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Add value and comfort to your home BY JOSEPH PUBILLONES


THINK Spring


Joseph Pubillones’ weekly column, “The Art of Design,” is available at

Special Supplement to The Gazette | March 2013


A new bathroom can add both perceived and actual value to a home.

Nothing embodies a sense of luxury more than nicely appointed bathrooms and powder rooms. This is one of the best improvements that can be done to any home, townhouse or condominium, since it can add both perceived and actual value. Since the times of ancient Rome, baths have been a great place for cleanliness and for establishing a connection among body, mind and spirit. Baths were a refuge for one to go and think clearly and even, in some cultures, to negotiate the finer points of a business deal. In our world today, bathrooms are more private, but, nonetheless, just as important. Today’s bathrooms are not just functional rooms, but also an extension of one’s living space. Designs for these spaces have gone in many directions, and can include saunas, hot tubs, massage tables and even exercise areas. Gone are many of the materials once used in bathrooms—ceramic tile; traditional fixtures; and tones of mint green, cherry pink and sky blue (unless you are involved in a historical restoration). Replacements feature warmer tiles, slates and marbles in a variety of incredible colors. Some have textures; others are cut with a laser for intricate designs. Stones are mixed with glass and mirrors, and tiles and fixtures that glow in the dark are available. Some newer bathrooms rival the size of their en suite bedrooms. Larger spaces are now in favor over the typical 5-by7-foot bathrooms of yesteryear. Many homeowners are willing to eliminate a spare room to use the extra square footage in their

new bathroom. Lounging areas are de rigueur, and this means space for a chaise or a pair of club chairs and an ottoman. Traditional fixtures, such as toilets and tubs, are available to fit in with most conventional, architectural styles. Some are also available in sleek versions that look as if they have been designed by aeronautical engineers. Materials for fixtures have evolved to include the traditional porcelains and enameled irons, as well as newer materials, such as resins and polyesters, that can easily be molded into any shape and have the same sheen as earlier models. Custom cabinetmakers can make bathroom furniture in any style to fit your decor and lifestyle. The one caveat is to use materials that are not affected by direct contact with water or humidity. Today’s styles range from floating, wall-mounted cabinetry to furniture-like pieces that completely conceal the fixtures. The whirlpool tub was the must-have 10 or 20 years ago. Today, high-end plumbing fixtures are all the rage. Most whirlpool tubs are being removed for lack of use and are being replaced with larger showers that feature multiple massage sprays, rain showerheads and spa-like steam options. These features, once found only at therapeutic clinics and spas, now are commonplace as people search for antidotes to their hectic lives.


FENCE 3 fence types to consider installing this season BY MARK J. DONOVAN

Are you thinking about installing a fence in your backyard? There are a number of fence types to choose from today. When choosing which to install, consider what the main reason is for the fence. Is it for enclosing a pool or is it for privacy? Is it for aesthetics or for simply keeping the children or pets in the back-

yard? By understanding the purpose of the fence, you can choose the most appropriate style for your home. Aluminum fences If you want a rugged, high-quality fence, an aluminum fence may be the best choice. Aluminum fences are attractive, highly corrosion-resistant and very functional. See FENCES on page 11


Consider the main reason for the fence when choosing one to install.

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Building your own fire pit can require a large space, heavy lifting and a lot of painkillers.


There were many things that Erin Lang Norris and her husband were looking forward to when they moved out of an apartment and into their own house in south-central Wisconsin. Top on that list was having a yard for building big fires to enjoy during the summer and winter months. But the property they purchased didn’t have a fire pit, so Lang Norris had to take things into her own hands, literally. “I don’t know how many bottles of ibuprofen I went through,” she said, noting that building the 5-footwide fire pit was a feat of will and physical strength. Lang Norris couldn’t afford a landscape designer, 4

