The Path Less Traveled

Sapphire Blue sea holly is a favorite for deer resistant, drought tolerant drama

Sapphire Blue sea holly is a favorite for deer resistant, drought tolerant drama

Have you been into your garden recently? Not to weed the borders or cut the grass – just to see what is happening? Set the alarm clock a little earlier tomorrow, grab your camera and go on a mini garden safari.

I must admit I wasn’t sure there was anything really worth photographing. I hadn’t even caught up with removing spent bulb foliage let alone trimming the grass edges, the peonies needed deadheading, the new borders weren’t grown in, I still had ‘holes’ to plug….. Sound familiar?  Yet I challenged myself to be an adventurer in my own garden, to be expectant, observant.

Hidden in plain view

Create a sense of mystery with a scrim of finely textured foliage or flowers

Create a sense of mystery with a scrim of finely textured foliage or flowers

I typically view this scene from a different perspective; from the left (indoors) the right (driving into the property) or three feet higher up – when I’m standing. Yet as I bent down to pull a weed (I couldn’t help myself) I happened to glance up and noticed what a delightful semi-transparent screen this stand of Sapphire Blue sea holly (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’) made. Veiled glimpses of this intimate patio made it appear all the more enticing, tucked within a frame of foliage and flowers. The elliptical glass birdbath drew my eye back to the roses and Caradonna sage (Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’) now in full bloom. I could ignore fallen petals and leaves and enjoy the romance of the setting.

You can create a similar effect using tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) or grasses.

Take a different path

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From outside the border, the strolling path disappears visually, leaving uninterrupted layers of colorful trees, shrubs and perennials

Do you always walk around your garden in the same direction? The scene above is part of my large island border which has a strolling path running through the middle of it. I have trained myself to deliberately walk that path in each direction periodically to get a fresh perspective but I rarely walk around the outside of the border and peer in. Yet this richly hued  vignette could only be truly appreciated when I did just that. The red-tipped Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) is still low enough for me to see over and provided a perfect visual carpet for the glowing Orange Rocket barberry, Skylands spruce and erupting Cleopatra foxtail lilies and orange oriental poppies . Layers of gold, orange and burgundy, set off by many shades of green – all revealed by taking a walk along the path less well traveled.

Learn to stand still

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No special detours taken for this shot – I just stood still and crouched down a little to look more closely at this lovely metal bird my son sent for my birthday. The early morning light cast a perfect shadow.

From my semi-crouched position I simply turned my head….

IMG_1128 Was this my garden? I usually walk this pathway quite quickly and as a result was missing this complex vignette with its luscious textural layers and color play. Yet look how the ice-blue corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica) needles  complement  the rich plum leaves of my new Moonlight Magic crepe myrtle while offering a monochromatic medley with the Sapphire Blue sea holly and Blue Shag pine (Pinus strobus ‘ Blue Shag’). I had missed that moment when the rising sun kissed the tips of the Skylands spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’) and barberry branches (Rose Glow to the left and Orange Rocket to the right). A little bird helped me see all that.

Do you need a add a ‘garden moment’ alongside the path to re-focus your view?

Dare to dream

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I  want to wait until this newly planted area has grown in before I write a more extensive post discussing the design details of our new patio but I thought you might like to get a glimpse of my vision at this interim stage. This is the view from our kitchen looking out into the back garden. The main patio is several steps away from the house and we have added a large planter in the middle of a border between the two. The idea is to create layers of color and texture to frame the patio, attract hummingbirds and butterflies, establish a focal point and create a more intimate space within the acreage.

IMG_1076 Once outside you feel nestled within that space yet have open views all around. The plants have a lot of growing to do – but the dream is becoming a reality.

How is your garden growing?

 

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Beyond Geraniums….

Mix it up a little! Here a golden elderberry (shrub) mingles with a colorful annual (for me) Coprosma and a vivid perennial Gaillardia

Mix it up a little! Here a golden elderberry (shrub) mingles with a colorful annual  Coprosma and a vibrant perennial  ‘Celebration’ blanket flower

Are you struggling to do something different with your sunny container gardens this year? Do you always seem to start off with a geranium, add  some pretty million bells (Calibrachoa) and then tuck in some trailing vbacopa to finish it off? Cheerful but not very imaginative is it?Yet this early in the season these are the plants most likely to be in full bloom at the nursery.

