Friday, December 3, 2010



In a charming neighborhood in Baltimore where walled or fenced gardens are the norm behind historic town homes, it was time for a garden makeover for that transformed a rambling grassy yard with old brick pathways into this sophisticated urban oasis. Our clients held a strong vision of a simplified, modernized urban sanctuary that gave a sense of spacious elegance, and over several meetings they were able to present us with a stunning design for installation. They chose to keep the boxwood hedge on the right and the sweet smelling viburnum bush on the left. Ipe decking was installed in racing stripes in bringing definition and accent to the patio and matching the existing back deck of the home. The decking functioned to divide the space in precise geometric and mathematical patterns honoring the fibonacci series!

The old fence at the far end of the yard was replaced with a cedar fence with horizontal boards. By selecting the horizontal board fence the homeowners selected a more modern look to the garden. The horizontal boards form a striking perpendicular form with the three hornbeams. The hornbeam trees are an unusual tree in this region and create a focal point of interest with their narrow upright form and beautiful bark and leaves- a perfect selection for this narrow garden. Liriope plantings “naturalized” the space. (Plantings of spring bulbs will also do this, clumped together in bunches). On the far left is a purple smoke bush, a lovely choice with its deep purple leaves and airy purple flowers.

Large 2’x3’ thermal premium bluestone flagstone were used for the patio. These large pieces of bluestone are treated with high heat to create a textured surface that is not a slippery as regular bluestone flagstone. It also creates a very consistent surface. The premium bluestone is color selected to be a very consistent blue color (as opposed to the full color bluestone which includes shades of greens, browns and purples, as well as the blue). The coolness of the bluestone enhances the feeling of serenity and spaciousness, while its consistency of texture and color brings both a modern look and a formality to the space. The warmth of the garden bed soil and the Ipe decking is an eye catching contrast to the coolness of the bluestone. Five variegated red twig dogwood bushes are planted. The variegation of the leaves reflects the coolness of the bluestone and the red of their stems reflects the warmth of the Ipe. The second purple smokebush is just visible on the right.

This beautiful garden reflects both its urban and contemporary setting as well as allowing the viewer to relish the beauty of nature, with the simple yet expressive landscape plantings, the incomparable beauty of natural stone and the natural variations in the color and grain of the Ipe decking. Carefully placed uplighting further enhances the carefully selected plantings. This will be a space to enjoy for years to come!

A Pool Scape


Our clients had several issues with their existing pool scape. Although the far side was beautifully landscaped in terrace style with many shade loving plants, the grass around the pool was sparse and detracted from the beauty of the pool and did not do justice to the peaceful surroundings. Our clients expressed a desire for various pathways and interconnecting patios and after several meetings we arrived at a design involving new garden beds , paths and patios made from pavers and river stone accents and edging.

BEFORE: Wood decking in the far left corner gets replaced with a paver patio with a drain to solve puddling issues, sparse grass and variably defined garden beds are reworked to open up a pathway and create more defined garden spaces, eliminating most of the grass.

AFTER: Visitors entering the garden gate are now met with an inviting pathway leading to the far patio. Grass is replaced with gardens. The right side of the path is edged with a river stone edge, allowing a raised bed on the right to bring added interest to the pool scape. The River Stones are wonderful additions to pool landscapes as they are the result of the movement of water over the stones and thus are natural choices for garden accents around the pool!

BEFORE: A pathway from the gate to the shed needs to be tied in to both the deck and pool. Sparse grass is replaced with garden beds.

AFTER: View from the pool. Pathway is now tied into the pool and the deck and a small edge of river stones gives definition to a new garden bed.

BEFORE: Especially sparse grass between deck and pool in this high traffic area is replaced with a new patio and garden beds.

AFTER: The new patio creates an attractive space in which to sit to enjoy the sunshine and pool. The new pathway is visible in the distance. Liriope plants in the foreground will fill in the space to create a lush green carpet effect.

Another view of the same patio from the other side. Pavers are laid in a herringbone pattern with straight edge pavers “picture framing” the patio.

View from the side gate, visitors are now greeted with a welcoming walkway leading to the side pool patio.

By redesigning this pool landscape we were able to eliminate much of the sparse grass, create new a new flow from the gate to the pool and from the shed to the pool, and were able to accentuate an new patio space between the deck and the pool.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


TRANSFORMATION.... From an Abandoned lot to an Elegant Garden!

There are many reasons a home and garden can become abandoned, and what was once a loved garden can become obscured by rampant ivy, years of leaves and whatever opportunistic weeds survive. It is often a surprise when old flagstone and bricks, marble or other "treasures" are found among the debris, and we realize that once somebody cultivated a much beloved garden before neglect took over.

Th rehabilitation of these types of abandoned gardens (and homes) requires homeowners with the creativity to envision the rebirth of the interior and exterior spaces, and the patience and persistence to see the project through to its completion.

From the onset this project was intriguing. I walk through a house calling for a full rehab to a back porch propped up by a few 2x4s brought me into a garden covered with ivy, old tree stumps, and bits of old concrete, flagstone and bricks littered around. The homeowners presented me with a conceptual plan for the space and over the next year this plan morphed and adapted to what became the final result.

BEFORE: A view from the Garage

BEFORE: A View from the Back Porch

Our first step was to remove all the ivy, tree stumps, and debris and collect and save all the old flagstones, marble and brick to be reused in the new patio and walkways. We also installed a gravel pit drain in the far left corner as the gutters from the house had no outlet into the back alley and were draining into the yard close to the house. We then mulched the yard heavily with straw which suppressed the growth of ivy and other undesirable weeds as well as protected the soil from the construction process that the house was to undergo and increase the soil structure as in decomposed over the next year.