THINK Spring

Enjoy the outdoors with a little warmth

so she went to the first place most people do to get more information on any do-it-yourself project: the Internet. She was sorely disappointed at the lack of concise and helpful material, and instead decided to give it a go herself. The first step was mapping out the space for her fire pit. It ended up having a 5-foot diameter, a typical size, said Tim Lindgren, president of Lindgren Landscape & Irrigation; but, you need a lot more space than that to accommodate the structure. “You’ll have the fire pit itself—5-foot outside diameter—and then you have 3 feet of seating all around it. All of a sudden you have an 11-foot space to fit a round fire pit,” calculated Lindgren. This size was perfect for

Lang Norris’ 2-acre plot; the fire pit didn’t get lost in the area, but also wasn’t overwhelming. Lang Norris’ biggest challenge, she said, was deciding what kind of stone she should use. She wanted something durable enough for high temperatures, which can foster brush fires, and cold Wisconsin winters. After pricing options at the local stone yard, she picked sandstone and then layered the inside of the pit with firebrick bought from the hardware store. Lindgren suggested that any fire pit be made with masonry blocks veneered with bricks, fake stones or real stones on the outside. This gives the pit the strong structure it needs to withstand the heat of a fire and leaves an aesthetically pleasing view for the homeowner. Special Supplement to The Gazette | March 2013

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Whether building your own or bringing in a professional, a fire pit allows you to relax and enjoy the outdoor space.

Once the size is sketched out and the stone bought, the heavy lifting and digging begins; this is where the painkillers come in handy. How deep you dig the foundation will depend on the type of soil. Lindgren, based in Colorado, has to accommodate expansive soils that tend to shift structures. The foundation is the area of the ground that the stone cylinder will sit on. After this area is dug out, cement is poured in and rebar stuck into the cement to add stability and strength. Lang Norris spent many hours chiseling pieces of stone to fit into the puzzle of the expansive fire pit walls. She carefully placed each piece exactly where she wanted it, which oftentimes required her to shift the stones from one space to another, trying to get all of the pieces just right. She then built a top cap of thicker stones that went all the way around the cylinder, giving the structure a finished look. While Lang Norris’ fire pit is wood burning, Lindgren gets many requests for gas fire pits. In these cases, his company would install a valve that runs through the exterior of the wall, into the bottom of the pit and capped by a burner system. Lava rocks or glass would cover March 2013 | Special Supplement to The Gazette

the burner system but allow the flames to come up. “The pros to doing a wood-burning fire pit is a real flame, the smell and crackling of a campfire,” Lindgren said. A gas pit is easy to manage and maintain. Lindgren even installed a fire pit that the owner can light using an iPad app. Lindgren suggested that homeowners check the local fire codes before they start making decisions on the type of fire pit they want. Some areas don’t allow burning firewood in city limits, and if there is a gas line involved, permits must also be in hand. Messing around with a gas line is no simple undertaking, Lindgren said. All in all, Lang Norris spent about $450 on her fire pit, while Lindgren’s company, which primarily caters to high-end residential locations, charges between $3,500 and $4,500 for a fire pit. Both options are viable, and in the end, people are going to gather around the finished project. “In Colorado, we are trying to take advantage of the outdoor living. What can we put outside that will prolong our season?” Lindgren asked. Lang Norris knows just the thing.



THINK Spring




Expand your gardening horizons BY SHARON NAYLOR

As more home gardeners seek to expand their harvests—having enjoyed the delicious freshness of their herbs and vegetables and saved a bundle in grocery money—there’s a growing trend for planting fruit trees, as well. The tartness of freshly picked limes, the sweetness of oranges and peaches, the excitement of kids who get to pluck the fruit from the trees—the allure is strong for new fruit tree and bush plantings. There’s a vast list of expected and surprising fruits that can be grown in a home garden: apples, apricots, blueberries, cherries, figs, jujubes, lemons, limes, mulberries, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, pomegranates and quinces. Local nurseries or home-supply stores will stock popular, hardy fruit


Just one planted fruit tree can deliver a large bounty of fresh, ripe fruit.



