Everyday Design Tips to Transform Your Home

Monday, 27 July 2015

On 21:59 by Alex Mungai   No comments
A previous post outlined some of the ways in which we can embrace sustainable developments on our landscapes and this piece will discuss more techniques as we gear towards sustainable landscapes.

Reduced lawn areas/lawnless landscapes
In recent developments,the lawn is a prominent feature of most homes.The healthy green grass defines space that we use for holding events,children play area as well as for visual appeal.However, there is so much that goes into the maintenance just to make the lawn stand out and remain vibrant.For instance pest control,watering,weeding,feeding etc which has an impact on factors of time and money;mostly negative.
What if there was a way to create a beautiful front yard without necessarily featuring a lawn?.Current trends have made this possible by providing alternatives that advocate for sustainability.Reducing lawn area or lawnless landscapes save on water that is used for irrigation.The use of chemicals is also avoided hence soil remains uncontaminated as well as promoting microbial soil activities.Time that would have otherwise been spent on maintaining the lawn is spent on other activities.
Lawnless landscaping techniques include xeriscaping.Zen gardening etc.This mostly uses low maintenance landscape plants integrated with for instance rocks, stones and marbles which gives a visually appealing lawnless front yard/landscape.
Colourful desert landscape design
Zen Garden front yard design

Rain gardening
A rain garden is simply a shallow depression with plants that can withstand high moisture content.The main aim for creating a rain garden is to be able to trap runoff water either from the roof,driveway or any other landscape element.In some other terms it is actually a tool for harvesting water hence preventing the erosive power of runoffs which damage the soil.
Include colourful plants in the rain garden
Most rain gardens occur near the water source or even at the end of a bioswale.Including a few colourful plants in the garden makes it both visually appealing and a tool for sustainability.Rain gardens

Low maintenance landscapes
Landscapes have the tendency to require regular maintenance practises i.e watering,applying fertilisers,pruning,pest control among others.Lawns for instance require frequent watering to remain green and healthy.As a homeowner,this impacts negatively on time and especially money.
To avoid all these,it is very advisable to plan for landscape elements that require less maintenance.For instance,placing plants at the right places with regards to their sizes is a good initiative.Why so?Take for example a tall tree planted just outside a window.This means that if the house requires lighting,the tree will have to be pruned on regular occasions to allow light.That is not a low maintenance plant.
Mulching,when used on the landscape eliminates the need for regular maintenance such as watering since the mulch reduces the rate of evapotranspiration.The mulch as controls pest infestation eliminating the need for using chemicals,Another advantage of  mulching(organic) is that it releases nutrients to the soil and hence the plants grow well.

Using plants on the landscape is actually a great tool towards sustainable landscaping.The trick is learning how to use them effectively to achieve limitless architectural functions beyond aesthetics.A
deciduous trees planted outside a window for instance provides shade from the scorching sun during summer and allows warming of the interiors during winter.
For any home owner,this is a win-win situation since no energy is used to either cool the house during summer or warm it during winter.The best way is to consult/involve a landscape designer in the process of plant selection in order to maximise on the benefits.
Dead foliage from plants is also good for use as mulch and providing compost for use as manure on your garden.

-photos courtesy of Bing.com

Saturday, 25 July 2015

On 15:36 by Alex Mungai   No comments
Achieving sustainable landscapes is based on careful planning and attained through various strategies and techniques that are eco-friendly.Some landscape architectural practices have been proven beyond doubt that to embrace a certain level of sustainability while maintaining the visual appeal as well as functionality.

One of the best ways to create sustainable landscapes is embracing recycling as well as reusing in the landscape.Previous posts have illustrated how well we can reuse materials such as plastic bottles and tyres as planters saving on the cost of either buying or purchasing.
How to use recycled materials for your landscape
As it is with many residential homes,there is the aspect of the greywater which is water from sinks,bathrooms and bathtubs that does not contain human waste.In that regard,it is important to point out that this water can be recycled and used for irrigation on the landscape hence conserving clean water further enhancing sustainability.

