Designing Sensible Outdoor Kitchens in VT

Sketchup Bristow 300x221 Designing Sensible Outdoor Kitchens in VT

A Sketchup model of a Linden L.A.N.D. Group design

Outdoor kitchens in Vermont are designed a bit differently than outdoor kitchens in more temperate climates like Texas and California.  We generally don’t have the opportunity to hang out on our patios that much in the winter months, but we still enjoy a grilled chop or steak any day of the year, so a sturdy grill island built to withstand the elements comes in handy.  Our guiding principle is to design outdoor kitchens in Vermont that encourage people to spend more time outside.  To us a “sensible” design means that a kitchen is:

  • easy to access in winter,
  • built with high quality materials that survive harsh elements for a long period,
  • in close proximity to other outdoor comfort features such as hot tubs and fireplaces that extend the seasonal use, and
  • scaled for utility and doesn’t go overboard with features you won’t really use

Accessibility in Winter – our winters seem to be getting milder but we still want to design with the assumption that there will be snow from December through March.  Grill islands need to be positioned so that they aren’t directly under an eave that is going to shed a mountain of snow and ice, so that means that they need to be either under cover or far enough away from an eave but a short shoveling distance.  If the grill island is positioned close to a house it is imperative that the house is shielded with stone or steel to reduce the fire hazard.  Wind direction is another important factor – nobody wants their house filled with smoke.

Construction materials - The challenge of building outdoor kitchens in VT is dealing with freeze-thaw.  Melting snow causes an accumulation of water in and around built-in grills and outdoor kitchen equipment, then our cold winter nights freeze and expand that water.  I know you’ve probably seen a DIY project on TV where the guy quickly builds cabinets with plywood, screws some steel mesh on them and sticks some stucco or cultured stone veneer on the surface.  Honestly that wouldn’t last very long here, and the more responsible method would be to build it once and do it right.  

Cabinets - There are several long-lasting choices for cabinet construction – masonry block, galvanized steel or aluminum frame with cement board – stone veneer is then applied to either choice.  Our preference is to source cabinet frames from a relatively local company to reduce shipping cost and carbon footprint.  Our favorite is a small outfit based in CT that is building custom cabinets out of cement board fastened to galvanized steel, which is more rugged than aluminum.  They have long warranties, are very quick to install, are easy to maneuver into place, yet strong enough to hold thousands of pounds of veneer rock and bluestone counter-tops.  You can also choose pre-built concrete block units (such as Unilock or Belgard) if you don’t want real stone, (the cost is comparable so I prefer the real thing), but it’s a style choice.

grill island 300x253 Designing Sensible Outdoor Kitchens in VT

credit: Stonewall Hardscapes

Grills – It’s counter-intuitive, but you have a better chance of sticking to a budget if you sink money into a high-quality grill.  You can choose either a built-in or freestanding model (which can sometimes be built in later).  Vermont Castings is my top choice because it is a local green company and their quality of construction can’t be beat.  Another good choice would be Summerset Grills (you can see a display model at our supplier Trowel Trades in Colchester).  What you really want its 304 True Stainless Steel Construction — this superior grade of stainless steel resists rust better than grills made with lower grades of stainless steel. Plus, they offer a sleek, modern look.  There are other brands to choose from of course, including Viking and Wolf, so decide what features and price point you want and be sure to see sample models before ordering.

pizza oven 300x108 Designing Sensible Outdoor Kitchens in VT

Belgard Outdoor Kitchen with Chicago Brick Oven

Other Options – In addition to grill islands the three most requested features are sinks, fridges and pizza ovens.  Most of the time sinks and fridges don’t make the “sensible” cut (running plumbing adds considerable cost unless the outdoor room is attached to the house, and there are freeze/thaw issues with fridges) but wood-fired ovens are nice because they can double as a fire feature and making pizzas is such a great family party theme.  The cost of an oven can be reduced by using a pre-fabricated kit (such as Chicago Brick Oven) that gets built-in to the rest of the masonry.