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THERE’S A VAST LIST OF EXPECTED AND SURPRISING FRUITS THAT CAN BE GROWN IN A HOME GARDEN: APPLES, APRICOTS, BLUEBERRIES, CHERRIES, FIGS, JUJUBES, LEMONS, LIMES, MULBERRIES, NECTARINES, ORANGES, PEACHES, PEARS, PERSIMMONS, PLUMS, POMEGRANATES AND QUINCES. trees and specialty ones, such as variations of Asian fruit trees, can be ordered online. Horticulturists work magic with fruit fusions, such as pluots (plum-apricot hybrids) and similar plumcots and apriplums, resulting in new gourmet flavors recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). First: Chill Before selecting any fruit trees online, though, it’s important to know which fruit trees are best for your region. “The possibilities vary dramatically depending on where you are,” said Ellen Evans, sales clerk at Bay Laurel Nursery, a top source for ordering bare-root fruit trees for planting. “You have to know how many ‘chill hours’ your region gets, since that’s an important factor for each fruit tree.” “Chill hours” is the term for how many hours the temperature reaches below 45 F; many fruit trees need exposure to these chilly temperatures. “If you pick a tree that doesn’t get enough chill hours, you won’t get fruit,” said Evans. Evans suggested calling a local nursery or state agricultural office for the current chill hours they measure. Or, check the interactive USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map at; plug in your ZIP code, and it tells you

which zone you live in. The Bay Laurel Nursery website lists the number of chill hours needed by each variety of fruit tree, as well as lists low-chill fruit trees, to help identify which trees would thrive in your yard. How to Plant Fruit Trees Bay Laurel Nursery suggests the following steps: • Dig a hole. In a location that gets the amount of sun prescribed on the fruit tree label, dig a hole that is wide enough for the roots of the tree so that none of them bend. A wider hole is ideal to give roots room to extend and grow. For depth, again, follow the label directions, being sure that all roots will be covered. Then, use a shovel to loosen the soil around the outside edges of the hole to allow roots to continue to grow. • Drive in a stake. If the chosen tree requires a sturdy stake, “use at least a 5- or 6-foot garden stake hammed about 2 feet into the bottom of the hole, a little off center on the southern side, if possible,” said Bay Laurel Nursery. Driving in a stake after the tree has been planted can damage roots. • Make a soil mound. Use the soil dug for the hole to create a mound a few inches high in the center of the hole and pat it down gently. • Place the tree. Carefully place the loose-roots



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tree in the hole, centered on the mound, and spread the roots gently. “The tree has a graft union (sometimes called a bud union) visible where the root stock is grafted to the trunk. This should be placed slightly above the existing ground level. It is better to plant a little high than low, since trees often settle,” said the nursery. • Fill the hole with soil. Check with a local garden center for the recommended nutrients and organic additives for your soil’s pH level and nutrient needs, and add as instructed. Add this amended soil into the hole, covering over just the roots. Gently pat down the soil and water to help the soil settle around the roots. Continue adding layers of soil and gently watering to help settle and secure the tree, until the soil reaches original ground level. • Build a circle. Use any leftover soil to build a raised circle around the tree, about 4 feet in diameter, to keep in water. “Placing organic material, such as leaves, mulch or bark, inside the circle can help protect the tree’s roots and help water retention. Make sure that you keep any mulch away from the trunk of the tree,” said Evans. Mulch that is in contact with the trunk can create harmful rot or disease to the tree, lessening or eliminating the fruit harvest.

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Tilled soil can create more aerated, ready-to-plant beds.


“Fertile soil is the foundation to any garden project,” according to the garden experts on Lowe’s website. “Vegetable gardens and planting beds need rich, loose, drainable soil to ensure root growth and abundant crops … (Some) plants only have a few months to bloom and produce. Good soil allows roots to quickly develop and spread, which in turn increases the water and nutrient intake necessary for healthy and productive plants.” Tilling is a popular way to loosen compacted soil in an existing bed. The grinding and blending motion of a rototiller or one’s own manual tilling transforms stale and clumpy soil into looser, finer soil more ready for planting. Marie Iannotti, the guide to gardening, said that tilling has been recommended for clearing a new garden bed for years. But there is some controversy among gardening experts who claim that tilling, and overtilling, can damage the soil quality. Some of the top garden blogs, such as Veggie Gardening Tips, warn against tilling too often, because it can break up and kill beneficial fungus in the soil. 8

