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Timing Is Everything

Working on your landscape design in January and February is like visiting vacation destinations off-season – you will wait in shorter lines and have faster access to the sites.

There are many reasons for this reality in the landscape world. Here are a few:

  • The design process takes time. Topiarius works very hard to provide each of our clients with unique solutions to your individual design needs. We take inventory of what you have, what you need, what you want, and what you do not know you need or want. It is not unrealistic for the design process to take a month – even longer if the project is complicated.
  • Spring is our busiest time of the year; it’s when many of our clients contact us. While we are committed to getting all of our clients unique design solutions, the progression of your project can occur more quickly in January and February than in May.
  • If your design includes special order items these are much easier to procure in the landscape off-season than they are during the height of it. A typical lead time of 3 weeks can often get pushed out to 6 or 8 weeks in the summer.
  • There may be a chance that we can get started on some parts of your project during the winter. We have a full wood shop where much of our custom work is completed. If your design includes a pergola, outdoor kitchen, custom containers or any other custom built work we can get started on construction even when the ground is frozen solid.

Our goal at Topiarius is to create AWESOME, daily. By contacting us during the winter months you are ensuring “shorter lines” so you can enjoy your AWESOME landscape as early in the summer as possible.

Spring Annuals On Trend

Chicago Spring Annuals

Every year Pantone* picks a color (or colors as is this year) that launches new trends in fashion and design. For Pantone it is “a symbolic color selection; a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.”

This year Pantone chose two shades, Rose Quartz and Serenity, which got us thinking. Since we’re always looking for new ideas we thought it’d be fun to create a spring annual garden using just these two shades. The combination of these annuals creates a beautifully fragrant, textural display. If you love the two-shades but want to add a little more, try white blooming plants for evening interest or greens for a springtime feel.

Grape Hyacinth.


Muscari armeniacum is a spring flowering bulb that stands about 6-10” tall that will begin to bloom in April. This bulb does well in in Chicago and should be planted in the fall for spring blooms. Or, it can be purchased in bloom for instant planting. It comes in shades of blue, purple, and white.

Photo: http://www.steenvoorden.nl/Catalogus/?group=14


Hyacinthus orienatlis is one of the most fragrant flowers of the spring and does not disappoint. In Chicago, hyacinth bulbs can be planted in the fall for spring blooms or can be purchased in bloom for instant planting. The plant will grow 10-18” tall. The flower heads do get top-heavy, so be ready to stake them or just enjoy their arching habit.

Photo: http://www.7flowers.ru/catalog/Bulbs/professional/Hyacinth-Marconi.jpg

Senetti Baby True Blue.

Pericallis hybrid is a cool weather annual that looks a lot like daisies. Its blooms are about 1.5 -2” and the plant height is about 12″. There are a total of 12 available colors in shades of pinks and purples!

Photo: http://www.powerflowers.com/


Ranunculus asiaticus is a cool weather annual in Chicago. The paper-like petals create a beautifully layered bloom that is from 1 – 3” in diameter. Plant height is from 12-16″ tall. Colors range from yellows, pinks, oranges, reds, whites , greens, and purples. Die-back will be its most serious problem when the temperatures heat up.

Photo: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2011/05/03/top-selling-flowers.html


Lobelia erinus is a trailing variety that provides a beautiful edge to containers and landscape beds. The blooms are about .5” in size and thrive in cool temperatures. Die-back will be its most serious problem when the temperatures heat up. Colors range from whites, blues, and purples.

Photo: http://www.bloomsbythebox.com/blog


Antirrhinum majus is a common spring annual that is planted either in ground or in containers that stands about 12-18” tall. It comes in a variety of colors from whites, yellows, oranges and pinks which makes it a fun pop of color.

Photo: https://www.mainwholesaleflorist.com/


Pantone LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-Rite, Incorporated, is the world-renowned authority on color and provider of color systems and leading technology for the selection and accurate communication of color across a variety of industries. The PANTONE® name is known worldwide as the standard language for color communication from designer to manufacturer to retailer to customer.

How to See the Quality in Containers

If you’ve ever wandered through a museum on your own the items around you can be interesting, even pretty. But, if you walk with a docent or have an audio tour, the museum comes alive with all of the explanations, contexts, processes, materials, etc. The same concept applies when looking at quality craft work, specifically our outdoor custom containers. Consider this your docent tour of what it takes to make great work in your landscape.

The first concept to understand is that all outdoor built items will “move”. As the weather changes and materials age, there is a constant contraction and expansion. A great example of this is if you have hardwood floors. In the summer the boards swell/expand and in the winter they shrink/contract sometimes to the point that you can see small spaces between the boards. (And this is inside with a very controlled environment.) Outdoor quality is thus found in the steps taken to mitigate the effects of this movement.

