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Project Highlight: Multi-family Community Pool Area Renovations

As the Denver metro area continues to grow in population and our real estate market experiences growing pains, many existing multi-family housing properties have become golden opportunities for renovation and renewal. Here at Outdoor Design Group, we have recently been contracted by several clients to not only bring a fresh look to these common area landscapes, but to incorporate various outdoor amenities and create an extension of usable outdoor living space.

A couple of notable landscape renovations we have been fortunate enough to design were two properties owned by a California real estate company. They appointed us to help redesign the landscape to compliment their building renovations, giving each outdated property a much needed face lift.

The first property, located in Federal Heights, Colorado, is a large complex comprising of several units and a separate leasing and fitness center building. The leasing and fitness center was to be completely remodeled, and the entrance reconfigured. Our landscape design incorporates hardscaping like retaining walls and unique paving surfaces that compliment the updated architecture, and guide users toward the new entrance. Additionally, the numerous low-water plant species were selected and placed throughout the beds to create interest with their distinctive structural forms and colorful habits, which molded with the new modern style the client was striving toward.

 

A 3D rendering of the modern style entrance landscape helped our client to better visualize the space.

 

Attached to the East side of the leasing and fitness center is the community pool area, which was also overdue for a fresh look. In our design, the existing pool was to remain as is, but the surrounding pool deck was modified to be larger with a sleek, colored pool deck coating. A striking modern style gas fireplace was incorporated at the west end and amenities like shade structures, grilling stations, LED landscape lighting and picnic tables provide the finishing touches on the new design.

 

Original concept design.

 

Digital rendering of the final design.

 

The second multi-family property Outdoor Design Group provided landscape design services for is located in Lakewood, Colorado. Its existing pool area was drab and outdated with no extra amenities. Our design integrated a large turf area for games, outdoor kitchen with a pergola, and a gas fire pit, all alongside a brand new decked out pool house designed by a Phoenix based architecture firm. The large bi-fold doors were designed to fully open toward the pool, and create effortless indoor/outdoor living. We welcomed the opportunity to design a space that allowed us to really visualize and get excited about how the space would be used. Additionally, the low-water use plantings surrounding the pool were chosen to provide year-round interest as well as screening from the nearby road.

 

Concept design.

 

Construction on these projects is currently underway, and we can’t wait to see the final results! Multi-family housing projects, both new development and site renovations are a hot commodity here in Denver, and the demand is ever increasing. We love being involved on projects like these, and we look forward to more to come.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects. For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Project Highlight: The Gardens at Columbine Memory Care

Located in Littleton, Colorado, The Gardens at Columbine is a memory care/assisted living facility on which Outdoor Design Group provided landscape design services. This site was an expansion of an existing assisted living facility onto adjacent property. This new building provides a space for adding memory care services to the facility’s roster of other existing services for senior citizens.

As the new building was being planned for this recently acquired property, we designed the outdoor spaces, walkways and landscaped gardens to surround this new structure. Because the site was not terribly large, and the proposed building sizable in scope, this provided several challenges. From how to fit parking spaces into a small space to designing safe and sound emergency exit pathways, this project was a challenging but satisfying endeavor.

One of the first challenges we had to face was how to provide a working landscape at the east entrance to the building. This entrance is near the other existing building, and is the preferred access point for employees traveling between buildings. The difficulty here was adding an entrance walkway that would transition from a higher elevation parking lot then drop down to a doorway that sits slightly below grade relative to the parking lot. Retaining walls were necessary in this area so we added built in benches at the walls to provide useful amenities along this path. Step lights in the walls provide a soft illumination for this well used pathway.

Prior to construction, the original site was filled with trees, as it had been a large lot with one single family home on it. While some of the existing trees could not be saved due to the scope of the proposed building, we worked with the city and the owner to save as many trees as we could. For example we spent a significant time working and re-working the landscape plan with the civil engineer on the project to reconfigure the entrance drive and parking areas to save several existing trees on the north and east sides of the property.

The namesake gardens are located in the internal courtyard of the project. These outdoor spaces give residents of the facility a charming scene that invites them to go outside and get some fresh air amid the trees, shrubs and raised bed gardens.

Stepping out of the building and into the courtyard, the first of the raised planting beds one encounters is a large circle comprised of  a poured-in-place concrete seat wall that is chock full of colorful perennials, wispy ornamental grasses, low growing shrubs and scraggy boulders.

As you step further into the courtyard, you encounter wooden raised bed gardens where residents of the facility can indulge their gardening bug and get their hands dirty in the soil. These two beds are situated on opposite sides of the courtyard, connected by a concrete walk where the residents can circumnavigate to achieve fresh air and exercise, ensconced in the protective calm of these hidden gardens.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Ban Evergreen Trees… from Urban Areas in Colorado?

