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December 2017

Water, Wood, Fire

Decorating a yard or garden is largely a matter of personal taste. There are several elements that tend to be recognized to create a given mood or enhance the look of the area. Water is often used. Japanese gardens have traditionally used water to draw the eye to various focal points in the garden. These ancient designs derive influence from Taoist or Shinto values. Taoist and Shinto disciplines emphasize harmony with oneself and with the environment. As such, Japanese gardens tend to fit in with their surroundings. It is common for a Japanese garden to mimic the landscape of rural Japan, with features resembling mountains, forests, rivers and prairies.

A stream with real water requires significant infrastructure, including pumps and filters. Sometimes a simulated river will be created out of river rock, complete with bridges and other features exclusive to a riparian environment. These simulated rivers are much easier to maintain, and require only an occasional pass with a leaf blower to look put together.

Plants are another feature that yards and gardens have. Plants, or the lack thereof, tend to determine the feel for a space, even more than water or fire. This is probably because plants can be very large, and can alter the amount of light in a space, and to some degree, alter the temperature. Large, spreading trees can create a canopy in summer that reduces the temperature by up to 20 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit. If these trees are deciduous, the winter sun will be able to reach the ground under them, warming the space.

Smaller plants set the tone for the area as well. Some gardens and yards are immaculately trimmed, with bushes and hedges sculpted along precise lines. This style of bush trimming requires a high amount of maintenance, and pairs well with short, tiff grass. The effect will be similar to that of a small golf course. Perhaps around the edges of a property, or in a larger yard, a more rough look is appropriate, as it will require much less time and energy to maintain. Citrus trees are often a great choice, as they look great with little maintenance, and have the added benefit of providing fruit around Christmas time and late winter.

A final feature that tends to increase the allure of a garden space is fire. A controlled fire can be safe and intriguing, and there are a myriad of ways to incorporate fire into a yard or garden. A simple way is with small, gas torches. Tiki torches are small bottles of gas that are mounted on bamboo poles, which are in turn inserted into the ground. While the flames only reach a few inches above the end of the torch, the bottles themselves are located about six feet off the ground, which spreads the light over a wider area. Usually several Tiki torches will be used, and will encircle a swimming pool or line a walk. Wherever they are used, they provide a tropical, adventurous feel to a space.

Another way to bring fire safely into an outdoor space is with a fire pit. Fire pits and decorative barbeques can take a variety of shapes. The simplest are mobile units that have three legs, a bowl for holding the wood, a mesh wall, and a solid metal lid. The mesh allows air in to feed the flames, but prevents sparks from spreading.

More permanent solutions are permanent stainless steel or masonry structures. These might be built into the ground or a fire pit table. These fire pits might be wood burning, but more commonly are propane supplied. This means that they are safer and easier to control than wood or charcoal briquettes. The propane can also be easily diverted into a functional barbeque or oven for preparing food, something that is much more difficult with a wood-burning pit.

By incorporating water, plants and fire, one can transform an outdoor space into a mini-ecosystem, and a peaceful retreat suitable for entertaining and relaxing.

Is There Danger In Using Artificial Grass For Animals?

Once seen as somewhat tacky and tasteless, turf has, in recent years, become much more widely accepted, as more and more people discover the benefits of artificial grass. For animals and their owners, in particular, this material is increasingly considered to be a better option than a natural lawn, as it is significantly more hygienic and much easier to clean of detritus or animal waste. This is the main reason why a growing number of pet owners, particularly those who own ‘outside’ pets such as cats, dogs and rabbits, have been opting to replace the natural grass in their yards with turf carpets.

As popular as it is among pet owners, however, turf is still far from consensual as an ideal material for households with animals. For every dog or cat parent extolling the virtues of artificial grass for animals, there still tends to be at least one person in the opposite camp, preventing turf from becoming as widespread in homes with pets as it might otherwise have been.

The basis for these detractors’ arguments hinges around one hypothesis: that rather than be beneficial for dogs and cats as well as their owners, artificial grass may in fact be toxic to them, as well as children. This point of view has gained some traction over the years, and nowadays it is not uncommon to find people dis-recommending artificial grass for animals based on these claims.