Permeable paving
The use of hardscape materials on the landscape is inevitable in the provision of elements such as pavements,parking lots and outdoor entertainment spaces.However,the idea of integrating softscapes and hardscapes is a great stride towards sustainability.
Permeable pavements allow water infiltration to the ground
Permeable paving for instance entails using material that will help in infiltrating water to the ground maintaining the aquifer balance as well as reduce stormwater runoff and flooding.On your lawn,you can encourage alternating pavers with grass and encourage natural processes of the ground.Porous paving blocks can also play this role effectively.

Solar energy
For as long as we can remember,the world is pushing for the embracing of green energy sources that do not harm the environment.Designing with this in mind is a sure way of creating sustainable landscapes.Embracing this source of energy not only saves the earth,but also saves your pocket in a long term perspective.Adopting ways of solar harvesting such as using solar panels ensure that we harness the solar energy and convert it to energy that can be used to run different activities in the home.For achieving long term goals of sustainability,this is a sure way to go.

Rainwater harvesting
One of the principles of sustainability advocates for the treatment of water as a resource.It insists on placing value on this commodity that is so crucial for life.Nature has a way of rewarding mankind through rains.The best way to receive this gift is by creating mechanisms to harvest rainwater and use it effectively on the landscape.
Using tanks to harvest rainwater.
Various ways of harvesting water include the use of tanks and basins.This water can then be used to irrigate plants on the landscape hence saving on the costs of billed water.As a rule of the thumb ensuring that you are well prepared for the rains in terms of having the right water harvesting equipment.

Native plants
A native plant is one which occurs naturally at a given ecological place and time without direct or indirect human actions.In other terms,the plant is well adapted to the said environment.In most constructions,the first step is to clear the site which by default involves getting rid of the existing plants.However,as a good practise,the best approach involves getting rid of invasive plant species while avoiding interfering with the native species.
Why is this important?The fact that the plants are native,implies that less maintenance will be required,less pests and diseases among others.Therefore,such plants will live longer and healthy without 'asking' for a lot of maintenance.
A good planting plan will always incorporate varieties of native species for any landscape,

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

On 00:55 by Alex Mungai   2 comments
"Going Green" has been a Global slogan meant to enhance livelihoods by advocating for the creation of environments that are sustainable in terms of conservation while still maintaining efficiency.Current landscape trends are a reflection of how well sustainability can be achieved while still creating a functional landscape.The aim is to create a functional,cost efficient,visually appealing, attractive and environmentally friendly landscapes while cutting on inputs such as fertiliser,time and water as well as reduction in waste outputs.

Landscape sustainability is based on principles that entail the basic understanding of conservation as well as preservation.Understanding your landscape is a big part of attaining sustainability.Study and create a report of the inputs needed by the landscape elements and find possible ways to conserve more.

Of considerable importance are the principles of conservation and preservation.For most homeowners,clearing a site prior to design seems as the best alternative.However,a better approach would actually involve retaining the native plants while riding off the non-native invasive species.Natives are easier to maintain since they are adapted to the local environment;therefore cutting down on the costs.

The 10 Best Houseplants to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Other approaches aimed at conservation include the use of local materials to save on transport costs,adopting solar radiation as a means to supply energy as well as using plants to enhance cooling/warming of the house.

The principle of value is also an aspect of sustainable landscaping.Current global occurrences such as drought and famine have taught us to value earth elements such as water,As it is,water is an important aspect of the landscape.The more we value it,the better we use it efficiently.Approaches to conserving water include adopting better irrigation(if need be) techniques such as drip irrigation as well as using xeriscapes/drought resistant plants in the landscape.Rainwater and grey water harvesting also come in handy especially for residential properties.Treat water as an important resource!

