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Coming Home

Even though our ability to move around this world has been temporarily halted, we are not stuck.

Seriously. We’re not.

Even though that fabulous vacation where you get to experience another culture, practice that long forgotten high school French, or even be allowed into another country, has been temporarily put on hold. We know that these adventures will return!

In the interim, we at Topiarius make it possible for you to have your very own oasis and sanctuary. 

Yup. We are still being serious.

Having the kind of outdoor space that draws you into nature, gets you out of the house, and provides a place of restorative beauty will help you deal with the additional stress we are currently encountering.

Maybe we don’t get to go to Spain this fall for that friend’s wedding (yes, Craig and I have had to let that one go – for now), but it is still possible for us to modify life’s current rhythms by finding an outdoor sanctuary outside our back door.

Topiarius is a landscape design, build and maintenance company. BUT, we are also the reason that coming home is restorative, is relaxing, is centering, is making these current times move deliberately and positively forward. (I know. We’re amazing.) 

The bottom line is we’re not stuck.

Let us make coming home for you an inexcusable delight.

Topiarius Summer Playlist

Spotify or YouTube

Feeling Alive Again

When my cousins and I would visit my grandparents’ house, the five of us would walk over to the nearby school and playground. Like most kids, we knew how to make each other laugh (I mean, really belly laugh) with small dares and ways to keep the youngest at bay. 

This was back in the days when the hard earth was your landing pad, sharp metal edging was on the really tall slide, and the swings could send you flying feet into the air as the swing-set poles thudded around in the ground.

The swings were a favorite because all five of us could do it at the same time. Between the underdogs and showing off how far we could jump, I can’t forget swinging to the highest arc. I’d feel fear creep in, the chain do a small gitty-up, and then POW! my stomach would drop! Oh, that could make me scream and laugh all at once.

Over the past few months, we’ve been forced to slow down.

A lot can happen when we slow down.

For me, I’ve remembered simple things like being on the playground with my cousins and I’m reminded how much fun there is to have in life. How simple acts like swinging on a swing make me feel alive.

There’s no good reason such lighthearted moments should only be for kids.

So, while these hanging chairs (below) won’t get you 10-15 feet off the ground or cause your stomach to drop, they will keep your heart light and a smile on your face.

Having your home’s outdoor space be a place that brings you joy is what Topiarius does. 

Especially now, as we spend so much more time in our homes, you have every reason to need this and make it happen.

– Sara J-S

You & Your Referral Can Each Earn $500!

Topiarius July Referral

Our clientele, our partners, our friends, and those that follow us on social media, are amazing.

You have been our referral engine.

You have played a significant role in Topiarius’ continued growth over the past 17 years.

And, to show how much we value each and every one of you, we are making this offer.

This July only, refer someone to Topiarius and you could receive $500 cash and your referral could receive $500 credit on their services.

A few guidelines apply.

  • The person you refer must contact Topiarius within the month of July to schedule a time to speak with a designer – either through our Contact Us page or by calling the office (773.944.5400). They must let us know it was you who referred them.
  • By 1/31/2021, your referral will need to sign and pay a deposit for one contract, for any service(s), that equals $20,000 or more.
  • Once the contract is signed and deposit paid, you will receive your $500 referral reward. And, your referral will receive a $500 credit on their contract.
  • There are no limit to referrals. You can refer AS MANY people you can!
  • Unfortunately, pre-existing contracts do not apply.

Thank you for being our partner in business.

But, now let’s share the offer and earn some cash!

You CAN Have It Your Way!

StruXure and Topiarius Rooftop Pergola

Not only does Burger King believe you should have your hamburger your way, StuXure does too. (I mean a 1974 reference is still relevant, right?)

This past winter Topiarius became a certified designer and installer of SturXure pergolas and accessories. After a few installations this past year, we realized that because it’s such a well-built and creative system, that we needed this product in our installation portfolio.

StruXure pergolas are 100% customizable and that flexibility allows any client to have a configuration that integrates with their overall home design while integrating state of the art accessories and features. The overall structure is powder-coated aluminum, which helps with weight load on rooftops and is extremely rust resistant and low maintenance.

The pivoting louver system is the highlight. Because of its smart capabilities it can open and close based on the weather. When winds are too high the wind sensor will automatically open the louvers to reduce the wind load on the pergola. When rain is detected, the pergola louvers automatically close. Don’t worry about snow and freezing water because, you guessed it, the louvers will adjust to prevent sticking and damage. The louvers can also be adjusted through an app on one’s phone, so if there’s too much sun or not enough, it can be adjusted as needed. If you really love technology, then you can utilize the voice-controlled commands.