outdoor sink counter 300x225 Designing Sensible Outdoor Kitchens in VT

credit: Stonewall Hardscapes

Scaled for Utility - There are countless options for components, but at the very least you need some usable counter space no matter how small your outdoor space will be. You can’t have grills and sinks butting up against each other with nowhere for you to work or set down platters.  If your outdoor kitchen will be any significant distance from the indoor kitchen, allow at least a small budget for adequate storage space for frequently used items like grill brushes, forks, spices and paper towels. You don’t want to spend the whole time running back and forth.

spa 300x225 Designing Sensible Outdoor Kitchens in VT

Spa with American Granite wall and thermal Bluestone cap (Linden L.A.N.D. Group)

Comfort – we think it makes sense to include features adjacent to your outdoor kitchen that will encourage you to get out there and use the space.  For some people that includes a bar, a hot tub and/or a fire feature.

A final consideration when it comes to outdoor rooms is furniture.  This can be one of the hardest choices for clients, and I often consult interior designers that we work with to access product lines and materials that are only available to the trade.  Again, my biggest advice is to start with quality so you don’t have to replace it every few years.  If your budget is tight you can opt for a less expensive frame than a designer brand (even Crate&Barrel has some good furniture choices that are made from sustainably harvested wood)  just make sure the cushions are covered with a 100 percent acrylic, solution-dyed fabric such as Sunbrella or Perennials fabrics.  They’re the best buy for the money because they’re mildew- and water-resistant and will last three or four times longer than canvas or other washable cushions and are guaranteed to resist fading for 5 years.

We hope this overview helps get your ideas flowing – consider how adding an outdoor room would enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors both now and all year long!

Protecting Your Edibles from Disease and Pests Organically

Potato Flea Beetle 300x226 Protecting Your Edibles from Disease and Pests Organically

potato beetle

Protecting your plants from pests and diseases starts with understanding the relationship between the pests and your garden.  Pests and diseases have favorite environments, the better you understand them, the better you can work around them.  If you analyze your growing conditions it can help you understand which pests you are likely to attract and then you can make a plan to defend your garden, both by selecting varieties that are resistant to the diseases you are prone to attract and also which organic methods/products can be used to provide further protection.  This applies to all plants, both ornamental and edible. Continue reading

Facelifts for Steps and Driveways

Do you have a boring set of concrete steps, or plain asphalt or concrete driveway?  An update may be in order and will greatly increase your curb appeal.  Our goal as ecological designers is to create landscapes that simultaneously look good and help protect our natural habitats and resources.  These two facelifts are an easy way to update your house’s appearance and while you are renovating you can also incorporate some stormwater management features that catch the water running off your roof and down your driveway such as rain barrels, rain gardens, and permeable hardscaping.

I recently ran into two videos on This Old House that are a good visual of how steps and driveways can be updated from an aesthetic viewpoint.

concrete steps x 300x200 Facelifts for Steps and DrivewaysConcrete Step Remodel – There are thousands of concrete steps in front of homes in the Burlington area that could be updated with granite veneer and bluestone treads – we would just make a few changes to some of the methods and base materials in these videos to make them more weather-proof in our climate.  Follow the link below to watch the video:

How to clad concrete with stone


driveway apron 300x200 Facelifts for Steps and DrivewaysDriveway Apron Remodel – I think this video has a good idea, but they didn’t even realize it.  If you remove a strip of asphalt from the end of your driveway (or even better, the whole piece of impermeable surface) you create the perfect opportunity to transform it into a permeable feature that can help absorb stormwater and stop water from running down the driveway and into the garage if slope is an issue.  To achieve that we would use a permeable paver system (Unilock has a good permeable paver system, but we have also done it with natural granite cobbles or brick).  Read more about permeable pavers on our website.  The proper base materials for a permeable system look like this: permeable pavers 02 300x144 Facelifts for Steps and Driveways

Follow the link below to watch the This Old House video:

How to Build a Driveway Apron

While you have a contractor in your front yard it’s a perfect time to also incorporate a rain garden and/or rain catchment system – here’s some good information from the VT Agency of natural Resources about Rain Gardens and reducing the impacts of storm water.  Let us know if you have any questions.

