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Tales of Woe an Intrigue of the Compost Sort

Home Builder with Sunrise Lawn and Landscaping

This is a hole for a tree hand dug in solid shale.

Welcome to "Tales of Woe and Intrigue of the compost sort", mostly true stories of landscape adversity and the people who created them. To get started let me introduce myself. My name is Glenn Richardson. I grew up in the greenhouse industry in my parent's greenhouse business in Chesterfield, County, and The Plant Man Ltd. To me the name will always appear in silver letters in a green background. Those were the colors of the hand painted sign that hung down at the end of our drive way years ago. But that is a collection of tales for another time and perhaps blog. I design landscapes for a living. Yes, I select what plant will do best where and I try to match that selection to my client's tastes, lifestyle (read level of gardening commitment) and needs they have for their yard.

My theory of landscapes parallels that of Toynbee's Theory of Civilization which goes something like this, a civilization is only be as great as the obstacles it can overcome. In my mind that means the greater the difficulties you can successfully address in your landscape the more interesting the landscape as a result. In this day and age, designers face a bit of a dilemma. The goal of most land developers seems to be to remove all character from a bit of land before a home is built.

By working as a landscape designer/salesman for Toll Brothers (many years ago and not a good experience) I learned this lesson first hand. I can understand that level, gently sloping, well drained land makes for easy home construction, but it doesn't leave much in the way of an interesting lot, needless to say privacy or topsoil. The first step in the process seems to be stripping off and stockpiling ‘top soil' for resale. Next, bulldozers, motorized pans, dump trucks and loaders tear into the earth. Hills are cut down, loaded into trucks and shipped to fill in lower parts of the development. What had once been rolling pasture land with intermittent creeks and woods are processed into relatively flat building lots connected by strips of asphalt all drained in a prescribed manner to channel rainwater into engineered ‘surface water' holding areas. A developer is thus able to produce more ‘developable' lots from a tract of land.

This leaves most new developments with few if any ‘idle' stretches of acreage. Whatever happened to the biblical adage of not harvesting the corners of the field?  Development efficiency may be heralded and celebrated by stock holders but we homeowners pay the price by a lack of topsoil, loss of existing native trees and, because there may for acres in every direction be none left, no parent plants of the original ‘native' plant community left to foster and re-colonize the disrupted new neighborhood.

Ok, I beg your patience as to why this is woe and intrigue. Because for years I have been dealing with exasperated homeowners who come to me wanting to know what the ‘secret' is to having a successful landscape in their new home. It's not all that difficult; there is one big dirty trick, good dirt. Ok that's just part of it but a huge part. Good dirt and proper plant selection. Ok good dirt, proper plant selection and appropriate watering are important also. But then there is the issue of nutrients and microclimates. Well it's sort of like that. As soon as you develop an idea there comes along another issue.

I will try to bring to you, the reader, issues I have run across in the landscapes of the Washington DC metro area over the years. Sometimes I will be nice, or I will try to be nice. I have little patience with the client who brings a dead plant back to a nursery that never got watered for three months. And said client will claim the plant was defective from when it was first selected. (If that's the case then why did you purchase it?)  Lesson one; plants are as alive and you and me. You couldn't go without water for 90 day could you? If you did would you expect your mother to return you to the hospital where you were born for a refund? Ok, harsh but you get the point.

The photo above is what a crew of ours had to do to plant a crape myrtle at a commercial building. They dug two other such pits the same day. Not everyone go to such length to do the right thing. We had to oversize the holes (remember always dig a dollar size hole for a dime size plant) more than usual and then plant the trees 'higher' than normal to make sure they would live. This is part of the landscape that most people never see or appreciate.

Till next time.

Comments (1)

Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Congratulations on your first article on ActiveRain.

You mention one of my biggest gripes with builders, their scraping, burying, hauling away or otherwise destroying the topsoil of most home sites.  Don't they know that stuff takes millions of years to develop??? 

Oct 27, 2008 02:44 AM