The pergola can have different architectural elements that can help it integrate into the design of its location. (These pergolas work great in both residential and commercial locations.) There are options for corbel ends, cornices, column wraps, caps and bases. There are 6 standard colors, but custom colors and wood grains are also available to choose from.

As for the accessories. If you’re interested in lighting, fans, retractable sides and screens, and heating and cooling then it is easy to incorporate. The pergolas even allow Topiarius to provide our own unique design customizations.

Here’s a project that’s currently being completed – from before, in progress, to near completion.

A standard rooftop in Chicago. Lovely umbrella, but just not enough to allow the level of outdoor living this family wants.

Work began over the winter. The StruXure pergola is able to span the width of the roof top.

The louvers and the recessed lighting are installed. On this project, Topiarius custom designed the metal panels that provide the privacy around the perimeter.

Rooftop begins to take shape with furniture and containers/plants. This family is going to be living outdoors more comfortably and more often!

Together We Will Fight Hunger

Topiarius Food Drive

We are excited to expand our initiative #topiariusgives to include our partnership with the Chicago Food Depository and You to fight hunger.

When our crews are scheduled to be at your home, simply leave non-perishable food items, toiletries, or cleaning supplies in a box or bag at your front door. Topiarius will collect and deliver your donation to one of the Chicago Food Depository’s partners.

As contact is made between you and our scheduling staff, you will also receive a reminder about the food drive.

We encourage you to view the “Collecting and Donating” section on the CFD website for guidance. https://myfooddrive.org/faq.php

For monetary donations: https://www.myfooddrive.org/drive.php?28eb309c61

Our drive begins Monday, June 8 and continues through August 31, 2020.

JOIN US!

Topiarius Travels To . . . The Park of the Monsters

Topiarius Travels Bomarzo

About 42 miles north/northwest of our apartment in Rome was our destination for the day. Being avid garden visitors, we had heard and seen spectacular images of Bomarzo The Park of the Monsters (aka The Sacred Wood). But, we were not prepared to feel the spell that engulfed us as we stepped through the entrance gate.

We left Rome about 7 a.m. and arrived at Bomarzo about 8:30 a.m. The temperature in Rome was in the high 50’s in January, but the mountains proved to be much cooler.

Side Note: There’s nothing better than being in a world renown garden, but being in one with a map is fantastic! So while my husband and friends wanted a free-form adventure, I made sure we followed the numbers. All quite comical considering that the four of us were 1/3 of the people in the park at the time.

One of the first sculptures (#2) we came across was Proteus-Glauco, which is described as a sea monster. Humor and love had its place in Prince Orsini’s heart when his garden/park was completed in 1552. He “desired this project “only to relieve his soul.””[1] While the Prince didn’t design it himself, he chose the best architect to do so. Pirro Ligorio was an architect that worked on the construction of the Vatican.

The current garden is due to the Bettini Family who “discovered [it after Orsini abandoned it due to no heirs], restored and saved it from destruction. . .”[Page 3.]

[1] Bomarzo The Park of the Monsters A guide to The Park of the Monsters by the Giardino de Bomarzo, page 5.

While the terrain was easy to walk, the park is nestled into a hillside and amongst ancient trees. So, for the most part each sculpture is situated independently of the others. The Struggle of Giants (#4) is aptly named. The size is unexpected. (See Craig in the bottom right.) Here good and evil are battling it out – between Hercules and Cacus.

At first glance understanding why a woman is standing on a turtle may seem odd (#5). Yet, Ligorio had a story to tell. He wanted to represent a scene from Virgil’s abyss from where there is no return. The woman represents victory and how “Roman legions often won [battles] thanks to the protection of their shield like the turtles under their shell.”[Page 15.]

As we kept walking down the mossy, tree-lined paths, with at friendly cat circling between us, we kept all yelling out to each other, “You’ve got to come see this!” And that didn’t stop when we came upon The Leaning House (#13). (See Dave in the bottom right tilting it further.) The interior is accessible around the other side, so getting inside for pictures was simple.

Orsini “wanted to offer a strong emotion to his friends who entered the house for a nap, but had to leave immediately for the dizziness they felt.”[Page 22.] Not sure if we felt the dizziness, but we did find the wittiness.

When you can walk into a man’s head in a petrified scream of terror representing the underworld, why not? The Ogre (#19) is one of the most used images to represent Bomarzo and it was captivating to see. I can tell you what’s on the inside, but it may be more fun for you to find out on your own visit.

