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Go Play Outside: Fun and Easy DIY Backyard Games

family playing outside Ted lare design and build

If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard or even a patio or deck in Iowa, there are plenty of fun lawn games that you can DIY for some old-fashioned family fun! Stepping out into the yard for some fresh air and a game is a great way to entertain everyone for a little while, and getting outdoors is good for our mental health

Here are a few DIY backyard games you can create from things you may have around the house. Even if you don’t have the exact supplies, get creative. You can probably cobble together some fun games from old crafting supplies or your recycling bin.

DIY Giant Tic Tac Toe

  • Ten large rocks
  • One 12×12″ square board (or cardboard, or lawn paint)
  • Craft paint, or permanent markers 

Draw or paint X’s on 5 of the rocks, and O’s on the other 5. Then draw or paint your tic-tac-toe grid on your board, and play! Tic-tac-toe is easy to scale up in size. If you’ve got some wood cookies, you could use those for pieces and make a larger grid on your lawn. 

Giant Jenga

  • Six 8-foot long 2×4’s
  • Wood glue
  • ½ – ¾ inch plywood for the base
  • Sander & Sandpaper
  • Wood screws
  • Wood stain (optional)
  • Linseed oil (optional)

Jenga has 54 pieces, laid perpendicular to the layer below sets of 3. Since 2×4’s are actually 3 ½ inches wide, you’ll want to cut your 2×4’s into 10 ½ inch lengths.

You’ll want to sand your pieces well; the less friction you have, the better they’ll slide out of the stack. It can also be helpful to slightly round the corners and edges of each block, so they’re less likely to catch. 

If you’d like some visual variation, you can stain some of the blocks in different colors. Wiping each block down with a coat of linseed oil will also help them be a little smoother and help prevent slivers.

Jenga is most stable on a flat surface. If you don’t have a level patio, there are a variety of ways to make a base to play on. You can simply cut a 12×12″ piece of plywood to lay on the ground. Or, you could construct a large box or crate out of plywood that can double as a storage container for the Jenga pieces. 

Bottle Ring Toss

  • Nine or twelve bottles (wine bottles are perfect)
  • Rings (we’ll list a few ways to make some)
  • Twine, yarn, rope
  • Box
  • Spray paint (Optional)

If you’ve got a collection of wine bottles sitting around, turn them into a game! Find a box that they’ll fit nicely inside. A small crate, or a case from wine, or any other medium box will do. If the box has high sides, cut it down so that the edges are level with the top of the bottle labels. 

If you’ve got some spray paint around, you can also paint the bottles for some extra fun! 

How to Make Rings: There are a few different ways to DIY rings. One way is to wrap old embroidery hoops with twine or rope. You can also craft your rings from deconstructed wire coat hangers. Alternatively, you can carefully cut some rings out of stiff cardboard with a craft knife.

Lawn Bowling

  • Five or ten soda bottles
  • Ball (Soccer ball, basketball, or any ball that will roll well and knock the pins down)
  • Paint (optional)

If you’re feeling artsy, remove the labels from your bottles, wash and dry them, then add a layer of gravel, sand, or dirt to weigh them down. You want them to be heavy enough that the wind won’t blow them over, but light enough that they’ll fall pretty easy when a ball hits them. Screw the lids back on tight, and if desired, give them a coat of spray paint or paint fun designs on them with craft paint. 

If you’re going to play on the grass in your backyard, you may want to mow a strip of lawn extra short so that the ball will roll well. You can also play this game in the garage or the driveway!

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While those of us who need to stay home as much as possible, it’s still good to get some fresh air. If you’re stuck at home, spend a little extra time out on your patio or in your yard—now is the perfect chance to focus on some quality time with your family.

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Working with a Landscape Pro- Your Questions Answered

stone walkway Ted lare design and build

When it’s time to consider a new landscaping project, you need to know the basics of how to work with a landscape professional. What is the consultation process? How long will it take? And how much is all of this going to cost? 

Our resident landscape expert Keegan Lare, shares his advice on what to expect when you work with our professional team here at Ted Lare.    

The First Step: The Phone Consultation  

After you call in to start a project, we organize a phone conversation with one of our designers. This typically happens within 24-48 hours of the initial call, depending on what part of the season we’re in. 

During this call, we answer any questions you may have, and we try to get a feel for the projects you’re looking for. If it seems like a solid fit for both sides, then we schedule an on-site consultation at your home or your business if it’s a commercial job. 


Next Steps: The On-Site Consultation

We usually meet for up to an hour to check out your residence and discuss our initial thoughts on your project. 

We charge $300 for consultations in the Des Moines Metro area, but this $300 gets credited back to you if we do the work. Depending on the complexity of the job, we may charge additional design fees to account for some of our design time. This will all be discussed on-site and agreed upon before we move forward. You will also receive that amount back in credit if you decide to carry out the project within the first year.

