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The Best of 2012 Project Features

Project 1
Elegant Backyard Retreat
Scott Cohen Designs

#1: When Scott Cohen of Scott Cohen Designs first encountered this California project, he came face to face with a backyard that had a lap pool with no spa, and concrete that had heaved one inch above the pool. The lot's grading was poor, with steps and trees blocking the flow of traffic through the yard. The homeowners challenged Cohen to create a completely new yard suitable for entertaining and for "backyard vacationing" in style and luxury.

Inside the pavilion, the area features split-level patios to accommodate the swim-up bar. Cohen's wood crew built the pavilion; for support, the structure employs six steel poles with 5-foot deep concrete footings. Workers wrapped the steel posts with decorative precast concrete columns, and then constructed the fireplace using a custom in-house design. The total project took eight months to construct. The putting green consists of two separate levels. The upper level hole spills down to the lower level for the kids. They installed artificial turf set over a sand and gravel base. Client consultation determined the amount of pitch and contouring desired to create the perfect practice green.

Project 2
Outdoor Room With A View
Sandi Fields Landscape and Design

#2: Located in Rolling Hills, California, this Sandi Fields Landscape and Design project was a complete makeover that updated the patios, pool, outdoor living area and included a new putting green and retaining wall. The patio area was previously a grassy-sloped area, which the contractor excavated. After bringing in additional soil and leveling the area, they built the 15x8-foot fire pit sitting area. The fire pit itself measures 3 1/2x4 feet. Workers ran a 65-foot gasline to feed the pit, and then ran electrical to power the fire pit's igniter system. The company then added lava rock as a final touch. The hardscape crew installed more than eight tons of stone on the entire project, which took two months to complete.

Project 3
Hardscapes Help Define Large Estate
Countryside Industries

#3: Wauconda, Illinois-based Countryside Industries is a landscape architect and contractor firm that specializes in residential and commercial landscaping, municipal projects, and landscape management. On this project, Countryside developed the entire site and designed and installed all of the exterior hardscapes.

Building a 13,200 square foot home on one acre of property featuring large grade changes and a septic field on site was challenging for the team at Countryside Industries, Inc., but a generous use of hardscapes helped to transform the once barren lot into a residential masterpiece.

The property, located in suburban Chicago, is in an area that features rolling hills. As a result, the site features 21 feet of grade changes.

Project 4
Permeable Patio
Grant and Power Landscaping

#4: The homeowners of this Glen Ellyn, Illinois project approached Grant and Power Landscaping for a small permeable patio addition, as well as to fix huge drainage issues after the owners learned they were in a flood plain.

The homeowners had exceeded the city's maximum non-permeable limit for their property, so in addition to building a permeable patio, the contractor also removed 100 square feet of driveway and replaced it with landscaping fortified with shredded-bark mulch and mushroom compost. Workers installed 360 feet of 6-inch PVC from the patio area to the backyard to carry the water to the side-yard creek bed. Over that distance, the pipe drops four feet, facilitating gravity feed. They also installed PVC above ground that connects to downspouts and feeds the creek bed as well. Taking two days to complete, the contractor dug out the 75-foot long channel using more than nine tons of boulders and 12 tons of outcropping stone, so water can drain into a retention area.

Project 5
Lighting Up Texas
Starshine of Texas

#5: This StarShine Of Texas lighting project was completed in six weeks, and boasts more 160 lighting fixtures fed by 1,500 feet of 12/2 cable and powered by five transformers, The contractor lit the home's columns and a wall fountain using 6.5-watt, 24-degree LED retrofit Cast well lights. To run the wiring for the fixtures, workers core drilled and performed horizontal boring under the hardscape. To up-light the home's facade, the crew installed FX 6.5-watt, 60-degree LED retrofit lamp bullet lights. The Italian cypress (right photo) was up-lit with a 35-watt, 12-degree MR-16 halogen. The soft light throughout the front of the bed comes from two Cast wall-wash lights with 24-watt wedge base lamps. To highlight the architectural details of the second floor, workers mounted two Compact wall-wash lights with 20-watt bi-pin (G4 base) lamps to the roof.

Project 6
Great Illumination
Small's Landscaping & Landscape Illumination

#6: Small's Landscaping & Landscape Illumination's 10-acre project in Dyer, Indiana was a massive endeavor that completely redefined the entire project, including two massive stream systems with waterfalls, a dredged 5-acre lake, a new pool, hardscape, thousands of plants and an extensive lighting system.

The contractor installed 13 lights in this area. The front of the house is illuminated using six Kichler 4.5-watt LED low-voltage directional spots. Lighting for the ground cover area comes from Kichler 4.5-watt Hammered Roof Path lights spaced 15 feet apart. Both lighting sets get their power from a Kichler Professional Series 300-watt transformer located on the right side of the house. The large pots by the front walkway were accented with Kichler 4.5-watt LED 60-degree directional spots. Workers planted Japanese Maples, upright and weeping, Hicks yew hedges along the house, Mazus Reptans ground cover and Hackonechloa Aureola grasses in the front yard. The containers were planted with elephant ears and golden potato vines.

