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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Creating Your Personal Outdoor Space

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014


Big or small, inexpensive or extravagant; creating your outdoor space is an investment in your home and your peace of mind. The whole point of creating an outdoor space is to more easily spend time outside in the fresh air. There have been numerous studies depicting the health benefits of being outside. Not only are you getting healthy outdoors, but having a nice outdoor living area helps bring your friends and family together to socialize.

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Earth’s Life Blood

Thursday, July 11th, 2013


Nothing that lives on this third rock from the sun can survive without water. Water is the one thing that we all have in common. We can’t live without it and when we don’t have it we lose our minds. Perhaps this is why water features in landscaping are so calming. It must be some subconscious understanding between our mind and the earth. Whatever causes the calming effect, it can be achieved with a water feature in your landscape.

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The Sound of Silence

Thursday, July 11th, 2013


I love to sit in on my patio surrounded by the garden I have crafted over the years. After a long day of work with the computer beeping, the phone ringing, and helping my clients and my team make it through the day, all I want to do is hear nothing. The best ‘nothing’ in my life comes from the sounds my garden makes. Sound isn’t often considered when we think about a garden. It takes a back seat to the more obvious sensations of sight and scent.

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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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What? A Pondless Waterfall

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Who has ever heard of a pondless waterfall? They are an alternative for the water garden lover. How many times have you hemmed and hawed about getting a pond? Perhaps you have thought, “I don’t want a pond because of standing water”, “I have a small child and think it is too dangerous”, or “I don’t want to take care of fish.” A pondless waterfall is a substitute for those who may be anxious about getting a pond.


Basically, it is just another way to create a waterfall and stream without the traditional holding pond. Instead, a deep hole is dug and water cubes are installed. The cubes provide a reservoir so that the pump has enough water to pump at all times. The hole is then packed with rocks and gravel and finally filled with water. The water is then circulated from beneath the rocks and gravel by a pump that sits at the bottom of the hole, pumping it to the top to the water rock or waterfall where it is re-circulated into the reservoir. Since the water level never pools up above the level of the rocks and gravel, it gives the appearance of a pondless waterfall.

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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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