Most importantly, the on-site consultation is a time for you to ask questions, so don’t be shy!  


Common Questions during the Consultation 

Here are some of the questions you can expect us to discuss with you when we visit your property for the first time. 


What are your goals? 

In general, we like to ask homeowners what their top 3 goals are for their outdoor spaces. These goals help us focus on what is most important to you and allows us to develop a plan that meets your aspirations.

How do you live? 

We’ll also ask for general information about your lifestyle. For example, how big are the gatherings you expect to have on your new patio? What does a typical weekend look like for you? Do you love the sun, or prefer to hang out in the shade?


What are your tastes? 

Any images that show your taste in materials (patios, walls, etc.) always help us get an idea of what you like. Providing any previous plans for the property also helps us save time creating a base plan from scratch. 


What is your budget? 

Discussing a budget range is very helpful so that we know any limitations on the project. We’ll generally give options with different price points, as clients find it beneficial to have a few choices.  


Information Gathered for Design 

When at your site, we capture all the data we need to create an initial design. This includes several photos of the yard and home, critical measurements of the space, and information on accessibility, powerlines, and obstacles. 

This process can be quick or rather extensive, depending on the existing conditions of the location. New homes without a lot of previous installations are easy to measure and capture. Older homes with many existing hardscapes and plantings can take longer to document. 

Design Timeline 

We try to respond with design ideas and a preliminary budget within two weeks of the first meeting, but this time frame depends on the complexity of the project. If there are many construction elements to design and price out, it may take longer.  


Moving Forward 

After we provide you with an initial design, the decision is in your hands on how to move forward and set a schedule. Often there are different phases of work to choose from, such as tree removal, garden preparation, installation of hardscapes, etc. We are happy to do it all at one time or phase it in over a few years. Usually, it makes sense to do as much construction as possible in one trip to limit the cleanup expenses involved in multiple trips over several years. 

Once the project scope of work is agreed upon, we work to schedule the project in the near future.  If it is a simple planting, it may only be a few weeks before we can complete the work. If the project involves a lot of construction, it might be a few months before we can start a project. Once we start a job, we see it through to completion.  Our install crews are some of the best around and you will love working with them.

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The landscape consultation process is often that simple. For a small fee and in short order, you can have professional designers guide you towards your ideal renovation. If you have any further questions on the landscaping process, or would like to start a project, please don’t hesitate to contact Ted Lare Design & Build. We would love to hear from you!

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How to Get Started With Backyard Birding: The Basics

If you want to get started with birdwatching, or “birding,” in your backyard, you’ll need a few basic things; food, water, and shelter. It really is that simple. However, knowing how to use those tools to attract birds is a little more involved. 

There are over 150 types of birds that are common to Des Moines. Many of them overwinter in Iowa, and they would be happy to stop by your backyard bird buffet. It’s a joyful moment for beginner “birders” when you start to recognize the visitors that frequent your property. On top of the warm feeling of getting to know your winged neighbors, you can also feel good about your role in their survival. All it takes is filling up feeders and refreshing their water now and then. 

Common Iowa backyard birds we’ll see in winter include chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, cardinals, mourning doves, blue jays, finches, titmice, and woodpeckers. Dark-eyed juncos, sparrows, and purple finches come south to Iowa for the winter. Occasionally, redpolls, grosbeaks, and pine siskins will make an appearance as well. So, how can you get all these cute feathery creatures to visit your yard? Here’s all you need to know to start attracting some feathered friends. 

birds at bird feeder

Food for Your Backyard Birds

Naturally, one of the main things that will attract birds to your yard is bird food—but don’t just grab the first bag of birdseed or the first feeder you come across! Different birds like different types of food. Some of the most popular things are nyjer seed, sunflower seeds, insects, peanuts, suet, berries, and fruits. 

Birds don’t like stale food, so if they’re not eating what you’ve put out, trying replacing it with fresh food. 

Setting up a Feeding Station

When you’re setting up a bird feeding station in your yard, you’ll want to make sure you choose a good location. There are three guidelines for perfect placement:

  1. Protected: somewhere that’s protected from the wind, and that will get some sun, the south side of your house is best.
  2. Safe Exits: birds need a safe escape, and somewhere to hide, so within 10-15 feet of a tree or shrubs is ideal.
  3. Visible: If you’re going to enjoy these birds, make sure you can easily see your feeding station from your windows.

Lots of birds don’t like to share their outdoor bird feeders, and some prefer different types of feeders, so you may want to have a few different styles. A tall round feeder with big enough holes for peanuts will be popular with woodpeckers. Something with edges to sit on and a roof over the top will be popular with sparrows. A skinny feeder with a perch by each feeding hole will be popular with chickadees. Some birds also prefer to eat from the ground, so you could provide a tray underneath your feeders that will catch dropped seed for ground feeders. You can also spread seed on an old stump for some of your birds. Suet can be hung in cages from trees.