But look more closely at some of the other annuals sitting quietly in the sidelines. They may be mostly foliage and just a few buds right now but there are some really interesting options that will bloom their little flowery hearts out once you take them home. Here are some of my favorites

Top 4 flowering annuals for sun

Fan flower (Scaevola)

Scaevola 'Pink Wonder' is a delightful soft pink with lavender overtones

‘Pink Wonder’ fan flower (Scaevola) is a delightful soft pink with lavender overtones

Whether you choose pink, white or blue you won’t be sorry you took a chance on that unassuming pot of leaves in May! Before you know it this vigorous annual will weave its way through its container partners, tumbling, spilling and clambering at will. You’ll never plant containers without it again! Deer resistant and thrives in partial shade as well as full sun

Samantha lantana

The variegated leaf and yellow flower of Samantha lantana adds citrus flavors to a blue Scaevola and Apricot Punch million bells

The variegated leaf and yellow flower of Samantha lantana adds citrus flavors to a blue Scaevola and Apricot Punch million bells (Calibrachoa)

Samantha lantana can be tricky to find but worth looking for as this variety has lovely variegated leaves that set off the lemon flowers perfectly. The pretty foliage helps keep the color interest going when the lantana is still gearing up to full bloom.

Don’t ignore the PERENNIALS either, especially those with colorful foliage. Several of these make great contenders for container gardens. Unlike annuals these make good investments for your garden too as they can be transplanted into the landscape at the end of the season.

Diamond Delight Euphorbia

Diamond Delight Euphorbia and Royale Cherryburst verbena - two new introductions from Proven Winners that I trialed

Diamond Delight Euphorbia and Royale Cherryburst verbena – two new introductions from Proven Winners that I trialed

Its hard to imagine  how much impact this delicate plant will have – so just trust me! The sparse stems and tiny white flowers will explode into a flowering frenzy reminiscent of baby’s breath (Gypsophila) but this annual will bloom continually ’til frost. There are also some varieties with darker foliage and a slight pink tinge to the blooms.  Wonderful fine texture – it will become a favorite.

Centradenia

Unexpected drama as Centradenia 'Cascade' meets the bold golden yellow Forever Goldie conifer.

Unexpected drama as Centradenia ‘Cascade’ meets the bold golden yellow Forever Goldie conifer.

Centradenia is often sold as a 2″ basket stuffer and can languish on the table in May. Yet just a few weeks later and you’ll be glad you tucked it into the pot as it quickly fills out and blooms all season. A couple of different varieties are usually available but I have only seen them with flowers in various shades of pink. However I love the vivid red stems and bronze flushed green leaves . Plant this at the edge of the container to tumble over the edge

Top 4 perennials for sunny pots

Hyssop (Agastache) varieties

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache) - associates beautifully with grasses

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache) – associates beautifully with grasses

Shorter forms such as Apricot Sprite generally look better in containers than the taller forms. Drought tolerant, deer resistant, long blooming – they add a wonderful splash of color and herbal fragrance to sunny baskets and pots and attracts hummingbirds too! The variety shown here is Kudos Mandarin: a new one to me – I bought EIGHT!! Yes I was rather enamored……

Gaura varieties

In the landscape or in containers Gaura will always produce an abundance of delicate flowers over many months

In the landscape or in containers Gaura will always produce an abundance of delicate flowers over many months

Even the simple white flowering form of Gaura works well in a container, sending up dozens of dancing wands all summer long. However there are also several with pink or variegated foliage which can help fill the color gap early in the season. A few varieties are short enough to even be suitable to add to hanging baskets! Use as the thriller in smaller pots or a filler in larger containers.

Coneflower (Echinacea)

Add sizzle to late season combos with coneflowers

Add sizzle to late season combos with coneflowers

Since these bloom mid-late season it can be a bit tricky incorporating them early in the season simply because the nurseries aren’t well stocked. However for procrastinators – or really clever planners – they add  a mega watt color blast since these are available in every color from white and yellow to magenta, orange and red.

