Gardens of GrowthGardens of Growth

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We've moved to a new website!

Gardens of Growth has launched a new website with a fully integrated blog, so we're slowly moving everything over to the new site. Click here to go to the new blog where you can see old posts as they disappear from here, along with new posts. Thanks!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Top Apps and Sites for Landscaping

Gardens of Growth has launched a new website with a fully integrated blog, so we're slowly moving everything over to the new site. Click here to go to the new blog where you can see old posts as they disappear from here, along with new posts. Thanks!

Like it or not, smart phones have become a staple in our everyday lives. We rarely step out of the house (or out of the room, honestly) without them. If you have wholeheartedly embraced your device or devices in all aspects of life, this post is for you. With the internet constantly at our fingertips, there are all kinds of apps and websites to help with garden planning and maintenance, no matter what your level of expertise is. Today we're going to share nine apps and four websites we love that can help you outdoors on everything from plant identification to problem diagnosis to calculating the benefits of your trees.

Apps for Beginners

Are you interested in your landscape, but clueless about where to begin? Our first set of apps can help. We have two for plant identification, and some for snapping photos - because once you get started with plants, you're going to want to share the gorgeous sights you're seeing!

Image source:
LikeThat Garden
This app lets you take a picture of a flower and then gives you options to match it. Once you decide which one is right, you can hit "more info" to go to the plant's Wikipedia page. In my experience, Wikipedia plant entries can be a bit too technical for gardening purposes. For more information, I suggest you look up the plant on one of the websites I list later in this post. One feature I love is the history button. It lets you look back at old photos you've taken in case you forget what plant you discovered.

Price: Free
Platform: Apple and Android

Image source:
Leafsnap is an app for instant tree leaf identification. It is not quite as easy to use as LikeThat Garden, but if don't want pull out a book or look up a dichotomous key online, this app can help. To use Leafsnap, you need to place an individual leaf on a white backdrop and take a photo. This will give you options of close matches, and then you have to decide which is right. According to reviews, the app works best if you are connected to wifi. It also has a game to help hone your leaf and flower identification skills.

Price: Free
Platform: Apple

You need #nofilter on this sumac!
Image source: Maria Gulley
You don't need a special app for taking plant pictures. Your smart phone's built-in camera can take decent pictures on its own. If you're a fan of Snapchat, Instagram, or any number of other photo-based social media apps, it makes sense to keep on doing what you're doing and adding in all the beautiful pictures you'll be taking in your garden. However you like to share images, add your garden to the mix, because you have every right to be proud of how awesome your plants look - no filter needed.

Price: Free (many apps available for purchase as well)
Platform: Apple and Android

Apps for Mid-Level Experience

These apps are easiest to use if you already have some knowledge of plants (or if you are especially ambitious about taking first steps into gardening). Here we have great plant problem identification apps, an encyclopedia of landscape knowledge, and a comprehensive planning tool for edible gardening.

Purdue Plant Doctor Apps
Image source:
This family of apps from Purdue University (Tree Doctor, Perennial Doctor, Annual Doctor, and Tomato Doctor) helps identify common pest, disease, and environmental problems in different kinds of plants. I list this app for more experienced gardeners because you need to be sure on plant identification, but it can just as easily be used by a beginner if you know what species of plant you're working with. You can search by plant or by problem and use pictures and written descriptions to put a name to the issue. The app also contains information on treating and preventing each problem.

Price: $1.99 for Tree Doctor, $0.99 for each of the others
Available for: Apple and Android

Landscaper's Companion
Image source:
With details on over 26,000 species, Landscaper's Companion packs in a lot of information. Why choose this app when you can Google something? You can use it without internet access, the information is trustworthy, and you can easily search the plant database with fourteen filters to find the perfect plant. The app can be used alongside their website, but to use all its features (including the ability to track your own garden and sync it with your smart phone) you have to pay for a monthly subscription. It's not an inexpensive system, but its convenience and reliability make it popular with both professional and amateur gardeners.

Price: $9.99
Platform: Apple

Image source:
Vegetable Tree
This app probably could have fit on the list for beginners as far as ease of use, but growing edible crops requires consistent effort through the season, and not everybody is ready for that much work in their first year(s) of plant care. (Need some encouragement to get started? Check out our blog post on 6 reasons to grow your own food!) Vegetable Tree will help you choose what to plant and when based on your location. Once you select your plants, it will estimate the harvest date based on planting date. The app can also tell you about companion planting and common pests, and you can add your own photos and notes.

Price: $3.99
Available for: Apple

Apps for Advanced Gardeners

If you already spend countless hours outside in the garden, these apps can enhance and organize your experience. They can be used by anyone, but for someone just getting started it may be overwhelming to think about tracking invasive species, reporting weather conditions, and making a detailed garden journal.

