Hope Farm: Pergola, Outdoor Lighting, & Deck Modifications

by on Jul.04, 2015, under Decks, Hardscapes, Pergolas & Arbors

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This project takes place at a home located on Hope Farm in Wake Forest.  The home features a second-story deck overlooking a pool.  The location of the deck places it in the sun for most of the day, which presents tough conditions for any type of wood. The surface wood was deteriorating and needed to be replaced. Fortunately, the lower structure remained in good condition and was able to be re-used.

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The existing layout for the stairs worked well, but took up a considerable amount of space and partially obstructed the view of the pool.  The homeowner also desired a low-level platform under the existing deck, which meant the stairs had to be re-designed.  This made the overall plan for the project clear… relocate the stairs, upgrade the decks, and add shade wherever possible.

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The finished project turned out great.  The new stairs are a huge improvement over the old design and the shade offered by the sun sails made it possible to enjoy the pool any time of day.  The pergola-style shade is a much needed refuge on the far side of the pool.

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The stairs are double cleated and extremely sturdy.  As an additional safety feature, the hand-rails were designed to be reachable by both hands as you walk up or down.

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The upper deck looks so much better with a fresh wood surface, and the sun sail keeps things shady into the late afternoon.  One thing to keep in mind when ordering sun sails for corner alcoves…make sure to get a Right triangle (90º corner), because an equilateral, scalene, obtuse, or isosceles will not fit properly.

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The view of the pool is now unobstructed by the staircase.  The newly installed pergola adds shade and a bit of balance to the far side of the pool apron.

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The lower deck was set into an area in the apron intended as a flower bed.  The soil was removed and the deck was set inside the existing concrete.  The lower deck is part of a planned outdoor theater.

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Below is a render of the proposed theater. This will make a great place to watch movies or play video games.

Projector Screen Outside 2



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Privacy Screen made from Fencing Panels

by on Jun.08, 2015, under Fencing, Hardscapes


A lot of time and hard work was put into the backyard of this Wake Forest home.  The landscape is very natural and is set within a very shady, mature stand of trees.  Overall, the back yard has a very private feel, except for an adjacent section which borders a nearby neighbor.  The homeowner wanted privacy in this area without disrupting the views so we designed and installed a short length of fencing that would serve as a privacy screen.  The original design called for an upper lattice section, but the owner opted for something a bit more simple after accepting an offer on the home.  Even without the added detail, the fence looked great.  We hope the new owners enjoy it!

Fence 2.2

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Using an Urn to Add Depth in an Ornamental Landscape

by on May.06, 2015, under Hardscapes, Planters

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This project was inspired by an article in the July 2014 Edition of Southern Living Magazine.  The article featured a photo of a small planter which had been filled with a number of decorative plants.  This Venetian urn was purchased from Market Imports (Near the Raleigh Farmer’s Market) and was quite a bit larger than the one in the article.

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It is important not to over-crowd the planter on the initial planting.  The plants will grow significantly once planted, so make sure to account for this.  Placing gravel, or some other well-draining material will prevent overly wet soil in the base of the urn.

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Horseshoe Pitching Court Built to Last

by on Apr.28, 2015, under Hardscapes, Outdoor Games

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This horseshoe court was designed to be rugged, so it would withstand years of fun.  It was constructed with salvaged railroad ties which will withstand almost anything you throw at them (including thousands of metal horseshoes!).  The court is laid out according to official guidelines, but the overall design is much more subtle.  The sand for the pit is a blue/gray screening from crushed granite and was a nice alternative to the typical stark white play sand.  The stakes are pitched at 12º and are 40ft apart.   This subtle, contemporary court will look great long into the future.

Horseshoe Pit 1

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A Path to the Pool Apron

by on Mar.12, 2015, under Hardscapes

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This home has had a number of recent upgrades, including a new walkway leading from the pool apron, around to the side-entry gate. In addition to providing a walkable surface, the path needed to accommodate a lawn tractor entering from the side gate.  Drainage was also a concern as the slope of the nearby terrain channels water away from the pool-apron and down the nearby hill.  Because of this, the path was designed to follow the existing grade and is permeable to facilitate infiltration.

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Site Photo and an early render of the walkway.

The final design is a paver walkway that extends to the end of the deck.  RumbleStone’s™ Mini Café was used because it is the same material as the retaining wall in the above pictures.  A small niche was left to allow a climbing vine to grow up the side of the lattice.

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The pavers were laid on a 45° running bond and set within a border of larger material.  After finishing up, the pavers were compacted and  grouted with polymeric sand.

Once the patio was installed, polymeric sand was compacted into the joints.

The permeable section of the walkway was made with medium-diameter river rock from the Tennessee River.  The larger stones were chosen because they have a decreased tendency to wander into the lawn and they resist “rutting” from repetitive trips across the surface with the lawn tractor.  The bottom of this path was lined with a Geo-fabric to prevent the stones from migrating into the underlying soil.