Lawns to Meadows – Tricks and Challenges

meadow Lawns to Meadows   Tricks and Challenges

We advocate the transition of lawns to meadows, especially on the outskirts of a property where lawns are not in actual use or are too large to mow with a zero-emissions electric mower.  Letting lawns grow up into “meadows” is a bit of a misnomer because there is no such thing as a natural meadow in VT (just deciduous forest that was cleared for agriculture) and the early successional plant communities that do exist on the edge of clearings don’t contain anything resembling turf grass species.  That being said, when we stop mowing lawns and introduce Northeast native species that provide food for caterpillars and pollinators (and thus increase biodiversity), we artificially create a “meadow-like” habitat while reducing carbon emissions – definitely a win-win.

Lots of clients ask me about the best method for converting lawns to meadows, and for good reason – there are tons of opinions about it out there.  You can remove all the turf grass manually (or chemically) and then hydroseed and plant plugs – or you can start with the easiest method – stop mowing.  You’d be surprised how quickly Asters, Asclepias (milkweed), and Solidago (goldenrod) seed themselves into the mix, and these are three of the top food sources listed by Doug Tallamy.  The trick is knowing how to manage it (with mowing and burning) so it doesn’t continue on its inevitable path to becoming deciduous forest, or become overrun with invasive species.

monarch Lawns to Meadows   Tricks and Challenges

One of the major challenges we face in converting lawns to meadows is ticks – tall grass is one of the deer tick’s favorite hang-outs.  Deer ticks prefer heavily-forested or dense brushy areas and edge vegetation, and use tall grass as a springboard to leap onto a host.  Think of them as nasty little circus performers.  Tim has had Lymes Disease twice, both times after visiting family in Pennsylvania, where deer tick populations are rampant.  He has worked outside in Vermont every day for the last 12 years and never been bitten by an infected deer tick here, but the climate is changing and winters are getting milder, so it’s good to be cautious.  According to this UVM fact sheet the number of cases has dramatically increased over the last few years.  So how can we manage our landscapes (and ourselves) to reduce our risk of being bitten and  still promote biodiversity?

The tick life cycle is about 2 years long and starts with larvae feeding primarily on small mammals (especially the white-footed mouse, other rodents, and insectivores). In May, larvae molt into nymphs and they aggressively bite humans.  Then nymphs molt into the adult stage in October.  Adults feed primarily on deer, but also attach to large mammals (foxes, raccoons, opossums, dogs) and humans.  Mowing vegetation with a bush-hog rotary mower has been shown to reduce adult deer tick populations by 70% (Wilson 1986), and to disrupt the breeding cycle, but the real question is how often, and at what time of year.  Tim Parsons has been carrying out a “No-Mow” or at least a “less-mow” experiment at Middlebury College since 2008, partly to reduce costs but also to increase biodiversity and reduce tick populations.  Here’s a link to one of his blog posts discussing that program.  He writes:

“in order to break the lifecycle of deer ticks, we will be mowing twice. Once will be right around commencement time, and again last thing in the fall. The late spring mowing coincides with a key breeding time for the deer tick, giving it no long grass for egg laying. It also cuts the fast growing grass down, to give the wildflowers a chance to grow and thrive. Look for this effect in hay fields in the summer. First cut is always real grassy, and the second cut all the clover and alfalfa seem to be the primary plants. The legumes were always there-it was just the grass growing faster in the spring choking out the others. The late fall mowing tidies up the grounds, exposing any late ticks, and spreads any wildflower seeds that may have formed.”