Maybe Disney knew about this Sleeping Beauty (#25), but definitely didn’t take any other ques. Halfway between sleep and death, the nymph’s history is both Greek and Latin. The proportion of her nails on her hands and feet compared to her body size command one’s attention.

An ancient Italian garden without a temple is like a Roman table without red wine. At the end of the tour there is The Temple (#34). (Angela is standing in the front.) It was built about 20 years after the garden in memory of Orsini’s second wife.

As the morning mist faded away, 2 hours of walking and wondering through the garden, trying to identify all the plants and trees we could, seeing all 35 sculptures, taking silly photos of ourselves throughout, we all found ourselves amazed by the spirit and joy that Bomarzo bestowed upon us.

It was unexpected and delightful . . . even a half century later.

Garden tour and photos provided by Sara J-S.

Now You’re Cooking! Find Your Perfect Outdoor Grill

Outdoor Cooking and Dining

Choices and options can be amazing, right? But when you’re trying to make a simple choice and you’re faced with endless options, it can stop you before you begin. Finding the perfect grill is no different. So, rather than getting lost in the possibilities, I had a conversation with Zac Selleck from Chicago Gas Lines to help me sort through all the chatter and make this process easy.

What is it you love cooking?
There are no longer distinctions between what you cook inside and what you cook outside. From being able to boil water, fry an egg, bake a pizza, sear steaks or tuna, smoke ribs, bake potatoes, grill vegetables, rotisserie cook a chicken . . . it is all possible. Because you don’t have to limit your options, what are you truly desiring to cook outdoors? Maybe it’s just a few options or maybe you’re saying yes to all of the above.

If you’re interested in pancakes, a hash, grill cheese, or bacon? Then, skillet cooking is an option. If you’re interested in being able to sear proteins like steaks and tuna then look at infrared grills; they will allow you to cook at a higher temperature in half the time. Or if you prefer the slow cooking process of smoking ribs, pork belly, or roasts because the beautiful smoke ring is the only thing that matters, then smokers are your focus.

What will fuel the grill?
Grills measure their efficiency in BTU’s. British Thermal Units are a “measurement of how much heat a grill generates at its maximum output. If you think of BTUs like your car’s fuel efficiency or MPG (miles per gallon), BTUs measure your grill’s fuel efficiency or OPB (output per burner) as well as all the burners combined.” [1]

While each grill will operate with its optimum BTU, depending on its make and model, all grills operate more efficiently when they are fueled by a direct gas line providing consistent and dependable fuel. When there isn’t a direct gas line, options are propane, charcoal or pellets.

Often exterior gas lines are added after home construction. It is only a recent phenomenon that home construction will include these lines to outdoor spaces. While it is most often feasible to retrofit a line to your grill, it isn’t always possible.

What size are you looking for and where do you want it located?
Grills come in many sizes from 21” – 54” widths, but 36” is the most common. Many companies have other appliances that they offer too, such as side burners and refrigerators. The additional options make it easy to get the exact configuration you want.

If you have an outdoor kitchen design, you will want a built-in grill. If you do not, then you’ll need the additional cart for a free-standing set-up.

[1] https://www.charbroil.com/learn/what-are-btus/

TOP 3 Grills on The Market Right Now

Now that you have answered these 3 questions, here are the TOP grills on the market right now. All of them will make your outdoor cooking and dining amazing experiences.

According to Zac, the best grill on the market right now is LYNX. They were bought by Viking about 2 years ago, so as LYNX they continue to bring the high-end quality they’re known for and are backed by a recognizable brand name of VIKING.

The 36” gas grill from LYNX begins at $5,800 (without stand).

Not only is the Hesten Aspire another excellent grill, you have the added dimension of being able to choose from 9 different color front panels. If you’re looking for a way to reflect your personality in the design of your outdoor space, then Hesten is a great place to start.

The 36” Hesten Aspire begins at $3,500 (without stand).

If you’re looking for a grill that is straight-forward and uncomplicated, then Broilmaster is the option for you.

The 36” Broilmaster begins at $2,200 (without stand).

We’ve designed many outdoor kitchens to include the Green Egg, so it’s worth mentioning here. It is an all-in-one grill that grills, smokes, roasts, and bakes while using natural lump charcoal. But, know it may take you some time to learn how to maximize its power. It is a grill that relies heavily on air intake and when there is a slight 10-15 mile per hour wind, the grilling process can easily become more challenging and make cooking inconsistent.

To see more designs of grills in outdoor spaces, visit our Pinterest board.

Happy grilling and more!

