Zen Garden

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Zen Garden

Zen Buddhist priests began creating their iconic Zen gardens for meditation and appreciation of beauty in the late 14th century. At first glance, the Zen garden is very simple. Yet, as one studies the space, the complexity unfolds.
Elements of an Asian garden, the feeling of water with rock, and the raking of gravel to create the ripple-like appearance of flowing water. The role of stone cannot be over emphasized as it is the structural basis of the hardscape design. Other elements such as bamboo panels, fences, and gates are both functional and visual. Water can be added in the form of a trickling fountain or pond. Other common elements include pagoda lighting and Buddha figures of many forms and materials.

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Marshall Residence

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

This month we have a new case study for our readers. Many people want to know what Nancy’s house looks likes. Well, here it is. This property won the 2012 Indiana Nursery and Landscape Association’s Award of Excellence in Residential Landscape Design/Build category.


Where do we begin with this one? From the day ground was broken for the house over Twelve years ago this property was designed to be a landscaping marvel. The house is situated among hundred year old oak trees. During construction Nancy & Roger were adamant about large equipment encroaching upon the roots of the trees. The construction site was cordoned off to within 15′ of the house. This insured that there would be no construction equipment/traffic over the roots of the existing old growing trees. All but one survives to this day. In the shade of the large old growth trees live dozens of Hosta varieties. There are multiple flagstone paths leading from garden to garden as well as strips of green grass that form their own pathways around the acres of gardens. Nancy & Roger are both very passionate about plants and either one of them could discuss for hours the various intricacies from species to species and subspecies to subspecies.

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Let’s Get Stoned

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013


When it comes to hardscaping and stone work there are many steps that go into a successful design and installation. This is a step by step look at an award winning project in Chesterton, IN. This project won the Indiana Nursery & Landscape Association (INLA) 2012 Award of Excellence, Hardscape Installation category.

Wow Small’s Landscaping. How did you do that?

Well, let me tell you.

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Bigger Is Better! Right?

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013


When you are talking about the size of your backyard patio bigger can be better, but not always. There are many variables to consider when figuring out how large you want your patio to be. Do you entertain often? If so, how many people typically come over? You might want a large area for people to mingle. On the other hand, if the patio is smaller the party will be more intimate and likely to bring people together.

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Turning An Ugly Duckling Into A Beautiful Swan

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

ugly-duckling-beautiful-swan-01The not so twisted tale of Larry & Dot

Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with and getting to know thousands of wonderful people. While we are on the cutting edge of design, plant materials, and technique there eventually becomes a time when things need to be freshened up. A client that I have worked with since 1987 called for just such an update. They removed the deck in their yard and were looking to relandscape the area.

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Small’s Hits The Road

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Benessere Vineyard, Napa Valley CA

Benessere Vineyard, Napa Valley CA

Being located in Valparaiso we are less than thirty miles from both Illinois and Michigan. We commonly work out of state and have completed projects in California, Colorado, Tennessee, and, of course, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. When we do these out of state projects there are a lot more variables to consider. For example, we often have to find raw materials in other state simply because of variations in trucking laws. Thankfully we deal with these issues regularly so it is a matter of organization and orchestration.

While working in nearby states we can just use our crews, tools, plants, and materials. When we work on projects across the country we sometimes need to hire labor, rent tools and machinery, and find plants and materials. In Colorado, we brought two crews out to do the job and rented the machinery. In California we found everything there and completed the job by locating and selecting plants and stone materials from various wholesalers and using a local landscaper and excavator to install everything with Nancy’s direction on site. When we are only designing we can just do the work on site using pencils and paper then convert it to digital back at the hotel.

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Largura Residence

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

largura-residence-01The challenges of this project were grading from front to back without any steps and a need for shade and enclosure. This particular project was developed over a period of one year. A huge commitment for a landscaper and client, but having designed other areas of this property over several previous years we had developed a wonderful working relationship with the client.

Weathered boulders and outcropping were incorporated into the landscaping to create raised planting beds. Mature conifers and specimen trees were installed for privacy and to enclose the yard. A Select flagstone path from the front yard down a gentle slope was installed with a teak bench seating area incorporated midway for the client to rest on and enjoy the view on their way to the lower patio.

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The Armagast Residence

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

the-armagast-residence-01The owners wanted to create a backyard entertainment area for family and friends. Privacy, pool, outdoor kitchen, water features, fire pit, fishing, multiple seating areas and lush, colorful landscape areas were all very important. Crafting this design combined the needs and personal style of the client along with functionality in an aesthetically pleasing space.

Challenges were many. The house is situated on a 1300′ deep lot that is only 110′ wide, with one narrow access to the rear yard. The septic system could not be relocated forcing crews to work around it as well. An existing five acre pond was too shallow to support fish, which the owners wanted to add.

As project manager, we coordinated the installation of the pool, adding a new 400 amp electrical service, subpanels, and larger gas service. We buried thousands of feet of conduit, water lines, gas lines and drainage throughout the property. A gourmet, covered kitchen with built in heaters was built as a focal point to the backyard linking with the architecture of the home. Providing entertainment opportunities, a stereo system and lighting were also included.

the-armagast-residence-02We began by clearing the front of the property. The existing edge of the pond in back was dug out. This provided a place for fish to be added. The clay removed from the pond was reused, by hauling it to the front to raise the grade by three feet. This eliminated the current drainage problem. In addition, 3000 yards of clay were hauled from the site.

The next challenge was to create a waterfall with views from three sides. The design was to have a 60,000 gallon waterfall flow towards the house and another 30,000 gallon waterfall flow to the pond in back. Smaller streams alongside were incorporated as offshoots to the main falls. This created a beautiful multi-sided view from the property, providing unity and balance converging as one.

Landscaping started with the installation of privacy hedges, creating an outdoor room atmosphere. Landscaping plantings were strategically placed to cover pool equipment and pumps used in the running of the waterfalls. Over 300 tons of moss covered boulders were utilized in this project. We also designed and built our own intake stand for the pump screen to keep them off the pond bottom. This prevented debris from entering the falls and streams.


Large evergreens and trees were than planted to create a mature landscape. Unusual specimens such as Sweet Sarah Fir, Walnut Glen Spruce and a variety of Parviflora Pines were used. Hundreds of Sedums filled the nooks and crannies of the boulders and along the stream. As we proceeded, the owners enjoyed each and every project after its completion, swimming in the pool, climbing the waterfall, fishing, volleyball, fires and more…

Small’s Featured in Landscape Contractor Magazine

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Open Space Becomes Hardscape Retreat
By Gregory Harris, LC/DBM

When the owners of Chicago Decking, Inc. wanted to provide their employees with a relaxing open space, they were fortunate to have a blank canvas to work with.

Nancy Marshall of Small’s Landscaping and her team turned the open space into a private retreat complete with a waterfall, fire pit and extensive trees and colorful plantings.

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