10 Year Anniversary: Looking Back
This year BRECKON landdesign celebrates 10 years in business. To commemorate this milestone, I spoke with Jon Breckon about the firm’s evolution over the last decade.
BRECKON landdesign grew from Jon’s desire to focus heavily on quality and bring work into stronger accord with his own values. He also admitted to a touch of entrepreneurial spirit, and a rising conviction during the early years of his career that he’d like to “take on the challenge of building and leading a firm.”
So Breckon landdesign began, in Jon and wife Kristie’s Boise home on January 1, 2007. At that time, with two young children playing underfoot, it didn’t take long for Jon to decide that an outside workspace might be a good idea – if not a necessity.
Jon opened shop in Garden City in May of 2007. He hired his first employee a month later. By November, workload was robust enough to warrant the hiring of Chuck Edwards as project manager and Adam Johnston to provide production support. Around that same time, BLD also opened a Moscow office. This promising momentum continued through the first months of 2008.
Then the recession hit.
Though it took some time to feel the effects in Boise, by spring of 2009 it was clear the firm was experiencing more than the typical winter slowdown. Jon eventually had to cut loose all but one team member. The skeleton crew that remained-- Jon and Chuck – crowded into a single small office, scrambling to stay busy.
As with any character-building experience, it’s never much fun at the time, but often has a way of teaching us important lessons. Through persistence, hard work, and careful strategy, BRECKON landdesign survived the crash of 2008. The downturn experience, according to Jon, “galvanized a path for how we would do business in the future.”
That future included diversification. Whereas BRECKON landdesign had previously focused on education, land planning, and residential projects, the need to expand service offerings in a more challenging economy now steered us towards military, waterscapes, and private sector commercial work. For his part, Chuck reached beyond his primarily landscape architectural background to develop expertise in emerging technologies like3D presentation graphics.
Now, whatever the specific goals each year, the mandate to continually expand our scope of services still holds strong, as does our determination to build and lead effective teams. At BLD, our overriding goal is to serve clients well as an integral part of every project team, whether acting as lead consultant or a sub to other disciplines.
Having survived the rigors of a tough economy, BRECKON landdesign continues to grow and expand our geographic reach, with professional licenses in 14 states as of this posting. Ten years in, the BLD team is now 14 employees strong. (As an aside, it's gratifying to note that all team members laid off as a result of the downturn have since returned and are counted among our core staff.)
In 2016 we were proud to add a civil engineering division to the firm. This furthers our holistic approach to land planning and site development by allowing for true integration of landscape architectural and civil engineering design, and guarantees successful projects that meet functional objectives while holding to the highest aesthetic standards. It also dovetails with our company mission to deliver high-quality design that improves our community by providing beautiful outdoor spaces where our clients can live, work, and play.
A heartfelt thank you to our clients and colleagues who continue to challenge us with landscape architectural and civil engineering design projects. We look forward to serving you in the decade ahead.
Posted by Kim Warren
It's true I’ve drifted away from the practice of landscape architecture and more into marketing in recent years, but even so I’m wondering how it is I’ve kept at least one foot in the profession for decades now and still I’m thinking, “Winter watering? That’s a thing? Really?”
For the record, this was also news to several of my fellow landscape architects at BRECKON landdesign.
And yes, according to Scott Lebsack, RLA, of our Twin Falls office, winter watering most definitely IS a thing. In fact, it can be particularly important in high desert climates like ours that tend towards the cold and dry. In Idaho and other intermountain states, factors such as dry air and soils, low precipitation, and fluctuating temperatures, compounded by scant snow cover, can damage certain plants if supplemental water is not provided. Now that I think on it, this is a solid theory as to why the Schipka Laurel under the front eaves of my house have failed to thrive for two summers in a row.
Winter drought damage – primarily to roots – is often invisible. That is, plants appear healthy enough, and use nutrients stored in their roots to fuel springtime growth. They then become stressed when summer temperatures rise and damaged root systems prove inadequate to hotter, drier conditions. And it’s not any kind of revelation that weakened plants tend to suffer more from insect or disease problems.
Plant types more vulnerable to winter damage when conditions are dry:
The latter almost always benefit from supplemental winter watering during establishment (typically defined as the one year period after planting). For young plants, supplemental water may not be a life-or-death issue, so much as the difference between thriving, or merely surviving, the first couple of winters. Winter watering also speeds plant establishment.