Easy Vegetables to Grow on Roof Top Gardens

Topiarius Veggies Tomatoes

Topiarius Gardening on RooftopWhen it comes to growing vegetables on your rooftop, there are very few limitations. As long as you have sun for most of the day and a consistent watering system/schedule, success is practically guaranteed.

Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS
Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS

In addition to the raspberries, dill, tomatoes, and peppers, the above rooftop includes carrots, lettuce, and herbs.

Topiarius Gardening

Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS

This rooftop garden is nestled into the full design of the whole space. It is on the perimeter next to the kitchen. In addition to the cherry tomatoes and eggplant, there are squash and cucumbers.

Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS
Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS

There are both cool and warm season vegetables that can be planted throughout the growing season. In early spring think spinach, snap peas, beets, and kohlrabi. Once the weather heats up you can plant those tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, beans, zucchini, butternut squash . . .

If you are just looking to stick your toe into vegetable gardening here is a mix that as easy to care for and provides that big bang of fresh garden flavor: Patio Hybrid Tomato, Italian Basil, Fairy Tale Eggplant, Mint, and Rosemary.

Here are some of our favorite places to purchase organic seeds and starter plants.

#ExposeYourFlare

#ExposeYourFlare

Topiarius is ready to expose your flare! . . . Well, actually, we are ready to teach about the importance of exposing your flare.  #ExposeYourFlare

Plants are an investment. And, to safe-guard that investment, plants need to be planted correctly. While it is not rocket science to plant a tree or shrub, it can easily be done incorrectly. A tree that does not have its root/trunk flare showing will slowly decline in health and not survive.

So what are the proper horticultural steps that should be taken, either by you or the firm you’ve hired?

First, familiarize yourself with what you’re looking for.

A trunk flare (on a tree, shrub or woody perennial) is the point where the roots and the trunk meet. This juncture literally is flared, so it’s easy to spot. The flare’s most outer surface is bark, which protects the plant from disease and insects. Just underneath the bark are the “arteries” of the tree. It is through these channels that the leaves feed the trunk and how the roots send up water and minerals to the plant and leaves.

Secondly, know what happens when the flare is covered.

If the flare is covered by soil or mulch, the bark retains moisture and begins to get soft. (It’s not unlike what your finger looks like after you’ve had a Band-Aid on it for too long.) When the bark is soft it cannot do its job. Insects and disease can easily enter into the plant. And, if the flare is covered too long, the “arteries” stop working and no food or water can travel between the leaves and roots. Basically, the plant is slowly being strangled. As the tree declines the interior of the tree (the heartwood) will rot and become hollow not providing the stability it needs to stay upright. Awful, right? Yes!

Know the best horticultural practices for installation of a plant.

Prep the plant: Any time a tree, shrub, or woody perennial is planted, any burlap around the trunk should be untied and cut back. (Burlap can have the same affect to the trunk as soil or mulch can.) Remove all the soil covering the trunk. This may mean you have to remove a few inches. (Secret: Due to how nurseries grow plants, it’s inevitable that their plants will have too much soil around the trunk.)

Check the roots: Something that often gets over looked is how the roots have grown. If a plant has been in its container too long, the roots begin to grow around each other which is known as girdling. Just like branches, roots won’t thrive if they’re all tangled up in each other. The necessary step is to do root pruning to eliminate the circular growth. Roots need to grow outward from the trunk so they can provide the necessary stability for the plant. (Think about how much easier it is to stand on two feet than one foot.) If a tree continues to grow but doesn’t have the best root system possible, it will be susceptible to storm and ensuing damage.

Dig the hole: The hole for the plant should only be so deep that when planted the root flare will sit above the top of the soil line, as well as, the mulch.

Master mulch installation: This is the most common inappropriately done practice in the landscape industry, and yet, one of the easiest things to do. If the trunk/stem/root flare is NOT showing, the plant will eventually DIE. Mulch is great for topping off landscape beds. It keeps moisture in the ground and as it breaks down (well the good mulch) it adds nutrients to the soil. Aesthetically it also provides a tidier finish. But, mulch up around the flare of a plant keeps in moisture and sets in motion the slow death of the tree.

If you are installing mulch “volcanos” (or building up organic material around your tree) you are killing your tree. Please stop. It is not the proper way to care for your plants.

IMG_5706

While it’s not like looking though the delicious photos on Pinterest or Houzz, Topiarius will be highlighting the need for these best practices and sharing pictures over the year using our hashtag #ExposeYourFlare. We will be posting on social media images of great installations, as well as, really bad ones.

Let’s get our flares showing!

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