Here’s a trick if you want to plan ahead. Plant an empty 6″ (gallon) pot into your mixed container garden to hold the space available for the coneflower. Then when you find the perfect plant just take the empty pot out and slip the coneflowers in. Voila!

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

One of many Gaillardia varieties

One of many blanket flower varieties available

There have been several new varieties of these sturdy  perennials introduced in recent years. Deer resistant, drought tolerant and long blooming you may find one of them is the perfect addition to your design. Deadhead to keep them blooming all summer long – although truthfully the fuzzy seed heads are pretty cool too! Lots to choose from including bi-colors. Look for Celebration, Arizona Sun and more!

Got you thinking? Great then go shopping! Post a photo of your creation to my Facebook page – I’d love to see what you do this year.

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Join me for cocktails – book review & giveaway!

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The romantic softly variegated foliage of a dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) takes center stage when illuminated at night.

We have recently purchased a fancy new propane fire pit. It is one of those lovely ones with a tile surround large enough to function as a table for your wine glass and snacks and pretty reflective glass through which the flames dance and flicker. Being propane it is a great option for instant ambience without the smoke and with the unprecedented warm temperatures Seattle has been experiencing, my husband and I have found ourselves….RELAXING in the evening! What a concept.

Our usual routine is work, work and then more work. As business owners that also work part time  it seems that there is a never ending list of  ‘must do’s’ from grocery shopping and cleaning to laundry and cutting the grass. Your list may include child care, car pools, sports or music practice. The point is Life can trump Living. That’s why the new book The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press, 2016) caught my attention.

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Late afternoon sun can be hot – provide shade structures or a colorful umbrella

The Cocktail Hour Garden gives a plethora of ideas for designing, planting and accessorizing your garden space to offer maximum enjoyment for those couple of hours when you can actually indulge in sitting down. Whether that is an hour before you start dinner with a calming cup of tea or like us, taking your wine glasses (and chocolate) over to the fire pit at dusk to watch the bats start to fly and the stars come out. C.L helps the reader evaluate their current garden and ask what each plant “brings to the party”. How does it support your vision for a magical gathering place for 2 or 20, a space that lures you into the garden at twilight?

For those of us who need help fine tuning that vision C.L. takes the reader through the design and decorating processes step by step, all beautifully illustrated with her evocative photographs. As you turn the pages I guarantee that your heart rate will slow a little and your breathing become easier as you being to imagine the possibilities.

Plant selection is key and C.L. discusses her favorites to include for fragrance, including several that only release their heady scent in the evening. From shrubs and vines to annuals and herbs be sure to include something that lures you outside. We have included several Phenomenal lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal) in a raised bed adjacent to the fire pit and I am hunting down the night scented phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis ‘Midnight Candy’) for that area also. Mmmmm.

The colors of the cocktail hour garden are also important; white, silver and soft lavender seem to glow at dusk for example and many examples of great foliage and flowers in this palette are suggested.

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Talking of delicious plants this book also covers fun edibles to include for your cocktail garden design. Imagine reaching over to snip a stem of lemon balm to stir into your iced tea? CL goes much further than that though, with a fabulous chapter called Cocktail Hour Grazing. Here she discusses the new trend in flexible, edible landscaping and provides us glimpses into her  front garden, entered via a rustic arbor, which is an exuberant tapestry of edibles and flowers that frames an enchanting patio. Those flowers attract pollinators (birds, bees, butterflies and more) that add life and movement to the garden – another aspect of garden design that is so vital and helps us re-connect with the natural world around us.

C.L. also discusses the importance of lighting for your cocktail hour garden, from battery operated candles to string lights and professional landscape lighting you can add just the right balance of drama, mystery and intimacy. The leading photograph of an illuminated dappled willow tree shows how effective uplighting can be.