The soil is also an element that ought be valued if sustainability is to be achieved.For instance,during rainy seasons,loose soils are carried by runoff water stripping your garden the top layer of soil.To prevent this,it is advisable to use groundcovers such as grass to hold soil firmly.

Benefits of Sustainable Landscaping
In embracing techniques of sustainability,one hopes to achieve either short or long term goals or both.Short term goals are such as saving water or using compost heap manure.Long term goals on the other hand can be more fulfilling in the long run.For example,planting trees to cut down on the costs of warming the house during winter and cooling during summer.

An even more fulfilling goal is the creation of an environmental friendly landscape that is able to sustain itself through the cycling of materials such as the use of dead leaves as mulch.All these while still maintaining the appeal and attractiveness.

Learn more about sustainable landscaping for your home.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

On 12:50 by Alex Mungai   1 comment
Designing your landscape is a sure way of transforming your home into a serene environment ideal for human enjoyment and experience.  Creating the ideal environment goes beyond the use of plants, placing statues or the use of water features in your landscape. Rather, it involves careful using of the landscape elements to create spaces by considering the activities expected to take place in the home.
Engaging a professional in designing the landscape comes at a cost, but the result is always fulfilling provided the design procedures were well followed. However, as a homeowner, there are tips that you may use to create a beautiful landscape.

 Reusing basically involves using an item for another purpose other than its initial one. In homes
 today, there are numerous materials that can be reused for landscaping purposes. These range from plastic bottles, old vehicle tyres, old shoes, broken doors etc. How about putting these old items into some use.
Old tires, plastic bottles and shoes can form the basis for very good planters which can be placed on
your front yard, patio or any other outdoor space. To make it more interesting, you may add different colours on the tyres/bottles to complement your overall landscape.
Purchasing new furniture to use in your garden can be quite costly especially if the material is wood. Well, how about the old door in your backyard/garage/store? Old doors can be easily transformed into outdoor furniture. To make them more appealing, add some colour or varnish to make them last longer.
Well, there you have it. Convert your old items into superb landscape tips and save yourself some cash.

Create a focal point
Do you have a particular spot in your landscape that you want people to appreciate as they walk around your compound? It may be a pond, an outdoor structure such as a pergola or even a statue. Well, that is the essence of creating a point of focus.
Including a focal point is part of the design process. The element used will basically draw people’s attention to the spot of interest. The focal point may be as a result of natural occurrences or it may be artificial. They range from rocky sites to shrubs or trees.
A tree for instance can be a great focal point. Select trees depending on their outstanding characteristics. Including their shape, fragrance, size or foliage colour. A Japan Red Maple tree for instance stands out for the foliage colour and can be effectively used to lead people to your desired location.
A focal point does not necessarily have to be visual. It can also be auditory, in what case you may decide to use as the sound of a cascade or fountain to attract people.
However, as a rule of the thumb, avoid using to many focal points as it serves a distraction rather than serving the intended purpose.

Use colour
Colour is an important aspect of landscape design. To make your landscape more appealing, play
with a variety of colours that complement each other as well as the building. This ensures that your landscape is not dull looking especially to guests.
The plants provide a contrasting background to the fountain

You may also decide to choose from a collection of contrasting colours. For instance combining
plants with dark foliage with light coloured ones. Another technique is placing plants with dark foliage behind a fountain or cascade. This way, contrast is easily achieved

Monday, 13 July 2015

On 20:49 by Alex Mungai   No comments
In a previous post, we discussed the tips to consider when selecting trees for your landscape. In that light, it will be important to narrow down to some of the primary functions of trees and tree types based on their characteristics.

Specimen/ornamental trees
These trees are planted in the landscape mainly for their outstanding characteristics. An ornamental tree can be used as a focal point, to provide shade as well as marking entrances to homes.
Outstanding characteristics to look for include the colour of the foliage, the shape of the tree, the height, fragrance, the character of the bark etc. The tree should be able to maintain the appeal for a long period of time as well.

