Not Just a Drop in the Bucket

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Ripples in Houston!

Hydroscapes, is a sustainable design/build landscape firm based in Houston, TX. Our mission is to provide affordable and attractive landscapes to homeowners using technologies that encourage water conservation with an emphasis on sustainable techniques. More »

 

Living Wall Houston: Lulu Lemon Replants The Living Wall Gracing the Side of Their City Center Store

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In 2011 GSky, a Florida based company installed on a living wall at the City Center Lulu Lemon.  The wall has been a huge success drawing much awe from passer-bys.  After 3 years, GSky and Lulu Lemon decided to freshen up the facade and re-plant the face of the building with a different plant palette.  GSky contracted Hydroscape Solutions for the re-installation and on-going maintenance.

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The re-installation involved roughly 5,000 new plants and 6 species covering nearly 600 square feet.  With any luck, the living wall specifically located on Lulu Lemon will continue to draw the connection between wellness and environmental sensibility.

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Pictured Above the Hydroscape Solutions Install Team (left to right): Katherine Sargent Cairoli, Dustin Brackney and Raul Garcia.

 

Highlighting Living Walls

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Living walls or green walls are self sufficient vertical gardens that are attached to the exterior or interior of a building. They differ from green façades (e.g. ivy walls) in that the plants root in a structural support which is fastened to the wall itself. The plants receive water and nutrients from within the vertical support instead of from the ground.

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Living walls can “WOW” customers in commercial settings or provide a relaxing environment in residential settings.  Living walls are especially popular in small spaces where people do not have room to do a traditional style landscape.  However, there are more benefits to living walls than simple aesthetics:

Improved Air Quality - the average person spends over 90% of their time indoors. We are constantly being bombarded with indoor air pollution. This includes toxic fumes such as formaldehyde, VOCs, trichloroethylene, carbon monoxide, benzene, toluene, xylene, and countless others.The good news is that all plants absorb and clean pollutants from the air.

Building Protection - outdoor livng walls do this by reducing temperature fluctuations of the building envelope. A constant flux in temperature leads to the expansion and contraction of building materials. This results in cracks, fractures and general deterioration.

Energy Savings – studies have shown that the surface of an exterior green wall is up to 10°C cooler than an exposed wall, therefore considerably less heat is radiated inward. Not only do green walls reduce cooling requirements but they also help to mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Improved Acoustics -  living walls reduce the echo created by people’s voices or music bouncing off the walls, ceilings, floors and other hard objects in the room.

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Living walls are constructed using pocketed, felt panels (5.5 square feet each) that are hung on the surface to be covered.  They can be free standing or attached to an exterior wall.  Most living walls would have an automated irrigation system water the plants embedded in the felt pockets, although for the budget conscience hand watering can be done.  Depending on the aesthetic of the surrounding architecture & furnishings, different materials can be used as a frame for the living art work.   Living walls do require maintenance to keep them looking their best.  When you hire Hydroscapes, we include 1 year of bi-weekly upkeep in the price of the contract.

For more information about living walls please contact Dustin Brackney at 713-360-9992.  Preliminary consultation is free.

NOTE: Living walls pictured above are provided by Florafelt: Vertical Garden Systems.

Living Walls Texas: Vertical Surfaces & Pots Provide Color at a Residence with Many Dogs

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This Timber Grove residential landscape design presented one major challenge: dogs!  With the owner helping rescue dogs she can have many canine at her house at any given moment.  When we first visited the site, there were numerous holes in the ground and a handful of fruit trees lining the property.  The trees were protected with steel edge obtrusively visible around the base and there were was no color in the form of flowering perennials or shrubs.  The landscape had random stones placed throughout the yard and stacked along the house.  The back fence had holes in them created by dogs scratching and boards haphazardly covering them.

