin?

False impressions. 

At true story…Many, many years ago I worked for a car dealership as the Service Director. I had 3 franchises to worry about and one just plain sucked. This was about the time the JD Powers surveys were hitting the public. This one manufacturer got more complaints than anything in the history of surveys. Rightly so.  But, the complaints were falling on deaf ears. Those customers who weren’t happy were screaming at the top of their lungs to get some value for the money they had already spent. And the manufacturer kept sending them surveys. What else was a consumer to do? They were dinging the dealership for manufacturing issues and complaints. Hey, it was their only voice.

I was talking to different car manufacturer’s rep about this (where we had a 98% rating, so we were pretty sure it wasn’t us) and he suggested something ingenious to trick the system because low scores affected availability of cars, technical training and warranty payments. We made up a check sheet, laminated it and mounted it right on the service counter and at the cashier window. We told every warranty customer they would be getting a survey to gauge their “satisfaction” and that if they couldn’t fill it out by checking all the ‘excellent” boxes to let one of us know and we would make it so they could.

Funny thing was we still couldn’t fix the defective cars, two years later, when the new models came out, most of the “issues” were resolved. We did make that 43% rating jump up to 96% just by getting more happy people to complete the survey. Their voice was now being heard too which tipped the scales the other way.  So having few or no review may not tell the whole story, but having everyone talk about you is actually good.

I am afraid we see the same thing in Landscaping. Initially all the work looks good because its new, but if you have to pick up after your contractor, spot inconsistencies in the workmanship, are told “that’s how we do it” when you ask questions, can’t get anyone to explain how to operate the new irrigation controller or lighting timer, have to reseed your own lawn where they drove over it, or aren’t able to communicate with the crews, it might be time for a full service landscape company.

The caution here is to do your due diligence and find out what the company you are giving your hard earned money to is all about. It’s ok to ask for references. Any company who doesn’t have them readily available should be eliminated. Look for testimonies and comments on the website, Angies List, Google, Houzz, etc. to get a balanced feel for their abilities and personnel. Go visit their yard and see if they look organized.  Even read the bad comments and see how they responded to criticism.

The more you dig, the more you learn, the more satisfied you’ll be at the end.

by, John Gallagher

Can you still entertain outdoors in January?

We had an epic year out by the grill. Tried a few new recipes and had good friends over many times. It was really memorable. Did it come to a halt because the weather changed? No way!

Outdoor living has become a big part of how we enjoy our precious free time and there is no better place to do that than in your own backyard. All the comforts of home are still within reach, yet you can feel a world away. Best Tip: Your phone can recharge in a drawer for a while so you don’t hear it go off.

Once you have the living space set up the way you want, it seems your best friends want to stay longer and come more often; telling stories and making plans that keep the party going. Something like a deep seating resin wicker furniture set to hang out in or a fire pit for a gathering place make it that much easier to entertain.outdoor living, outdoor kitchen, outdoor entertaining, night life outdoors

BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE…So what do we do now that it’s getting colder? The ladies want to stay inside. Some say that’s ok, but we know you spent inordinate amounts of money to get her to like you, and she looks better than your buddies anytime of year. What if we could heat the outside seating area or under a screen porch setting economically and extend that summer party atmosphere?

prone outdoor heater, pyramidal heater, stay warm outdoors

Propan fired pyramidal outdoor heater

Have you seen the pyramid heaters at restaurants that are being provided near outdoor seating, especially at restaurants. Very popular in places like Disney World where you wouldn’t think about getting a chill but a chill could ruin the enjoyment of the patrons. Those places are packed every night.

I looked into some heating options because I’m not ready to give up being outdoors with friends and family. Basically it comes down to gas or electric and stand alone or ceiling mounted.

