Thursday, May 27, 2010

June Blooms... How can we help you?

Things are busy here.  May Mayhem is almost over.  Jack's design work was featured in a nice article about swimming ponds in a recent Spaces Magazine publication, showcasing a very nice project.  Nice work to all involved!

We are still finding prospects and are enjoying our role assisting some very talented owner-operator companies who we love to equip with some high-caliber design and presentation graphics for them to share with their clients.  Instead of having to hire their own designer, we are very capable and equipped to come in and be their hired hand as needed.

Otherwise, we are here to help you make your dreams a reality, and find you a good price.  Let us show you what our "Design it.  Bid it.  Build it!" system can offer you.

What are your dreams?  ....Are you looking for us to design of your own backyard retreat?  Your private oasis?  Your party pad?  Your outdoor dinner table?  Your outdoor sports bar and grill?  Your zen garden?  Your commune with nature?  Your dog-friendly play area?  Your kid-friendly playground -- with a place for mom in the shade?  Your outdoor yoga studio?  Your patio by the pond?  Your sunbath by the pool?  Your romantic spot by the spa?  Your taste of France?  Your taste of Italy?  Your taste of Asia?  Where do you want to go in your back yard?

We look forward to talking with you soon!


May Mayhem III -- A Memorial Salute

Things are busy and don't afford much time these days.  This weekend is my 11th year wedding anniversary with my lovely bride, and my 37th (-?) birthday.  Wow, how time flies!....  But most importantly, this is Memorial Weekend, when we honor our American brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, grandparents, and great grandparents who have stepped up to serve on all of our behalf in protecting us under the American flag, and who have worked hard to keep the peace and safety in our local communities.  It is their dedication, bravery, service and sacrifice that has allowed this country to become the great country that it is today. 

Of course, as a country, we aren't perfect.  But there is no place I would rather be, and to be able to have the choice to do the business that I enjoy doing with the people I enjoy working for and working with. 

It is unfortunate that there is such a relentless and way too over-dramatized sideshow of commentators always trying to enrage one half of the country or the other.  (If Adolf Hitler, Mao Ze Dong, Jozef Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mussolini were alive in the world today --which I am certainly glad that they are not! -- I am sure that they would shake their heads and laugh in disbelief on how loosely the words Nazism, Communism, Fascism, Socialism, and Dictatorship can be used and diluted of any true meaning these days.  It is astounding what people can get away with saying, and so prominently in the major news outlets, in the face of a republic with a representative democracy, without getting their needed reality check or psychiatric evaluation.) 

But truly, this is a great country full of amazing things, full of amazing people, and full of incredible opportunitues.  We have done many wonderful things with the protection and outreach efforts of our service men and women, and with the secular and non-secular philanthropic endeavors around the world... And I am truly grateful and proud to live in this country!   

I am the good lookin' boyscout on the left.

some old friends working on a paver memorial in 2007.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May Mayhem II -- the Sequel

Yard Crashers!

There is a program on the DIY network that I have really enjoyed watching on Sunday afternoons (while designing something) called "Yard Crashers".  What a great show, and what a truly great premise for a show!

The fact that it is on the DIY network (the "Do-It-Yourself network") and has a premise that people who are quite possibly fledgling away at their own landscape improvement projects might benefit significantly from the aid of a true team of professionals is an awesome thing to see. 

The "client prospects" are found drifting through their local supply stores, with the look of bewilderment as they try to piece together their own landscape projects.  They often have very lofty ambitions and are maybe are even off to a respectable and decent start, but they just seem to have gotten into a rut or have more than they might be able to handle as a "weekend warrior". 

These people are stalked and accosted by the host, Ahmed Hassan, who is a great character as he amusingly trails these people and practically begs them for his help.  Whether these people are "in-tune" with the actual premise of the show or not, I am not sure. From my experience with "Curb Appeal" on HGTV in 2007, there might be just a hint of premeditated (or post-scripted) story built into it.  But is seems like the real deal, where these people finally succumb to the idea that they need help and invite him (and the camera crew) over for a look.

Upon arrival, he gets the tour and clues them in that he has an arsenal of talent and production crew ready to full-on attack their project with aggressive landscaping, at no expense to them.  By which, these people are surprised and are "like... okay, go for it!" with a lot of amusing banter from the host.  Ahmed really does a nice job with this role and is a seemingly knowledgeable and engaging character with the client subjects, and does have some spot-on information that he provides them with as they look over the project and what could lie ahead for them.