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The first order of business when trying to come up with a solution for the yard, was to try to figure out how to discourage dogs from using some spaces while gravitating towards others.  Alright, this is somewhat an impossible mission, but what we did do was make digging in some places less preferable than digging in others.  The solution was create a large wood chip circle where digging would be easy while covering the rest of the back yard in a strong, geo-textile mesh so that grass could grow it’s roots through, but dogs might no have as much fun penetrating.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed, but it has worked so far and the wood chips become a favorite pooping area …

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Now that the dogs issue had been resolved, the next order of business was to create unique spaces that the owner and her friends could spend time in that brought some color to an otherwise monochrome environment.  The solution we came up with was to create a space adjacent to the existing concrete pad that was semi-shaded under a cedar pergola and showcased a living wall and pots.  The result was stunning.  The plants in the wall provide the much needed color and the runoff irrigation provides a drinking trough for the dogs.  Pots add accents the transitions between the concrete, decomposed granite and grass.

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To help define the existing concrete patio, we used the flagstone randomly throughout the site to build a small sitting wall and graded to the back creating a hill of grass that the dogs now love resting on.  To touch off the backyard, we fixed the fence with recycled fence panels (to make it blend) and installed a birdhouse that we fondly call the “Bird Condominium”.

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Keeping Water in Our Rivers

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On Tuesday, March 19th Dustin spoke in support of a recent report published by Environment Texas.  The report stresses the importance of water conservation and wise water mitigation for the state of Texas.  Read his speech below.  (Pictured Above: Talya Tavor, Enivroment Texas; Dustin Brackney, Hydrodscape Solutions; Ashley Olmsted, The Ground Up; Kyler Fields, The Ground Up)

“My name is Dustin Brackney.  I am owner and project manager at Hydroscape Solutions, a sustainable landscape design / build company based in the Houston Heights.  Our focus is to design low-water landscapes while mitigating the effects of large storm events with green technologies such as living roofs, rain gardens and pervious pavements.

While most of our presenters are speaking on the importance of water conservation, I will be talking about the importance of dealing with water during large storm events.  Water conservation and water mitigation are two sides of the same coin.

In recent decades there has be a significant increase in the number of floods in urban areas as a result of large storm events; a phenomenon that will continue to happen as cities grow and the effects of climate change sharpen.  Here in the United States and especially in Houston, our solution to dealing with water has been to collect water into one place and move it away as quickly as possible.  This is logical provided the drainage basins are large enough and the surrounding landscape does not change.  Of coarse, we know that is not a reality.  As cities grow, so to, does the amount of impervious space as a result of buildings and parking lots.  The water that was once absorbed back into the ground water is now being funneled into increasingly inadequate drainage basins.  The water is picking up oil & gas from cars, cigarette butts and sediment creating a filthy slurry that no one would consider swimming in let alone drink.  The flood waters damage properties while costing homeowners and cities millions to deal with the aftermath.

Luckily the solutions are wide & varied, simple and create more livable environments for people, plants and animals.  In your landscape you can adhere to an organic regimen with low-water plants that create ecosystems that are more resilient to droughts and large storm events.  You can build rain gardens that collect water when the rain is heavy and allow it to infiltrate back into the ground water.  With a little foresight, you can build your driveways and parking lots with holes in them to allow water through rather than simply shedding it off.  And for those more cutting edge individuals, you can install a living roof that absorbs 60% of yearly rainfall while insulating your house and protecting your roof.

The solution doesn’t only lie however, with home and business owners.  Urban planners and designers in our cities need to change the paradigm from one that disregards the natural processes to one that includes them.  Stop engineering spaces that move water quickly  to spaces that move water slowly giving it a chance to make its way back into our water supply.  Our government needs to realize that permitting unfettered development is akin a subsidy.  Why should we have to give our tax dollars to solving problems created by irresponsible development?

I am here today to ask the citizens of Houston speak their mind.  Tell your city council members and state representatives that you no longer want to subsidize large developers for irresponsible design for which we all have to pay.  And take a stance in your own community by educating those around you with beautiful landscapes that demonstrate the joys of keeping water where it falls!