If you have natural gas at the house we can take a look at having the meter upgraded by BGE to flow more gas volume and having the meter changed doesn’t cost anything (although there is a waiting period). Propane works as well but isn’t as safe and the tanks are ugly. We can have our plumber route new lines and we can permanently mount a couple gas heaters if, for example, you have a screen room to warm up. On a deck, there are ways to mount cantilevered heaters on walls or off a small pergola and of course there are several portable types that run off 20# bottles like the top hat style or the pyramid (shown above). We did a man cave, ok converted garage, with portables and I know for a fact they have a standing room crowd for the football games on Sunday and no one is cold at all.

Electric Outdoor Heaters are also available if you don’t like the idea of using gas. This
makes for a clean installation and again there are stand alone models and ceiling mounts.

The most important thing to look for in an outdoor heater is how far it reaches.

  • Does it’s radiant heating footprint spread evenly or just melt the people closest to it?
  • Can it be adjusted easily?
  • Is there a remote or an app for that?
  • One of the things we do is evaluate the necessity for a single or multiple units.

The newest and most efficient heaters use tungsten elements and actually project fairly evenly out as far as 16-20 feet. One brand we really like is Bromic Heating. We love these for their beautiful design esthetics, ease of use and variety of mounting features. You can’t go wrong with a Bromic Heater. Here is a link to their brochure:  http://bromicheating.com/en-us/.  We are lucky enough to have a distributor right here in Millersville, MD where we can take you to see these in person.

Baby, Let’s stay outside a little longer…The first consultation is FREE.

5 Common Grilling Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Sorry, this was so well written I had to copy and share it with you. –John

5 common grilling mistakes and how to avoid them

Your barbecue could be better. Here’s how.

Kori Perten

Kori Perten 
May 04, 2016

Cooking is still a science, even when you’re doing it outdoors. Despite what your dad might have taught you, grilling is more about patience and planning than poking and prodding. Make a single error, and your burgers could turn out tough and bitter, your chicken rare and unappetizing.

Luckily, these errors are easy to avoid.

At Reviewed.com, we’re determined to host nothing but perfect barbecues this summer, so we devoted hours upon hours of research to compiling the ultimate list of grilling don’ts. Here are the five top barbecue mistakes you might be making—and how to prevent them in the future.

Reviewed Guide to Grilling

1. Your grill is dirty.

We don’t mean to be rude, but your grill is filthy. And why shouldn’t it be? Those grates have seen countless steaks, skewers, and sausages—which means they’re coated in grease and charred bits of food.

Here’s the problem, though: That charred mess could ruin tonight’s dinner.

Dirty grill
Dirty grates can make your food taste bad.   View Larger

Weber 6464 18-Inch Bamboo Grill Brush

Buy now for $6.65 Grilling chicken? It’ll stick to the dirty grates, shredding when you remove it. This makes for an ugly meal and an even dirtier grill. Plus, the grime will give your food a bitter flavor and increase the chance of flare-ups.Cleaning isn’t fun, but if you do it every time you use the grill, it should be relatively painless. It’s easiest to scrape off grease and food remains when the grates are hot, so we recommend going to work with a metal grill brush during preheating. That way, when it comes time to actually slap some food on that bad boy, it’ll be clean and ready to go.

2. You don’t preheat the grill.

Not only is preheating a great time to clean your grill, but it’s also crucial to getting the best possible cooking results. If you throw on some ‘dogs before your grill is hot enough, they’ll stick to the grates. You won’t get those nice, dark grid marks, and you might end up overcooking your meat in the pursuit of a good sear.

Preheated grill with food
A preheated grill gives your food those nice grill-marks.   View Larger

The fact of the matter is that metal grates take a while to heat up. The flames may be hot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your cooking surface is—yet. And if the grates are made of thick cast iron, it may take a really long time for them to get as hot as the rest of the grill.

So employ some patience. After you light the grill, shut the cover to help trap heat (unless you’re doing necessary cleaning). Give it 10-20 minutes, and resist the temptation to keep staring at the flames. Then, by all means, start cooking. Good on you for being so patient, friend! You get a mouthful of tasty barbecue for your troubles.

3. You don’t use the lid properly.

There’s a time and place for everything, and that includes the lid on your grill. Sometimes it’s meant to fit over your food, keep it safe, and help it cook. Other times, it should be anywhere but on top of the grill. The trick is knowing when to use it—and when to skip it.