Yet, like most other problematics in modern society, this issue is not as linear or simple as it looks. There are arguably points to be made for either side of the argument, and no clearly defined ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side. This is why the present article will not attempt to offer a definitive answer to the question of whether or not it is dangerous artificial grass for animals, but simply present some of the known facts surrounding this issue, so as to give pet owners a better understanding of the factors involved.

The Basis

The basis for the claim that turf is dangerous to animals, as well as to children, originates from the actual, documented presence of a certain chemical in this material. This chemical, known as crumb rubber, is usually applied to the surface of turf carpets, to make the artificial blades more wear-resistant and provide extra padding. The main concern surrounding crumb rubber is that it may contain traces of other, potentially hazardous chemicals and metals, which could in turn lead to complications for pets and children subject to direct contact with the grass. This is the main basis supporting the argument that it may potentially be dangerous for households or outdoor areas to provide artificial grass for animals and children to play on.

The Counter-Point

The counter-point to this argument is the fact that no studies have concretely proven that crumb rubber has adverse effects on those who come into contact with it. As noted above, the material does contain traces of potentially hazardous substances, but these amounts are so small as to be negligible. There is no scientific evidence firmly corroborating the dangers of artificial grass for animals and children, and most of the claims to that effect seem to originate from word of mouth. By contrast, manufacturers’ claims that their turf carpets are non-toxic and free of hazardous seem somewhat more credible and substantiated.

Still, as noted above, there is really no right or wrong answer to this question. Evidence seems to point to there being no danger in artificial grass for animals and children, but much like its counter-argument, this point is not fully substantiated. It would seem, however, that when it comes to turf carpets, a pet owner or parent’s main concern should be their tendency to overheat in hot weather, rather than the possibility that it will make their pet or child sick.

Creating a Basement Garden

Creating a Basement GardenIf you are passionate about gardening and taking care of your garden decor, lack of sunlight need not prevent you from turning your basement entrance into a colorful garden as well. All you have to do is use the available space for shade-loving pot plants or hardy climbers. When we talk about beautiful plants, comfortable wooden benches, vibrant flowers and different accessories, we usually assume we are also talking about our outdoor garden decor. But that should not always be the case. Let us have a look at how you can create a most beautiful garden in your basement.

Most of us have, at some time, looked down on a small basement as we walked along a city street to see a garden overflowing with foliage and flowers. Proof enough that with the right plants even a dark, shady corner can become a bright splash of color ready to incorporate all sort of garden decorations. The basement floor will most probably have a very shady position, an ideal area to grow shade-tolerant evergreens with interesting foliage that will form a verdant background all year round. Small conifers or Box in tubs could be trimmed as topiary to provide interesting shapes. Include some flowering shrubs too, like early spring-flowering Camellia and later, sweetly-scented Mexican Orange with its dainty white flowers. Many Hydrangeas will put up with shade and reward you with large heads of pink, white, blue or wine-red flowers later in summer. If you are looking to create a cheap garden decor you should definitely consider growing these particular flowers and plants, as they are really inexpensive and very easy to find on any garden center around your area.

You should also use the walls that surround your basement to great advantage. Plants here will receive more light and may even see the sun. Paint the walls white to help reflect any available light. You could even display an imaginary view by painting an arch or doorway on the wall, training climbers on vine-eyes around it and then painting in a distant view through the open “door”. A mirror, strategically placed, can also add light. This is how you start to create your own garden decor on the front side of the house when light is poor. There are always plenty of choices without having to worry about the lack of sun.

Climbers are a first choice for walls. Many of these enjoy having their roots in shade and their heads in the sun and so will grow well in large containers on the basement floor. Mix flowering climbers like Clematis and Roses to give that garden decor feel to the main entrance. Consider growing evergreens like Ivy and Honeysuckle. These will help to cover the walls in winter.

There are many things that you already use for your outdoor garden decor that can also be applied to your basement entrance. Include rocks and pebbles in interesting shapes or colors and pieces of gnarled wood. A stone statue would add elegance – or you could even line gnomes up the step sides. Whatever your garden decor preference, there are always plenty of options for you to choose from even with lack of sunlight.

Gardening in Planters, Containers and Garden Urns

Container gardening is one of the most pleasurable pastimes and is very rewarding with little effort. You get a special feeling of abundance seeing your deck or patio filled to overflowing with plant-packed containers and pots. Your deck garden is sure to give you a warm feeling and entice you to outdoor living. Container gardens can provide that link between the indoors and outside area, helping you to transform a deck or patio into another living space – an outdoor living space.