There are also lots of things you can do to protect yourself in addition to strategic mowing.  These habits include:

  • Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
  • Wear enclosed shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants. (Don’t worry, the field naturalist look is cool).
  • Consider using insect repellent on your clothes, especially below the knee.
  • Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.
  • Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors and check again once indoors.
bobolink nest Lawns to Meadows   Tricks and Challenges

Bobolink nest in meadow

We think that strategic mowing can help reduce our exposure to ticks, but we also need to balance our risk with the needs of others, including pollinators and birds, that rely on early succession meadows for food and nesting.  Our only concern with the late spring mowing is that it can destroy Bobolink nests, so if we have seen evidence of them nesting in the area we delay the first mow until after the 4th of July.  Give us a call if you have specific questions about transitioning your lawn to meadow – we’d love to help.

Wilson, M.L. 1986. Reduced abundance of adult Ixodes dammini following destruction of vegetation. J. Econ. Entomol. 79: 693-696.

Let it Rain – Protecting Water Quality in VT

Hurry – June 30th, 2013 is the deadline to qualify for financial reimbursement ($250-$500) to install a rain garden, cistern, or other LID practice on your property!  Here’s more information and an application:

VT “Let it Rain” 


If you live in the Champlain Basin and you want to help improve water quality in our streams and lakes, then please consider incorporating some of these practices into your yard.

GNPC Rain Garden v2 300x225 Let it Rain   Protecting Water Quality in VT

Creating Intriguing Woodland Gardens

Rhod prinophyllum 300x225 Creating Intriguing Woodland Gardens

Rhododendron prinophyllum (Roseshell Azalea) can handle a wider range of soils than other Rhodies, and is native in VT

Woodland gardens using native plants have incredible potential to reduce our carbon footprint, provide habitat, and absorb stormwater.  Deciduous forest is the climax stage of our landscape’s evolution in the Northeast, whether we like it or not.  As humans we resist thinking of ourselves as part of the natural systems that surround us, but at least here in Vermont that connection is still quite obvious (thank goodness), and in our gardens we can either fight against succession or go with the flow.

In general, going with the flow means less work and less maintenance, which is very popular with clients, yet sometimes I have a hard time selling the idea of a woodland garden because they’re afraid it might be boring.  Sure, the woodland garden is subtle and delicate and not riotous in color, but if it is crafted well it has more mystery and drama than a garden in the sun.  Creating a successful woodland garden is a complex orchestration of structure, framing and layers, texture and color, motion and light.  A landscape designer (like a stage director), can manipulate openings in the canopy to control how light plays on the floor and highlights features at different times of the day.  If you get it right the garden should blend into the backdrop but offer more controlled and concentrated doses of the features you love, whether they are sweeps of blue woodland phlox or dancing blooms of white Amelanchier in the understory.

trillium carpet 300x225 Creating Intriguing Woodland Gardens

Trillium grandiflorum in woods around Shelburne Pond, VT

I won’t go through the whole design process but I will describe the most basic principle in woodland gardens – layers.  Starting at the top there are five basic layers – canopy trees, understory trees, the shrub layer, the herbaceous layer, and ground covers.  A very good description of layers can be found in Rick Darke’s book “The American Woodland Garden”.  It’s one of my favorite resources because of Darke’s ecology-based philosophy, his design aesthetic, and his photographs.  As part of his research for the book he conducted a nearly twenty-year observation of seasonal changes in a stream-side woodland habitat in Pennsylvania, and illustrates the plants as characters in a slow but profound drama.

The plants for your woodland garden should be selected according to your own ecoregion but here are the top five in each layer that I use often in the Champlain Valley of VT – these are the stars of the woodland show, but keep in mind you also need supporting plants or it looks overdone.

