Author Archives: VZ staff

Designer brain –

When a client comes to you with a long wish list of landscape elements, your designer brain kicks into gear and is up for the challenge! It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. You try to fit all the pieces together seamlessly, meanwhile creating a flow throughout.

This particular client asked to incorporate the following: A pool with a shallow and deep zone, a diving board, a raised spa, an outdoor kitchen with a grill and sink, a lounge TV area, a raised fire pit, and multiple entertainment areas.

What a wonderful project to dive into this fall. After getting the design and permits completed, the pool installation can start as soon as the weather warms up next year. SketchUp is a fantastic tool to really get a sense of the space and to see if all the landscape elements area working together to make an outstanding backyard.

Let’s check out the design –
Close the house is the outdoor kitchen along with the main entertainment area and outdoor dining table. All the elements are centered off the house’s chimney.

North of the pool’s tanning ledge is the raised outdoor spa. This spa is 8’ in diameter and will comfortably fit up to 6 to 7 adults.

The raised fire pit with a curved back seat wall is the destination zone. Also, there is still plenty of lawn space east of the fire pit for outdoor sport activities and play. All around there is a space for everyone to enjoy!

Do any of these areas spark your interest? Check out website and give us a call.

Refreshing swims in your own backyard may be in your near future as well!

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Let’s talk spring bulbs.

This is the time of year we are putting our gardens to bed.  But this is also the time to think about spring bulbs!  They are super easy to plant and a great way to bring much needed color to the garden in early spring.  Most bulbs need what is called vernalization, this is the process of exposing the bulb to cold temperatures to allow the plant to go dormant, this dormancy prepares the plant for a better blooming period.  So if you live in a warmer climate be sure to purchase pre-chilled bulbs.  There are so many varieties to chose from: you can extend the bloom time by selecting early to late blooming bulbs!

Once you have decided what to plant you’ll have to decide where to plant! Make sure you have selected a full to part sun location, bulbs won’t do well in the shade.  The site must also be well drained, a wet spot will get you rotten bulbs!  Prepare your soil for planting by first tilling the soil and then adding peat or compost to it.  You are now ready to plant.

For a natural look you’ll want to plant in groups, don’t line them up like soldiers unless you are planting them in a cut flower garden. As a general rule of thumb planting depth should be 3-4 times deeper than the bulb is tall.  Place the bulbs pointy side up or if no pointy side, look for roots and plant the roots down.  Fill the hole back up with your amended soil and then cover with mulch.  Water well in the fall so the roots start growing.

Now sit back and wait for spring!  Bulbs are often the bright spot at the end of long winter.  They are relatively inexpensive, easy to grow and will easily reward you with years of enjoyment!

Don’t have time to get your bulbs in the ground give us a call and we’ll do the work for you!

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Last day of summer and first day of fall is coming…

There is no time like the present to think about fall.  That could mean pumpkin everything, corn mazes, apple picking, hay rides, cool nights and so on.  But here it means fall annuals.  Each and every year we rotate our planters for the seasons.  With summer drawing to an end, the summer annuals are on their last legs.  It’s time to change things up and add some fun fall colors to our planters.  These could be your traditional mums and pansies in traditional fall colors of oranges, yellows and rust.  Or you could spice it up by adding in some fun accent plants like bold grasses, ornamental peppers, cabbage and kales, annual rudbeckias, heuchera for leaf color and those often overlooked long blooming annuals like celosia and snapdragons.  You can certainly amp up the color with a great mix of all these annuals.

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Attracting Birds to your garden!

I enjoy sitting on my patio watching a listening to the multitude of birds and butterflies that visit my garden.  The best way to do this is with a variety of plants.  Here are just a few that will attract birds and butterflies to your home!

Trees provide shelter as well as food sources for the birds.

Quercus, the Oak trees, provide nice cavity nest sites for many birds.  When the acorns develop they also provide a food source for several species of birds, like the  Downy woodpecker.

The fruit of the dogwood species, Cornus, is loved by Titmice, Cardinals and Blue birds to name a few.  It also is a quick growing shrub that would easily provide screening for you and shelter for birds.