So, the premise then starts to merge into the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" scenario where a large team of designers, contractors, installers, vendors, etc. shows up the next day (or what is supposed to be the next day) and brings them out of the house bright and early to overwhelm them with the great design ideas, and a load of talent and workforce in store for them on their project. 

The designs seem utilitarian but do contain a lot of creativity, and are seemingly largely embellished versions of what the homeowner had set out to do, but were floundering away with it.  Again, it is a great premise that can often echo what goes on in the "real world" and does seem to be a very genuine conversation and presentation for the client.

The team gets ready and the commences with the construction, with skid loaders and shovels flying everywhere, much like Extreme Home Makeover. However, Ahmed, the host, constantly walks side-by-side with the clients, and sets them up with all sorts of "tasks" to do throughout the project.  The clients are digging holes, installing base, splitting block, screeding sand, running a table saw, screwing fasteners into a pergola, or whatever it takes to help the production team, while the host acts as their "personal trainer" through the process.  He is almost like a trainer at the gym setting them up to do their third set of bench press, or is a chef running a cooking class with them or something, and does a very nice job with it.

Then, as they proceed to their get bulk materials delivered to them (for free) from Unilock Pavers, or a from the local appliance store, or from a lumber yard, he builds incentives into the situation for them, like "well, if you help out with the installation of these pavers, then we will give you the new stainless steel grill that goes on top of it, which is in this box right here," as he continues motivate the client into getting the project done in a short amount of time.  Whether it truly is "two days" or not remains to be realistic, but it does seem to happen in a short duration of time.

Again, it is a really good premise for a show, and does show the "DIY" landscaper or "weekend warrior" that if you do get the assistance of a professional designer and professional installation team, then you will get way more than you ever could imagine, or would manage to complete yourself.  It shows that landscaping has all kinds of technical aspects to it that could best be put in professional hands....And best of all, in the end, you will be enormously much happier with the results once they are completed..

It might just be one of my new favorite shows and fits in very nicely as a Sunday afternoon lead-in to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which is still such a great show for a family to sit down and watch (while I am designing something), in my opinion.  I love the philanthropic side to that show, the community support, the generosity of the builders and vendors who participate, and the hero that is inside of the people who are seeing their problems abated by a new home, and some of their wildest dreams become a reality in the form of really amazing design ideas.  It is a show that hopefully will stand the test of time and carry-on for years to come.

Anyway, one key quote from Ahmed Hassan that I took from a recent episode of "Yard Crashers" is this:  "There is only one rule when it comes to landscaping in the rain..... Don't Do it!".

Very sound advice, my friend.  I have tried to explain this to several impatient clients in the past, but not so effectively.  There is such a thing as "collateral damage" in landscaping, where you make a more of a mess than what you actually improve.  That is the hidden beast in this profession from time to time.  Unfortunately, it has been raining a lot  lately here and that is probably the best rule to live by.... for a little while, at least.  Those graduation parties aren't going to be postponed, however.

The point is, if you are reading this... please hire a professional designer, such as us at Landscape Design Studios, to make the very most of your project.  And, please be patient if we get a lot of rain and have to wait it out for a little while.

Here are snapshots of a few designs that I have been afforded by all of the rain:

Best of Luck!


Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Mayhem


Warp Speed is in effect here aboard Landscape Design Studios. Jack and I have been working hard, making it to a number of appointments and starting some of the first spring projects. I have been spending quite a number of hours drawing on the computer well into the evening. Things are busy and a bit sleep-deprived, but generally are going well.

This is such a beautiful time of year. In my yard, the tulips are in bloom and are almost finished, my mayapples are up, my Trillium gradiflorum is in bloom, the crabapples are in bloom (including the large red splendor next door and my little snowdrift in the front yard), and surprisingly, the mature common purple lilacs along the property line are about to reach peak bloom (about 2-3 weeks early!). I love working late at night in the sunroom, with the breeze blowing heavy doses of lilac scent through the window. 

According to a story I heard on Minnesota Public Radio, this is one of the very earliest lilac blooms on record due to the 4th warmest March and 2nd warmest April on record so far. According to Jim Gilbert, phenologist who keeps journals at the University of Minnesota Arboretum, the average lilac bloom has moved a full two weeks earlier over the past 40 years. (

Perhaps, another bit of evidence that the Minnesota hardiness zones might be shifting toward a solid 4a and 4b in a changing climate. But I won’t go out and buy a Oak Leaf Hydrangea or a Japanese ‘Bloodgood’ Maple for my yard anytime too soon.