You are given a wonderful palette to express your own ideas and style. When choosing your pots and planters, think in terms of your own decorating style by using colors, textures, plants and containers. A good way to get a feel for what is your style, just take a look around your own home and don’t be afraid to experiment. It is very easy to change your container garden if you don’t seem happy with it. Change the arrangement or replace a plant or two and try something else. You can always just start over completely.

It is a great idea to keep notes or a garden diary for what works or what was a disappointment and then try something new next year. The garden nursery usually has new plants that they introduce each year – it is fun to include some of them too.

Container gardens offer an excellent opportunity to learn about color and develop your own sense of design. Try out new combinations of greenery, flowers and shrubs to see what works best. One idea that a friend of mine tried was cluster of several large containers. Into this group she included ornamental grasses, hibiscus, licorice plant, verbena and scaevola (fan flower).

Most of all, enjoy your new container garden.

Ponds, Fountains, and Garden Decorative Items

As any avid collector of garden decorative items will tell you, although they may often need to make choices about which of their many garden statues and stones will make the cut for their garden display each year, one garden decorative item that always stands front and center is the garden fountain. A fountain on a pond or “water feature” as they are known today, is the “focal point” of every water gardener’s landscape. It’s no wonder gardeners are reducing the square footage of their lawns to make way for a tranquil space all their own or a delightful and whimsical water feature in their landscapes. They are not only good for the environment but also provide an element of individual style adding to decor of your outdoor living space. Some gardens go so far as to say that without a water feature in your garden, you are not only missing a real asset to your landscape but an asset to your piece of mind.

Esthetically speaking, no other garden decorative items can compare to the beauty that a water feature adds to your property. However, it’s the added benefit of stress reduction, most gardeners proclaim, that makes the upkeep of these water features worth every cent spent and every minute they spend maintaining them. Simply said, they sooth the soul.

Small or large, a water feature can transform your garden into a tranquil retreat that is all your own, a delightful and mesmerizing centerpiece for your garden, or used to complement the space you use for entertaining in your outdoor living area.

While landscapers can offer an almost instant and custom designed water feature, it can be very costly. With just a short trip to the garden supply store and a few tools, there is no reason you can’t do it yourself and save some money in the process. With a little planning, a little preparation, and a little digging, it is easy to create a water garden. Here’s what you need to know.

Planning Location, Location, Location! Just like real estate, you will want to choose a prime location for your fountain and pond.

Here are the things to consider:

First, decide how you want to use your water feature. Will you use it solely for a beautiful view from inside your home or will you want to create a environment for outdoor dining and entertaining? Are you someone who dreams of having a secluded and tranquil setting? Perhaps a meditation garden or a garden setting where you can simply sit and relax with a good book is what you have in mind? Think about your purpose and what you want to achieve by adding a water feature to your landscaping.

Think about whether or not your desired location will be beneath trees that will drop their leaves or needles. If so, this will add to the maintenance involved in keeping your water feature clean. Consider the slope of your landscape, your soil (clay is the best), the amount of sun and shade in the area, and don’t forget about access to water by either hose or water line, and access to an electrical outlet.

You’ll want to be sure you build your water feature on level ground and above the lowest elevation in your yard where rain water might accumulate. Setting your pond at a higher elevation than that of the lowest point will avoid overflow when heavy rain is present and prevent the possibility of washing away your fish, plants, and just about anything else surrounding your water feature.

Some other things to consider are how much sun and shade your water feature will receive each day. Ideally, about 6 hours of sun a day is perfect for both plant growth and keeping algae at bay. More than that, will not only limit the plants that are available for planting around the water garden but more importantly, will increase the amount of algae that will accumulate.

Consider the availability and proximity of your power hook-up. Is a GFCI available or will you need to have one installed? Keep in mind the average length of the cord on a pump is only 6′ in length. Lastly, and probably most importantly in selecting your location is to make certain that you avoid installing your water feature over gas, electrical, telephone, cable and/or sewer lines. Remember to CALL BEFORE YOU DIG! One easy phone call to 811 starts the process to get your underground utility lines marked for free. When you call 811 from anywhere in the country, your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Local One Call Center operators will ask you for the location of your digging job and route your call to affected utility companies. Your utility companies will then send a professional locator to your location to mark your lines within a few days. Once your underground lines have been marked, you will know the approximate location of your utility lines and can dig safely, because knowing what’s below protects you and your family.