Perhaps my favorite chapter in this book is Conversations with Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Sky. As a designer I pride myself in creating gardens that will be experienced – not just observed and that means engaging all the senses. C.L. addresses this by discussing how our senses communicate with the elements and giving ideas on how to purposefully plan for them. Whether it is by the inclusion of a small pebble mosaic that invites us to touch, or deliberately planting a swathe of tall grasses to move in the breeze atop a windy bluff or incorporating a petite fountain near a sitting porch.

Cocktail Hour Garden Cover_fornari

So I invite you to step out into the garden and simply ‘be’.

The cocktail hour garden is a landscape that reminds us to put …. distractions aside and be in the present moment. It’s an environment that, like a strong ocean current, pulls us determinedly into the natural world and invites us to relax and better sync our rhythms to the flora and fauna around us”.

Enter to Win!

I have one signed copy of C.L.s book to give away to a lucky winner! Simply leave a comment below and you will be entered to win. I will draw a name May 23rd 6pm PST.

Buy your copies here

Follow C.L. on her website, Facebook or one of her two call-in radio shows; GardenLine on WXTK and The Garden lady on WRKO.

And the winner is….

Nancy Daniels!

Congratulations Nancy, and thank you to everyone who entered. I hope the rest of you will purchase a copy through the link given. Cheers!

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The Smile Factor

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Our newest family members

Whether you consider your personal garden style to be elegant, romantic, contemporary or traditional there is always room for a little whimsy – a special garden moment to make you smile. It doesn’t have to be large or extravagant and in fact some of the best are those that are discovered while strolling through the garden rather than something that screams ‘look at me’ from your living room!

Here are a few ideas from my own garden as well as several I have visited.

Highlight unique forms

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

This big leaf maple tree had been a focal point in the garden border: originally a towering, bleached silhouette it is now just a snag after a recent windstorm brought down the last branch with a ker-THUMP! Yet I still find this a fascinating sculptural element – just look at all the contorted growth on the trunk. To encourage other garden visitors to slow down and appreciate this I tucked a weathered birdhouse into the snag; he looks as surprised as our guests upon being discovered!

Bringing life back to a dead shrub

Bringing life back to a dead rhododendron shrub

This large rhododendron died many years ago yet its skeletal form is still beautiful. The previous owner had painted it silver but that makeover has long since faded and tufts of lichen now dress up the coral-like structure. This shrub framework seemed like a lovely spot to hang my charming bird feeder with its succulent roof. A thoughtful friend gave this to me at Christmas and I had been looking for the somewhere to showcase it effectively. We see this every day through our kitchen window where it adds an unexpected splash of color to an otherwise drab spot in the garden. Looks like I need to fill it up again….

Child’s Play

Created by Katie Pond

Created by Katie Pond – when she was still Katie Chapman

Lovingly nicknamed ‘Charles’ after a certain Royal personage, this creature was crafted in a high school art class by my daughter  many years ago. Showing signs of wear and tear, this only adds to the humor; I mean how good would you look after scrambling out of a rotted tree stump?

STOP!

STOP!

Spied on a recent garden tour in Pasadena this wonderful dinosaur is doing his best to get your attention! Whether warning against the step or the prickly plant I’m not sure but he did make me stop to take his photograph.

Cact - cus by Debra Lee Baldiwn made me giggle

Cact – cus by Debra Lee Baldwin made me giggle

Of course we’re all children at heart aren’t we? Debra Lee Baldwin may be a few years out of kindergarten but that didn’t stop her adding wonderful googly eyes to this cactus creation in her San Diego garden.

Hidden in Plain View

A brick pathway to read while you walk

A brick pathway to read while you walk

Have you noticed how many bricks have names embossed on them? Love these ideas

Perfect post-topper

Perfect post-topper

Likewise paving stones can be an opportunity to add some personality – or family history

a celebration path

A celebration path

 

Add Interest to Bare Walls

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Whimsical terracotta faces on a stucco wall will soon be surrounded by this clinging vine –  a fun discovery as I strolled along this shaded path and such a variety of expressions

Look up!

An easy project

An easy project

Hanging from a cedar branch one would not expect to see shards of cobalt blue glass wrapped in copper wire – yet their casual placement was perfect in its simplicity.

