Category Archives: Uncategorized

Perfect Time For Grub Control

Between August and September is the perfect time to treat your yard for grubs, if you have a grub problem! Right now Japanese Beetle and other Beetle larvae are in their beginning stages and looking to feed on your lawn. By treating the ground now, you can ensure that when they are feeding they are feeding on the insecticide.
Now as an environmentally conscious company we recommend using Milky Spore for grub control. Milky Spore is a bacteria that kills Japanese Beetle larvae. It doesn’t kill other beetle larvae, but most of the beetles you see these days are Japanese Beetles. When the Milky Spore is in the soil, the Japanese Beetle larvae ingests it while it’s feeding and the bacteria kills the beetle and thrives in the soil. The bacteria does not harm plants or other organisms. It can last in the soil for 10 – 20 years or more, so after a 2 or 3 applications throughout the entire yard, you and your lawn should be able to enjoy years of grub free bliss.Milky_Spore
See this link:…/203595851
If your grub problem is severe and your patience is thin, you can treat your lawn with an insecticide to obtain some immediate relief/results and then transition to using the more environmentally friendly Milky Spore. There are only two real proven chemicals that can cure an existing grub problem. ONLY TWO. Carbaryl and trichlorfon. The others are preventative, which means they are only effective at preventing grubs before they are in your lawn. Typically the chemical used to kill the grub is listed on the front of the bag or product next to “active ingredient” or is in an itemized list with other ingredients with a certain percentage next to it.
See the following article from Michigan State University a guide:…/how_to_choose_and_when_to_apply_g…
Prolonged lawn chemical use is never recommended. Chemicals can kill beneficial organisms along with the bad and can leave a lawn more sterile and even more susceptible to issues down the road. It’s like the equivalent of putting a person on hard core drugs and then taking them off after months of use. Keep your lawn off drugs, if possible or they’ll become dependent.

Buying a home? Conduct a Landscape Inspection.


Landscape Inspection of failing steps and walkway.
Buying a home?
Many buyers these days have Home Inspections conducted on their potential future homes to ensure the home is worthy of their investment. Landscape Inspections are becoming a common practice around the country (Florida, Colorado, Minnesota, California, and more). A Landscape Inspection is a vital component in assessing the condition of a property. A property may have a broken irrigation system, poor soils (high PH, low in organic matter, high in salts, etc…), erosion issues, or decaying/dying trees, which can directly influence the amount of money a person will need to invest in the property to bring it to a healthy, beautiful state.

Is there a decaying tree limb overhanging the house? Is water pitching towards the house, which could cause flood and cracking problems with the basement? What’s the condition of the mortar in the walls and walkways? Is there conservation property/wetlands in the nearby vicinity with setbacks and restrictions that will influence how you are able to develop the property? What do the latest sea level rise forecast models show about how your coastal property will be impacted by near future storm events?

There is a plethora of items that can either be overlooked or not easily seen by the average individual, which is why the trained eye of a Landscape Architect, such as Elemental Design’s Colin Hynes, can be invaluable. Much like a Home Inspection, a Landscape Inspection can help give a potential buyer a better understanding of the property they may be purchasing as well as some additional negotiating leverage at the bargaining table.
Call today to obtain a Landscape Inspection quote!

Notice To Rhode Island Coastal Property Owners

Rhode Island and portions of Massachusetts are currently at the forefront of ocean, coastal, and storm planning. Elemental Designs is currently staying up to date on the latest developments in this area and on how it will impact and benefit Rhode Island coastal property owners (and eventually New England as a whole). Much of the current research will influence regulations regarding ocean planning/developments, building developments, and environmental conservation in both the short term and long term.
See the referenced links below to learn more:
Northeast Ocean Council
Beach SAMP (Special Area Management Plan)
In addition, the following recreational survey is one piece of anonymous data that is currently going to influence ocean planning/development in the Northeast (think wind turbines, power buoys, surf spots, dredging, jetties/groins, etc…). Please take this survey if you haven’t already.

RI Coastal Property Guide – Coastal Property Planning


There are some valuable and beautiful properties along the Rhode Island Coastline, as well as Massachusetts and Connecticut. Ever since Tropical Storm Sandy’s storm surge and coastal devastation, many coastal residents in RI have become increasingly more aware of the challenges that may lie ahead for them in regards to maintaining their coastal properties. Flood Insurance Rates have increased. Some of the buildings along the southern shoreline have been moved as far back on their property as regulations will allow. Some properties are no longer developable.