Preparation What you Will Need, a.k.a. The Shopping List:

One Garden (submersible) Pump – This is the most important factor of a efficient and clean pond. Look at the GPH factor. This factor indicates how many gallons of water are displaced every hour. 120 GPH should be enough for a small garden pond. Every water pump manufacturer recommends that the water be turned between 1/2 time and 1 time per hour. With that in mind, you might think that a 120 GPH pump would be sufficient for a 240 gallon pond. However, keep in mind that you will want to have enough pump-power left over to give your fountain a good stream of water. Therefore, in this example, you would need a higher GPH pump to fuel your fountain. To figure it all out, it’s simply a mathematical equation. (I’ll wait while you get your calculator). There are 7.5 gallons of water in a cubic foot.

Multiply the number of cubic feet in your preformed pond liner by 7.5 and this will give you the number of gallons of water your pond will hold. Divide that in half to select the appropriate GPH for your pump for the pond and add a little more umph for the fountain. Another incentive for having a strong enough pump is that a pump that doesn’t adequately turn the water will become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes prefer still water. You pump is not the place to try to save money.

One plastic pre-formed pond liner or flexible pond liner . Which one you need depends on the size of your pond. For a small pond, I recommend the pre-formed liners. Just drop it in the hole and you are almost done. For larger ponds, you’ll need a flexible liner and will have to form your own walls which means more digging on your part as ledges will need to be formed in the interior of the hole for securing the liner with rocks.

A Level, the length of the preformed pond liner. If you don’t have one of these borrow one from a carpenter or contractor friend or neighbor.

A Fountain. This is the fun part! This will set the style of your landscape. One word of advise here; this is your centerpiece and it should make a statement about what you are trying to crate. Also, make sure that your fountain is not out-staged by a larger element in your pond landscape. A common mistake that people make is planting plants around the fountain will grow taller than the fountain itself. Small fountain, small plants. You get the idea.

Tubing: buy tubing that is the same size as the as the discharge adapter on the pump. The discharge adapter is the “pipe” coming out of the pump’s hole where the water is pushed out. You will need enough tubing to reach from the pump to the top of the fountain and a little extra for flexibility in placement.

Several bags of sand. This will be needed to cushion the underneath of the liner, support it, and fill in empty space in the sides of the hole once your pre-formed pond is in place.

That’s really all you need. However in addition to the basic supplies above, I strongly recommend adding a few additional items to your pond. Although they are optional, they will reduce required maintenance to your water feature, and if that’s not enough, make it more pleasing to the eye and soothing to the soul. Plants– Plants will keep your ecosystem in balance and attract birds, insects, butterflies, and frogs to your pond. Just as in true organic gardening, a proper ecosystem will sustain life in and around your pond while keeping pests and other unwanted elements away from your pond.

Plan to cover about 65% of the water surface with plants. This will reduce the water temperature and keep the algae growth to a minimum. Algae is caused by too much sun so if your location gets more than the recommended 6 hours of direct sunlight a day, plants are even more essential to the balance of your ecosystem and you will want to cover about 80% of the waters surface. Plant life in your pond also provides valuable biological filtration by removing nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates and other nutrients from the water that algae would otherwise feed on. If you are planning to add fish or other wildlife that live in and around your pond (or just want to keep the water clear), submerged and marginal plants will provide the food, shade, and protection for your pond residents. Parrot Feather, Foxtail, and Water Violet are referred to as ozygenators, these plants grow entirely submerged in the water and prevent growth of algae along with providing oxygen for the fish. Water Lilies, Floating Fairy Moss and Water Hyacinth, will float on top of the water surface and will provide shade thereby protecting your fish and keeping the water temperature down.

These plants also absorb dissolved nutrients that left alone, would encourage growth of algae. The roots of these plants also serve as a nesting place to protect fish eggs. Lastly, marginal plants are shallow water plants and sit in shallow areas of the pond. Their purpose is primarily decorative however they also add to and provide shade to the pond. Some examples of marginal plants include Winter Hardy Arrowhead, Yellow Water Iris and Cattail. Cattails also attract dragonflies and other mosquito-eating insects. In tropical climates, Nonhardy Taro, Canna, and Papyrus can also be used.