Most backyard birds are generally ok with being reasonably close to buildings, so you can keep the feeders within 10-15 feet of the house for best visibility. There are bird feeder stands available that allow you to hang up to 4 feeders from the same post, offering lots of choices for your bird friends. 

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Offering Birds a Water Source

Like us, birds need to drink water, even in winter. Also, it’s a myth that birds will have a bath, soak their feathers, and then freeze to death on horrible icy days. Birds are smarter than that; they know how to keep themselves safe and warm.

Birdbaths are easy enough to maintain in summer, but keeping open water through the winter is a little more tricky. A heated dog dish is one of the most affordable options for keeping water available. Or, you can get a heater disk to add to an existing birdbath

The water shouldn’t be more than 1-2 inches deep, so you’ll want to find a reasonably large rock to place in the middle of the dish. Many birds will be happy standing on the rock, but some prefer twigs or branches. If you have spruce boughs available, you can place some of those around the outside edge of the water dish, so little birds have somewhere to sit.

It’s important to make sure the water is clean. Because birds tend to relieve themselves wherever they are, you’ll want to clean out the water dish and refill it with fresh water about once a week.

bird on branch

Somewhere to Shelter

The best backyard bird garden will have lots of places for birds to take shelter. A variety of shrubs and trees, evergreens and deciduous, will make your yard inviting for birds all year round. Shrubs and trees with berries—like dogwood, chokeberry, winterberry, hawthorn, and holly—are popular with a wide variety of birds. 

If you’ve got birdhouses up in your yard, you can clean them out for winter, but don’t put them away. Some birds will still use them to take cover through extra frigid nights.

Dealing with Squirrels

If you’ve got trees and shrubs and bird feeders, there’s a good chance you have squirrels. They can be a pest, but they’re also not the worst creature on the planet. There are plenty of excellent squirrel-proof feeders on the market that can make it more difficult for them to steal bird food. But, since squirrels are very intelligent, they’re likely to figure out a way eventually. 

Generally, the best and most humane solution to keep squirrels out of your bird feeders is to let them have their own feeding station somewhere else in your yard. A cheap feeder stocked with nyjer or sunflower seeds will keep them busy and mostly away from your bird feeding station.

image of bird sticker on window

The Window Problem

It’s always sad when a bird hits the window. However, there are easy solutions to keep them from mistaking your glass for open skies. Reflective stickers or tape are great options, but you’ll find more products to prevent bird-to-window collisions at our garden center.

Once you get started with backyard birding you’ll enjoy observing these delightful creatures all winter. When your feeders are all set up, make sure to keep your camera or phone handy—you never know who might visit your bird buffet!

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Creating Shade

It’s no accident that many of us wistfully imagine a shady sanctuary, relaxing under the leafy boughs of a tree. The image of a perfect afternoon spent under the cool shadow of a tree has been romanticized by poets and painters for centuries. We can’t deny that there’s something nostalgic about letting our minds drift off underneath a beautiful shady tree – and what better location than from the convenient security of your own backyard?

When you think of creating your own backyard oasis, you aren’t limited to giant trees with decades of growth. There are some fantastic options that provide the shade and elegance that you want, some of which can fit into the corners of even the smallest suburban lots. Here are some of our favorites that you might have seen in your neighbors’ yards:

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors


Best Large Shade Trees for Iowa (over 30 ft tall and wide)

Ted’s Pick: Swamp White Oak

Tall, mature trees are destined to become landmarks in the neighborhood. Thanks to its faster rate of growth (compared to other oaks), Swamp White Oak reaches its mature height sooner, bathing everything around it in cool shade. 

Swamp White Oak is also well-suited to the landscape because of its high tolerance for urban soils. It’s tough, and yet also ruggedly handsome. The thick, straight trunk has attractive peeling, flat-ridged bark. Its leaves spend the spring and summer with dark green surfaces and white, fuzzy undersides. In the fall, the color matures into lovely shades of yellow and golden brown.

Other large shade trees to try:

fiddle-leaf fig plant


Best Medium-Sized Shade Trees (around 30 ft tall)

Ted’s Pick: Hot Wings Tartarian Maple 

It’s hard to beat a maple when it comes to fall color. What sets Hot Wings apart is the presence of red tones before the fall begins. During the summer, the branches bear clusters of bright red samaras that look almost like fruit or flowers against the brilliant green foliage. In the fall, the leaves take on a gorgeous display of red, orange, and yellow tones.

A fast-growing specimen, Hot Wings Tartarian Maple grows “out” as much as it grows tall, which gives it an attractive rounded habit at maturity. On top of offering plenty of shade and color, this maple is also very cold-hardy and has no trouble surviving a Des Moines winter.