Unintentional humor?

Hmm

Hmm. Armed by whom or by what?

Strange the things that catch your eye – and make you laugh. Great placement either way!

Does your garden make you giggle?

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

 

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The Rougher Side of Beautiful

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Good landscape design isn’t just about the pretty stuff.

As you browse Pinterest boards, Houzz ideabooks, garden design books, websites and magazines I’m  sure you are drawn to the dreamy images of a rambling rose adorning a weathered arbor, the quaint sitting nook, complete with vintage tea table set for two,  or the perfectly proportioned patio and pergola that inspires you to do something similar in your own garden  – not the overhead power lines, weedy driveway or soggy lawn. Yet most landscape designers have to address these issues before we can get you to ‘beautiful’ and our own gardens are no exception.

I can selectively frame my photographs to avoid things I’d rather you didn’t see – and have been doing just that for some time! Today I’ll show you a less-than-glamorous two month long project that is almost complete. I’m not going to wait for the borders to be mulched, for the flowers to be in full bloom or the dandelions to go away. This is the reality. Garden design, just like gardening itself, sometimes is just plain down and dirty. Dollars often  have to be spent on things other than pretty plants but the reward is – eventually – worth it.

The Problems

Overhead Utility Lines

SO exciting to see these power lines come down!!

SO exciting to see these power lines come down!!

While not uncommon in rural areas these can pose quite the challenge for delivery trucks, especially when the lines barely make the minimum 12′ height clearance required. In our case we had overhead electricity lines, around which was wrapped our phone line, all neatly tied together by wire (yes you read that correctly) and orange flags. In theory this was to alert drivers – whether to electrocution or decapitation we were never too sure but as decorative prayer flags they were far from attractive, and really detracted from what should have been curb appeal.

Of course we live at the end of a dead-end gravel road so ‘curb appeal’ isn’t really relevant but that does bring me to the next problem…..

Ugly, Weedy Driveway

This is how things looked on the day we moved in; October 2009

This is how things looked on the day we moved in; October 2009

Over the years the  driveway has been altered from a straight 140′ run to the garage, to include a pull-out to facilitate turning vehicles and eventually to a broader sweeping curve that leads away from the house to serve the barn and  greenhouse. In fact today we no longer have a garage so it was important to redirect approaching vehicles to a side parking area.

Meanwhile the weeds had become a regular battle and the definition between the grass, planted borders and gravel driveway had morphed into a mess.

The overall appearance was one of abandonment – the home and garden looked well cared for but the driveway gave the impression of country living at its worst and we weren’t proud of it.

The Front Path was Too Narrow

Originally the concrete path ran from the garage to a recessed entry

Originally the concrete path ran from the garage to a recessed entry – photo taken on move-in day

When the front entry was revised and the door centered the old path didn't connect easily

When the front entry was revised and the new door centered the old path didn’t connect easily. October 2010

When I first sketched our front landscape design in 2009 I knew I wanted to work with crisp rectilinear shapes rather than a traditional sweeping curve. It was one way I could take this 1960s rambler and give it a more contemporary, youthful look as well as being a play off the windows.

With the garage now converted to living space it was time to re-think the front path

With the garage now converted to living space it was time to re-think the front path and pull it away from the house. April 2011

I added Elfin thyme to soften the edges and thought it was a success – briefly. I quickly realized that by offsetting the pavers that way I had made the path  too narrow, exacerbated by the creeping thyme.

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Those pavers are heavy and we just couldn’t face re-setting them – but the time had come to do something about it.

The Plan

Removing the Prayer Flags

The utility cables would be buried underground by digging a 2′ wide, 3′ deep trench from the house, under the driveway to the utility pole; 147′ in all. A local electrician would take care of permits, lay conduit, run wires and  revise our meter while the utility companies would take care of disconnecting and reconnecting as needed.

It had to get worse before it got better

It had to get worse before it got better

Meanwhile my friends and colleagues at Berg’s Landscaping would tackle the excavation.