THINK Spring

5 tips for tilling the way to good soil

Iannotti, too, said that tilling may turn up buried weed seeds that can sprout with exposure to the sun. While tilling may have potential downsides, if you wish to prepare your garden soil by tilling, here are some smart tips to help you do so more efficiently and successfully for the health and productivity of the garden. 1. Test the soil for sufficient softness before tilling. For the best results, soil should be at a temperature of about 60 F before tilling, and it must also be dry enough. If a handful of soil crumbles when you squeeze it, that’s the ideal texture. 2. Mark the area where you will be tilling the soil. Stakes in all corners will help you visualize the plot. Remove all rocks and debris from the garden bed before tilling; rocks can damage the tiller’s blades. 3. Set your tiller at a depth of 6 to 8 inches, and make only one pass over each row, moving slowly to allow the machine to do the work fully and completely. Excessive tilling will actually compact the soil rather than break it up. The result of overtilling is called hardpan, a layer of compacted soil just below the layer of soil that is loosened. Try to avoid killing too many beneficial earthworms in the soil, as well.

4. After tilling, turn the machine off and clean all the tines (blades) thoroughly to prolong the life of the tiller. 5. When you are done tilling, take a sample of the soil to a local garden center to have it tested for nutrient and pH needs so that you can apply any needed additives or organic materials to prepare it for a healthy and productive garden bed. If you are using an electric tiller, always be sure the cord is safely out of the way of the blades to avoid accident or injury. If you’re using a powerful fuel tiller, use extreme caution and follow all manufacturer safety rules, including wearing protective footwear and eyewear. If hand-tilling the soil, wear thick protective gloves and use rubber-handled tools for comfort and to prevent blisters. Safety always comes first when working in the garden, and part of safety is reading all of the instructions for the owned or rented tilling machine, working slowly and with full attention, and being patient if the soil is too wet at a lower depth for proper tilling. A few days’ wait is worth the better results. Special Supplement to The Gazette | March 2013



Saving money and water BY KRISTEN CASTILLO

A great looking yard takes lots of time and effort. It also can take a lot of money and water. To save cash and the environment, homeowners may want to consider drought-friendly landscaping. “I strongly suggest using the phrase ‘drought tolerance’ over ‘drought resistance,’” said Jay Popko, a research associate at the University of Massachusetts’ Stockbridge School of Agriculture. “Drought conditions are not something that can be overcome completely.” Dollars and cents Drought-friendly landscaping—often called zeroscaping because it’s about reducing water use—also can cut your water bill.

Landscape architect Chad Kennedy said savings will be dependent on local water costs and the size of the landscape. “A retrofit from a traditional lawn to low-water-use shrubs with an efficient system and smart controller can reduce water use by up to 75 percent,” he said. “In Denver, the average ... yard of 2,500 square feet can save about $500 per year in water savings,” estimated Denis McCausland of Green Mountain Landscape and Sprinkler. He said you also can expect to save maintenance time, including mowing grass, weeding and fertilizing, as well as not having to do maintenance on your irrigation system as often. CREATORS.COM PHOTO COURTESY OF KURT BLAND

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See DROUGHT on page 10

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Getting started Planet, the Professional Landcare Network, which is the national association of landscape professionals, recommends getting an irrigation audit. “An irrigation system may need repair or adjustment, and a professional can also check for water distribution uniformity and make sure irrigation systems are installed and maintained properly,” said Planet member Kurt Bland of Bland Landscaping. Plant smartly “Drought-tolerant landscapes do not have to be boring, and with proper plant selection, they can be as interesting as any other landscape,” said Bland, explaining that most of the United States has a “mesic climate” rather than a “xeric climate,” which means drought comes in cycles instead of being constantly present. “‘Drought-friendly’ doesn’t necessarily mean concrete, rock and no plants,” said Kennedy, who suggested choosing plants with low water requirements. “It is more about wise use and application of water and the correct choice of plant species.” He advised choosing plants that grow within the space available. “Plants that get too large for the space in which they are planted require more resources— water, etc.—than a smaller plant,” said Kennedy, who also recommended spacing plants far apart because the plants will “compete less for available water.” Planet suggests conserving water by “hydrozoning,” which clusters plants that have similar water requirements together, noting that plant water requirements typically range from very low to low to medium. Another drought-friendly idea is to limit grass in your landscaping. “Turf grass uses most of the water in a landscape,” Kennedy said. “The less lawn to water, the more water can be saved.” Don’t forget to use 2 to 3 inches of organic or inert mulch. “These mulches keep the soil underneath moist by minimizing evaporation ... and minimizing the heat of the soil,” Kennedy said. “An organic mulch can actually hold on to moisture and will add nutrients to the soil.” What to avoid When zeroscaping, there are also things to avoid. For example, don’t use too much