Canopy trees - Betula nigra, Quercus bicolor, Quercus rubra, Acer rubrum, Ulmus Americana ‘Princeton’

Cercis 300x225 Creating Intriguing Woodland Gardens

Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud), native to southern NY and CT

 Understory trees – Amelanchier canadensis, Cornus alternifolia, Cercis canadensis, Carpinus caroliniana, Hamamelis virginiana

Shrub layer – Fothergilla major, Itea virginica, Rhododendron prinophyllum, Viburnum dentatum, Ilex verticillata

Herbaceous layer – Aster divaricatus, Geranium maculatum, Actaea racemosa, Heuchera villosa, Dicentra eximia

Mertensia virginica 300x225 Creating Intriguing Woodland Gardens

Mertensia virginica – an Appalachian native

Groundcovers – Tiarella cordifolia, Phlox stolonifera, Anemone canadensis, Dennstaedtia, Carex pennsylvanica


Schoolyard Habitats, Outdoor Classrooms & Natural Play Spaces

bean teepee 225x300 Schoolyard Habitats, Outdoor Classrooms & Natural Play SpacesI have always been a strong advocate of nature-based play for kids, but especially since I read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods in 2005, the same year Gabbie was born.  (More about this in my previous post Raising Naturalists).  It may sound radical to some, but it is becoming more obvious to me, both as a parent and an environmental scientist, that:

  • We all need healthy ecosystems to survive
  • Children need direct exposure to nature for healthy childhood development
  • Our future depends upon successfully connecting children to nature, teaching them to care about it, and then encouraging them to pursue careers that will actively develop sustainable/regenerative solutions for peaceful co-habitation of the planet for generations to come.

With this hope for the future in mind we are donating a Schoolyard Habitat to one VT school in Chittenden or Addison County, to be selected through a sweepstakes contest (see below for details).  The Schoolyard Habitat program was developed by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and here in VT, Liz Soper leads the charge.  She is NWF’s Associate Director of Eco-Schools USA which is a school based program to green K-12 schools across the nation.  Prior to directing Eco-Schools USA she worked directly with local communities to help protect and enhance wildlife habitat and implement NWF’s Backyard and Schoolyard Habitat programs.  Since she obviously knows the ins-and-outs we will be consulting with Liz before we design and build the Schoolyard Habitat that we donate.

schoolyardsign Schoolyard Habitats, Outdoor Classrooms & Natural Play Spaces

Schoolyard Habitats are similar to the Wildlife Habitats that we install for clients and then NWF certifies.  They must include the same basic features - Food, Water, Cover, Places to Raise Young, and may also incorporate Sustainable Gardening features such as compost bins, raised vegetable beds and other container gardens.  The Schoolyard Habitat is coupled with curriculum and a maintenance plan to keep the students, teachers and community involved and assure its long-term success.

The design will be tailored to meet the needs of the school, the interests of its members and the challenges of the site.  The value of the design and installation of the Schoolyard Habitat that we are donating is $2,000 ($500 plants, $500 other materials, $1,000 labor) and could include:

  • native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife including birds and butterflies,
  • supplies such as feeders, a birdbath, and bird houses,
  • a compost bin,
  • a raised bed, and
  • pathways and seating made out of natural materials such as mulch, stumps and boulders.

If you live in Addison or Chittenden County VT and would like to have a Schoolyard Habitat at your school then either send me an EMAIL ( or visit our FACEBOOK PAGE TO ENTER the sweepstakes.  The deadline is May 6th and the schoolyard will be installed in September 2013.  The more parents in your town that enter, the greater your chances are of your school being picked, so share with gusto!

tree seating 300x201 Schoolyard Habitats, Outdoor Classrooms & Natural Play Spaces

More resources for Outdoor classrooms/playgrounds -

Spring Cleaning for Walkways and Patios

paver path ferns Spring Cleaning for Walkways and Patios

If your flatwork (stone or concrete paver walkway or patio) is more than 5 years old then it may be time for a Hardscaping Tune-Up.  If the base materials have been damaged (the surface has settled or you can glimpse hollow areas between or under stones) then you probably need a renovation.  Let’s tackle the easier problem first.