Other medium shade trees to try:

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fiddle-leaf fig plant


Best Compact Shade Trees for Patio Areas or Corners of Home (under 30 ft)

Ted’s Pick: Serviceberry

There’s so much to love about serviceberry trees. Not only are they wonderful choices for adding three-season interest, they produce delicious edible berries similar in color and flavor to blueberries. The Autumn Brilliance cultivar is especially beautiful, with its intense orange-red fall foliage.

In the early spring, the serviceberry blooms profusely with crisp white flowers. As spring fades into summer and the flowers are replaced with berries, you’ll notice your yard becoming a lot more popular with the local birds!

Serviceberries are medium growers, which allows them to look well-established after a few years while remaining compact.

Other compact shade trees to try:

These trees are great options for people looking to create shade in their backyard landscape. They provide a relaxing respite for you and your plants, soaking up the sun in any area where you’d rather not. Provided a little bit of space, some good soil, and simple regular upkeep, even a modest tree can be a practical addition to your backyard that gives back year after year. 

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Growing Irises


There’s no mystery in why irises are the showy crown jewel of many people’s gardens. Their beautiful, fan-shaped petals delicately drape against flashy green foliage. Although many of us picture the iconic blue, indigo, and yellow foliage of a classic iris, the name “Iris” is actually from the Greek word for rainbow, a testament to just how much variety can be found in these plants. With so many colors and such phenomenal foliage and blooms, there is a statement-making iris for anyone.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Growing Irises: What are Tubers?
Irises grow a little different than many of the other plants in your garden. While you can technically grow them from seed like other flowers, the most recommended and direct way to get irises for your garden is from bulbs.

Irises grow from rhizomes, a horizontal stem that is rounded and swollen underground. Many gardeners are familiar with tubers in foods that they eat, like potatoes, or yams. Irises emerge by shooting roots and stems from a tuber.

Planting Iris Tubers
Irises prefer lots of sunshine to fuel their dainty, show-stopping blooms, so they are best planted in mid or late summer in a spot that receives lots of sun in a day. At least half a day of full, hot sun is important for them to grow and look their best. Plant each tuber about 12” apart so that each bloom has the space that it needs for good air circulation. The more sun and air it gets, the more it will shine in your garden.

Take special care to protect Iris rhizomes from moisture and rot to have a successful showing of these blooms. Choose well-draining soil or amend yours with sand to make sure that the roots don’t sit in water, which can damage them.

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Steps to Plant Irises

  • Check your tuber to make sure that it is healthy. Avoid signs of rot like soft pots, smell, or a hollow feeling. It’s disappointing to put the effort into growing a beautiful Iris to only have a crop of nothing.
  • Dig a wide and shallow hole (about 10” wide and 4” deep) in well-draining soil
  • Set the tuber in the hole on its side, with the roots facing downwards. Fan out the roots around the tuber.
  • Fill in the hole, but leave the top of the tuber slightly exposed so that it has access to the sun and air it needs to stay dry.
  • Water thoroughly after planting, but afterwards only water occasionally to avoid rot.
  • Don’t mulch, but consider sprinkling some low-nitrogen fertilizer on top.

With a bit of patience and regular upkeep, you’ll have a gorgeous bloom that is ready to impress!

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Caring for Irises
If you take the time to be meticulous about planting the tuber, the care for a growing iris is actually very simple. Water lightly and keep them exposed to lots of sunshine and these plants do all of the heavy lifting for you.

Blooming irises are a blessing in your landscape, with complex and delicate blooms that catch the eye. Appreciate them in your garden or cut them and bring them inside—these gorgeous flowers are a treat that commands your attention no matter where you place them.

At the end of the season when the blooming is done, resist the urge to trim and clean them up right away. Leaving the foliage intact allows the plant to continue to gather sun and get the nutrition it needs to survive the winter and bloom again in the spring. You can cut the flowering stem right down to the tuber if you want, but leave the leaves as long as you can – you’re investing in your future Irises!

Tubers might be a little strange and intimidating when you’re first working with them, but they actually have the same needs that most of your garden plants do. Provided you care for the tubers properly, you’ll soon enjoy these magnificent flowers all summer long.

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Finding Relaxation with Landscaping

Relaxation in Landscaping

Home is where the heart is, and in our incredibly busy lives, it can be important for the heart and soul to take a little bit of time to relax and enjoy our surroundings. We put lots of effort into creating a home that is cozy, inviting, and comfortable to live in, but we can benefit just as much from a stunning outdoor space where function and design work together. Whether you’re looking to sit back and relax in your backyard or enjoy a meal al fresco with friends, there are a lot of different ways to create a zen space for your enjoyment just outside your door.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Finding Relaxation in your Yard
Creating a relaxing and peaceful location in your own yard isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of question. Different things meet the unique vision that each homeowner has for their outdoor spaces, so the perfect landscape might look different for everyone. Our landscape experts are a great resource, whether you have something specific in mind or if you need some help finding what you want. Not only can we help to tailor your backyard to your relaxation needs, but we can help every step of the way to realize your dream.