Due to their outstanding characteristics, it is advisable to use as few as possible to avoid creating distractions in the landscape.
Examples of ornamental trees include
  1.  The Japan Red Maple tree
  2.    Delonix regia
  3.   Willow

Shade trees
On any hot summer day, there is the urge to find a shade spot and cool off from the scorching sun.
When planted right, these trees provide perfect shades and are great for outdoor spaces such as patios and pergolas. They are characterised by the dense foliage, oval/round silhouettes and high a branching height that allows activities to occur beneath.
What’s even better is that you can place some furniture such as benches beneath the tree and enjoy the breeze as the wind passes through the leaves.

Windbreaks/screen plants
The ultimate desire for most homeowners is to be able to create a serene compound which is also as private as possible. Certain plants can be manipulated to create privacy for your home while still offering other roles.
Trees with a weeping silhouette such as the willows are quite effective as screen plants since the branching height is near the ground hence visual control for your property is achieved. Most trees used as screen plants have dense foliage and are evergreen. The same trees when closely planted can form a buffer against strong winds by reducing the velocity.

Edible landscaping/fruit trees

Who doesn't love picking a fresh fruit of their garden? Fruit trees when placed at the right spot not

only serve as ornamental but also give a lifetime of produce that we can all appreciate.
A mango tree for instance can serve as a good shade tree and still give mangoes to your home as well as earning you income as long as the tree is well maintained. Other fruit trees include apples, oranges, pears, figs etc. This is at least one healthy landscaping tip to think about as you go shopping for trees.

-photos courtesy of Bing

On 11:09 by Alex Mungai   No comments
For most homeowners, the idea of including a nicely crafted garden is quite evident as it complements the building and creates such a natural atmosphere. Planting materials such as trees, shrubs and ground covers are often considered to add the perfect finish to a garden since they bring out some of the qualities that help us appreciate a landscape.How about rocks for the garden?
Rock gardens can be perceived as a great way of creatively combining plants and rocks/natural stone on the landscape to make it very attractive while still creating a natural setting as much as possible.
As it is, rock gardening is yet to be explored owing to the fact that it can be quite challenging in terms of selecting the right materials, plants and the techniques of blending it with the landscape. So what do you need to know before you embark on adding the perfect rock garden?

Locating the site
A wall boulder can be used for rock gardening
For starters, it is very important to select a great site to create your rock garden.Perhaps you have a
naturally rocky site in your backyard or a wall stone. This can be easily manipulated to form the rock garden. Locating the site for your rock garden is definitely the first step and perhaps the most important. The site should generally be in an open spot that receives sunlight for the better part of the day as it is crucial for the plants. The site should not be under large trees as they hinder light penetration. You will also need to consider the drainage of the site as this will influence the growth of the plants.

Selecting the materials
Investing in the right rocks/stones is also very crucial unless you already have some in your backyard. You may need to purchase second-hand stones from a local quarry since the stones will easily blend with the environment.
Combining different rock/stone colours creates more visual appealing. For instance placing rocks with contrasting colours or even those that complement each other. This can be quite entertaining for guests especially when you have an outdoor event at your home.
 Of importance is using a variety of rock sizes and shapes with the aim of creating a more natural setting as opposed to using similar sizes/shapes throughout. Feel free to consult with a professional in terms of placing and designing the garden itself as it may be quite a task.

Planting the garden
Plants used for rock gardening tend to be quite hardy and drought-tolerant, hence you will need to
engage the services of a plant specialist in choosing suitable plants. Plants that clump on surfaces are also great for your rock garden.
A variety of colourful perennials on a rock garden add beauty and texture.
Most rock gardens will tend to have perennial plants although a few annuals can be used. The important part is to use plant combinations that bring the best in your landscape as well as blend with the rock outcrop. Arranging the plants on the rocky terrain will definitely create a visually impressive plantscape.

Finally, be sure to carry out maintenance on your rock garden especially for the plants. Such as watering, weeding, feeding etc.
With these tips in mind, your rock garden should take shape and rock your landscape.