Project 7
A Mountain Retreat in Omaha
Foutch Enterprises

#7: Landscape contractor Jake Foutch of Foutch Enterprises made creative use of segmental retaining walls, concrete pavers and natural granite boulders to redefine the backyard of the Pitz residence in Barrington Park, Nebraska. The waterfall, fire features and lighting elements add "wow" appeal, bringing a Colorado-esque backdrop to southeast Nebraska.

Contractor Jake Foutch and his team spent eight weeks and 1,600 man-hours on the award-winning, $130,000 backyard renovation.

Project 8
East Coast Hardscape
Scapes, Inc.

#8: Scapes, Inc. turned a Harwood, Maryland backyard into a hardscape retreat, designed to create a functional and relaxing outdoor living space that the client could enjoy with family and friends.

It took Scapes, Inc. one month and four workers to transform this backyard into a usable hardscape. After pouring in more than 60 tons of CR6 and 15 tons of concrete sand for the base, hardscape specialists laid down more than 1,500 square feet of EP Henry Conventry I pavers.

Project 9
Sustainable Hardscape
Landscape Labor Solutions

#9: This Landscape Labor Solutions project located in Lansing, Michigan features more than 1,100 square feet of permeable hardscape and took three months to complete. Here, the company installed two color blends (Beechwood & Kensington) of interlocking paver stones. Photographed during a rainstorm, the area suffered nine inches of rain in 24-hour period. Because the contractor designed the patios and walkways as a stormwater management system, there was no standing or pooling water on the patios and walkways.

Project 10
Patio Paradise
Dirt Works Landscaping

#10: This Cloverdale, Virginia project offered an open canvas for Dirt Works Landscaping to convert a useless yard into an elegant outdoor living space. When landscape contractor Ian Hensley met with the homeowners, it became clear that the clients liked to entertain guests and would use the outdoor space frequently, regardless of the weather.

This 36x54-foot site offered Dirt Works Landscaping, Inc. a wide-open canvas to apply its design and installation magic.

Project 11
The Great Transformation
Eisler Landscapes

#11: Eisler Landscapes designed and built a waterfall, pool and outdoor living space to replace a barren yard in this Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania project. Challenged with a steep grade, the company had much to deliver in a relatively tight timeframe.

They transformed a steep slope liability into a safe garden walk, complemented by a curving stream and waterfall. The view from pool deck shows the end result of a backyard transformation. The planting area features roses and daylilies; the area is irrigated through 200 linear feet of drip line.

Project 12
Tropical Lighting Get-Away
The Green Scene

#12: This Chatsworth, California project was a short-sale property that was in miserable shape until The Green Scene came in and turned it into a resort-worthy pool paradise. The project's lighting features a combination of line-voltage, low-voltage, LED submersible lights and gas lamps. The palms and planters were up-lit with low-voltage 35-watt brass halogen fixtures placed five feet away from the pool's waterline.

Workers installed three 840-watt stainless steel transformers in the backyard that allow for switch-controlling the different zones in the garden, poolside, Bocce court and dining area. Overall, workers installed more than 1,500 feet of 12/2 twisted pair wire. It includes Pigmy Date Palms, Queen Palms, and the pool's backdrop is giant Birds of Paradise. The contractor hauled the 30-year-old giant bird clump off of a client's property as part of the yard renovation. The hardscape is a combination of Arizona Flagstone and stamped natural gray concrete designed to mimic stone.

Project 13
Kentucky Pool Project
Mink's Landscape Contractors

#13: When the owners of this Ashland, Kentucky project approached Mink's Landscape Contractors, they had a few design goals in mind; namely, to address that the homeowners and their three children love the outdoors and physical activity. Minks set out to design a backyard area to meet the needs and desires of an outdoor lifestyle. And they did just that.

Before planting, workers added sifted topsoil and applied Jon Carloftis Soil and Root fertilizer. They then planted black eyed susans, boxwoods, a clethra and a dwarf nandina. To aid in growth, the plants were sprayed with Jon Carloftis Fruit and Bloom fertilizer; the area is irrigated via Rain Bird mist heads.

Project 14
Mediterranean-Style Outdoor Living
Creative Atmospheres, Inc.

#14: This Mediterranean outdoor living project, located in Turtle Rock (Irvine), California, began when the homeowners decided they wanted a full refurbishment of their 20-year-old backyard. Designer Monday West of Creative Atmospheres, Inc. delivered beyond their expectations. The homeowners are partial to Mediterranean hues and Spanish/Italian design characteristics. As such, West chose this theme for the design basis. The color palette is a mixture of deep navy blues, yellows, and terra cotta.

