Retaining Walls: An Expert Design Element

In a previous post, we detailed the practical benefits of having a retaining wall installed. These practical benefits—erosion control, creating more spacious yards, and flattening pesky hills—are enough to convince many homeowners that a retaining wall is worth the investment. However, retaining walls are more than just practical; they also create innovative aesthetic beauty by adding unique shapes and textures to otherwise flat and dull landscapes. As seen from the street, a landscape that includes varied shape and form is much more striking than a flat landscape. Retaining walls are a simple (but endlessly customizable) way to add interest.

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How Solar Eclipses Change the Environment

Monday’s total solar eclipse brought millions of travelers to a thin strip of land stretching from the craggy coast of Oregon to the sandy beaches of South Carolina. For many of these travelers, the chance to see a total solar eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime event, ripe with curiosity and amazement. People from anywhere and everywhere huddled together inside the path of totality, eager to understand how the world would be forever changed by a couple minutes of complete daytime darkness.  And no doubt, for those couple of minutes, the world was changed. A total solar eclipse—easily one of the most magnificent phenomena able to be seen by the human eye—does more than clog freeways and crowd cities; it also produces profound environmental changes. These changes have been observed by scientists for centuries, and, through these observations, we’ve developed a more complete understanding of the cosmos, and how it affects us here on earth.

Solar Eclipse

Nature and the Solar Eclipse

During a total eclipse, the shadow of the moon over the sun makes the day look like night. After totality, ground temperatures drop significantly and the affected areas plunge into darkness. In fact, the sky becomes so dark viewers can typically see the stars. This darkness can trick plants and animals into thinking it’s actually nighttime. For instance, certain flowers that close their blooms at night also do so during a total eclipse. Similarly, nocturnal bugs and birds may briefly come out from their slumber during totality, awakened by the sudden temperature drop. Cicadas, in particular, have been observed making loud mating calls in the minutes leading up to totality. Once darkness sets in, however, reports suggest an eerie, surreal silence takes effect.

Other creatures become upset and confused by the change in light and temperature. Dogs have been observed barking, whining, and running around aimlessly. Eclipse conditions can also irritate cats, horses, and chickens, causing them to become spooked and irritable. Many people who watched the eclipse with animals noted that the animals seemed aware of what was coming before totality set in. In some cases, people reported their animals acting strange in the hours before the eclipse and in the hours after it as well. Such a profound change often has psychological effects that can influence behavior long after the sun’s light returns. That psychological shockwave certainly does a number on human beings. Reports of traffic accidents, mood swings, and strange incidents increased in the hours and days following the eclipse. Some researchers have explained this phenomenon as a kind of post-eclipse haze that both animals and people are likely susceptible to. After all, when the world changes so profoundly for such a brief moment in time, it can be hard to re-acclimate ourselves to ordinary life.

Gardening in Rocky Soil

Here in the Blue Ridge, rocky soil is generally unavoidable past a certain altitude. At the bottom of the valley, soil may be softer and more amendable to a wide variety of plants, but up towards craggy mountain peaks, there’s no such luck. Rocky mountain soil can stunt root growth and make it difficult to establish new plants. If you’re an aspiring gardener who happens to live on rocky soil, it’s vital to learn to work with what you have. Luckily, there’s been thousands of years of precedent when it comes to troubleshooting mountain gardens, so there are plenty of tried and true tactics you can start implementing today:

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Tips for Creating Curb Appeal

Have you ever heard the age-old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”? It’s a nice thought, and, as far as books are concerned, it’s probably true. But, for many other aspects of life, first impressions and appearances are all-too important. When it comes to buying a home for instance, the outside appearance of the house is typically what attracts potential buyers the most. Similarly, businesses use landscaping design and architecture to distinguish themselves from their competitors and bring in more business. The relative attractiveness of a property when viewed from the street is called “curb appeal,” and curb appeal can have an immediate and profound effect on people’s perceptions. Anyone who wants their home or business to stand out should consider the value of curb appeal and design their property accordingly. Landscaping contractors and horticulturist specialize in helping their clients maximize curb appeal through intentional and meticulously planned design. However, even amateur landscapers and gardeners can improve their property’s curb appeal by implementing simple (and inexpensive!) changes. Here are some suggestions to start off with:

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Building A Fairy Garden

According to legend, fairies are harbingers of good luck. In order to harness some of that good luck, people have created a variety of tactics aimed at luring fairies into their homes. Building a fairy garden—a miniature, indoor greenscape complete with small plants and tiny accessories—is one way of attracting fairies that has become a popular pastime among gardeners, even the ones who give no credence to folklore. Why? Well, fairy gardens offer more than just good luck. They also give gardeners a project they can work on year-round that’s fun for the whole family. Building a fairy garden is fairly simple, and there’s tons of tips and tricks available online, including those outlined in this article. The most important thing to remember is that each fairy garden is supposed to be unique to the vision and creativity of the fairy gardener. Almost anything goes—as long as it’s made and tended to with love.

