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Who’s On First?

Abbott & Costello Who’s On First came to mind this week. (A Classic Must Watch!) I thought, is this how confusing it feels when you just want to find the right company to work with when you’re pursuing design and construction for your outdoor space?   

My inspiration on this topic came from a conversation I had this week with a potential client. (Thank you, Brian G.) 

I realized how important it is to understand the who’s who in the professional world of landscaping because the lay of the land (pun intended) can be very confusing. 

So, I have broken it down into 4 categories. There are 

  1. companies that only do design work.
  2. companies that only do the installation.
  3. companies that do both.
  4. companies that do both and then some.

Each company or person has an area(s) of expertise and that is how they will design your experience for you. (Note: these do not include any home builders or architects. These company descriptions specifically focus on landscaping.)

Companies that do the design place a high value and premium on the design they will create for you. (Such as architects that design landscapes, landscape architects, landscape designers – different levels of education and expertise.) You will be buying your design from them. Because you own it, you can then take that design to whomever you want to do the installation. Often times, these companies will offer you their management services as well. You pay them to facilitate the multitude of subcontractors needed to implement your project. These subs may be companies that they have developed relationships with and will choose to use only them. Because they are working for many clients at the same time, these subs will operate on their own timeline, which can cause management headaches and longer timelines.

Companies that do the installation will work with a plan that is provided to them. (These are often the companies subcontracted with by the first category.) Depending on the scope of work needed, there may be need for multiple companies to complete your project, and then you become the project manager. Quality companies that do the installation will not have any issue reading plans to complete the work, but if there are any changes with design or construction, you also take on the responsibility of making these decisions.

Companies that do both the design and the installation are a perfect combination. Not only are the designs of high quality, but they are also implemented by teams under the same roof. These companies know their staffs’ skills and manage their timelines. If there are any issues that come up with design or with construction, the designers are immediately accessible.

Companies that do both the design and the installation and then some are the crème de la crème. At Topiarius, we not only provide high value design (with our in-house landscape architect and designers) and installation (with our general contracting license, our full staff of carpenters, a 5,000 square foot wood shop, and our full staff of landscape construction crews), but we continue our service with fine gardening and seasonal rotations (with our fully staffed maintenance team). So once the project is complete, we will continue to provide care and annual color through all seasons. We stand by our installations and want to help you enjoy them for years to come.

This information will start you off on the right foot.

Always ask questions so you have the clarity you require.

Contact us today. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have for us.

We’d love to get started with our complimentary consultation.

Free Summer Planting Plan

Summer Annuals Free Planting Plan

It’s that time of year when it feels really good to get your hands dirty planting a container of beautiful summer annuals. (Summer officially starts today!)

Browsing through a garden center and walking among all the annuals can be inspiring, but it can also be a bit overwhelming. So, that’s why Topiarius is providing you with a free planting plan! You can enjoy the beauty AND know exactly what you need to buy.

This plan is for a 4′ x 16″ planter, but the quantities can be modified to fit another size container. We L-O-V-E our plantings to be lush instantaneously so we make sure to have enough plant material on-hand. Additionally, these plants do best in part sun/part shade.

Sketch by Abe Kelly.

A few tips for planting: 

  • Make sure your container has drainage holes.
  • Use potting soil (not Chicago clay soil).
  • Compact the soil a bit before and while planting so that after a few days the roots aren’t exposed as the soil has settled. 
  • Remember to water immediately after planting then regularly.
  • For more information about these annuals visit Missouri Botanic Garden’s Plant Finder – it’s one of our favorite resources.

If you need more inspiration, you can see our other designs on our Pinterest board. 

And, if you love the idea of a summer annual planting, but have no time nor interest in doing the planting . . . give us a ring. We’re happy and eager to help. 

Photo Credits:  
A: https://susajja.com/ficus-black-prince-rubber-plant-burgundy/
B: https://www.devonpondplants.co.uk/product/lysimachia-nummularia-aurea/ 
C: gardenanswers.com
D: https://shop.romencegardens.com/coleus-solenostemon-hybrida-electric-lime-p215.aspxE: https://shopugc.com/annual-flats/

Outdoor Living for Pets

Outdoor Pet Beds

We Love Our Pets!

Comfort isn’t just for us two-legged folks.
Our four-legged friends need some attention too! If you’re in the mood to pamper your pet, here are our suggestions. 

1. BEAU DOG HOUSE by Kelly Wearstler  |   2. ADAMS TICKING GREY DOG BED by Annie Selke  |  3. JUXTAPOSE DOG HOUSE by Kelly Wearslter  |  4. MEDIO PRETTY KENNEL by Pretty Kennels  |   5. ARCTIC SHAG BLANKET by Jax & Bones  |  6. AVANT DOG HOUSE by Kelly Wearstler  |  7. RIVIERA DOG BED by Serena & Lily 

Finding Luxury IS this easy!

Outdoor Furniture Rooftop

Tired of only seeing what Restoration Hardware, CB2, and Wayfair have for outdoor furniture? Want something that is more unique and speaks to your style?

Luckily enough . . . you’ve got us! We can help you find all the luxury outdoor furniture companies that don’t float to the top of your Google search.

What you need to know is luxury brands sell in 3 different ways

You can

    1. buy directly from companies and purchase pieces at MSRP (manufacturer suggest retail price)
    2. buy from a company that sells specific lines of furniture and purchase at MSRP or a bit less.
    3. buy directly through your landscape design company. We have access to all of these outdoor furniture companies and can provide you with better deals.

To get started, start viewing furniture by going directly to a company’s website.

Janus et Cie

Brown Jordan

DEDON

Or, you can go to a website for a company that represents multiple lines of outdoor furniture, which then directly connects you to more websites.

There is no reason to have luxury outdoor furniture shopping being the “thing” that is frustrating. We can help directly you to more sites and other luxury furniture designers that we work with.

Need to know how else to eliminate frustration, download our “No Surprises” Guide to Planning Your Outdoor Space: 9 Practical Tips To Maximizing Your Budget For Patios, Rooftop Gardens and Backyards .

PS No kickbacks from these folks . . . just want to share our love of great design in furniture.

9 Practical Tips to Maximize Your Budget for Rooftops and Gardens

Outdoor Space Guide Topiarius

If you’re thinking about renovating your outdoor space, but aren’t sure where to begin, Topiarius can help. Click on The “No Surprises” Guide below for your free download.

In this article you’ll

  1. Learn how to prioritize spaces.
  2. Identify how you want to live in your outdoor space a MAJORITY of the time.
  3. Determine what views are the best.
  4. Understand the importance of roof construction.
  5. Learn how to incorporate water and gas sources.
  6. Think through your flexibility.
  7. See how your interior esthetic impacts your exterior design.
  8. Figure out your first steps in creating a budget.
  9. Learn how different landscape design companies are organized.

Timing is Everything | Start Now

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.

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.

“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!