When it comes to trees in designed landscapes in Colorado, landscape architects and designers don’t have very many species to choose from. With that being said, it might seem heretical to propose that the list of trees to pick from be restricted even further. Specifically, I advocate that large evergreen trees NOT be planted in dense urban areas that experience cold winters, unless they are sufficiently distant from walks and streets located north of such evergreens.

The shadows that large evergreen trees cast can help foster ice patches on walks and roads, compromising the safety and welfare of those who utilize these areas to travel about our towns and cities. If we are going to encourage biking and walking to ease automobile congestion and alleviate environmental impacts, having the safest travel routes we can achieve is a noble goal.

It may be surprising to those who don’t work in the landscape, architecture or planning fields, but many municipalities require that a certain number or percentage of the trees on a landscape plan be evergreen trees. Sometimes these arbitrary requirements restrict designers and architects to squeeze these large winter-shading ice patch-makers into a site where it might be best to avoid them. However, I should mention that some municipalities that I’ve worked with do acknowledge the problem of winter shading from evergreen trees, and they do have instructions in their landscape codes to locate proposed large evergreens away from walks and roads that would be shaded by those evergreens.

I first became aware of the problem of evergreen shadow ice patches as an urban bike commuter in the Denver area. It is frustrating at best, and rather dangerous at worst to encounter a patch of ice on a street during winter time. I have found that often times when biking in the Denver area in winter, the majority of streets can be clear of ice, except for those areas shaded by evergreens that are located just south of walks and streets. But it is not just bikers that would benefit from restricting evergreen trees in urban areas. Walkers and runners would also have an improved level of travel safety due to less icing of their pathways.

An ice patch on a Denver street, from the shadow of a large evergreen tree.

Because the foliage canopy of pine, spruce and fir trees does not drop during winter, melting of snow and ice via solar gain is limited. Deciduous trees, which drop their leaves and allow more sunlight to reach walks and streets, are a better choice in place of evergreens. I acknowledge that evergreen trees are often used for landscape screening. But I question whether this screening is worth it when considering their impact to roads and walks during winter.

Another impact from lost solar gain due to evergreen tree shading is on homes and other buildings. A building that sits in the winter shadow of a large evergreen tree will miss out on solar warmth during a sunny Colorado winter day.

I do realize that in dense urban areas, it’s not just trees that can shade our streets and sidewalks. People need shelter and workspaces, and some of those structures could end up shading streets and cause ice patches. But residents don’t need evergreen trees on their urban lot. I advocate for trees to create shade in summer, visual interest in all seasons, and wildlife habitat. But the choice of tree in tight urban quarters needs to be considered carefully.

Despite the tongue in cheek title of this blog post, evergreen trees can be a wonderful addition to the landscape. I am not actually asking for evergreen trees to be banned from urban areas of Colorado. However it does seem best that in dense urban areas that experience cold winter weather, we should consider restricting evergreen trees to parks and large lots, away from streets and sidewalks where their winter shade will not cause icy travel dangers for walkers, bikers and even cars.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Korean Feather Grass – A Frothy Focal Point for the Part-Shade Garden

Korean Feather Reed Grass

Calamagrostis brachytricha, Korean Feather Reed Grass

Calamagrostis brachytricha, aka Korean Feather Reed Grass, is a clump-forming ornamental grass with green leaves and fluffy flower plumes. It is not as well known as its infamous cousin Calmagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, commonly known as Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass. But Korean Feather Reed Grass really should get more attention, as it is an indispensable option to add wispy texture to planting schemes in part shade conditions.

PLANT STATS

Scientific Name:  Calamagrostis brachytricha

Common Name:  Korean Feather Reed Grass

Plant Type:  Ornamental Grass

Mature Height:  3-4’

Mature Spread:  2-3’

Cold Hardiness Zone:  USDA zones 4 – 9 (up to 6,500 ft)

Water Requirement:  Medium. Slightly drought tolerant once established, but prefers adequate moisture. Requires regular amounts of water if it is planted in more sun.

Exposure:  Part Sun/Shade

Soil:  Tolerant of a wide range of soils.

Flower Color & Bloom Time:  The feather like flower spikes have a pink tinge when they initially emerge in late summer, and then fade to straw yellow in fall. Compared to Karl Foerster grass, the flowers of Korean Feather seem to be much more misty and gauzy when they first appear which gives the plants a wonderfully diaphanous appearance.

Winter Interest:  Gold foliage and flowers.

Disadvantages:  May reseed under certain conditions.

Availability and Sizes:  This plant seems to be regularly available at retail nurseries around the front range.  It is typically sold in 1 gallon or 4″  pots.