Great Lakes Early Detection Network (GLEDN)
Image source:
If you are a veteran gardener, you have no doubt heard of invasive species. According to the USDA, an invasive species is a non-native species (this can be a plant, insect, fungus - anything) that causes or is likely to cause significant damage to the environment, human health, or the economy. One familiar example is the Emerald Ash Borer. Learn more about invasive species here. This app lets you report possible sightings of invasive species with photos and GPS coordinates for further investigation by experts. No internet? The app will save the information for you and report it once your device connects to the internet again.

Price: Free
Available for: Apple and Android

CoCoRaHS Observer
CoCoRaHS stands for Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow, and much like our previous app, it's another opportunity to be involved in citizen science and data collection. You can register through their website and contribute precipitation measurements online or with this app. Whether you're a member or not, you can also check their website to see reports of precipitation pinpointed to your location to help you decide when your plants need some extra water (we'll be doing an in-depth post on watering in a few weeks, so be sure to check that out).

Price: Free
Available for: Apple and Android

Image source:
When it comes to journaling and note-taking, Evernote is at the head of its class. It's compatible across all platforms, meaning you can take a note on your phone in the garden, and it will get synced to all other devices. I also love that there are so many ways to take notes. You can type notes, snap photos, record audio, set reminders, save helpful webpages, and much more - all in one app. This is a great system if you're like me, and you notice something while you're outside but forget to write it down inside. You can simply snap a photo with your phone and set a reminder to look at it again. If you have used a physical journal in the past, you can scan it and upload it into Evernote to keep everything together. If you do choose to dive into Evernote, make sure you take a little time to learn about it so you take advantage of all its features. Their help page is a good place to start.

Price: Free, with optional paid upgrades
Available for: Apple, Android, Mac, and Windows


As much as we love our phones, there are some great online resources out there that are easier to use on a larger tablet or computer. These four websites are invaluable tools for gardeners of all levels.

Image source:
Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder
Among impartial sources of plant information, the Missouri Botanical Garden's website is my favorite. Their Plant Finder feature allows you to look up a plant by common or scientific name with a huge range of optional filters to find just the right plant. Each plant profile includes details on growth requirements, habit, key features, disease and insect problems, and sometimes a history of the plant. What makes this resource stand out is that it reports on both the good and the bad. The pictures aren't as nice, but since they aren't trying to sell you anything, you get an unbiased expert opinion, often with reviews from people who have grown the plant in the past. Since they are based in Missouri, make sure you check that any plant you find there will survive our growing zone, and remember that bloom season may start a little later for spring plants here in central Indiana.

Perennial Resource
As another searchable database of plant information, this website is similar to the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder. It differs because it focuses specifically on perennials, and it has more entries for varieties and cultivars. It has 304 types of hostas alone. Perennial Resource also has better photos, and I like that it recommends companion plants and design styles.

i-Tree Design
This amazing tool lets you calculate the benefits provided by the trees in your yard. Trees can save money by reducing heating and cooling costs, intercepting storm water, improving air quality, and capturing carbon dioxide. To use this tool, simply enter your address, outline your house, and place your existing trees. i-Tree can also help you decide the best place to plant a new tree, and you can compare tree species to see which ones provide the greatest benefit. In addition to the quantifiable benefits of trees, don't forget the intangible ways they improve our lives. Check out our top 10 reasons to love trees to learn more about both the quantifiable and un-quantifiable benefits.

Arbor Day Foundation Tree Key
The Arbor Day Foundation has made a user-friendly online tree leaf identification key for tree-lovers of all levels. Some identification guides will have you scratching your head wondering what on earth an acuminate tip or a doubly serrate margin are, but not this one. I do wish there were more illustrations to give examples along with the text descriptions, but in the end it is a good leaf key for beginners.

Gardening can be an incredibly rewarding experience, even for the tech-savvy person who doesn't usually opt to spend time outside. These apps and websites are just a few of the tools available to kick-start or enrich your landscaping experience. However, nothing replaces experience. The longer you spend with plants, the more you understand them. So if you're a beginner, never hesitate to ask for help from professionals or experienced hobbyists. We're always happy to help solve a problem or give a word of advice!

Friday, November 6, 2015

November Plant of the Month: Ginkgo

Gardens of Growth has launched a new website with a fully integrated blog, so we're slowly moving everything over to the new site. Click here to go to the new blog where you can see old posts as they disappear from here, along with new posts. Thanks!

I don't know how we've gone nearly a full year without highlighting a tree as our plant of the month, but today we will remedy that. The Ginkgo tree is a unique and fascinating tree. The species has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, so it is truly a living fossil. We're choosing to feature it in November because of its spectacular late fall display. Ginkgo trees keep their leaves longer than most, but at some point (usually in November) the entire tree will turn a rich golden yellow practically overnight, and all its leaves will drop within a day or two in a beautiful gold shower. It is beloved as a street tree as well as for home yards because it is hardy, long-lived, tolerant of harsh conditions, and it has a beautiful form.