During the winter we pruned the crape myrtle whose branches were tangled in the overhead wires, and after the series of large snow storms of February, we were ready in March to begin the installation of the "new/old hardscape" and several weeks later the planting and mulching. At this point all rehabilitation of the house had taken place and the garden was all potential waiting for manifestation.

The patio is 50% old flagstone from the original garden and 50% newly quarried local quartzite flagstone from Vinci's Stone in Marriotsville, MD. The patio is dry-laid and the joints are filled with "gator dust" which, because it has a cement component, hardens and eliminates stone dust from constantly finding its way into the home and gardens. Local flagstone has a high mica content which glitters in the sunlight.

The walkways and Grill Patio is 100% recovered pavers from the original garden set in a herringbone pattern with polymeric sand in the joints, which again because of its cement content hardens. For these older homes, using recovered pavers is outstanding due to the natural aging that occurs that cannot be duplicated by new pavers.

A sitting wall borders the oval patio on one side giving vertical interest and a convenient place to sit and place potted plants on. The sitting wall is made from recovered Baltimore veneer brick and PA Bluestone whose edges get thermalled with an extremely high heat to remove saw marks. Since this sitting wall follows the curve of the oval patio, each capstone was cut to reflect the curve.

The brick grill patio and oval flagstone patio met in an interesting geometry which is especially eye catching from the viewpoint of the back porch.

Back towards the garage we planted an Okame Cherry which exploded in blossoms the following day! A Trellis which will have annual flowering vines frames the garage door and provides a division of spaces.

Finally all perennials were planted and mulched!

Although the transformation of this first year is startling, the true beauty of the space will develop over the next years as the perennials settle in, take root in their new home and grow and expand!

Once again a Beloved Cared for Garden!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Kitchen and Bathroom Remodel

Remodeling a Kitchen and Bathroom in Catonsville, Maryland

In a leafy suburb of Catonsville, we were asked to remodel a kitchen which had not been remodeled since the 1950s along with a dated pink bathroom.   Our client asked us to design and install a modern kitchen with a rustic and natural charm.  We also designed and installed a complete bathroom remodel.  The homeowner was not only looking for a kitchen and bathroom that appealed to her but also for a remodel which would increase the value of the home and make it more marketable as the homeowner is planning to sell the house in the near future.  A kitchen and bathroom remodels are the most likely to increase appeal to potential buyers and her existing kitchen and bathroom were a decided detraction from the house in general.  

The kitchen originally had metal cabinets, badly deteriorated countertop, old wall paper, outdated appliances and vinyl flooring.  A dated lamp hung in the center of the room.  

We installed new maple cabinets, manufactured a new concrete countertop on site, installed new ceramic floor tiles, marble wall tiles with a river stone border and all new stainless steel appliances.  The finishing touch was recessed lights over the window, wall paper removal and paint application.
The natural color scheme and use of natural tile materials on the wall behind the stove and counter as well as ceramic tile on the floor which imitated natural stone, brought a rustic character to an otherwise modern kitchen. 
The original bathroom contained vinyl flooring, pink tub, toilet and sink and maroon window curtain and shower curtain.  Taking into account the bathroom's small space and limited light we designed the bathroom with white tub, toilet, sink and white shower tile, adding a simple design of marble tiles around the window and shower border.

The window was made opaque with a floral design removing the need for a window curtain and eliminating the trapping of moisture between the curtain and window, this also increased the natural light in the bathroom. The shower curtain was replaced with a shower door. The floor was covered with ceramic tile again of a rustic stone design.  Wall paint was selected to complement the colors in the tile floor and to accentuate the marble design in the tub surround.

The final product was a fresh look which made the most of the small bathroom and brought a brightness to the bathroom which was absent in the original dated pink version.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Peaceful City Garden

Baltimore is full of narrow city lots, often with a garage at one end and the town house at the other. Fences often surround them, and sometimes walls. It is only when one enters the gate or walks through the home or garage that one can see the beautiful and lush oasis' that have been created by the homeowners! What the city garden lacks in space is more than made up for in intensity of landscaping. City gardens provide a unique opportunity to create a garden space that is pure landscaping, lacking the usual lawns of their suburban counter parts. Homeowners enjoy grilling, gardening, entertaining, sunbathing, reading, and more in these beautiful and intimate spaces.

This "city garden" began as a rather bare yard with an old brick patio and a shaky privacy fence.

The homeowners decided to have us replace the fence with a brick wall, and re-use the existing brick to make new patio, as well as raise the garden beds with dry-stack Pennsylvania field stone walls.

The brick wall was selected to blend in with the brick on the existing carriage house and was a full 6 feet high to maximize privacy. The subtle pattern of end bricks was also carefully selected to reflect surrounding walls and the garage itself.

The homeowners had found a decorative terracotta which had been salvaged from an old Baltimore building. We were able to incorporate this into the wall at a prominent location where it was sure to be appreciated for many years to come.
A raised bed below the terracotta serves to blend the "old with the new"...

Pennsylvania field stone complete with moss provides natural borders for the raised beds, giving the appearance of having been in the garden for years.

The majority of bricks which made up the new patio came from the original patio itself, we brought in additional salvaged bricks from Baltimore which allowed us to complete the patio without the addition of glaringly new bricks.

The rectangular patio merged with a circular patio space which created a natural sitting area for the homeowners and guests.

As we came to a completion with this project it was wonderful to see how the garden looked as if it had been there for years. The moss covered stones, the old brick, the solid wall and the unique terracotta blended perfectly to create this private, peaceful city garden.

A rare glimpse from the alleyway taken before the gate was installed, a lush magnolia tree behind the adjoining fence adds rich color to the background.