Outdoor lifestyle relaxation comes in all shapes and sizes, from tiny projects that require minimal changes to your yard to a full landscape redesign. Here are some of the most popular projects in the Iowa area:

Starting Small – Little Additions
Sometimes all you need to relax is a tiny change to what you have! For those that love their home landscaping now and are looking for a simple change to give them the right place to cut loose, installing a luxurious hammock or even a fire pit can be all you need. Starting simple is a great way to introduce yourself and your family to more outdoor living – by adding a small change one piece at a time, you add each modification incrementally so your backyard slowly becomes a personal oasis.
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Relaxation in Landscaping

A Sensory Backyard Experience
Many of us would complain that we simply spend too much of our time plugged in and on-the-go. Between all of our screen time, driving around, working and being connected all the time, it can be overwhelming. Having a little spot of heaven to relax often means letting go of tension and changing it up so that we can breathe a little easier. Nowhere is better than our gardens to take a break from our busy lives.

Filled with luscious colors and textures, our gardens are stunning to look at. Fortunately, the experience doesn’t end there. Our backyards treat us to a variety of delicious fragrances and gentle sounds as we settle in with a good book. The relaxing qualities of our gardens don’t have to be accidental – you can optimize the relaxing qualities of your garden by choosing plants, landscaping, and decor that offer more for your nose, ears, touch, and eyes. Choose plants in your favorite colors, textures, and scents. Add some treats for your ears with windchimes and water features for a space you’ll love to escape to.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Water Features
Taking the relaxing auditory experience of your yard to the next level, water features are one of the most popular additions to outdoor landscaping to promote relaxation. Whether you want to add a little fountain close to a seating area or are looking to invest in a backyard pond or waterfall, the sound of water flowing has an instantly relaxing effect – and the variety of water features available means that there is a style to match any yard.

Water features range from low to high maintenance, but they reward you with a positive effect on your mental state. Water features benefit the rest of your garden, too! Your water feature benefits your plants by increasing ambient humidity, allowing your plants to share in the relaxation.

Landscaping with Relaxation in Mind
By designing your landscape with relaxation in mind, you’ll quickly find yourself spending more and more time outdoors, lounging and soaking up the good vibes. It’s important to find a  careful balance between including the plants and features that you love, and creating a space that is low-maintenance enough that you actually have time to enjoy it! Our landscaping experts are seasoned pros at finding this balance for you and suggesting the best materials and style for your home. We love creating spaces that people actually want to spend time in, and we take the stress out of making those dream designs happen.

A relaxing space to forget the stresses of your day is a treat that everyone deserves. Whether you create an entire outdoor living room, or simply put down a pool lounger on

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Container Garden Inspiration

container garden inspiration

Container Garden Inspiration

The Ted Lare Look

Gardening is constantly evolving, which is a gift to us gardeners that want to change things up and keep up with the latest new idea. Every year the whole gardening process starts again, with planning, planting, nurturing, and finally the beauty of your efforts in full bloom. Every spring we get the choice of which classics we want to hang onto for another year, and what new styles we’re ready to embrace! Although flower beds are nice, containers are where true creativity has the chance to flow.

Containers for Any Home:
Containers can work for anyone from a tiny apartment space with mere square feet on the balcony to rural homesteads with acres of land. They’re the perfect place to experiment without the larger commitment of planting in beds. Best of all, they act like throw pillows for your landscape, accenting here and there to frame the rest of your garden design. As such pivotal pieces in your backyard repertoire, it’s worth taking some time to design what goes into them.

Creating a Container Design:
Setting a great foundation is vital to the success of your container garden, so taking a little time to consider the details before you start is important. While these gardens aren’t as high-maintenance as your traditional garden beds, a bit of thought is what takes your container from “nice” to “stunning.” If you want your designs to be the envy of your neighborhood, start by considering the “3 P’s:”

Prepping – Choose the details wisely, starting with your planter. You’ll want something made with durable material, holes for drainage in the bottom, and the right size to give your plant’s roots the space they need to develop. Once you’ve selected the perfect container for your logistical needs (and aesthetic), use some high-quality sterile potting soil to get started.