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a place where the government realized that subsidies for poor design and uncontrolled development was very costly.  They choose a different path and today Germans have some of the healthiest and happiest people in Europe.  They live comfortable lifestyles with all of the amenities that we Americans have come to enjoy.  The biggest difference between us and Germany, is that we continue to use earthly resources as if they are infinite and Germans realize they are not.  Who do you think will be better prepared for the future?  It is this personal experience, seeing first hand how beautiful and effective these approaches to conservation can be that brought me into the fold.  I have been working for the last decade building landscapes that demonstrate my conviction.  I hope that you can to!”

Native Landscape Houston: A Symbol of Walden Pond Inspires

In a part of Houston that reside some of the cities largest houses and most manicured landscapes sits a house that in its age bucks the neighborhood trend.  Located on the picturesque Rice Boulevard the owner of this residence decided that they no longer wanted to have to pay someone weekly to mow their lawn.  What better way to do that than to get rid of it and plant native plants?

The front yard strove to mimic the landscape in the island of natives already planted and surrounded by the driveway.  Vitex, Gulf Coast Mulhy Grass and Salvia are a few of the natives that make the now lawn-less landscape pop in contrast to the traditional approach.

With the backyard we took a very different approach.  For years the owners of this house looked at an overgrown, weedy landscape and a daunting task.  Finally they decided that they needed an outdoor space that they could enjoy and hired Hydroscapes to design and install a landscape.

Normally, during the design process we present the client with at least a couple of different options in how to view the space, but the layout of the existing landscape and the fact that they had a tool shed that looked like a little log cabin in the back yard lent itself to a predetermined circulation and layout.  Inspired by the log cabin of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond we knew that we had to accentuate this unique feature.

In order to link the log cabin to the house it was important to build a usable patio space from the two stair locations on the porch to the cabin.  We accomplished this with rectangular bluestone and black star gravel between; the bluestone defined the patio edges and the gravel filled the interior.  This approach kept the cost down and complimented the many modern sculptural and pieces inside and outside the house while staying in keeping with less formal aesthetic of woodland cabin.

                   

Circling to the back of the tool shed is a woodchip path that gives one the feeling as if they are walking through a woodland garden.  Ferns and philodendron spot the shadier side of the path while grasses and iris are on the sunnier side of the path.  A modern steel sculpture punctuates the island in the middle.

While a woodland garden is not something one typically pictures here in Houston for this West University residence it nicely fits the bill.

 

 

Rainwater Collection Houston: A Neighborhood Trendsetter

After transforming the landscape in her backyard, landscape client, Megan Schlain, decided that she wanted to share her enthusiasm for native landscapes and water conservation technology with her neighbors and the community … AND of coarse make her side-yard landscape look great!  The land on the side of Megan’s property was frequently over grown with grass & weeds.  It became a maze of dog poop land mines as the space showed any lack of care.  Megan did not like looking it and felt even worse about walking through it.  How could it be better?

                        

The landscape demonstrated some potential with its existing River Birches and Crape Myrtle, but much of the grass had to go and the oddly placed banana trees had to be removed.  There also need to be a delineated path that led around to her backyard entry.

The solution involved installing steel edge to contain a black-star gravel path along the side and to the back.  In order to create a more natural feel with the pathway, boulders were used to contrast the formality of the edge.  On one side of the path the grass would remain.  On the other side, irises were planted that in time will create a “meadow-like” feel along the house.  Then along the wooden fence and in the shade ferns soften the harsh line of the fence.

   

Located where the house meets the fence, a 500-gallon, stainless steel rain barrel was installed.  The cistern is connected to a pump and filter that then hooks into a low-flow irrigation system for the backyard.  When plants require water Megan simply turns on a timer and lets it run for 30-45 minutes.  Should the cistern itself be low on water, a float switch turns the pump off automatically.  A full rain barrel will keep the landscape looking good and healthy for about two weeks before a normal water supply would need to supplement.

