Ponder, Prepare and Prevail

Interesting that I am high in the Smoky Mountains, far from my tropical Florida home, as I write this post about outdoor spaces. Being here reinforces the fact that design principles

apply every time, to every space, everywhere. Here, palms give way to big hardwoods, stucco becomes brick and stone and fountains yield to firepits. But, if you look past the obvious material differences, the structure, function, rhythms, balance and organization are all there.

In part one of this series, my friend Interior Designer Tammy Dalton got us thinking about the beautiful and functional ways we can enjoy our spaces. If you missed it, check it out – Tamara Dalton Design Studios. So now that you are inspired, lets tackle the first step of the process – site analysis.

If you want a great outdoor space, start by throwing away the notion of decorating. Decorating is what you do to a Christmas tree, it is temporary and serves only one purpose and that is to be pretty. Replace that verb with design. The best way to start a design is to ask questions; in school we learned this as site analysis. Go ahead, grab your notepad and lets analyze your site.

  • FOOTPRINT  How will your awesome new backyard plan impact the environment? Sorry, I don’t want to be Debbie Downer, but think about it…will your new addition have huge water or fertilizer needs? Will there be any impact to wildlife? Do you have to fell a big native oak tree to make way for that patio? Tread softly and you will be super proud of your design.
  • SOILS Are they well drained or boggy, what plants will they support?
  • MICROCLIMATE  Is wind a factor? Sun? Freeze? Salt? Cold? Breeze? Rain? Will plants thrive? Will you be comfortable?
  • LIFESTYLE Entertain? Kids? Pets? Grilling? Swimming? Hot tub? Sunbathing? Outdoor dining? Play area? Herb or vegetable gardening? All of these activities have particular spacial and environmental needs, you want to make the most of your space, but be sure your goals are compatible with your site.
  • SENSE OF PLACE Where are you? Coastal? Downtown? Inland? It can be fun to create an oasis that contrasts with the surroundings, but you still need to connect with your location. Subtle things like materials, shapes or colors will ground your design with local flavor and give it a comfortable sense of place.
  • HEALTH Allergies, accessibility, safety. I know this is a blah one, but come on, it’s important!

Okay, that should put you on the right track for a successful project, Tammy will take part three and then I will see you again in part four where we will dig deeper into specific suggestions for space planning, outdoor kitchens, pots, fountains, firepits and plant selections.

Remember, a blog is a conversation, so let’s chat, let me know what you think.

If I may be of any help in planning your next landscape project, please call me –               772-419-0024 or email – landarchmike@gmail.com You can also visit my website at www.MikeFlaughLA.com where you will find more information on design and materials.

Continue scrolling down to see more about sustainable gardening and other landscape topics explored on previous posts.

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Local, Available and Easy to Love

I am lucky, a big part of my job is chatting with people about their gardens. Admittedly this is an enjoyable occupation. One topic, always challenging, is debunking the myth that natives lack color and excitement. I could write endless pages on the benefits of native plants, but right now I just want to show you some color and excitement.

Check out these easy to find, easy to love, native plants.

Firebush attracts butterflies and will quickly provide a nice privacy buffer.

Crinum lily is usually used as an accent, punctuating a bed of low groundcovers. It also is interesting as a massing under large trees or palms.

Railroad vine is a very fast growing groundcover that thrives in coastal areas.

Geiger trees are medium in size, slow-growing and thrive in warm coastal areas.

Dahoon Holly display beautiful red berries throughout the winter. Dahoon Holly is found in upland plant communities.

Dune Sunflower is a hardy coastal bloomer that tolerates extreme heat, drought and salt.

Magnolia  is a classic, large flowering tree found in upland plant communities throughout the southeastern United States.

For covering fences, nothing is faster than Passion flower. The bloom is one of nature’s most amazing displays.

Jamaica Caper is a solid, thick shrub that yield these amazing blooms.

Milkweed is a great way to add color and attract butterflies.

If you have wet areas, Buttonbush might be a good choice.