So, now that we’re on to the potential benefits of supplemental watering during the colder months (and yes, be prepared to hook up that hose or schlep your watering can around if you’ve properly winterized your irrigation system), what’s the best way to go about it?
Following are general guidelines for supplemental winter watering. And remember – an organic mulch layer (2-3" deep) is a great way to retain soil moisture and protect plant health during ALL seasons.
Posted by Kim Warren
Klett, J. E. "Fall & Winter Watering, Fact Sheet No. 7.211." extension.colostate.edu. Colorado State University, Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
Klett, J.E., and C. Wilson. "Winter Watering." Tall Timbers. N.p., July 2008. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
Featured Plant: Incense Cedar
Evergreens are essential to any planting plan because they provide structure and interest that persist through the winter. I recall a college planting design course where my professor described herbaceous plants as the ‘flesh’ of a landscape and evergreens as the ‘bones’ or ‘skeleton.’
I’ve always found this metaphor useful. And, as it seemed apropos of the season to feature something evergreen, I asked Scott Lebsack, RLA, of our Twin Falls office what he would recommend. Scott suggested Calocedrus decurrens, or Incense Cedar, a tall, narrow evergreen with fragrant foliage.
When crushed, the foliage has a strong incense-like aroma. Humans find the scent appealing, but deer tend to shy away from eating the leaves. Always a plus!
Bark: Purplish-red, thin and scaly when young, increasing to several inches thick and developing into a rich brownish-red color with age. Mature bark is deeply furrowed, with interlacing ridges.
Some California tribes used the rather formidable bark of Incense Cedar to build conical houses for autumn shelters during acorn-collecting season.
Sun: Tolerates full sun in coastal climates. Best to have a bit of late-day shade from buildings or other trees in the Idaho desert.
Water: Prefers drier areas for its native habitat and is thus well-suited to our desert climate. Under cultivation, adaptable to heat, drought, humidity and varied landscape conditions. Winter watering can be important with evergreen trees like Incense Cedar.
Size/Habit: 15-20’ tall, with a symmetrical narrow form. 8-10’ wide. In cultivated settings, may grow as high as 30-50’ with age.
Landscape Uses: Privacy screen, windbreak, featured specimen
Human-Plant Interactions: Practical ▪ Symbolic ▪ Medicinal
A Natural Sauna Treatment for Your Stuffy Head. Because of its fresh, potent aroma Incense Cedar was used as an early form of aromatherapy. The Klamath Native Americans of southern Oregon created an herbal steam of branches and twigs to scent their sweat baths, while the Paiutes of the intermountain west inhaled an infusion of cedar leaves as a cold remedy. Still other tribes drank a decoction of the leaves to treat stomach upset.
(We’ve said it before, but the medicinal uses mentioned are of purely anecdotal interest. Please stick to your corner drug store for what ails you.)
Building Products Galore. In the modern world, incense Cedar is a commercial softwood species of some prominence. It is used for lumber, fence posts, railroad ties, Venetian blinds, siding and decking, and shingles. This is due to both its durability and decay-resistant properties. It is also used for cedar chests because the strong natural aroma of the wood is a deterrent to moths, which helps keep your clothes and linens un-holey.
Please Bring a #2 Pencil. True or False: Incense Cedar is THE major source of wood for pencil stock in the United States. (True!)
Care ▪ Propagation ▪ Pests
The occasional disease, like dry pocket rot, can afflict Incense Cedar, but generally this has a greater impact on the quality of the wood, if harvested. It doesn’t significantly impact the health of the tree, so is of less concern to landscape architects and groundskeepers.
Parasitic mistletoe has been known to grow on Incense Cedar in native settings. Thankfully it causes little-to-no trouble for the tree.
Bottom Line: Incense-ational
This is an attractive, easy tree to grow, uses relatively little water after establishment, and boasts few problems or pests. Incense Cedar has a number of assets to recommend it, including its upright form, fragrant evergreen foliage, and deer resistance. In short, this tree would provide great ‘bones’ for any western landscape.