Serviceberry or Amelanchiers are one of the first tree species to bloom in the spring.; providing a nectar source for the early butterflies.  But that’s not all, in mid June the trees are filled with luscious fruit favored by many birds.  You’ll see Robins and Cedar waxwings gobbling them up!

Amelanchier berries

Flowering perennials are your source for nectar lovers like Hummingbirds and butterflies.

Echinacea, Coneflower, provides nectar for butterflies and is a great seed source in fall/winter for Goldfinches and other songbirds.

Echinacea and Butterflyl

Asclepias isn’t called Butterfly weed for nothing!  Butterflies, particulary the Monarch love Asclepias.  It is a host plant for the Monarch’s caterpillars.  Birds will also use the soft downy feathers as nesting material.

Monarda, Bee balm attracts Hummingbirds and butterflies.  This plant is super easy to grow!

Monarda, bee balm.

Solidago or Golden rod is a fall bloomer.  There are a multitude of butterfly species that are attracted to Golden rod!  The seeds are also a favorite of Goldfinches and native sparrow species.

A water feature will also ensure that the birds and butterflies will hang around your property.  Birds need fresh water and a place to bathe!

Fountain, water source for birds and butterflies.

Now these are just few samples of plants to help you attract birds and butterflies to your garden.  Want to create that perfect butterfly garden or add more plants for birds then contact us and we’ll get you on your way to a beautiful animal sanctuary.

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How to keep the deer away!

We all want to bring nature to our yard, but sometimes nature can be aggressive; as in deer eating your plants! Deer can be a real nuisance at times. There are several options to deter them from eating your ever loved outdoor sanctuary.

First thoughts are a fence will deter them. The problem is that deer can easily jump a six foot high fence (the average height of an installed fence), when startled they can jump even an eight foot fence or higher. So a fence might help but is not fool proof, it’s also another added expense.

There are chemical deterrents that work really well. The pitfalls of these is that they are generally strong smelling (as that is what is repelling the deer) and you too will be able to smell the deterrent. There are some natural smell deterrents that do work, but won’t be a long term fix. We like to use Milorganite (fertilizer) for a spring and summer control, it is the treated byproduct of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, waste treatment plant. Another organic product we like to use is Deer Scram. I’ve also been told by some nurserymen to hang Irish spring soap on trees in the fall.

But the best option is to close the deer salad bar, in other words change up your plants in your garden. There are a number of plants that deer love to eat, omit those plants and you won’t have the problem. Here is a list of plants that are not on the deer menu!

Deer Resistant Plants:
Alchemilla/Lady’s Mantle
Allium/Ornamental Onion
Amsonia/Blue Stars
Brunnera/False Forget Me Not
Cimicifuga/Bugbane, Snakeroot
Dicentra/Bleeding Heart
Heuchera/Coral Bells
Leucanthemum/Shasta Daisy
Liatris/Blazing Star
Monarda/Bee Balm
Perovskia/Russian Sage
Rudbeckia/Black Eyed Susan

to name a few…check out our Gallery of Deer Resistant Plants we grow!

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You’ve heard of a 4 season garden, but what about a Moon garden?

What is a moon garden?  We often focus on what we see during the daylight hours, but as I often say there aren’t enough hours in the day.  After a long day of hard work and getting the kids to bed there is little time left to catch the sunlit garden.  So why not create a “Moon” garden.  This is a garden filled with white blooming plants, variegated plants, fragrant plants and night blooming plants.  These types of plants will glow in the moonlight! Even if you don’t want an “all white” garden, why not incorporate a few of these plants to get some late night pop on a moonlit night.

White blooming plants:
Anemone sylvestris (early spring)
Anemone Wild Swan (summer)
Anemone Honorine Jobert (fall)
Dicentra Alba (spring)
Echinacea Pow Wow White (summer to fall)
Leucanthemum Becky (summer to fall)
Liatris Alba (summer)
Phlox David (summer)

Variegated Plants:
Cornus kousa Wolf Eyes
Cornus sericea variegated
Weigela My Monet

Yellow and Silver Leaved Plants:
Hakonechloa All Gold
Heuchera Citronelle
Weigela Briant Rubidor
Stachys bizantina
Artemisia spp.