The fire-pit is made from CMU block and two types of tile, hand-painted Mexican and a coordinating blue. Plant-life surrounding the area is lavandula angustifolia, geranium 'Rozanne' and on the slope, Lonicera or coral honeysuckle.

Project 15
Grand Entrance
Bertog Landscape Company

#15: When the owners of this colonial-style revival home in Winnetka, Illinois first approached the Bertog Landscape Company, they were looking for an outdoor living area designed for entertaining, as well as to redesign the walkways and driveways to de-emphasize the home's service entrance and to focus attention on the more grand front entrance. The homeowners' vision also included entertainment area for casual gatherings, as well as simple plant combinations that did not require heavy maintenance.

2012 In Review

Here we showcase the Top 15 project features of 2012. LC/DBM defines a project feature as an article about a single project from one landscape contraction company. The ranking was based on how many hits a given article received on over the course of the year. According to a LandscapeOnline survey, project feature articles rank as the highest interest level among respondents.

Over the last year, has conducted contractor surveys on many niche areas, including hardscape, lighting, permeable paving, equipment, maintenance, etc. From this, we get a snapshot of the industry, and can recognize and identify industry trends.

No other expenditure impacts a landscape contractor business more than big equipment buys, with the possible exception of labor costs. So, it's important to note what the industry is doing in regards to equipment, as well as what landscape contractors are looking for when they buy equipment.

What contractors list as their top five criteria when purchasing equipment.

Landscape contractors preferred fuels.

The biggest story of the year in regards to fuel was the introduction of E15 ethanol. When asked if this new fuel was impacting their business, contractors reported:

But of those that did say it was impacting their business, the comments can best be summed up by one from's comment section: ''Ethanol (e15) is ruining the performance and longevity of all my small engines. I am constantly having to treat fuel and drain equipment with low utilization. Everything about ethanol is negative. It's government folly.''

Purchasing larger equipment (opposed to renting it) is a sign that landscape contractors are expecting and preparing for increased business in the future.

The top five types of equipment contractors plan to buy in the next two years.

The hardscape niche is a major part of the landscape construction business, so anything that impacts it is of major importance. The most significant story of the last year in the hardscape arena is the increasing use of permeable surfacing.

77 percent of landscape contractors predict an increasing growth of these products.

However, 67 percent of contractors currently install 10 percent or less permeable surfacing when compared to the rest of their hardscape installations. The number one reason contractors cite permeable surfacing as a growth market is stormwater management.

Like most construction sectors, fencing has suffered over the past few years. But forecasters see a turnaround, predicting fencing will increase 2.9 percent per year until 2014. Residential fencing represents the largest fencing niche, and is forecast to account for two-thirds of the expected growth.

What types of fencing landscape contractors
install most.

As for overall sales from installation in 2012, when compared to 2011, landscape contractors reported:

When asked to predict the areas they see most growth potential, landscape contractors reported:

Without a doubt, most contractors see vinyl or other non-wood fencing products as having the most future market penetration.

Landscape lighting is a profitable niche that appears as an add-on to many of the largest and most popular projects we see at Landscape Contractor / DBM magazine. Contractors report that their markup on lighting hardware can range from 10 to 300 percent.

Is lighting design/installation a profit center for your company, or a loss leader?

With advances in low-cost, high-reliability LED lighting product, 2013 could be the right time for landscape contractors to embrace lighting design and installation as a larger part of their business. Many contractor firms keep an electrician on staff to deal with line-level voltage and other installation challenges, or sub-contract with an outside electrician.

Landscape News in 2012
With the economy in slow growth since the official end of the recession in July 2009, we have noticed a trend among small and medium-sized landscape contraction businesses to shift some of their business to maintenance.

This seems logical and is no surprise; homeowners can put off new hardscape, pool installations and other upgrades, but plants grow and need maintaining regardless of the economy.

This trend has increased every year since the recession began in December 2007, but this year we see a marked rise in interest in maintenance related stories being read and researched on

The top 3 (non-feature) articles as viewed online were about turf maintenance, including an article about thatch and how to deal with it, a look at the new crop of faster and more efficient mowers, and a report about the current state of pesticides.

Continuing the trend toward maintenance, the top news stories of 2012 include: Invasive weed stories, several articles on synthetic grass, residential fertilizer bans, plant hardiness zone analysis, invasive insect outbreaks, and drought news. Also, articles concerning fungus and other new plant diseases registered high on the interest list.

The summer drought was one of the biggest stories of the year, with many contractors predicting that 2013 will bring more work, as repairing and planting new landscapes will be needed to fix the damage from 2012's dry, hot weather.

Readers were also interested in any news concerning to E15 ethanol as well. In the November "Green" issue, OPEI's Kris Keiser discussed the challenges his membership faces because of this small-engine killing ethanol blend.

The Election
With the presidential and congressional elections over, the electorate affirmed nothing but the status quo. As a result, most analysts predict a slow economic growth pattern.

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