It’s very common to see moss in grout lines, joint sand that has deteriorated, and stains on the surface which can range from a uniform dark layer (algae), to rust, a white efflorescence (minerals), or the occasional grease spot (the cheeseburger you dropped during the last party).  Not to worry – a Tune-Up for your hardscapes can be done in a day or two and shouldn’t break the bank.  If you have one or two cracked stones, then they can be replaced at the same time.  Here’s a step-by-step description of the process:

1) Remove old loose grout or joint sand –  using a shop-vac the old joint sand gets vacuumed out, and a scraping tool is used to remove any bits that have adhered to the edges.  Care must be taken not to chip the edges of natural stone pavers or disturb the base material under the pavers.

2) Clean the surface – a biological cleaner is sprayed on with a pump sprayer, scrubbed by hand with a stiff brush being careful not to scratch the stone, and then powerwashed off.  This process may need to be repeated one or even two times, or a specific product chosen to remove the type of staining present.  Most biological products will remove moss and algae, and a more acidic cleaner may be needed to neutralize white mineral deposits.  Whatever product is chosen it should be EPA approved, be biodegradable, phosphate free, and not damage surrounding plants.

3) Allow it to dry thoroughly – this is really important because if the pavers are wet going into the next step then the glue in the polymeric sand will activate and stick to the surface of your pavers and not come off.  So we try to pick hot sunny days with a gentle breeze for Hardscaping Tune-Ups.  If Mother Nature isn’t cooperating then a blower can be used to dry the surface.

4) Re-sand the joints – Polymeric sands have come a long way in the last few years.  (A polymeric sand is a sand that contains a powdered glue that activates with water and then dries hard to the touch – they are still flexible enough to resist cracking but help repel weeds and ants.  They replace traditional mortared joints that crack here in the north country when it freezes).  The first polymeric sands that were introduced to the market were tricky and often the glue separated and floated to the surface leaving a strip of rubber that would peel off and sand below that would wash out easily.  Now they are tougher, more consistent, and last longer, so if you’ve had joints that have failed, it’s worth trying again with new product.  But be careful, there are now totally impermeable joint sands, which have their place around pools, but can cause puddling on patios and walkways, so be sure to select the right sand for your application.

5) Seal the surface and joints – once the surface is clean and dry and the joints are filled, you can choose to go one step further and seal it.  Applying sealer or “enhancer” with a sprayer or roller is optional but it can protect your investment and lengthen the time until the next Tune-Up is needed.  Depending upon the product used, it can either deepen the color or keep it transparent and matte.  Either way they will help repel moisture so moss and algae aren’t as tempted to take up residence, and will protect the surface from grease stains and salt damage.

hardscape Spring Cleaning for Walkways and Patios

So that’s it – five steps that breathe new life into worn hardscapes and help make them look new again – easily one of the biggest bangs for your buck in the landscape.

Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In

front walkway Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In

I have several friends who are trying to sell their homes right now – and they are finding that it’s not as easy as they were hoping it might be – it’s a buyers market after all.  Making a house appealing to a buyer is as much about psychology as it is about the price tag, and whole books have been written about how to stage a house to sell.  Yet, the first thing that a potential buyer sees is the outside of a house – not just the siding or the color of the door, but the landscape.  So, how do you stage the landscape to sell a house?