If you LIVE BY the COAST in RI, it may be IMPORTANT that you become familiar with this recent COASTAL PROPERTY GUIDE. It may help to save you time, money, and aggravation with regards to future storm impacts and damage to your property. The University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center/Rhode Island Sea Grant compiled this guidance document for the Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council as a product of the Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan, or Beach SAMP. The introduction to the guide and the link to download the entire guide can be found at the link below:

As a company that offers landscape architecture related services, such as land planning and environmental permitting to our clients, it’s important to stay informed of the latest developments and resources that will guide land development along the coast. By staying informed of the latest developments and resources, both the company and it’s coastal clients will continue to be knowledgeable and well prepared for future events that may impact coastal properties and their development.

The Outdoor Kitchen

The Outdoor Kitchen

July 4th is approaching fast. It’s time to celebrate the nations birthday! People all across this great country will be hosting parties and gathering with friends to watch some fireworks! Warm weather, birds, colorful flowers, smells from the BBQ, and plenty of sunshine help to set the mood for outdoor gatherings of all sizes. As Landscape Architects we’re always looking to stay educated on the latest trends and quality products. We know how to get you the best bang for your buck. When planning and creating for an outdoor entertainment space, such as an outdoor kitchen, it’s important to know not only what products to use and where to place them, but how many people the space will need to accommodate at any point in time.

Different techniques are used to help set the mood and to facilitate social interaction between people in a space. This could be something as simple as creating a bar area around the BBQ. It could be as complex as hiding a pool fence to give the illusion of an open pool area with no enclosure to help preserve the unobstructed beautiful views and ease of social interaction between people in the pool area and abutting entrtainment areas (such as fire pit area, or dining area, bar area, etc…).
There’s also the work triangle technique to consider. This is the smart way to layout any kitchen, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. The three main areas/activities in a kitchen are food storage (Refrigerator), food preparation (Sink), and Cooking (Stove/Oven). If you draw lines connecting each of these items it should form a triangle. When the items are kept in fairly close proximity, the layout helps to maximize the efficiency and flow of the person utilizing the kitchen.

Kitchen Work Triangle
Kitchen Work Triangle (example from Wikipedia)

Having the assistance of a landscape architect can be an enormous help when it comes to selecting the proper site furnishings for your outdoor space. Colin Hynes, our principal landscape architect at Elemental Designs strives to stay up to date on the latest and greatest in outdoor living products and construction techniques. This helps to save clients time, aggravation, and money both over the short and long term. Even something as simple as picking out the proper outdoor grill isn’t as simple as one may think. If you frequently entertain 10+ people or maybe you have an annual summer blowout/party with 40+ people. Questions like “how long do you want to spend behind the grill?” and “how many people do you plan on cooking for?” can have a lot to do with what size grill you choose. You’re also going to want to have a reliable brand that stands by its product and provides good customer service. Sometimes people may pick up the latest stainless steel Home Depot special, but over time when the igniter no onger ignites the grill, or the lights on the dials no longer light, or the temperature gauge no longer shows the temperature, or the grill isn’t cooking as evenly as it should, you’re going to want a company that provides good customer service and is fairly hassle free to deal with. Who wants to yell at a customer service representative because they’re grill won’t function properly? No one. There are many different brands of grills and other appliances out there. Brands like Weber, Fire Magic, Char Broil, Viking, Lynx, Kenmore, Wilmington, and more. Some of these brands have their own unique way of fabricating their grills. One brand might have steel burners. Another brand might have brass burners. Brass burners tend to be more resistant to corrosion and will generally last longer, so if you frequently cook outdoors and don’t feel like replacing the burners or the grill in ten years, a grill with brass burners may be the best fit for you.

Brass Burner
Brass Burner

This is just one example of how a landscape architect like Colin can help. He already has a good feel for what products to shy away from and which ones are worth their weight in gold.

The knowledge and expertise of a landscape architect can save you money on the installation as well. There’s almost always more than one way to build something. Contractors don’t always stay on top of these things. Some will use the items they are familiar with in an effort to maximize their profit margin. Time isn’t always spent on searching for what’s best for you (the Client). One example of this is an outdoor kitchen. By staying up to date on the latest technologies and construction methods, a landscape architect can use his or her knowledge and creativity to come up with some unique construction methods. Maybe you want an outdoor kitchen counter top with glass embedded in it that lights up at night or maybe a custom built pizza oven. Maybe you want a bar with it’s own taps and storage for the kegs. If you’re trying to save some money, do you make the shell of the outdoor kitchen out of concrete block?…probably not. There are quicker, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly methods.