Posted by Kim Warren
Spooky Halloween Edition
As a nod to All Hallows festivities this week, we thought it would be fun to offer up a gallery of landscape design fiascos to make your skin crawl. We're calling it.....
Scary things that can happen when you don't hire a landscape architect.
Ghosts of Systems Past
Above, a 30-year conglomeration of various pipe and fitting types, stuck together like beads on an underground ‘necklace’ that won’t even hold water. According to the landscape architect who snapped the photo, this piecemeal assembly fell apart at the mere touch of a hand. Detailed professional irrigation design saves water, time, and money.
Your contractor might take the name “Chokecherry” too literally.
According to experts, Prunus absolutely thrives when planted in extremely hot exposures with a minimum asphalt cover of 2” within the dripline of the tree. Not! A truly unprofessional installer will take measures to ensure that girdling at base of trunk occurs within two years of planting -- should the tree happen to survive that long.
Sprinkler Head Spacing That’s Absolutely Deranged
Smart designers say that when planting perennial bulbs you should simply toss a handful in the air and plant them where they fall so as to achieve more random, natural spacing. Looks like someone got confused and tried this technique with spray heads. That last tenant’s dry spot doesn’t stand a chance!
Maybe Dr. Seuss didn’t write horror stories, but the poor tree at left looks like it was perched on by an elephant. Despite valiant efforts by the property owner to install a ‘Seussian’ support of stacked CMU block (look again in the shadow), there’s nothing like a landscape architect when it comes to choosing the right plant for the right place. An LA will do this, one-hundred percent!
Weed barrier? More like root enhancer.
At first glance this almost looks like a damaged stretch of PVC conduit spilling its irrigation-valve-wire guts, but no -- it’s Virginia Creeper extraordinaire!
Despite the weed barrier material, that creeper just kept right on creeping until it found a place to surface. A good reason to rethink weed barrier in organic situations.
Power Company Topiary at its Finest
What was I saying about right plant, right place? Design it well the first time or your local utility's pruning crew will step in to work a little magic of their own. Kind of like Edward Scissorhands, but with less amazing results.
If trees had emotions, the triptych below marks an interesting progression.
A Nightmare on Any Street
Remember Little Red Riding Hood? That string of Friday the 13th films? Scary things can happen in the woods.
Plant without the guidance of a landscape architect and you just might end up living in a deep dark forest of your own. This yard was beloved by its owners when first planted, but they neglected to leave room for future plant growth. Now that the trees have matured several years, it seems the residents may soon require the services of a kindly woodsman to access their front door.
In planting design, there’s a balance between achieving a sense of fullness and completion at time of planting and setting yourself up to be overrun by your own landscape. Plants grow, after all, and sometimes when you’re getting started the end product is hard to imagine. For more discussion on landscapes as they mature and how to plant so your yard will look great ten years down the road, check out this article by Chuck Edwards, ASLA, our lead residential designer.
All-out Anarchy of Basic Infrastructure
If you don’t hire a landscape architect your streetscape might self-destruct.
Just kidding. This is actually public art -- spotted in Paris circa turn-of-the-last-millennium.
It's also a great reminder that landscape architecture reaches beyond planting and irrigation design to include site planning, streetscapes and urban plazas, selection of furnishings and paving materials, site lighting, grading and drainage design, and a longer list of related specialties than a girl can name here.
Now that Breckon landdesign has civil engineering in house we are thrilled to offer fully integrated, comprehensive site design solutions under one roof. From our new office building (if you haven’t heard already, we moved!) that, so far, does not seem to be haunted.
Posted by Kim Warren
Driving around town lately I’ve noticed more and more Buckthorn in the urban landscape. Not the classic Tallhedge Buckthorn I remember from my university days, when there were few choices for cold-hardy shrubs that held to a narrow form, but a new lance-leaf variety that offers an interesting alternative for hedges, screens, and vertical accents.
My recollection of the ‘Columnaris’ version of this plant was of an upright shrub with nondescript but evidently compelling blossoms that attracted a daunting number of bees when they came on. Indeed, this transformed the hedgerow along the entry walk to the Fine Arts Building at Utah State into a buzzing gauntlet that was definitely not for the apiphobic -- that is, anyone with a fear of bees (or allergy thereto).