Rocks – I collect these everywhere I go. Rocks work well as decorative elements and equally as well for a border around your pond. They can also serve to keep predators away from your fish. Flagstones can be arranged around the pond to hang out and above the water providing more shade, keeping dirt out, and preventing access to your fish from predators. Rocks are a natural decorative element for use with any pond.

Garden Decorative Items: garden statues, garden stones, wind chimes, and birdfeeders all make wonderful additions to your pond landscape. A path of stepping stones leading up to your pond is also visually appealing and practical.

Fish – Once you have the proper ecosystem in place consider adding some fish to your pond. Adding pond fish will not only help support the ecosystem and reduce pond maintenance, but they will keep your pond free of mosquito eggs and larvae. A “mosquito fish” can eat up to 168 mosquitoes a day! Koi and goldfish are also good choices as they can tolerate fluctuations in water temperature and poor environments.

Installing Your Water Feature

Once you have planned and prepared you will be surprised at how easy the installation will go. There is really not much to it. Ready, set, start digging. Turn the preformed pond liner upside down in the desired location and trace around it with a shovel or hoe. Try to make the diameter of the hole the same size, or as close as possible, to that of the preformed plastic pond liner. Don’t worry too much if it’s not perfect as you can fill in with sand where the hole is too big but do your best to get as close to the actual size of the liner as you can. Do the same for the depth of the pond liner.

Once the hole is dug, put in about an inch of sand to cover the entire bottom of the hole. This will not only raise the liner about an inch above the ground and keep the dirt out of the pond but it will make it easier to move the liner around inside the hole to level it.

Put the preformed plastic liner into the hole and use your level to make sure it is level. Move the liner around until the liner is level from both front to back and side to side. You may need to remove the liner, add a little sand and/or move the sand around a bit to get it just right. Now, go get your fountain! Feed one end of the tubing through the top of the fountain and all the way through the fountain, leaving a short stub of tubing sticking out of the top. You will adjust this after hooking the other end of the tubing to the pump. Do not plug in the pump yet! Keep the plug end of the pump near the electrical outlet out of any wet areas. Never run your pump without water, it will overheat and damage the pump!

Fill the pond liner with water. You are almost there! Fill in any extra space around the pond liner with sand now that the water will hold the liner in place. Make it as compact as possible but allow a little room for expansion in freezing climates. Still without plugging in the pump, place the pump in the water.

Now situate the fountain in the desired location. I like the fountain to overlap the edge of the pond just a little. Sort of three quarters on the ground and one quarter over the pond. Use a brick or block to support if necessary. Take the plastic tubing that is coming out of the bottom of the fountain and attach it to the pump’s discharge adapter. Make any necessary adjustments to the fountain placement.

Now the big moment you have been waiting for! Plug in the pump and watch as the water shoots out of the fountain!

Add rocks, garden decorative items and plants both inside and around your new water feature and enjoy the gratification of all of your hard work for years to come.

Choosing To Have Artificial Grass For Your Lawn

If you really want to have that fresh and green-looking front yard, you can actually opt for artificial grass. When looking at the offerings of artificial grass company, it is worthwhile to factor in installation cost and other associated expenses along with other considerations like the quality of the artificial turf, foot and vehicle traffic, weather and outdoor conditions, and the size of the area for artificial grass installation. Only by accounting for these factors can one arrive at an informed purchasing decision.

When you are investing in this, you would want to get the best returns. That would only be possible if you look beyond price and opt for quality products. The best way to assess the quality of artificial grass is to look at the samples from various suppliers. When you have found a few suitable samples, the next important factor to consider is the traffic in the area where it will be installed. The idea behind this is that the artificial grass you choose should be able to match the volume of traffic. For high traffic areas, you may have to sacrifice comfort for durability.

Another crucial factor to consider before deciding on this option is to buy is the size of the area where it is going to be installed. Take note that the larger the area is, the more time and effort is required for maintenance. Again, you will benefit immensely from artificial grass that is low maintenance and easy to clean. Once you have chosen a suitable type for your property, the next important thing to remember is to choose the right people to install it. Although it is possible to DIY the installation, enlisting the aid of professionals will ensure that the job is finished promptly with the best results.