Spring is traditionally the start of the real estate season.  March 20th is technically the first day of spring, but here in Vermont you’re more likely to see brown mud than blooming flowers.  The snow is melting, leaving brown piles along the driveway, there’s gravel spray from the plow everywhere, the lawn has tunnels from the winter escapades of voles, and the bulbs and early perennials are still sleeping. Hmm, not exactly picture perfect.  Take heart, there is an upside to mud season – when everybody’s yard is suffering a similar fate, your clean-up efforts will be especially noticeable, and once spring gets underway the plan you put into action now for your landscape will pay off in spades.  Speaking of payoff, consider that the effort and investment you put into the landscape can increase a sale by as much as ten percent.  That being said, don’t go overboard – people buying a house want a landscape with “good bones”, that seems easy to care for, and can be tailored to suit their particular style – so you are aiming for the vanilla ice cream of landscapes (just make it Ben & Jerry’s vanilla).

Start by approaching your property as a prospective buyer would, with a drive-by, and ask yourself (or an honest friend) what jumps out at you.  People scanning a space see edges and shapes first – so if the edges of the lawns and planting beds are crisp and well defined, and spaces (gardens, porches) are not cluttered with too many objects, it puts people at ease.  Then you can worry about adding a simple color scheme to tie it all together.  First, concentrate on what breaks a sense of order – Is the mailbox or fence askew, are the trash cans visible, is there an old hedge that’s hiding the front door?  Then park as a guest would and walk to the front door – what do you see (or not see)?  Is the walkway broken, flooded, mossy or weedy?  Is the porch or entryway welcoming?  Are the planting beds too sparse or overgrown?  The backyard is also important, but not nearly as important as the front approach, so let’s start there.

Here are our tips for increasing your curb appeal:

white border planting 300x237 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In1) Clean up the Driveway – many driveways in Vermont are crushed stone, and usually look pretty worn by spring.  Give it an almost instant makeover by having it power-raked and topdressed.  The end of the driveway closest to the garage and guest parking areas can be defined with cobblestone edging, or a paver parking pad can be installed – a quick installation that makes a big impact as people get out of the car.  If there’s a narrow area that can be planted to soften the hardscape – go for it.

2) Get a Professional Spring Garden Clean-up – you can see a complete description of what activities this encompasses, but at a minimum you need to cut fresh bed edges, weed, and spread a fresh layer of natural mulch or compost.  Be realistic, if you don’t have time yourself, hire somebody to come back once a month to keep it looking neat until the house sells.  A few scheduled hours go a long ways.

container flower 253x300 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In3) Add Instant color – Plant some containers and add a simple band of annual color to front foundation plantings or a walkway – at a minimum have some color on the porch and by the doors.  Keep it simple though, just one or two colors and rely on interesting foliage. I find that more people have love/hate reactions to warm flower colors (red-orange-gold) and are more universally accepting of cool colors (blue-white-green) so these would be a safer bet, but pick a scheme that blends with your house.

4)  Prune or remove overgrown shrubs – nothing dates a house and looks more overwhelming to a prospective buyer than a yew hedge that was planted in the 60′s and now covers the front of the house and blocks the windows.  Ditto for half-dead, short-lived, diseased, or messy trees, or anything that was planted too close to the house.

5) Remove Personal Adornments – You may love your collection of garden gnomes, whirligigs, children’s art projects, flags, toys etc., but a future buyer may not.  This can be hard for some homeowners to swallow, but trust me, you can find a new place for them in your next landscape but for now they should be lovingly stored.  The same goes for decorative edging around garden beds.

hydrangea fence 300x225 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In6) Renovate Overgrown Perennial Beds – if you once had a fabulous cottage-style perennial garden but somehow it turned into a monster when you weren’t looking, it might be time to rip it out (don’t feel bad, it happens to all of us).  One solution is to plant some simple Hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, and a border of annual color and call it good.  Beds need to look easy to maintain and not like a backache waiting to happen.  That being said, if you have a cottage-style garden that is well maintained and is colorful year-round, congratulations – romantic gardens are still the #1 requested garden style.