Purple Coneflower is a great addition to your wild flower bed. Coneflower prefers well-drained soils.

There are so many more natives with color or interesting texture that we could explore, and I probably will on future posts!

If I may be of any help in planning your next landscape project, please call me –               772-419-0024 or email – landarchmike@gmail.com You can also visit my website at www.MikeFlaughLA.com where you will find more information on design and materials.

Continue scrolling down to see more about sustainable gardening and other landscape topics I have written about on previous posts.

The Joy of Smart Gardening

As a native Floridian, my feet are happiest in flip-flops, I sleep through the winter with my windows wide open and I love the feeling of a mild sunburn. My existence is pretty darn simple. If, however, I were to be relocated, say by a hypothetical job or spouse, to somewhere like Alaska, things would change quickly. In order to survive, much less flourish, I would require heavy clothing, constant heat applied to my body, antibiotics to fight the flu and a daily dose of vitamin D to compensate for the loss of sunshine. You see, by putting me where I don’t want to be, you have converted a thriving, low maintenance guy into a very high maintenance person with little chance of survival. This silly analogy has a point, read on!

After 20 years of designing landscapes for clients, one thing is for sure, everyone starts out the with the same goal – low maintenance. But rarely is this wish satisfied. Why? Well, I think we fail to really define and understand what we mean by “low maintenance”. So let’s do that. I suggest we start by defining all the landscapes tasks that diminish your bank account and ruin your Saturday, and then let’s see how we can reduce or eliminate them. Here are the 6 biggest offenders:

IRRIGATION costs you a fortune in water and repairs, and it is an insane waste of our precious Florida natural resource. The fastest way to reverse this is to eliminate, or greatly reduce, your grass areas. It is not as hard as you think, click this link to see my video on YouTube for details The second best thing you can do is to only select plants that have very low water requirements. Many of our Florida natives can survive with no supplemental irrigation once established. Imagine that, a low water bill, no concern when the water restrictions are in place and no sprinkler repair costs.

FERTILIZATION is not only expensive but the nitrogen and phosphorus runoff is a detrimental pollutant to surrounding water bodies. The best way to eliminate fertilizer is to use native plants. More specifically, you should pick natives that are happy with your existing soils and local weather conditions. When a plant is satisfied with the natural, existing soil, fertilizer becomes unnecessary. Fertilizing is basically you fooling a plant into being happy in a place where it is not meant to be!

FUNGICIDE AND INSECTICIDE APPLICATION is another thing we do to force plants, palms and trees to live where they don’t belong. It is now popular for homeowners to sign up with lawn spraying companies to do quarterly preventive spraying. This drives me crazy, it is bad enough that we are poisoning our ground with chemicals when our gardens have a problem, but now we are doing it even when they don’t have a problem! Most native plants are very resistant to insects and disease when used in their appropriate ecosystem. Remember, right plant, right place!

MOWING EDGING AND TRIMMING can be eliminated in 2 steps. First use no, or very little, turf grass. Gardens without grass render lawn equipment useless. Next, pick plants that have a mature size that fits the space you are designing.  Properly sized plants will eliminate constant pruning. Also consider things like succulents, Bromeliads and grassy plants that never require trimming.

WEEDING can be a huge problem or a minor chore, it depends on how the landscape is designed. Properly spaced plants fill in quickly and reduce the area for weeds to thrive. Naturalistic designs tend to have less definition between the materials and therefore fewer opportunities for weeds.  

PERIODIC PLANT REPLACEMENT can be reduced by selecting long-lived plants. In addition to a plants typical life span, you want to increase the chance of survival by following all the suggestions above.

So, did you catch that?  5 of the 6 most disliked garden tasks can be eliminated with good plant choice and minimal sod usage!

Let me know if I can be of any help. Feel free to post questions or upload photos, I would be happy to hear from you.

Mike@MikeFlaughLA.com   www.MikeFlaughLA.com   772.419.0024    772.201.9733