Green Roof: California Academy of Sciences

I just got back from a visit to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park.  While everything pales in comparison to the cathedral that is Yosemite National Park, the California Academy of Sciences is and impressive example of modern LEED certified architecture.  In particular, the green roof adorning the building sets a new standard for green roof design.

This intensive green roof incorporates many of the plant species that I noticed working their way out of rock crevices while walking the trails of Yosemite and that are naturally native to California.  The roof undulations allow for the green roof to be viewed from the general surroundings and provide the roof space for the exhibits below.  Although I don’t generally advocate for modular systems, the coir modules used on this roof have long since biodegraded creating a seamless landscape that is home for a number of bird and insect species while simply becoming a beautiful tourist attraction for San Francisco.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see Houston and other Texas cities use the same kind of imagination on future public and civic buildings?

Living Walls Texas: Plants Living on Houses in Houston

What you see here is one panel of what can be an entire wall covered with plants.  This is about as basic as they get with small pockets planted with ornamentals.  More involved living walls will act as air filters when air is pulled through them and recirculated and have involved irrigation systems.  One thing is for sure; living walls are nice alternatives to their counter parts!

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Houston Native Landscapes: A Backyard Transformed

For several years the Schlain household had a back yard that was chaotic and and suffering.  The two resident chickens had eaten most of the plant material and rotting logs acted as edge material for the planting beds. Weeds were beginning to thrive in the nutrient poor soil despite the ‘area’ that was designated as the compost pile.  The client never went outside to sit on her deck and was embarrassed to show friends and family.

When we first met to discuss how my client imagined the landscape, it was simple.  She said, “I want it to be beautiful!  I want it to be a place that I like to hang out.”  So, to start, I drew two landscape concepts.  One concept was to create a more contemporary landscape with rectangular stones aligned in the same direction, a water feature and simple plants with little diversity.  The second was a more natural landscape with greater plant diversity and irregular stone steppers.  Both had a similar pedestrian circulation pattern due to the size of the landscape and both included a 500 gallon cistern to collect rainwater.

The result was a landscape with using water hardy and native plants to create a collage of different colors and textures.  At the clients request (and simply because they looked nice), I transplanted several of the shrubs including elephants ear and a banana tree to locations where they could be better appreciated while allowing space for additional plants.  The existing Fringe Tree and Redbud nicely anchored two of the corners of the yard, but the third was begging for a companion.  A 15′ Southern Magnolia now adorns the space that in time will be come the dominant feature in the yard.

Now a bluestone walkway  and small, gray-gravel filled gaps circle through the small backyard (30′ x 25′) allowing the client to fully appreciate the garden.  In a couple of months the pathway will also provide access the 500 gallon galvanized metal cistern to be installed in the backyard.  The cistern will provide irrigation for the backyard keeping it full and lush.

In the end the landscape has transformed from a derelict landscape to one that will be enjoyed for years to come.

 

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Gardens on Top of City Busses?

I just read an article about an initiative in New York City to put green roofs on top of city busses.  This is part of a senior thesis project by a NYU student.  As a green roof consultant and installer, I would normally promote any initiative to promote the technology and its many benefits.  However, in this instance, I have to question the real purpose of the effort and money involved.  With 8 years of green roof experience, I am can speak with a certain amount of confidence that these “green roofs” will suffer from what those of us in the industry call wind scour.  Basically, consistent 30 mph winds will have negative effects on the success of the plant material planted.  This is probably why we see Photoshop-ed sedums on top of the busses pictured rather than a picture of the actual test bus.  While putting green roofs on busses may increase visibility and education of the technology, I fear that a poor looking example could have exactly the opposite affect.  Why not instead install them on the roofs of bus stops or other small low lying roof surfaces?  I want to recognize the out-of-the-box thinking,  but lets put our money and energy into putting green roofs in places where they will make a real difference and inspire more!  http://wakeup-world.com/2012/02/27/gardens-thrive-on-top-of-city-busses/