-photos courtesy of Bing

Sunday, 12 July 2015

On 18:10 by Alex Mungai   No comments
On any landscape, trees offer a lifetime of fulfilling functions ranging from beauty, air purification, shade, creating spaces among other functions. How well they perform their function depends on how much thought was given into the planning and selection of the particular tree. Selecting trees for your home landscape can be a daunting task as the market is overwhelmed with hundreds of tree species and varieties.

In order to narrow down to the right tree(s), it is crucial to have in mind the primary purpose of the tree in your landscape design. From this, you will be able to select the trees with the characteristics that best suit the intended function.

Begin by familiarising with the tree’s general characteristics in terms of growth habits, type of rooting, foliage density, size of the tree at maturity etc as this will in one way or another determine the best landscape function they can offer.

Locating the tree on your landscape will mostly be informed by the size of the tree at maturity. As a general rule of the thumb, the minimum distance between your house and the tree should be six metres. This ensures that the tree does not interfere with the structural properties of the house. Tall trees will tend to dwarf small, one-story buildings and are therefore suited for tall buildings. Therefore, applying the principle of scale and proportion is quite necessary.

For a home with children, some trees are unsuitable since they pose danger. For instance, thorny trees such as the acacias may inflict injuries, trees of the euphorbiaceae family are also known to have poisonous sap that may lead to health complications to anyone who comes into contact.

The shape/silhouette of the tree also determines its suitability for use in your home landscape. The common tree silhouettes include oval, columnar, pyramidal, weeping and round. Trees with a pyramidal shape such as pines offer great focal points for you landscape while oval shapes are great for creating shades for outdoor spaces such as patios. Closely associated with the shape is branching habit of the tree. Trees with a higher branching height encourage human activity to occur beneath them while the weeping silhouette of trees such as the willows discourage any activity beneath.
Trees with  spreading branches and dense foliage encourage human activity beneath them.
When selecting the tree for your landscape, the foliage density ought to be considered in relation to the tree’s purpose. Is it to serve as a windbreak? How about offering shade? Is it for screening unwanted views/offering privacy for outdoor activities? Trees with dense foliage will be more useful as screens and blocking undesired views as well as acting as windbreaks. For shade purposes, an oval shaped tree with dense foliage will be suitable.

Other considerations will include the colour of the foliage. Trees with colourful foliage are best suited
as focal points in the landscape. Trees with unique shapes can also be used as ornamental pieces in the landscape.
The Japanese Red Maple tree as a focal point in the landscape

-photos courtesy of Bing

On 15:14 by Alex Mungai   No comments
photo courtesy of bing
While much goes into the design of the house, little thought is given into the outdoor environment. For most home owners, a few plants in the compound-randomly placed define the landscape. However, there is more to planting than this. Although, not the only approach to designing your landscape, plants are quite fundamental in creating beautiful sceneries in your landscape.
Planting design therefore involves careful selection of planting materials to either suit your functional or aesthetic needs while in harmony with the natural environment. Therefore, much thought should be given before choosing the right plants for your property. Here are some tips that you will need to consider.

Environmental factors
The process of selecting plants is to a great extent influenced by the prevailing environmental factors of your locality. It is therefore very important to determine the plants’ requirements prior to planting them in your landscape. The climatic elements to consider include the average rainfall, humidity, sunlight and wind-all of which can be provided by the local meteorological department. These will go a long way in determining the plant’s healthy growth.
It is also necessary to determine the soil characteristics of your home before designing. This include the soil pH, fertility, humus content, water holding capacity etc. Most plants will do well in red soils as compared to black cotton soils.
A thorough site analysis from a professional will come in handy before selecting planting materials for your landscape.

Functional uses of the plants
Other than been ornamentals, plants can be used to fit a variety of functional uses in the environment which are mostly informed by the design qualities of the plants such as shape/form,fragrance,colour,texture and size.
For instance, plants’ forms can be manipulated to serve various architectural functions in the landscape.