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Pruning Pampas Grass

by on Mar.06, 2015, under Ornamental Grasses

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Pampas Grass usually refers to the species Cortaderia, but is also used to describe both Erianthus and Saccharum ravennae (sometimes called ‘hardy pampas grass’). These grasses grow in tight clumps called tussocks and the females produce tall, feathery flowers late in the Summer. In the early part of winter, the plants enter dormancy and become a golden, wheat color.  The leaves and flowers will remain attractive through the winter, but will become problematic when new growth begins. Removing the older growth allows sunlight to penetrate to the depth of new shoots growing at the base of the plant, and it reduces mold and insect activity by allowing moisture to escape the center of the tussock. While somewhat different biologically, these species all require the same type of maintenance in order to stay healthy and beautiful.

Before & After

Before & After

As long as their appearance holds up, ornamental grasses can be left intact late into Winter.  Single digit temperatures and heavy precipitation in winter (especially snow/ice) can destroy the uniform appearance of the dried out plumes.  Those planted close to roof-lines can become damaged by snow sliding off overhanging ledges, which may necessitate early pruning. The home pictured above features several remote beds that use tall ornamental grass as a soft background for the smaller foreground plants.  These plants were in good condition for late winter, but were showing signs of new growth.  When trimming plants, it is important to look for new growth, and take care not to prune lower than the tips of the green shoots.  Trimming only to the depth of the new growth will ensure the growing leaves aren’t damaged/blunted, which can stunt growth and introduce disease. This practice also guarantees that you wont scalp the crown of the tussock, which can cause a hollow center to develop, or even kill the plant altogether.

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Rake around the base of each individual tussock to remove rotting vegetation.  This reduces insects, moisture, disease, and simply gives the plant a clean start for the Spring.  Finally, be sure to rake the top of each plant vigorously in order to remove leaves and other debris.

Remove Decaying Debris Under Plants

Remove Decaying Debris Under Plants

Rake loose debris from the center of the plant.

Rake loose debris from the center of the plant.

After pruning and cleaning out each tussock, replace the mulch that was raked away from the base.  According to information published by NC State University, fertilization (although rarely necessary) should be done in early Spring.  Fertilize established plants with a balanced fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10.

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Tall Fescue Management Schedule

by on Feb.26, 2015, under Turf Management

Tall Fescue

NC State University Cooperative Extension publishes an evidence-based maintenance calendar to help guide homeowners and professionals in the management of Tall Fescue grass. Below is a simplified outline of the information presented in this schedule.   If you want more information, please view our Turf Grass Calendar, or visit NC State’s Turf Files website.

March – May


Mowing: Cut grass to height between 2.5-3.5 inches.  Mow frequently, so that no more than 1/3 of the total grass-height is removed.  Mowing frequency can increase in late spring, as often as every 5-7 days.

Fertilization: Fertilization is strongly discouraged after March 15.  Instead, grass clippings should be allowed to decompose on the surface of the lawn. The nutrients provided by the mulched grass clippings can reduce the need for fertilizer/nutrient supplementation by as much as 25%.

Watering: weekly, 1-1¼ inches of water, all in a single application.  Indications of water loss include dark blueish/gray coloration and wilted/folded/curled leaves.  Water until soil is wet to a depth of 4-6 inches.  Soils that accept water slowly (clays, etc.) water until runoff is observed, stop, and begin again after runoff ceases.  According to the report, adequate irrigation may prevent or reduce problems later in the summer.  It is also recommended to water between the hours of 2-8 a.m., which decreases the prevalence of certain diseases.

Weed Control: Apply preemergence herbicides at this time.  This will retard the development of crabgrass, goosegrass, and foxtail.

Insect Control: Check for and control white grubs in April/May.

Aeration: Delay until Fall.

Thatch Removal: Generally not necessary.

June – August


Mowing: 3½-4 inches and before grass grows longer than 5 inches

Fertilization: No fertilizer at this time

Watering: Water to prevent drought stress, or allow lawn to go dormant.  In the absence of rain, water dormant lawns no less than every 3 weeks.

Disease Control: Watch for Brown Patch Disease, which has an affinity for high humidity and temperatures above 85° F. This disease presents as irregularly shaped patches of dead grass.

Weed Control: Use of herbicides is not recommended during this time.

Insect Control: Inspect for and control white grubs in July and August.

Aeration: Do not aerate at this time.

Restoration: Piedmont area should delay until mid-August.

September – November


Mowing: 2½-3 inches in height

Fertilization: Test soil and supplement nutrients according to the results.  If no soil testing is performed, apply a turf-grade fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 at 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 ft².  Apply fertilizer in mid-September and again in November.