Here’s one example of an outdoor bar & cooking space that was integrated into a design by our principal landscape architect, Colin Hynes:

191_Musterfield_Rd-Back-Close_up-02 Bar_Area

Elements that needed to fit into the design:

  • Courtyard Area
  • Pool & Pool Patio Area
  • Hot Tub (not visible in picture above, but was included)
  • Dining Patio Area
  • Outdoor Bar & Cooking Area
  • Pool fence

Main Objectives:

  • Minimize the amount of pool fence and hide pool fence as much as possible
  • Outdoor Bar & Cooking Area must serve people in Pool Patio Area and Dining Area
  • Need to be able to accommodate 50+ people between Pool Area and Dining Patio Area
  • Provide a layout that still makes it easy for people in the Pool Area and Dining Area to socially interact
  • Meet building code for pool fence/enclosure
  • Keep people safe and ensure small children can’t walk out of house and into pool  area on their own


In order to meet all the objectives and to fit all of the elements into the design, the pool fence was run into the bar and the height of the raised bar counter (from ground to bottom of counter) was increased to 48 inches. This allowed the bar wall to act as part of the pool enclosure while still meeting the building code requirements for pool enclosures. This also allowed for people to still be able to sit on 3 out of the 4 sides of the bar. Anytime a big party is planned the client has the option of propping open the gates to allow for easy flow between the Pool Patio Area and Dining Patio Area. If there are small children at the party the gates can be closed and the small children can stay in the Dining Patio Area while the adults in both the Pool Patio Area and Dining Patio Area get to interact at the bar without needing to open the pool fence gates.

A planting bed with shrubs and perennials helps to hide the view of the pool fence when in the Pool Patio Area or the Dining Patio Area. What isn’t shown in the pictures is how the pool fence dives down a slope near the backside of the pool and wraps around the backside of the pool area without being visible to people in the Pool & Pool Patio Area. This helps to maintain the unobstructed, elevated, beautiful views to the fields and woods beyond the property.

In an effort to keep people safe, the edge of the bar and pool fence were put in line with the house corner. This allowed people sitting at the Dining Patio Area of the bar, the ability to turn around, see the stairs behind them, and react accordingly after getting out of their seat to walk away. This is especially important after someone has had a number of alcoholic beverages. On the opposite side of the bar there are shrubs that abut the bar area, which provide for a much softer landing if one should be a little too tipsy.

What some property owners don’t always realize until they’ve had the opportunity to work with a landscape architect is that they tend to pay for themselves. The money they charge for their services can be equal to or less than what they’ll save you in the end. Plus, you’ll have the advantage of having a landscape with a high level of quality and aesthetic appeal that’s more suitable for both you and the natural environment.

These days almost any item you can find in your indoor kitchen can now be found in an outdoor kitchen. Below is a sample of just some of the more familiar items that can be found in an outdoor kitchen.

Stainless Steel Grill w/Rotisserie
Stainless Steel Grill w/Rotisserie
Side Burner(s)
Side Burner(s)
Sink (faucet not shown in picture)
Sink (faucet not shown in picture)
Access Doors provide access to appliance connections or additional storage space.
Access Doors provide access to appliance connections or additional storage space.
Warming drawers to keep food warm until you're ready to serve it.
Warming drawers to keep food warm until you’re ready to serve it.
Food Pantry for storing food.
Food Pantry for storing food.
Utility Drawers for storing cooking utensils and other items.
Utility Drawers for storing cooking utensils and other items.
Paper Towel Holder
Paper Towel Holder
Trash Drawer to store and hide the trash can.
Trash Drawer to store and hide the trash can.
Ice Chest to keep drinks cold.
Ice Chest to keep drinks cold.
Drink Dispenser with tap. Holds mini-keg and keeps it cool.
Drink Dispenser with tap. Holds mini-keg and keeps it cool.
Refrigerator to keep food and drinks cold.
Refrigerator to keep food and drinks cold.
Trash Chute for easy disposal of food after food is prepared.
Trash Chute for easy disposal of food after food is prepared.


Keep your lawn from becoming a drug addict.

People love their lawns. Having a nice thick, lush, green lawn is almost like a badge of honor to some. It’s May in the Northeast and everywhere I go I see people applying fertilizer to their lawns. We all do it, right? Ask yourself this question first. Why? Sure we’re all told we should fertilize the lawn in the spring to help invigorate the grass after a long hard winter and to apply fertilizer in autumn to help prepare the grass for the long hard winter. Some of us even subscribe to the 5 step year round fertilizer programs that are pushed by fertilizer companies, but is it really necessary? The short answer is probably not. Treating your lawn with fertilizer without having a soil test performed is like taking blood pressure medicine without checking your blood pressure first. You don’t know if you actually need it or not.

