Yardsmart: Getting The Look of Cobblestones of Yore

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They say that the cobblestone streets of Virginia were paved by the tobacco trade. So great was the demand for this American weed that ships arriving in the ports carried ballast stones to offset their light weight. Once anchored, the ballast was removed and replaced by heavy oak barrels of freshly cured tobacco. Throughout the colonies, ballast stones accumulated around the harbors as abundant raw materials were shipped to the Old World. These were often heavy, hand-hewn blocks of granite, and sometimes fired clay brick. Today you can see them occasionally in Boston and other old cities where the ballast stone paving is revealed when asphalt laid over them deteriorates. Today these communities cherish such pavers and are relocating them to high-profile streets of historic districts and for accent in urban plazas. As much as we’d love to use old granite pavers to create walks and patios, the cost of those reclaimed from colonial streets is high and the supply limited. Yet there’s nothing that gives a new landscape that Old World look than the evidence of hand-hewn stone. Decades ago when concrete pavers were first invented, they were manufactured with precise shapes and edges. This rigidity could be felt in the landscapes where they were used. Many of the colors, while highly variable, did not resemble natural stone. When you saw a paver patio, you knew exactly what it was. Paver makers got the message and went to work creating new products that look old. What gave ballast block its character were signs of hand-hewing. In olden days, everything was done with hammer and chisel because labor was cheap. This meant that the surface was not smooth, but bore divots as chunks of stone were knocked off to give it a roughly rectangular shape. Often Old World ballast stones were the leftovers of European construction or teardowns. They might be cracked and chipped or just a piece of a broken block. This added even more irregularity to the process of laying pavement. Stone masons hand-set each unit, which required skill just as it does today, which drives up the cost of installing old reclaimed blocks. Paver manufacturers such as Belgard Hardscapes Inc. were keen to create new lines of precast concrete pavers that offered the look and feel of old ballast stones without the irregularities that drive up the cost of installation. The first step was to create colors that closely resemble Old World granite. Then shapes were limited to squares and rectangles sized like the old cobbles. Finally blocks were loaded into a huge drum and tumbled just as they would have been years ago when ballast stones were thrown into wagons and ship holds and then onto docks and into colonial street-paving projects. If you love that age-old look, if you live in a historic home, or if you dream of an old English garden pathway in your backyard — tumbled new pavers are the ideal choice. Take a look at the examples at Belgard online at
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Yardsmart: Artificial turf grows up

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              When watching a fantasy film, you suspend disbelief and become part of an impossible happening. High-tech special effects can fool the brain into accepting a whole different reality. When my practiced eye was fooled by the new artificial turf, I knew it had finally come of age. I am not an easy sell. When the first “plastic grass” came on the market decades ago, there was no way to suspend disbelief. It was obviously fake. The earlier products denied oxygen and moisture exchange to the soil underneath. It literally smothered to death, losing vital microbe populations. We also found that trees could not survive within the fake grass because the roots died. Water would pool on the surface if the ground underneath wasn’t perfectly graded. And then there was the wear and tear of kids and bikes and pets. Today’s artificial turf is a whole different animal. It’s made of space-age materials resistant to traffic and extreme UV exposure. The foundation fabric is permeable so water can move straight through and oxygen exchange is free. Colors are more accurate, too, with variations that match every region’s specific grass types, so it blends in with the living lawns nearby. In the West where the land is dry and the climate rainless for much of the year, thirsty grass lawns are rapidly being exchanged for these new products. In this hot, arid region and elsewhere, too, this material expands your landscaping opportunities. In the past, hot pavement has made it impossible to add turf-grass bands into paving to break it up with a cooler color. The problem has always been heating of the concrete during the day, which dries out the adjacent soil and burns grass leaves. At night the absorbed heat is radiated back into the soil so these strips of turf never find relief during summer and fall. The other problem is irrigation. To make grass or any other matlike plant grow in slots, you must ensure that enough water gets to the super-heated roots every day. With so little soil surface for water to flow through, it’s not easy. Getting deeper penetration is quite problematic. Enter the new artificial turf, and a swanky design trend has emerged. New homes and remodels are featuring patios, walkways and driveways with inset bands of turf in paving. Designers are creating gorgeous patterns of strips and grids and latticework. Now you can do this, too, for more-lush appearances in areas that are paved. This also helps rain penetrate a patio to reach subsoils without runoff. In areas where Environmental Protection Agency LEEDS regulations require that all drainage remain on site rather than flowing into the storm drain, artificial turf is a perfect solution. When these spaces are filled with fine gravel, it’s a maintenance problem keeping all the pebbles in place. If you use artificial turf, there is no maintenance and it looks greener overall. When turf is used to replace a larger lawn, you save
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Turn A Desert Dry Wash into A Vegetable Garden

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This year I’ve moved to a new desert home! Biggest problem is soil that’s largely sand and lacks organic matter and is not bio-active so I need a POWERFUL amendment. So I’m testing out Black Gold Soil Conditioner to see if it will turn a dry wash into a productive vegetable garden.
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The Season of Gardening Catalogs

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The beautiful, full color Seeds of Change catalog arrived this week, so now begins planning of next year’s garden. It’s one of the few catalogs I enjoy in print form because there is so much food gardening how-to information that it’s nearly a gardening book itself. This non-profit is America’s most famous organic heirloom seed source, and they keep many of these old varieties in cultivation through their efforts. On cold winter days I will be spending a great deal of time perusing the pages, but you can get started online right now at http://www.seedsofchange.com/ or call for a catalog of your own 888 762-7333

Supermarket Indian Corn for the Garden

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With Thanksgiving comes Indian corn, the Small Budget Gardener’s secret seed source. Large ears may be all one color, they may be a mixture of wide ranging hues or just lightly speckled. Small strawberry popcorn with its flint hard ruby red kernels resemble a fat strawberry fruit. Slender miniature popcorn are jewel tone decorations. All of these are two-for-one purchases because they may be enjoyed as decor, then saved over winter and planted in the summer garden to grow your own next year. This is loads of fun for the kids and teaches so much when you complete the whole cycle. So pick your ears at the market with care and be sure to plant the colors separately to prevent cross pollination so your next crop is identical to its predecessor.