The lid performs a very important function: trapping hot air and smoke. So if you’re cooking thick cuts of meat, like roasts or bone-in chicken, you’ll want to use it to conserve heat and make sure your food cooks through.

Grill with lid
Use the lid when you want to trap heat or cut off the grill’s oxygen supply.   View Larger

Just make sure not to open it too often. It’s okay to flip burgers or check on your food every now and then, but every sneak peek affects the way your food cooks. If you’re cooking on a gas grill, your curiosity will cost you heat. If you’re rolling coal, the sudden rush of oxygen will make the coals burn hotter, which could burn your food.

For quick-cooking foods like burgers, shrimp, and sliced veggies, you can leave the lid off and cook directly over the flames. You’ll get a good sear, but the food won’t cook through as fast because the ambient air will be much cooler. In other words, you won’t lose that pink, juicy center in your steak or burger, and your asparagus won’t turn to mush.

Pro tip: If you find yourself battling flare-ups, shut that lid. Cutting off the grill’s oxygen supply can knock down the flames.

4. You’re overzealous with the heat.

Our caveman brains tell us that fire is good. Flames produce the heat that cooks your food. It’s only natural to want to coax them to greater heights and put your food right in their crosshairs.

Unfortunately, that’s a big mistake. (Huge!)

Grill with tall flames
Your food shouldn’t be exposed to direct heat at all times, especially if the flames are too high.  View Larger

We’re really talking about two issues here: Tall flames and direct heat. Tall flames may look totally awesome, but they’ll leave your meal burnt and bitter—not exactly a recipe for success. It’s best to keep the fire low, so that your food can sit over it instead of in it.

As for direct heat, it’s not always the best way to cook. Searing a steak or burger? Sure. But cooking a chicken through? For that, you’ll want to distribute coals over one half your charcoal grill, or only light the burners on one side of your gas grill. That way, you can sear items on the hot side of the grill, then cook them more gently on the other side, using indirect heat. The cooler side of the grill is also a convenient place to shift your meat or veggies during a flare-up to prevent burning.

5. You add sauce too early.

How could sweet, smoky barbecue sauce possibly ruin your lovingly grilled food? You’d be surprised. The same sugars that can give your meat that flavorful, caramelized glaze will also burn when exposed to heat for too long.

There’s no benefit to adding your sauce early in the process. It doesn’t soak into the meat, and it’ll just give you a blackened, acrid crust when it overcooks.

Grill with BBQ sauce
Brush on the barbecue sauce in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.   View Larger

Avoid this tragedy by waiting until the final 5-10 minutes of cooking and then applying the sauce with a brush.

When it’s all done, sit back and consume the fruits of your labor! If you took care with your technique, it’s bound to be tasty!

Want a Facial?

Sometimes you just have to take time for yourself. A little maintenance and pampering goes a long way. It’s really hot right now; record setting stuff, but there will a time soon when we can trim, plant and make the landscaping beautiful again.

One of the nicest things you can do for your house is to give it new plants. Take out the things that suffered from disease or fungus, rehabilitate overgrown areas, take care of weeding and rotate or add new mulch. September and October are the perfect time to give the house a facial.

Before of Arnold MD 20 year old landscaping

Before

But we have to plan for that now. It takes a couple days to evaluate the best changes to make and to put together a comprehensive landscape plan. Right now our landscape design team is available to provide solutions.

After Arnold Maryland Landscape Design

After

Facial? That’s where we start with the front of the house, the thing everyone sees first. Some homes need a new walkway. Some homes just need some trimming and pruning. Some homes are ready for wholesale changes and a new color scheme in the garden beds. The answer is a facial.

Entry View of Paver Walkway and steps

Now that’s special!

 

Let AMJ Landscaping, your Pasadena family owned landscape design and build company, be the one to provide ideas and solutions. Call TODAY for a FREE 1st Consultation with our landscape designers.

 

410-437-3027

www.amjlandscaping.com