DO NOT HAVE TO BE BORING, AND WITH PROPER PLANT SELECTION, THEY CAN BE AS INTERESTING AS ANY OTHER LANDSCAPE.” rock. “This can cause heat buildup,” McCausland said. “Instead, combine rock with wood mulches and/or low-water-use lawn grass.” Although sloped landscape might be pretty, it can be wasteful. “The more ups and downs you have in a landscape, the more water runs away from the plants and to the surrounding gutters or storm drains,” said Kennedy. “If you need height in the landscape, do it with boulders, walls and vegetation rather than sloped landscape.” Avoid watering on windy days to reduce evaporation, according to Planet, and be careful not to overwater plants, which can damage them. When to water Maximize your water use by irrigating before sunrise. “By irrigating during the coolest time of the day, you avoid excessive evaporation of the valuable water being applied and the surface will dry up as the sun comes up,” Kennedy said. “Avoid irrigating just after sundown, as you may cause the soil surface to be wet for too long, allowing fungus and molds to grow.” Planet advised watering a garden with rainwater stored in rain barrels. Be mindful that good watering helps plants and trees get established. “Water new plantings throughout the first year,” Popko said. “Proper establishment relies on making sure new plantings adjust to their new surroundings and develop healthy root systems. On larger trees, watering may be needed for more than the first year.” Drought Resources During planning, know your area’s drought conditions, soil types, plant hardiness and ideal planting schedules. The following websites are great resources:, and Special Supplement to The Gazette | March 2013

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they need periodic maintenance to keep them looking like new.

They won’t rust and are virtually maintenance-free. In addition, paint chipping or peeling is not a concern because of how the paint color is applied to the fencing. Aluminum fences are ideal for enclosing pools and for keeping in pets. They come in numerous styles and designs; they are a bit pricey, however, so you may spend a little more money than another fence type. Wrought iron fences These days, new wrought iron fences are often used to enclose pools. They’re also more commonly found encompassing yards of high-end residential properties. While providing a classic and sophisticated look, wrought iron fences are considered heavy-duty; consequently, they are ideal for security reasons. Wrought iron fences are expensive and they can rust over time. As a result,

Vinyl fences Vinyl fences are the most common type installed today. They can provide both security and privacy, and they come in various sizes, styles and colors. Often used today for enclosing pools, patios and backyards, they are maintenance-free. A vinyl fence will not weather, rust or fade, though it can crack if hit hard— particularly if it is hit hard in colder weather. Vinyl fencing is also the most economical fencing material, relative to aluminum and wrought iron. Remember, before buying and installing a new fence, first make sure you know the main purpose of the fence. After you’ve come to a conclusion on its main purpose, you can then better choose the appropriate fence to install.

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TILE UNLIMITED Honesty, Integrity, and Quality Workmanship A Family Owned Business Since 1987

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Expert Installation

Marble • Granite • Ceramic Tile Slate • Glass Tile

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Frank Parisi Sr. Owner





LICENSED • BONDED • INSURED Outstanding References • Over 30 Years Experience



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THINK Spring


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Special Supplement to The Gazette | March 2013

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Think Spring, The Gazette Special Publication, Montgomery County, Maryland

Thinkspringmc 032213  

Think Spring, The Gazette Special Publication, Montgomery County, Maryland