It rained constantly! We had to run a sump pump in this pit so the utility crews could work

It rained constantly! We had to run a sump pump in this pit so the utility crews could work

Sounds straightforward? Try coordinating that many peoples schedules and you’ll quickly realize otherwise! It took almost two months. Local stores reported record sales of wine and chocolate….

Spiffy New Driveway

Could it get any worse? Yes it did....

Could it get any worse? Yes it did…. With the trenching it looked as though we had a major mole infestation! For a while we couldn’t access the front door and now we had orange tape to coordinate with the orange prayer flags

Meanwhile we decided to add concrete curbing to the driveway as a way to make things more orderly and fill in with fresh, compacted gravel over landscape fabric. Other ideas we considered were concrete and asphalt but both would  make this look like a runway due to the sheer size and didn’t really work with the overall aesthetic. Pavers would have been beautiful but cost prohibitive.

We also wanted to keep this as a pervious surface taking into account the high water table in this area and our clay soils. Any rain we can get to soak into the land rather than pool or run off is a good thing

The crew from Berg's Landscaping preparing for gravel and easing the grade on the outer edges of the curbing

The crew from Berg’s Landscaping preparing for gravel and easing the grade on the outer edges of the curbing with new soil and grass seed to facilitate mowing

 

The main challenge was where to stop? Should we run the curbing all the way to the barn for example? To the greenhouse? That certainly would have made everything looks clean and sparkly but it would also have directed the eye – and possibly vehicles, away from the home. One of the aims was to establish public versus private boundaries.

Grascrete acts as a visual endpoint while the curbing indicates parking

Grascrete acts as a visual endpoint while the angled curbing indicates parking

Berg’s had the great idea to create a transition using Grascrete blocks, in this case filled with gravel rather than grass. The blocks suggest an endpoint for visitors yet are easily driven over when we need to.

Refine the Front Path

We marked the new path entry with paint to get a feel for it

We marked the new path entry with paint to get a feel for it

Once again landscape architect John Silvernale helped me out with ideas. He liked my concept of the offset pattern, the journey through the front garden and agreed with me that just one additional 18″ paver  width would solve the problem. However he also suggested making a more substantial ‘landing’ at the front door as well as the point where it meets the driveway.

I sketched the revised design on the computer to help determine placement and materials

I find it helpful to sketch things out on paper (or the computer) as well as visualizing in situ. It helps to assess materials that need to be ordered, final placement in relationship to other elements such as the driveway and tree and also spot any problems. The plan above shows sections of the original path in black, some placement adjustments that I felt were needed (in green) and the expanded landings and path width using new pavers (in red).

It starts to come together!

It starts to come together!

The talented crew from Berg’s lifted the original pavers (I cleaned them first with 30 second cleaner and a stiff scrubbing brush so they would blend more easily with the new bluestone), re-graded and prepared the base then set out the revised path.

The Results

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(The propane tank will eventually be moved – it used to be hidden by a stand of bamboo – not a great choice since the septic heads are also in that area!) Notice how our ex-garage doesn’t look like a garage anymore since the driveway sweeps off to the left

For someone who usually only gets excited about  artistic details and cool plant combinations  I have to say I am thrilled with my concrete, gravel and bluestone garden additions! I love the defined boundaries and the clear routes for wheels and feet (and paws). Delivery trucks are delighted too – they automatically look for the overhead cables and are much happier now that they can reverse safely and easily.

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The new large path landing gives a clear visual cue to direct visitors to the front door

We still have to finish revising the landscape lighting, mulch borders and finish planting the newly extended front bed. The grass seed needs to grow (if the robins ever stop eating it) and the house is about to be repainted which is why it has several test colors on it! So we are still not quite at beautiful, but life is like that. Sometimes it’s OK to celebrate improvements even when we’re not  ready for the magazine photo shoot.

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Love the broad entry from the driveway to the front path.  The grass will fill in the area to the right in time

So here’s to Progress. It was a long, muddy, messy and frustrating journey yet also exciting and rewarding and we are so glad we tackled this less than glamorous project. We’ve come a long way from a dirt track.

Do you need to get down and dirty?

Resources

Berg’s Landscaping

American Curb and Edging

NaBr Electric

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