7) Clean Water features – make sure they are sparkling clean, full and running.  If this isn’t possible, it’s better to remove them. If it’s not an obviously positive feature of the landscape then it is certain to look like a liability.

paver walkway 225x300 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In8) Tune-Up Walkways and Patios – if your hardscaping is more than 5 years old it’s very common to see moss in grout lines, joint sand that has deteriorated, and stains on the surface which can range from a uniform dark layer (algae), to rust, a white efflorescence (minerals), or the occasional grease spot (the cheeseburger you dropped during the last party).  Not to worry – a spring cleanup for your hardscapes is needed and can be done in a day or two.  If you have one or two cracked stones, then they can be replaced at the same time.  I’ll write a separate post about the hardscaping clean-up process, but basically the joint sand gets vacuumed out, the pavers get scrubbed with a biological cleaner, then after the stone surface is fully dried, the joints get re-sanded.  As an option the entire surface can be sealed, which depending upon the product used, can either deepen the color or keep it transparent and matte.  Voila – your walkway and/or patio looks brand new again.

9) Create a Care Manual – if you have an extensive landscape, (not one easily labeled as low-maintenance) you can reduce a buyer’s trepidation by showing them that you have a system of maintenance that they can easily adopt.  People are afraid of the unknown – so give them information in digestible pieces in the form of a binder that contains a landscape plan, a list of plants with photos and care instructions, a diagram of your irrigation system and lighting, and a list of contacts including your landscape designer, maintenance company, irrigation and lighting, arborist, pool company etc.  A Care Manual is something that I have created for homeowners in the past, even if I didn’t design their landscapes, and it doesn’t necessarily have to include a full property plan, but should include a list of plants, photos, care instructions and contacts.

front entryway 300x288 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In10)  Details – Once you’ve tackled the landscape checklist above, then you can focus on the outside of the house – powerwash the siding, paint the front door, install a new mailbox or house lettering, lay down a new doormat, and/or plant a window box.

All of these activities will make your house looked loved – which is the first step towards getting a prospective buyer to think that they will love it too.  Good Luck!


Creating Privacy with Living Fences

IMG 1038 Creating Privacy with Living Fences

I have nothing against a wood fence, really.  There are times when clients need fast-fixes (no time for plants to fill in) or there’s a safety issue (pool, cliff) where something solid is necessary, and wood or metal is the way to go.  But many times a living fence, whether it’s a hedge, vine or espalier has the potential to provide more benefits than an inanimate object.  Living fences can be:

  • native plants that provide food for pollinators, birds, and other creatures
  • provide shelter (my hedgerow in the pasture is always full of life)
  • dynamic and always changing as they grow
  • a source of tasty snacks for humans (berries or fruit)
  • soft or thorny, depending upon the goal.

In Vermont we commonly see soldierly rows of Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) and they certainly have their place – they are rugged, native, tolerant of a wide variety of conditions, and are an evergreen so they provide screening year-round.

chester blackberry 150x150 Creating Privacy with Living FencesI love it however, when I have the opportunity to try other options.  One plant we have had good luck with here at the farm is the thornless blackberry ‘Chester’ – it’s a Zone 5 plant but it is incredibly vigorous, and the fruit is an added bonus.  We get our stock from Nourse Farms.  The canes reach heights of 8 feet within a single season and are flexible enough for weaving.  Next year I’m going to experiment with creating a woven fence using Chester plants similar to how Osage Orange is used for creating living fences – Mother Earth News recently had a good article that described the technique.

The top photo shows a really neat hybrid living fence design, called The Living Wall, which can be seen at the Burlington International Airport (BIA). The Living Wall is a company based in Toronto that has developed a wall system that can be filled with soil and also acts as a sound barrier.  Here’s a link to photos of the construction of the wall at BIA.  Here are some close up photos I took while visiting the wall with Michael Lawrence, the landscape architect that specified the system during BIA’s last set of improvements.  It’s a wood/poly fabric wall sandwich, filled with soil and then “planted” with willow cuttings that grow to cover the surface and can be sheared.  I will be looking for opportunities to try out the system in other locations in the Champlain Valley this season.