Fragrant Plants:
Syringa spp.
Viburnum juddi/carlesii (fragrant Viburnums)
Wisteria floribunda

Night Blooming Plants:
Nicotiana slvestris (annual in zone 5)
Oenothera spp.
Trumpet Flower (annual in zone 5)

So get your garden planted, pull up a chair and enjoy your garden morning, noon and night.

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Water Please!

Adding water to a landscape has many benefits to the homeowner. Many studies have found that the sound of water is a natural stress reliever.

Huffington Post states: “Being around water gives our brains and our senses a rest from over stimulation.”

Here’s an example of a formal water feature. It is set within a boxwood hedge and annuals to create a dramatic garden feature. To all the nearby dog walkers and slow driving vehicles – this home definitely has curb appeal now! The custom steel box is rust proof, weather proof and maintenance free; so the homeowner will be able to get enjoyment for years to come!

Another benefit to running water is that it muffles unwanted sounds and creates a sense of relaxation. Being close to a busy road, or if the neighbor’s dog barks at everything and anything that ventures in their yard, this might be a good solution for you.

Pond less water features are still very popular.  It has a simple re-circulation system that is low maintenance and is a great option for small children or pets because it gets them outside to play!

Speaking of enjoying the outdoors and playing… this interactive water feature at the Chicago Botanical Garden is beautifully installed and it makes me feel like a kid again walking and splashing around the continuous stream.

There are endless ways to enjoy water in your garden. Enjoy looking at some of our other installations!

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How to create your own butterfly garden!

Butterflies, pollinators and nectar feeders will love a garden of mixed masses of flowers.  Here are a few popular choices to attract butterflies to your garden.


Allium (early bloomer) Is a spring bloomer, so a great source for the first of the butterflies returning to the areas.


Asclepias spp. (summer bloomer) Known as Butterfly weed, this one is a favorite of all butterflies.


Buddleia (summer bloomer) With a name like Butterfly bush you are sure to find all kinds flocking to this one!


Echinacea (summer bloomer) The coneflowers daisy like flower attracts all sorts of pollinators.


Monarda (summer bloomer) Known as Beebalm, it also attracts all kinds of nectar loving insects and birds.


Rudbeckia (summer bloomer) Black eyed susan is another great source for butterflies and pollinators.


Helenium (late bloomer) Sneeze weed is a late bloomer and extends the season for the butterflies.


Eupatorium (late bloomer) Joe Pye Weed is a late bloomer giving an extended season for the butterflies.

As your garden grows keep an eye out for some of these common Midwestern butterflies!

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) can be found in most sunny places including moist fields, prairies or marshes. Red Admiral caterpillars eat plants of the Nettle family.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) closely resembles Monarch Butterfly but acts much differently; they are territorial and will chase off other butterflies and fly by flapping rather than gliding like the Monarchs. Viceroys are usually found in wetlands and prairies with willows. Viceroy caterpillars feed on Willows, Aspens and Cottonwoods.


Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillars eat a strictly Milkweed diet which makes them poisonous to predators (birds know to stay away from Monarchs!).  The Monarchs are the most common butterflies you will see as they flutter through your garden.


Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)  caterpillars eat Thistle, Mallow, Hollyhock and related plants. An interesting bit of trivia, they are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.

Painted Lady

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) likes sunny places with weeds and flowers, and can be found in gardens, vacant lots, old fields, pastures and marshes. Black Swallowtail Caterpillars eat Parsnips, Wild Carrots, Celery, Parsley and Dill.

Black Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail  (Papilio glaucus) are most commonly found in woodlands, fields, rivers, creeks, roadsides, and gardens. Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars eat Prunus, Sweet Bay Magnolia, Tilia, Liriodendron to name a few.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

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More worm talk!

We have mentioned Vermicompost many times before because we stand behind this process and how it can change your lawn and garden’s health. We believe in it so much that we have become an authorized dealer.  You are welcome to pick some up at our office or we can ship it to you, check out Terra One Organics for more information.

But if you really want to try something new, you can start up your very own worm factory! Your ‘pet’ worms are very low maintenance and your garden will thank you by producing beautiful, lush vegetables, plants, and flowers all summer long. Check out the steps below and get started! You will be extremely happy with the results.