Watering: weekly, 1-1¼ inches of water, all in a single application.  Indications of water loss include dark blueish/gray coloration and wilted/folded/curled leaves.  Water until soil is wet to a depth of 4-6 inches.  Soils that accept water slowly (clays, etc.) water until runoff is observed, stop, and begin again after runoff ceases.  According to the report, adequateirrigation may prevent or reduce problems later in the summer.  It is also recommended to water between the hours of 2-8 a.m., which decreases the prevalence of certain diseases.

Weed Control: Apply herbicides to control broad-leaf weeds like chickweed and henbit.

Insect Control: Check for white grubs in September and October, as Fall is the ideal time to control this pest.

Aeration: Aerate areas with poor soil depth and high traffic areas that can be compacted over time.  Plugs should be broken up and returned to the lawn.

Renovation: NC State reccomends the following: “Overseed thin, bare areas as weather cools (August 15 to September 1). Use a blend of “turf-type” tall fescue cultivars at 6 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet, and apply a starter-type (high phosphorus) fertilizer. Keep the seedbed moist with light watering several times per day. Do not let the seedlings dry out.”

December – February


Mowing: 3 inches and be sure to remove leaves and other debris from the lawn.

Fertilization: 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 ft² in February.

Watering: weekly, 1-1¼ inches of water, all in a single application.  Indications of water loss include dark blueish/gray coloration and wilted/folded/curled leaves.  Water until soil is wet to a depth of 4-6 inches.  Soils that accept water slowly (clays, etc.) water until runoff is observed, stop, and begin again after runoff ceases.  According to the report, adequate irrigation may prevent or reduce problems later in the summer.  It is also recommended to water between the hours of 2-8 a.m., which decreases the prevalence of certain diseases.

Weed Control: Apply broad-leaf herbicides as necessary for control of chickweed, henbit, or other weeds.


Bruneau, A. (n.d.). Tall Fescue Lawn Maintenance Calendar. Retrieved February 27, 2015, from http://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/PDFFiles/000017/Tall_Fescue_Lawn_Maintenance_Calendar.pdf


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Peaceful Fountain for a Classic Landscape

by on Feb.11, 2015, under Hardscapes, Water Features


We recently installed a quiet water feature as an accent to a large trellis on the property of a historic home in Wake Forest.  The trellis area defines the front yard from the back, and is located along a short path.


The homeowner took her inspiration from a fountain located on the grounds of the nearby Wake Forest Historical Museum.  The design is an overflow urn type fountain and consists of an underground reservoir (which holds the water) and a glazed earthenware piece above.  We started by excavating a hole for the fiber-plastic tub.  Once the desired level was reached, we compacted crush & run gravel in order to establish a stable base.  The reservoir was then leveled and prepped for the urn and decorative stone.



Our next decision was the type of stone to be used at the base of the urn.  It needed to camouflage the buried reservoir and serve as a splash diffuser for the water flowing off the sides of the urn.  We selected Tennessee River stones from Bradsher Landscape Supplies in various sizes.  The larger stones provide a nice contrast to the smaller path stones, and they can easily be removed for access to the reservoir.


After washing the stones, we arranged them around the base of the urn.  The fountain will remain winterized until the spring, and at that time the reservoir will be filled and a screen will be added below the layer of stone (to prevent debris from entering the reservoir).  As a final touch, a slab of slate was added as an extension of the existing footpath.


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Walkway Accent for Local Restaurant

by on Feb.08, 2015, under Hardscapes, Planter Beds

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A common problem with 90º degree turns in sidewalks and walkways is that people will tend to step over the inside corner rather than walking the true path of the walkway.  This was the case at a local restaurant, and it was causing debris to be kicked out of the bed over time.  To solve this issue, we decided to add a hardscape easement which accommodates a more natural flow of traffic without compromising the appearance of the bed.

The existing straw mulch was raked back and the area dug out to prepare a crushed gravel bed.  Once level, pavers from Belgard were cut and installed.  This will allow traffic to cut the corner without disturbing the bed, and will reduce maintenance in the form of repetitive cleanup.


The final result is functional and much better looking than a second pour of concrete (which would be difficult to match in color).  The plantings remained undisturbed and were re-mulched for a nice finish.

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Topdressing for a Healthy Soil-base.

by on Feb.03, 2015, under Turf Management

Top Dressing

In addition to fertilizers, lawns also need a healthy dose of complex, composted organic material in order to thrive.  Topdressing allows the soil-bed to be built slowly, over time, which eliminates costly re-sodding.  Many homes do not have their lawn prepared properly when under initial construction, which leaves the roots close to hard-pan clay and other nutrient deprived soils.  Topdressing a few times a year can effectively replace the layer of top-soil that was removed during the preparation of the lot.

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