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Best Homegrown Tomato Recipes

Summer’s best reward is fresh fruit and vegetables reaped straight from the garden. Vine-ripened tomatoes are my personal favorite. They strike such a divine balance between sweet and savory, which makes them incredibly versatile–and a great addition to any fresh summer dish! Here are some highly recommended recipes that will let your gardening prowess shine through:

Fresh Tomatoes

Fresh Gazpacho Salsa

This mild, colorful salsa is perfect for highlighting the natural flavor of fresh tomatoes. Dressed with just a touch of vinegar and olive oil and filled with garden vegetables, this dish is a full summer harvest! It goes great with toasted bread, pita, and crackers.

Grilled Tomato and Feta Salad

Have you ever thought to grill a tomato? Grilling fruits and vegetables maintains their firm texture while adding some smoky, caramelized flavor. Grilled tomatoes are particular delicious, especially when paired with feta and fresh greens. And if you’re not a big feta fan, mozzarella works just as well.

Tuna-Stuffed Tomatoes

This healthy, light meal pairs well with a glass of white wine and packs a lot of flavor. The herbed tuna feels fresh and exciting (not watery and bland) and the tomato shell is firm and juicy. I’m not a big pepper fan, so stuffed tomatoes are a delicious alternative.

Tomato and Mozzarella Pasta

Making a homemade tomato sauce seems daunting at first, but the reward is well worth the effort. Homemade sauces are smooth and velvety, and the creaminess of the mozzarella really shines through in this particular recipe.

Tomato Bruschetta

If you’re not whipping up some fresh bruschetta with your vine-ripe tomatoes, I’m not quite sure what you are doing. Bruschetta is the perfect snack spread: juicy, herby, tangy, and not that bad for you, either. I especially love bruschetta with wine or cocktails on a sunny afternoon.

Homemade Bloody Mary

Looking to up your brunch game this summer? All you need is a blender, some vodka, and a whole lot of spices. A good Bloody Mary is the cornerstone of a great brunch party, and nothing makes a Bloody Mary better than some fresh tomatoes (and bacon, don’t forget the bacon).

Cracking Down on Lawn Grubs

Even the name “grub” implies a gross and unwelcome parasite—some slimy thing that wriggles inside shadowy places, just begging to be squished. In the case of lawn grubs, an aggressive and persistent line of defense is necessary to keep your lawn and landscape intact. Lawn grubs—larvae of the Scarab family of beetles—live just underneath the soil, feeding on the roots of turfgrass and other kinds of ornamental plants. They are most active in late July and August, and their voracious appetites can leave your lawn in a state of extreme disrepair. Their constant feeding causes brown patches in grass, spongey lawns, and the sudden death of plants and flowers. Lawn grubs also attract other kinds of animals like skunks, raccoons, and birds to infested yards, which can compound the damage.

Law Grub

To check for grubs, inspect your lawn for telltale signs of grub damage: dead spots, spongey turf, discoloration, and so forth. If you notice anything irregular, check the soil by digging up a 12 inch wide, 3 inch deep plot of dirt. In the upturned dirt, look for white, C-shaped insects. A healthy lawn can tolerate some grub activity—about ten grubs per square foot. If you see more than that, you might have an infestation. Unfortunately, it’s hard to manage a grub infestation after it’s already established itself. For best results, spray a grub control pesticide in late summer when the larvae are close to the surface of the ground feeding on roots. Winter and spring treatments are not as effective because the larvae aren’t feeding as much and so they generally stay farther underground. August is considered the “goldilocks” month for grub control. In August, grubs are not yet fully grown (and thus more vulnerable to pesticides) but they are feeding vigorously right next to plant roots.

In short:

Check or grub activity by regularly inspecting your lawn and soil.

Spray to prevent infestations, not to treat them.

Spray in August for the best results.