Worm Factory – First, purchase one pound of Red Wigglers from a reputable source and a worm factory. Worm Factory 360 is a great brand. There are many how-to videos on YouTube that helped me in the beginning.  Select a location in your home for your new worm home (you can’t leave them outside if you live in a climate that will get below freezing).  Our worm house is located in our basement.

Red Wigglers (pets!)

Worm Factory 360

Food – Next, you need to create a moist, comfortable environment where they can eat and produce. Shredded newspaper will provide air, water, and food for the worms. Avoid using colored print, which may be toxic to the worms.  Mix in shredded kitchen waste (vegetables) for a food source for them.  By adding coffee grounds with the food scraps will help eliminate odor.

Vegetable scraps and coffee grounds

All the scraps blended together for the perfect environment.

Moisture – Make sure when you add the shredded newspaper to spray it down with water to keep their home moist. A moisture tester is helpful to know exactly it’s it too wet or dry.

Newspaper and water

Extra Nutrients –  Worms are very low maintenance. They can go up to 3 weeks without food. I usually feed them once a week. I also like to  sprinkle a spoonful of ground up eggshells with their food. This serves a dual purpose.  Crushed shells from eggs can help neutralize the pH level of the bedding and it is said that calcium plays an important roll in worm reproduction.  Sometimes they eat better than me!

Incorporating ground egg shells

Harvest Time – The factory works as a set of trays (layers),  when the top feeding trays fill up add a layer to the factory. Continue the process as listed above and your worms will migrate to this new layer (tray) this will take a few weeks so be patient. Harvest your compost from the bottom tray and add to your garden! Most importantly, learn about the soil microbiome: healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy people.  Have fun and enjoy!

Final product, rich dark vermicompost!

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Shapes in the landscape.

Have you ever seen a tree or shrub planted too close to a house or structure that it has to be pruned back so hard it loses its natural form? I have many times. All trees come in different shapes and sizes. It’s important to do your research before planting them so your tree can grow into a perfect specimen for that space. Here’s are a list of a few tree habits along with some examples that fit that form.

Pyramidal (Photo: Picea Abies, Norway Spruce). These trees are known for their dense, large habit that do a terrific job creating privacy, blocking undesirable views, or used as windbreaks. They need room to grow though so don’t plant them in a tight location. Reaching near 40’ to 60 ‘in height and 25 to 30’ in width they are definitely in the large tree category! Known for being fast growers when young, their stiff pendulous branches turn into graceful mature branches later in life. Other pyramidal shaped trees include: Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’ (Whitespire Birch), Pyrus calleryana Chanticleer (Chanticleer Pear), Tilia cordata Greenspire (Greenspire Littleleaf Linden).

Vase (Photo: Cercis candansis, Eastern Redbud). This naturalistic small tree can stand alone or be planted in a grouping along a woodlands edge. The vase shaped, airy form makes it perfect near a patio or walkway too because the branches grow upward not outward. It’s multi stemmed trunk makes every tree unique. One of my favorite characteristics is it’s broad heart shaped leaves! Redbuds are one of our top choices for ornamental trees in a residential setting. Other vase shaped trees include: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ (Bloodgood Japanese Maple), Amelanchier canadensis (Shadblow Serviceberry), Malus Red Jewel (Red Jewel Crapapple).

Weeping (Photo: Acer palamatum, Cutleaf Japanese Maple). This tree makes a dramatic statement in a garden and creates a perfect focal point. The purple tinted leaves of the Japanese Maple jump out from all the other green foliage that surrounds it. Plant it near a retaining wall and let the weeping branches cascade over the stone wall to soften the edges. A great companion plant to its airy, soft leaves would be a large leafed Hosta, like ‘Guacamole’ or ‘Big Daddy’. Other weeping shaped trees include: Fagus sylvatica ‘Purple Fountain’ (Purple Fountain Beech), Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendula’ (Weeping Katsura Tree), Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’ (Weeping White Pine).

Columnar (Photo: Acer rubrum ‘Armstrong’). Most ideal tree for a narrow space! Highly used along fences and property lines because of its ability to create a barrier while not leaving a large footprint. Most columnar trees branches don’t grow all the way down to the ground so it allows room for understory planting. Other columnar shaped trees include: Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’ (European Hornbeam), Fagus sylvatica ‘Fastigiata’ (Columnar European Beech), Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’ (Columnar English Oak).

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