Planning – Due to the size of your containers, your plants are going to be growing close together. It might seem odd, but this is part of the appeal! It gives them the unbeatable intensity that makes them look so fantastic as accents in your yard! Growing so close means that you’ll want to match plants with similar needs together so they can share the same sun exposure, fertilizer, and watering. Also, consider the shape of the plants and how they fit together. You might choose a tall, statement-making “thriller” as the centerpiece, something with a mounding habit to be the “filler,” and something trailing that adds even more height to your container as the “spiller.” Arrange them all from tallest to shortest from the middle outwards, so you can see and appreciate all the plants and they all receive the sun they deserve.

Planting – Once your container is prepped and planned, it’s time to re-pot your transplants or plant your seeds and give them enough water to get started. Establish a schedule of watering, fertilizing, and maintaining your gorgeous plants and enjoy your growing season of fabulous growth and your design simply glowing.

If you aren’t sure what to plant, there are tons of different looks you can recreate! A quick Google or Pinterest search is bound to turn up some dazzling looks that you can copy or use as inspiration to start. Or you can take a look at some of the expertly curated recipes we’ve put together on our site. We love building our containers as we shop, choosing one plant that we fall in love with and simply can’t go without, and structuring the rest of our container look around that.

The possibilities with container gardens are endless. Here are some ideas for what you can do with your container that ranges from functional to extravagant:

Vegetable Container Gardens:
Can you imagine picking your entire salad from one tiny container? Vegetables like tomato, celery, onion, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, and peppers can all be grown together! Choose your salad staples and grow them within grazing distance of the kitchen for the freshest produce all summer, like your own private produce aisle in your backyard! Tuck some marigolds into the container for a pretty boost that does some heavy lifting, repelling pests.

Herb Container Gardens:
Herbs are the original container crop, as they’re hardy enough to thrive just about anywhere. Think of your normal spice rotation when you pick your herbs so that you can plant what you use the most of. Your herbs will thrive the more you pull from them for seasoning! Some of our container favorites are cilantro, thyme, mint, basil, rosemary, and oregano. The texture of these leafy plants is delightful to look at and you’ll be treated to a heavy herb perfume every time you walk by.

Flower Container Gardens:
This is the classic aesthetic-driven look for containers and we can see why. With thousands of varieties to choose from in millions of combinations, it’s yours to play with the color, texture, style, and look of a flower container. To keep the options simple, we find that the best containers work with about three species, in three different sizes, in three different but related colors. That way you have quite the array of visual effect without getting overly complicated. Try matching flowers to something you fall in love with at the store, or pick up something in one of the year’s trendiest colors or styles for something that is cutting-edge and trendy.

When your containers are established, the options that they hold for your garden are endless. Feel free to move and relocate to refresh your look, and enjoy a patch of intense blooming and life wherever it’s most convenient for you! Containers are the perfect blending of style, convenience, and personal touch. They’re a staple for any backyard, and their flexibility means that there’s something perfect out there for everyone!

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Specimen Boulders, Outcropping Stones & Stones to Add Character

Specimen Boulders and Outcropping Stones

The best things in life are worth working for, and we don’t hesitate to make sure we have the perfect outdoor spaces to enjoy that are tailored to our exact needs. We pour lots of work into the design and aesthetic of our homes and gardens, and a lot of our energy is focused on creating a lush and thriving garden space to enjoy. We all want our yards to be an outdoor escape within the comfort of our own fence, a gorgeous living sanctuary to enjoy those precious moments when life slows down.

While it makes sense to focus on vegetation, hardscape – the non-living elements of your backyard design – contribute almost as much as our favorite plants. Rock and stone are the perfect contrasting element to vegetation that make our gardens look truly unique, adding both aesthetic appeal and function.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Specimen Boulders and Rock Gardens:
The best designs use elements of contrast and space to make the stars of the piece really stand out. Using hardscaping is a great way to incorporate different shapes, textures, and colors that plants can’t offer. By adding these additional elements to your garden, you can elevate the appearance of your whole yard.

Hardscaping is just as flexible as your favorite plants, and you can use it in a variety of ways that perfectly suit the style and function of your outdoor space. Rocks can be big statement centerpieces, functional structure elements, or even add reliable intrigue to areas that your plants might struggle to flourish in. The possibilities are nearly endless and entirely customizable to your exact needs. Here are some of the most popular design elements in hardscaping:

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Large boulders that offer unique shapes can add character to your garden while anchoring your outdoor design with a central focal point. A large specimen boulder provides natural structure for the rest of the garden to follow. Complement boulders by surrounding them with a rock or flower garden.

Smaller rocks make the perfect fillers to make the most of every square inch of your landscaping. Have fun piling them around other objects, making a fire pit, or fitting them directly into your garden plan. As smaller items, you even have the flexibility to revise your garden style and move them around year to year for a refreshed design. You can even experiment with matching your stones to the accent colors of your house for a coordinated look.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Outcropping Stones and Retaining Walls:
Sturdiness and stability are some of the first things that come to mind when we think of stone in our garden landscape. As the anchors in our yard, it makes sense to use stone as foundational elements in your landscape design.