Billions of dollars are spent in the U.S. each year on fertilizer. Millions of pounds of synthetic pesticides are applied to lawns in the U.S. each year. This is all in an effort to keep the grass looking full, green and weed free. Some of the fertilizers and pesticides applied to landscapes each year is lost due to rain and precipitation. They’re carried through storm drains or down slopes or through the ground water to nearby waterways (rivers, streams, oceans, ponds, etc…). In 2001 a study conducted by USDA showed 80% of synthetic fertilizer is wasted/lost (by run off, leaching through the soil, etc…). That’s like paying someone 100% of the cost to perform a job, but only getting 20% of the job done in return. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In waterbodies such as ponds or slow moving streams, the excess nitrogen in the water can produce algae blooms. The algae feed off the nitrogen and in the process deplete the amount of oxygen that’s available in the water to other plant and animal life. This can lead to the death of fish and other organisms. The chemicals in pesticides are harmful to wildlife as well.

Synthetic nitrogen and pesticides can kill and harm a soil’s beneficial microorganisms. By using these products consistently, it becomes the equivalent of placing your lawn on drugs. The soil that supports your lawn will lose it’s natural ability to support itself and will become nearly dependent on these additives each year. I’ve seen people who’ve made an attempt to use organic treatments on their lawns after using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on their lawns and landscapes for years. They don’t see the instant results and begin to doubt the process. What they don’t understand is that the soil that supports the lawn is basically going through a “rehabilitation” process. It takes time for the natural organisms and processes to return to the soil.

Soils, if treated properly, have the ability to provide a beneficial underground environment for the lawn and microorganisms. Many of these organisms break down organic matter and provide the nutrients and symbiotic relationships that are beneficial to plant life (Trees, shrubs, grasses, etc…). Healthy soils are typically full of bacteria, fungi, and nematodes. They also tend to have good top soil that’s a minimum of 6″ deep(8″ preferable) and a 4 – 6% organic matter content. These “healthy soils” can provide an underground environment that assists in keeping an established lawn full, green, and weed free without the need to fertilize and treat it for pests all the time.

Now, I’m not saying everyone should run out and have a soil test done every year, but if you have one done every two or 3 years you can get a good feel for what your lawn really needs and how it and the soil may be evolving overtime.  Soil tests are full of information that can help you to treat your lawn and other landscape vegetation in the appropriate manner. Soil tests can show the PH level, nutrient levels, soil texture, organic matter content, and more. Soil testing performed by a lab (like the one at UMASS-Amherst) will also give you recommendations on how to improve the soil based on the results of the testing. One main reason soil testing is important is because it can help you to see what nutrients or amendment it really needs to be healthy and even more importantly…what it doesn’t need.

Water Conservation and Irrigation

As springtime arrives in New England a homeowner’s attention can switch quickly from the snow to the lawn. The recent drought in California has renewed the focus on water conservation in the country. Can you imagine what would happen if California (the majority of the west coast) was to run out of water? I’m sure it would make a lot of people rethink why they wasted so much of it on their grass over the years.

Lawns typically only require about 1” of water per week, on average. Sometimes they’ll require a little more during the hottest month of the year (typically July in New England) and a little less during the spring when there’s typically plenty of rain. According to data collected by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) from 1981 – 2010, Rhode Island’s average precipitation ranges from about 47 to 51 inches of rain per year, depending upon where you are located in the state. It’s also similar for Massachusetts (43 – 48in) and Connecticut (45 – 54in). This means your landscape should already be getting close to what it needs to survive just from mother-nature alone. The reason I stated “close to what it needs” is because this precipitation comes in more than one form such as rain, snow, etc. There will be weeks when you get 3 inches of rain and weeks when you get 0 inches of rain. During a period of time when there is very little precipitation is when irrigation systems are most useful in keeping landscapes looking happy and healthy.

It’s best to water a landscape for less frequent long periods of time instead of frequent short periods of time, so the water has a chance to soak deep into the soil where the plant roots can absorb it. It’s also not always necessary to irrigate a landscape daily, unless you see plants or lawn grass showing signs of stress. Deep infrequent waterings (1 – 2 times a week, depending on soil type) help plants to grow deeper roots and to find water on their own. If they are constantly babied and watered everyday they will develop a shallow root system and will be too reliant on the irrigation system for their water requirements. Be sure to keep a close eye on your plants while adjusting the watering schedule. If you see plants start to wilt or weep due to the adjustment, be sure to water them as needed until they appear to be maintaining a healthy appearance.