A couple of general tips for May:

- Fire up the mower and do your first cutting if you haven’t already. I am doing mine (slightly overdue with such bad cold/allergies this year) tomorrow. It is good to cut it at about  2.75-3” long and leave the clippings as they provide nutrients for the lawn.

- If you applied lawn fertilizer, wait for a month to apply a crabgrass preventer to your lawn.

- You can prune your pines, namely mugho pines or any specialty pine that you want to inhibit growth , by clipping off the tips of the candles by ½. The one’s I have seen aren’t all the way there yet, but be ready to if you want, in the next couple of weeks.

- Watch for pests in your pines, like little larvae, as you might need to treat them.

- If you suffered any winterburn on your yews or arborvitaes, I tend to resist the urge to cut the brown out right away and let the new growth flush out first, and then make the decision on what and where to cut it out.

- In some cases, plants such as arborvitate might need some support if they are still misshaped from the winter snow, as might be plants such as a larger spirea where you piled your snow. You might want to tie them up and pull them back in shape a little if you have to.

- Generally, your perennials are all coming out now and fresh mulch if needed and a little weeding are good for your beds, while making sure that they are given the room and freedom to grow.

I must say that the spring cold and allergy season has been exceptionally rough this year. It has been tough to feel healthy enough to work through it and remain fully productive over the past couple of weeks. It seems that many other people that I have spoken with have noticed it being especially bad for their allergies as well. The doctor I saw said that is has also been common for these pesky allergies to invite a bad sinus and respiratory infection like the miserable one I had. So keep on those allergy meds if you need to, otherwise you might wind up with the brutal nasal, ear, and chest infection going around.

On the drawing table have been some fun designs. I always enjoy designing and the creativity above and beyond anything else I do for a living, aside from getting the chance to meet some really nice people. Design by way of drawing and using visual tools, and tinkering out problems-solving situations is my personal video game or my daily Sudoku puzzle. If you can truly relate to this, you might be one of those people who have given me multiple daily Farmville updates on my Facebook news feed, maybe to the extent where I have decided to block any and all news about Farmville. (You know who you are!)

In my obligatory sports news, it has been fun watching the Twins get off to a good start and take command of the AL Central. I am so used to a slow to bad start from them, which builds the way for their dramatic surge after the all-star break. They are such a fun ball club to follow through the course of the season. 9 innings of baseball in the background while I work and hang out with my family is a daily routine and therapy for me. Gotta love it.

Also, my alma mater, Iowa State University… they just hired the former local hero and local legend that is Fred Hoiberg to be their next basketball coach. In addition, they have the ultimate legendary player at Iowa State, Jeff Grayer, as Fred’s assistant. It is an exciting time to be a Cyclone fan, even after a sub .500 season when the team has been in total disarray.

I went to Johnny Orr Basketball Camp at Iowa State in high school, while scaling back from playing baseball one summer after having elbow surgery due to excessive usage of the curve ball at age 14. It was the highlight of the summertime for me that year. Especially looking back now, as my 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 teammate at camp turned out to be Fred Hoiberg. It has been cool to say that I at least got to set a few solid screens for him and to faintly pretend to drive to the basket or take a shot before dishing the ball to him for the score that summer at camp. Perhaps I even made Freddy shine a little brighter at camp while all of the assistants and recruiters had their eye on him as a big prospect for the Cyclones.

Since that basketball camp, it has been cool to watch that guy excel at Iowa State, and have an NBA career including an amazing run with the Timberwolves.  Especially in the 2003-04 season, he led the NBA in 3-pt percentage, if not also free throw percentage, and was positively instrumental in getting the Wolves into the Western Conference Finals. Of course, Kobe, Shaq, and company put an end to their best-in-franchise season and ended my brief but rabid following of the NBA in recent years.  It has been easy to yell at the TV screen for Freddy in the past, and it sure will be great to yell at the computer screen for him and the Cyclones while watching the 2010-11 basketball season!

Back to Landscape Design now…. What I suppose I could parallel this with is…. I am the guy who will orchestrate your ideas into a well-contrived design, and will help you to find the best installation crew for your project. Just like on a basketball court, my role will be in helping to set up the play with the screen, the upcourt pass, or the drive-and-dish to the best landscape crew for your project, to make the big play and get the big score. That is what I strive to do: assisting to make your project a resounding success.