Best Features:  A large, showy, flowering ornamental grass that can take shady conditions.

Maintenance Tip:  Like other ornamental grasses, trim plants down to about 4-6” above the surrounding soil in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins to emerge.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Attack of the Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetle eating an Oenothera flower.

Japanese beetle eating an Oenothera flower at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Gardeners around Colorado’s Front Range are coming face to face with a new foe in our landscapes. Japanese beetles have been a pest for years in U.S. gardens in the east, south and mid-west. It is only relatively recently that the feared invasive pest has made its presence known in Colorado.

The beetles (Popillia japonica) are believed to have entered North America via New Jersey in 1916, probably hitchhiking on ornamental nursery stock from Asia. They are voracious feeders, doing damage to trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and turf grass. Some of the 300 favorite food plants of the adult Japanese beetles are roses, Virginia creeper, grape vines, raspberries, linden, elm and fruit trees. The sign of their destruction is skeletonized foliage and  flower petals that have been devoured. The adult beetles feed during the day, preferring hot and sunny days.

Popillia_japonica_on grape leaf at DBG 2

Japanese beetle on a “skeletonized” grape leaf at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

The beetle’s one-year life cycle seems tailor made for a traditional lush turf and shrub landscape. They spend winter underground as a grub, feeding on turf grass roots, creating dead patches in the lawn. In June they begin to emerge as adults ready to feed on the flowers and leaves of plants. The adults can be found feeding on plants as late as September. In addition to feeding on your landscape plants, they might be seen mating on those plants. After mating, females will move to turf grass lawns to dig into the soil to deposit their eggs. After depositing eggs, the females will resume feeding on host plants. The females will return to the lawn to lay more eggs. Up to 60 eggs can be laid by each female beetle during her 4-8 week life span.

Back in the turf grass soil, the eggs will hatch and the Japanese beetle larvae will emerge and move to the grass roots to feed. The larvae are most susceptible to drying out and dying when young if the soil dries out. That is one reason some experts advise against over watering lawns in mid to late summer. The larvae will develop rapidly, causing much damage to the turf grass roots, eventually killing some of the turf grass plants. The larvae feed on the grass roots until the temperature drops below 60 degree F. The larvae move deeper down into the soil to overwinter. Once the soil warms up in spring, the larvae move back up through the soil to resume feeding on the grass roots for about 4 to 6 weeks. After that, they begin to pupate. A couple weeks after pupation, the adults will emerge from the soil to feed on leaves and flowers, mate and start the cycle all over.

The worst damage caused by the Japanese beetles seems to be to lawns, where the larvae can cause dead patches. It appears the damage to shrubs and trees is mostly cosmetic, and will not kill those plants. However, this cosmetic damage can be significant and will upset most gardeners.

Unfortunately there is no magic bullet to control Japanese beetles in your landscape. If you discover them when they first arrive, using manual methods to collect them is a wise choice. Do not crush them, or the chemicals released upon squishing will attract more Japanese beetles to your yard. Try collecting them in a jar of soapy water. Traps are not recommended because they also attract more beetles to your yard. Pesticides may be effective at controlling the beetles. However some systemic pesticides have been linked to death of beneficial pollinating insects such as bees. For more information on the safe use of pesticides and other methods to control Japanese beetles, visit the Colorado State Extension webpage on the subject. Some experts advise the application of grub killing pesticides to lawns to kill the Japanese beetle larvae and keep your turf from being destroyed. The extension does say this about trying to control the larvae of Japanese beetles: “Some cultural practices can limit damage and applied chemical or biological controls may also be useful. However, control of Japanese beetle larvae in a yard will have very little, if any, effect on the number of Japanese beetle adults feeding on trees, shrubs and garden plants. The insect is highly mobile so that problems with adult beetles typically involve insects that have moved a considerable distance.”

As mentioned earlier, dry turf soil during the egg laying season (mostly in June & July) will keep some larvae from surviving to become adults. Some experts recommend drying out your lawn and letting it go dormant during the typical Japanese beetle egg laying time, and resuming watering after the eggs have been layed. This would seem a challenging approach to the problem as most people prefer a green, non-dormant lawn during the time of year when a lush lawn is much desired. The extension service does recommend that keeping lawns well watered after egg laying (and once the older larvae are present and most actively feeding) may help the turf survive root injuries caused by larval feeding.

It would appear that typical xeriscape plants are not usually favored by the beetles. This is yet another reason that a xeric and regionally appropriate landscape design is a good approach to follow in Denver and Colorado in general.

Let’s hope we can keep this exotic and invasive pest at bay, and not let it become an established nuisance.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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