In order to maximize your water use it’s wise to irrigate in a manner that will minimize water loss. It’s typically best to irrigate the landscape in the early morning hours (3am – 6am**) when the air temperature is cooler and there’s less wind. This will help to minimize water loss due to evaporation or due to the water droplets being blown away from their intended target area.

**Some people will say from 3am – 10am or 4am – 10am is a good time frame to run an irrigation system (which is true), but many of us wake up (around 5am – 8am), shower and then go off to work in the morning. This means strain on the municipal system and the possibility of lower water pressure, so 3am – 6am is usually a good time frame to use. If water is applied in the late evening or early nighttime hours such as 6pm or 12am you risk the possibility of fungus developing. The irrigation water will have time to sit on  grass and plants for many hours with little or no sunlight to help dry them out and will promote damp conditions that are ripe for fungus growth, so DON’T DO IT!

The proper watering times for each landscape area should be determined by factoring in the soil type, wind, light, and slope conditions of the area. Here are some ways that help you conserve water.

    • If you have an irrigation system in the Northeast, it’s estimated that 30 – 40% of your annual water bill (on average, or more) is from irrigating your lawn. Due to advancements in technology over the years, there are now “smart” irrigation systems. These systems have sensors that monitor the weather conditions impacting your landscape. The smart irrigation systems have sensors, which measure rainfall amounts, wind speeds, sun intensity and more. The sensors help determine how much water is necessary for your landscape and when it’s necessary to water it. These systems can help reduce the amount of water used to irrigate a landscape. If you are connected to the town water supply, this can help save you money on your water bill as well as make the irrigation systems more environmentally friendly, by conserving water. The smart irrigation systems are very easy to install. A smart irrigation system can be added on to your existing irrigation controller (if you have one that’s compatible) or you can upgrade your current controller, so it can be added. Check with your landscaper or with us for additional information. Hunter_ET_System

(The picture shown above is of the Hunter ET System.)

  • At Elemental Designs we can gather the proper data and put together a maintenance program for your landscape that includes estimated irrigation amounts and times that are based on the given soils, wind, light, and slope conditions of the different irrigation zones within your site.
  • Make sure your beds have at least 2 to 3 inches of mulch in them. Mulch helps to keep weeds down and also helps the soil below to retain it’s moisture.
  • Reuse water that would otherwise be lost, such as runoff from the roof of a building. Soil can only hold so much water before it becomes saturated and unable to retain anymore. The rest is typically lost through runoff or percolates too deep into the ground to be available to a plants root system. Storage tanks (above or below ground), rain barrels, or other containers can be used to help capture water from gutters and other sources, so the water can be stored and used when needed.
  • Install drip irrigation or soaker hose in plant beds. These two methods of irrigation conserve water and limit the loss of water due to wind, runoff, and evaporation.

Landscape Perception

The things we see on a daily basis and the way we all view the world is derived from our personal perspectives and observations. Some might say that a landscape architect is part architect, part horticulturalist, part engineer, part historian, and part artist. Would you believe that as landscape architects we have the ability to be part magician as well?

As landscape architects much of what we design and construct within the landscape revolves around what we want people to perceive. We use little visual tricks such as plant massing, color contrasting, visual barriers (walls, trees, etc…), and more to draw people’s eyes towards certain areas and/or away from other areas of a landscape. When many of us view a property or a park, we sometimes don’t even realize that our eyes are being intentionally guided or tricked into viewing the area in a particular way.

Sometimes it’s something as simple as a landscape architect strategically placing a grove of trees to obstruct your views around a lake. As you walk around the lake you notice a gap between some of the trees that reveals a view to the sun setting behind a historic building/monument, which resides across the lake. The trees in this particular case were placed there to screen your vision in one area and to act as a frame to a beautiful scene in another (the view across the pond to the building) that might not otherwise be the same or have the same dramatic effect when viewed from another angle. It’s a simple hide and reveal. Now you see it. Now you don’t or vice versa.

We sometimes coerce our brains into perceiving things a certain way, but sometimes our brains coerce us into perceiving things a certain way. Our perceptions and observations over the years have trained our brains to observe objects in the world a certain way and sometimes in order to make sense of things our brain can play tricks on us. You can see an example of this very effect, below. Look at the black dot in the center of the picture for 30-35 seconds without blinking. Then look at the white space to the right (and blink really fast). Do you see the original color image? You should.



Welcome to The Living Landscape blog!

Welcome to the The Living Landscape Blog! The official blog of Elemental Designs. The aim of The Living Landscape blog is to provide a forum where Elemental Designs, it’s clients and the general public can discuss various landscape topics and helpful landscaping tips. We actively encourage people to comment on and subscribe to our quarterly blog posts (Approximately 1 new topic per season).