Outcropping stones are large, rugged stones that are designed perfectly for stacking. They’re best used to create beautiful retaining walls and stone steps that are the perfect marriage of stunning style and fabulous function. Use them as a unique way to line your landscape, or mark the boundaries of your property with them – their natural beauty is the perfect way to achieve manicured lines in your landscape design without sacrificing the look of organic materials.

Retaining walls are not only about creating clean lines and style on your property, but they help to prevent erosion and sliding soil, which can drastically change the structure of your home and yard. Retaining walls are ideal for people in hilly areas who are fighting gravity to keep their landscape designs together, but are also useful as borders on vegetable gardens and flower beds. Try pairing pale stones with dark foliage and mulch, to catch the eye and highlight your favorite plants.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Rock Mulch:
The perfect thing about using rock in the garden is how useful stone can be in addition to all of the aesthetic benefits. One of the best examples of this is using rock mulch, in which attractive stones provide exceptional drainage for arid-climate plants such as cacti, succulents. Rock mulch is also the cure for rock gardens struggling with water diversion and drainage.

While organic mulch needs to be replaced with each season to keep your garden in top condition, rock mulch doesn’t decompose and won’t require the seasonal chore of changing it. Use a weed barrier under your mulch to suppress unwanted plants to keep your stonework looking clean and polished all year, every year.

Filling your entire yard with plants can sound exciting, but the maintenance can be absolutely overwhelming. For those that prefer to focus their efforts towards making their favorite plants look stellar, or even those with an eye for design that want to add some texture to their landscaping, rocks can be a great choice. Attractive stones and boulders not only require less maintenance, but they’re a stunning and ruggedly beautiful addition to any home.

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Landscaping Essentials for Building a New House

Landscaping Essentials for Building a New House

Homes are where we let dreams happen. A new home comes with a new start, and a new chance for your surroundings to reflect your family’s style. Home is the place we go back to every day, where we build our futures, and where we feel safest – it makes sense that we’d want to shape them to fit us and our needs.

New homes can also be overwhelming. With so much hope and expectation, it can be tough to know where to start. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no rush. There’s a lot to be enjoyed about moving into your new home, and you don’t want to rush through the milestones. You don’t need to go from bare dirt to a prize winning garden in one month. Setting goals is important, but so is the process.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Getting Started with New Landscaping:

As you make plans for the construction of your new home, it is important to also think about the outdoor spaces as well.  As you select the size and layout of your home, think about how much space is left on the lot and how you want to shape the outdoors of your home. Think about the activities you want enjoy and how your new yard is going to accommodate them.  If you like to play sports in the backyard or are entertaining the idea of a pool area, then you want to create or preserve a large level lawn area for these activities.

Here are some general questions you can think about as you plan the build of your new home:

  1. What direction do I want the backyard and frontyard to face? Think about shade and sun, wind direction, and the existing views at different lots you may be looking at.
  2. Do I want the backyard to be shady or sunny?
  3. Will there be enough room on the sides of the home for lawn equipment to access the backyard?
  4. Will we want a privacy fence in the backyard?
  5. Are there views from the home you want to preserve?
  6. Are there other views you want to hide or screen with plantings?
  7. What size of patio or deck do you need?  Consider everyday activities with family and other occasions where you might want more space?
  8. What outdoor functional features do you want to include or plan for in the future? (firepit, outdoor kitchen, pool areas, shade structures, additional patio space)

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Spend a little time with your family talking about all of your wants and dreams for your new outdoor spaces included with your new home.  Then spend a little time prioritizing these different items on your list. Similar to the indoors of your home, you may need to trim some items off the list as budgets are developed for your new landscape construction.

As you get started building your new home, you will want to get a reputable Landscape Designer involved during the building process.  Our design team is the perfect resource for any new homeowner looking to get started. We’ll help you navigate the planning, design, and execution stages to guide you towards your dream yard. If you are looking for a truly unique design, try to get a designer involved early in the building process as you are budgeting for all of your expenses.  We can help with generating ideas for your outdoor spaces and shaping your own ideas into conceptual designs for construction.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Steps to Landscaping your New Home:

It can be overwhelming to landscape your entire home.  Here are the steps we recommend to prioritize your new home landscaping.

  1. Budget for Sod and Irrigation
  2. Assess how much you want to spend on the new landscaping for your home.
  3. Pick a Landscape Designer to work with and obtain Estimates for Hardscapes (pool, patio essentials, retaining walls, paths, etc.), Tree Plantings, and Planting Beds.
  4. Review estimates for proposed work to see what fits your budget.
  5. Revise hardscape and planting designs to fit your initial install budget.
  6. Continue to refine the design and material choices as construction approaches

We recommend trying to get as much of the heavy construction installed upfront, such as patios and retaining walls, during the initial home construction. These items are much easier and less costly to install before your lot is sodded.