In contrast, this new-ish cultivar blooms and fruits only minimally, is lauded as a low-maintenance addition to the landscape, and adds much textural interest to your plant design palette.
Botanical Name: Rhamnus frangula “Fine Line”
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7 Extremely cold hardy to -50 degrees F.
Flower: Insignificant, tiny (1/6” diameter). Cream-to-yellowish-green blossoms appear late May to early June.
Fruit Production: Low. Negligible. Any seeds produced are typically non-viable.
Leaves: Fine Line is a marvelous foliage plant. Narrow leaves result in a fine, feathery appearance. Lighter leaf color offers contrast to the deeper green of some other shrubs. Deciduous foliage turns bright yellow in the fall.
Sun: Part to full sun.
Water: Medium water use. Adaptable. Prefers well-drained soil.
Size/Habit: 5 – 7’ high with a narrow, 1.5-2’ spread.
Glossy Buckthorn, one of the parents of ‘Fine Line,’ was first introduced to the United States from Europe about two hundred years ago. This plant’s primary appeal was cold hardiness. It was first envisioned as an ornamental shrub that could survive the harsh winters in and around the Great Lakes Region. In actuality, it turned out to be more adaptable than ornamental, and eventually ‘escaped’ into the upper Midwestern US and parts of Canada.
Two cultivars emerged from this original introduction: ‘Columnaris,’ or the above-mentioned Tallhedge Buckthorn -- a fastigiate form that was widely used in the 1960s and 70s; and also the willowy-leafed “Asplenifolia” which took a rounded form, but with prettier foliage.
In 1989, Ron Williams, a nurseryman in Green Bay, Wisconsin, discovered a unique seedling born of an accidental cross between the abovementioned buckthorn cultivars growing in his garden. Over the next decade, the plant was propagated by cuttings and developed for commercial distribution. In 2003, Mr. Williams licensed the plant patent to Spring Meadows Nursery in Michigan. Since then the Fine Line Buckthorn has been distributed nationally and continues to grow in popularity.
Human-Plant Interactions: Practical ▪ Symbolic ▪ Medicinal
The Buckthorn story proves more interesting with the species, not the cultivars, so we’re looking up the family tree (pun intended) for this section:
A cathartic experience. In medicine, Rhamnus frangula was historically used an as herbal supplement to relieve constipation. Typically administered as a tincture made from the bark or berries of the plant, it was best aged for a couple of years so as to reduce potency. Please note this antiquated remedy is not one we (or any true medical professional) would recommend today.
Dyed in the wool. The bark and leaves of the Buckthorn species yield a yellow dye much used in Russia. When mixed with salts of iron, this same dye turns black. Indeed, the various parts of this plant display vast multi-chromatic potential. Unripe berries make a green-colored dye, readily taken by “woollen stuffs,” according to the literature. Alternately, ripe berries result in variable shades of blue and grey.
Gunpowder, anyone? Once the bark is removed from Buckthorn stems and branches, the wood can be used to make charcoal with light, inflammable qualities that are far preferable to charcoal derived from other species. Gunpowder makers (doubtless a more exciting, if dangerous, profession than landscape architecture) sometimes refer to Buckthorn as ‘Black Dogwood.’ In Germany, it’s called Pulverholz, or ‘powder wood,’ for the same reason.
Care ▪ Propagation ▪ Pests:
By all accounts, Buckthorn is a low-maintenance choice, with no serious leanings towards disease or insect troubles. The Missouri Botanical Garden website describes Fine Line as a “restrained and versatile columnar accent.” That is, it tends to hold its narrow form naturally, without significant need for pruning.
It’s deer resistant, too? One source claims that Fine Line is unappetizing to free-ranging ungulates like deer. A notable asset to be sure, but I’m inclined to be wary. Depending on the year, this might be more or less true of many plants.
This plant sounds FABULOUS… Is there a downside?
The species (Rhamnus frangula) can be weedy and self-seeding in some areas. In fact, it's actually illegal to plant in a number of midwestern states. The Fine Line cultivar, however, is non-invasive and minds its Ps & Qs quite nicely in our arid climate, thanks in part to non-viable seeds.
In all, Fine Line Buckthorn is still a relative newcomer, but has earned a reputation as a tough, adaptable plant, one that's well worth trying in your own landscape.
Posted by Kim Warren