An outdoor dining area partially enclosed by plants
-photo courtesy of bing
Visual control: Plants with a weeping form can be used as screen plants i.e barring unwanted views as well as creating a sense of privacy especially for homeowners. Plants can also be arranged to direct people towards desirable views or certain enclosures. For instance, plants along a driveway can be used to direct drivers towards the parking.
Physical barriers: The physical movement of people in a landscape can be controlled by using planting materials at designated areas. Low plants such as shrubs can be quite effective in providing psychological control while tall plants offer the most of physical control for humans as well as animals. Careful grouping of plants along boundary lines goes a long way in barring trespassers.
When used along property lines,the bamboo limits physical movement
-photo courtesy of bing

Noise control: for homeowners near busy roads or industries, noise is a constant undesired phenomenon. Tall, dense planting on the edges of the property can be used to reduce noise intensity levels and create healthy environments. When used together with other landscape elements such as mounds, plants offer quite a noise free zone.

Other functional uses of plants include controlling soil erosion especially groundcovers, climatic control by creating desirable micro-climates as well as air purification.

Aesthetic values
The reflection of palm trees in the pool creates beautiful patterns
-photos courtesy of bing
Plants when used alongside other design elements can be used to create fascinating sceneries in the landscape. For instance, plants along a pond or pool create dark and light patterns when reflected in the water while plants with dark foliage can be used to create contrasting background for light colored landscape elements.
On pavements, carefully grouped trees create shadows which form patterns with the hardscape hence creating beautiful patterns.

What is important is for the designer to understand the quality of the plant and how to integrate it with the environment to bring out the plant’s aesthetic values.

As you go about selecting the planting materials, it is important to put into consideration some growth characteristics of the plants such as the size at maturity which comes in handy when choosing the right place to plant. Of importance too is the growth cycle. Are the plants deciduous or evergreen?

Before you design, identify any existing problems by carrying out site analysis, determine how to use planting design to resolve the issues and finally choose the right planting materials  and your landscape will begin to take shape.

Friday, 10 July 2015

On 23:34 by Alex Mungai   No comments
In recent developments, there is the urge to include a good landscape design to complement the 
architecture owing to the fact that the outdoor precedes the indoor space. While a lot of effort in terms of planning and design goes into the buildings, less thought is given to the outdoor
spaces resulting in spatial conflict between the two.
A good landscape complements the building

While we may blame the developers, someone may ask, “Is there a definite point where the architecture ends and the landscape architecture begins?” If proper thought is given into the design, then there is no conclusive point where either ends. The design for both should therefore be coordinated if they are to stand out as one element and complement each other.

Defining an outdoor space can be quite challenging since it differs from the indoor spaces that are mostly defined by walls. On the other hand, an outdoor space can be defined as an invisible volume bound by physical elements such as planting materials, walls and the ground. By all means, the space is three-dimensional.
Creating outdoor spaces involves careful
planning and arrangement of  various landscape elements

As a landscape architect, it is quite important to study and understand the indoor spaces, the activities within the house as well as the function of each space as this will go a long way in planning for the outdoor spaces. The techniques employed may vary in terms of materials used to define space, elements used to create spatial patterns as well as creating spaces that do not conflict with the existing building.

The landscape architect understands the aspects of space and should therefore use the best landscape elements/materials to define the outdoor spaces and create a flowing connection between the two spaces so they come out as one.

Plants for instance can be used to create spaces by forming vertical enclosures which create intimate spaces for outdoor activities. Other outdoor structures that can serve this purpose include pergolas, gazebos and patios that can also be multi-tasked for other purposes such as entertainment.

Outdoor spaces can be further enhanced by including pools, ponds, gardens and monuments with the aim of adding value to the architecture.

For developers, it is therefore important to engage the services of a landscape architect as this adds value to the property as well as creating a welcoming atmosphere to the indoor rooms.