Tree plantings are also nice to get started early as well, as they will take a while to grow into large shade trees.  Other than that, the front planting will most likely be required by your development. Hardscapes, Front landscaping, and Tree plantings are the areas to focus on first. Other items are easy to take care of down the road.  

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Preparing for New Plantings & Sod:

A vibrant and beautiful garden is impossible without good soil, and setting a good foundation is a great investment in making your gardening and yard maintenance easier for years to come. With a new home you’ve got a great opportunity to set this foundation – without any landscaping in place you can address your soil before you get started with anything else.

Some developers try to cut corners by leaving you with very little black soil, scraping it off and leaving a frustrating and unworkable amount for you by the time you move in. As you sign contracts with your home builder, ask questions about black soil depths in the lot and what is expected after the final build. The deeper the black soil the better, as you will have to water your lawn less and any new plants will thrive in black soil, compared to compacted clay. Four inches of black soil is the absolute minimum you’ll need for a healthy lawn, but of course more is better and even required for things like gardens and flower beds.

Even if you’re confident you’ve received the promised top soil, it can be a good idea to supplement additional black soil while everything is exposed, especially for areas you plan to plant during construction or later down the road. A full dump truck of black dirt spread across your front foundation will make a big difference to your future plantings installed with your new landscaping.  We recommend having 12” of black soil for planting bed areas if possible.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Landscaping Design for your New Home:

The toughest exercise in self-restraint can be planning your hardscaping and waiting until you have a confident idea of what you’d like your yard to look like before you start laying down permanent fixtures.

Our landscape experts are the best source of knowledge to help set your plans and designs in stone. We can help you through the entire process, from preliminary planning and conceptual design all the way through final construction.  All of our designers have years of experience and the creative vision to help you build the new home of your dreams. Our detailed plans will let us help you do it right the first time. By taking the time to do it right, you can make the most of your opportunity to design a perfectly-customized outdoor space. When you are ready to start planning the backyard of your dreams, get in touch with your design team to get started.

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Landscape Design Trends: Covered Patio Areas & Pergolas

Covered Patio Areas & Pergolas

“Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be.” 
– Gossip Girl

Some people may have a fondness for rainy days, but wet weather can get in the way of enjoying your backyard. A rainy picnic is a classic frustration that has pushed covered areas to be an outdoor patio essential and make them one of the top of current landscaping trends.

This is all about lifestyle. If you find yourself wanting to spend more time enjoying your own backyard, this is how to make it happen. Imagine being able to get outside earlier in the spring, stay later into the fall, and even grill in the rain.

Why a Covered Patio?

A covered patio can be built as an extension of your home, or as a separate structure out in your yard.  As counterintuitive as it may sound, we cover our backyard space because we love to be outdoors. A covered patio opens up so many new opportunities to enjoy your time at home outside more often:

Extend the Year: Iowa isn’t quite a tropical oasis, and our harsher weather leaves us treasuring our fleeting summers. With a covered patio, your year is extended. Early spring and late fall become part of your outdoor living and entertaining season, and your summer can include protection from unpleasant weather and hot afternoon sunshine. 

Amenities: Covered patios spaces are perfect spots for outdoor kitchens, hot tubs, fire places, and outdoor TV setups. 

Protection: We are used to needing to protect ourselves and our outdoor space from rain, snow, and UV rays. With a covered patio, however, you won’t need to run outside to cover the patio furniture at the first sign of rain and you can feel free to leave your books outside without worry. 

Resale: It doesn’t take much to cover a patio, but by essentially adding another room to your house, your resale value will improve dramatically.

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A covered patio is an extension of your indoor space, usually sharing at least one wall with your house. A pergola is a structure that shades the seating area below it, but does not provide shelter from rain. The most common type of pergola is constructed from cedar wood. Alternative and more modern materials may include steel or aluminum.  

Typically, a pergola will have a sturdy post and beam wood frame that is covered with additional wood rafters for shade. Recently, more material options have been introduced, such as fabric shade sails or adjustable aluminum louvers. The end result is a shaded and protected area that still remains open to the rest of your yard. It’s the perfect spot for picnics, reading, or entertaining. Imagine your own personalized version with flowering vines, or maybe with a hot tub for entertaining. If you’re a romantic, imagine a freestanding pergola for a secluded corner of the yard, perfect for quiet time at home. If you are an entertainer, imagine a modern gazebo, complete with an outdoor kitchen and big screen TV for weekend parties. A pergola or covered patio is all about taking the outdoor lifestyle of your dreams and making it your reality.

You can do almost anything with a covered outdoor patio or pergola. We can customize any space to suit your family and lifestyle. When we are done with your backyard, you will not believe you lived without it for so long.