Here‘s what Topiarius does to make sure our outdoor containers are built well.

1st Notable: The top cap (A) of our containers have mitered corners that are glued AND biscuit jointed

These two images show the angled cut of the boards as they come together, as well as, what the biscuit looks like in between them. The biscuit helps align the boards for a perfect fit and provides additional support to keep the joint tight over time. Within the first year, if your container does not have properly secured corners, there will be unattractive spaces between the boards.

2nd Notable: What’s on the inside of the container holding it all together? We all know if a foundation isn’t solid, everything built on it will fall apart.

The interior framework should be screwed together, NOT nailed. Screws by their very nature are stronger and can withstand the outdoor movement that’s been explained.

The lumber that is used to make the frame is also outdoor rated for direct contact with the ground. (Yes, there are different categories for lumber. Lumber that can survive “living” outdoors and lumber that can only survive indoors.)

3rd Notable: In addition to the framing, the materials used to clad the framing are just as important.

This image shows 3 examples of materials. The top board is MDO (medium density overlay), the middle is PVC sheet stock (like Azek), and the bottom is pressure treated plywood. The top two are excellent options for building the containers because they have a smooth surface that can be painted easily. The pressure treated plywood works well if the container is clad with other materials, like cedar boards, that cover and hide it.

The style of container that you choose for your project will determine what cladding material will work best. But, the cladding materials will be the largest visual part of your container, so choosing wisely will ensure a successful installation.

4th Notable: How are the corners of the container installed?

Because all materials used outside will move with temperature and moisture fluctuations, planning for this at the corners of the container is important. BUT, this is contingent on the style of container that is chosen. Each style uses different methods to minimize the movement and each will vary in how long it will take before change is seen.

One of the methods we use is to use corner boards to hide the ends (as is the picture of the green container at the top). If the end of the boards are going to show, we use construction adhesive, pin nailing and screwing in boards from inside the container.

5th Notable: How does the drainage on your container work?

Every annual, perennial, tree, and shrub must have drainage, especially when planted in containers. Plants’ roots need to have both water and oxygen and if they are drowning in water, like humans, they don’t fare well.

At minimum a constructed container must have holes. At best, the holes are connected to a pipe that drains most of the excess water BELOW your deck boards or pedestal pavers. This method keeps unsightly water stains to a minimum.

The next time you look at outdoor built containers, see if you can spot the quality, or lack there of, now that you know what 5 notables. When you’re ready for a great design and installation, let Topiarius get to work for you.



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.


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!

“A Maintenance Free Garden” – Confirmed, Plausible, Or Busted?

Gardening Maintenance

If you’ve ever watched the television show Mythbusters, you’re familiar with its premise. The team challenges various rumors and urban legends to see if they are confirmed, plausible or busted. Here at Topiarius we are often asked to design a “maintenance free garden.” While we’d love to do this for you we are unfortunately going to declare this a busted myth.

Nature operates without us. This means there will always be work to do in your garden and outdoor spaces.

Weeds will grow wherever there is soil, sunlight, and moisture.

Lawns will need to be mown even if you choose not to edge, fertilize or over-seed.

Corners and hiding spots will need to be cleaned and cleared of debris – both blown in by the wind and brought in by our animal friends. Birds will fly overhead, squirrels will scrounge, and rodents may nest and there is little that you can do about it.

Painted or stained surfaces like decks, fences and furniture will need upkeep. Water and sunlight will continually wear down outdoor finishes.

All trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals grow. This means that branches are going to break or die, deciduous plants will lose their leaves, flowers fade and plants die back each fall. In order for your plants to be at their best, they will need regular care.

Patios and walkways are also vulnerable. Tree roots push, freeze/thaw cycles heave, foot traffic compacts and dirt is always with us!

While outdoor fabrics are designed to not degrade as quickly from sunlight and water as traditional fabrics, they still need to be cared for while they are outdoors.
Even materials like composite (i.e. Trex) decking or porcelain pavers need care. While they resist rot, won’t warp or splinter and never need staining or painting they can still get stained and dirty.

Don’t be discouraged yet! While a completely maintenance free garden isn’t possible, you can still make wise choices that REDUCE the amount of maintenance you’ll have to do.

Making wise material choices is your best bet to getting a low maintenance landscape.

Choosing the right plant is a good start. Take into consideration the amount of sun or shade, the type of soil and the growing habit of the plant before you make a purchase.

Low maintenance hardscape materials that are rot resistant and clean easily will help your garden last a lifetime.

Maybe the most important advice to a low maintenance garden is to do it right the first time. Follow proper installation instructions, get advice from qualified sources and, if you are worried you can’t do it yourself, hire a qualified professional!