Image source:

In addition to being known for their fall color and easy maintenance, Ginkgo trees can also be easily identified for their unique leaf shape... and the smell of the female trees. The leaves have a fascinating fan shape, sometimes with a split down the middle. The veins also follows this fan pattern with a hair-like texture, giving the tree its other common name: Maidenhair Tree. These trees are dioecious, which means that there are male and female trees instead of both male and female floral structures being present on the same plant (hollies are another example of dioecious plants). The female trees produce large numbers of stinky fruit, and the smell can be overpowering at some times of year. Fortunately, you can now select only male trees for planting in the landscape so you can enjoy all the positive attributes of the tree without this serious drawback. If you can get past the smelly outer coat of the female fruits, the seeds inside are edible and are used in dishes in some Asian countries.

Image source:
Common Name: Ginkgo or Maidenhair Tree

Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba

Notable Varieties: 'Autumn Gold' (broad, symmetrical shape), 'Princeton Sentry' (narrow, columnar form)

Light: full sun to part shade

Size: 50-75' tall, 50-60' wide

Soil: tolerates a wide variety of soils, as long as it is not waterlogged

Blooms: inconspicuous in spring

Other Notes: be sure to get a male variety to avoid smelly fruits, valued as a hardy street tree, very long-lived with few pest problems

See other plants of the month here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Project Spotlight: Modern Suburban Outdoor Living

Gardens of Growth has launched a new website with a fully integrated blog, so we're slowly moving everything over to the new site. Click here to go to the new blog where you can see old posts as they disappear from here, along with new posts. Thanks!

We love projects that let our designers' imaginations and creativity soar, and today's featured property certainly let our team exercise all of their skills. These clients contacted us after buying a suburban home in Indianapolis that they wanted to remodel and re-landscape. They wanted a modern design that extended the home into the outdoors, and in a long-term collaboration over multiple phases we have done just that.

From an overhead view, the overall design is built heavily on circles and arcs defined by trees and planting beds. The outdoor living spaces follow this strict geometry with circles and rectangles of paved space linked by paths of square pavers. While precise geometry may govern the design, the space still feels lush and relaxing through the use of a carefully selected plant palette and comfortable furniture.

Before: The old landscaping was timid and was made mostly of over-used plants in unimaginative arrangements. The lawn was not in great shape.

After: We added birch trees to bridge the difference in scale between the house and the garden. The pergola adds a stable horizontal element that grounds the house and ties it to the landscape. Massed plantings of liriope and hydrangea along the front keep the plant palette simple, but bring different surprises through the season. Off in the background you can see the golden plumes of the Karl Foerster grass as it wraps around the house. Wisteria climbs over the pergola to create a shaded walk. The restored lawn is lush and healthy. Join me on a walk around to property to see how it has grown and matured.

The wisteria has formed a dense curtain of foliage over the pergola, and in the spring time the sweet smell of the heavy hanging flowers is intense. A simple and tranquil water feature brings soothing sounds and provides a quiet focal point for the shaded walk up to the front door. Potted ferns on the step and the path further soften the architecture.

Around the side of the house we get a closer look at the ornamental grasses planted in precise rows under the river birches. When a breeze blows, the grasses dance gracefully. The foliage will turn to a golden color in the fall, and will be left standing until late in the winter to provide interest and layering in the landscape throughout the year.

Now we venture into the back yard where the plant palette expands dramatically and you can experience outdoor living in its truest sense. We arrive at the first fire feature, a simple bowl filled with clear fire glass set in a circular bluestone patio. Off to the right you see the cutting garden, an old-fashioned feature in this modern landscape that reminds the owners of their more traditional home in another city. Perfectly squared and aligned pavers guide you down the path and under the light shade of birch and serviceberry.

You can turn and look back at the end of the path to see how modern and old-fashioned plant selections merge elegantly without interrupting the overall unity of the design. Since the time this picture was taken, we have filled in between the stepping stones with grass instead of mulch. The new effect reduces the mess of mulch on stones and also make the path appear more organic.

We have now entered the primary entertaining area of the garden. Another circular bluestone patio echoes the space around the fire feature and emphasizes the strong geometry of the design. The minimalist furniture is in keeping with the modern scheme, but it is still warmly inviting.

Turn to your left and you see another gentle water feature to soothe those seated nearby. The water ripples as it flows over the rugged sandstone block and splashes softly into the river rock below. Grasses create a soft backdrop and a sense of enclosure.

Behind the narrow hedge is a private space for relaxation and contemplation next to the clients' bedroom. Another fire feature allows for a more intimate blaze than the bowl by the cutting garden.

Returning to the open patio, wide grass-covered steps beckon you down into the lawn. The curve of the limestone fits perfectly with the bluestone above and the planting bed edge as it sweeps around the side of the house.

The lawn is interrupted by a long sweep of spruces that serve to extend the circle motif further into the property as well as to create circulation routes through an otherwise bland expanse of turf.

The back edge of the property is lined with planting beds that carry on the pattern of arcs. A hosta garden (not pictured, sadly) highlights the clients' interest in collecting hostas, and it brings some variety to the fence line. The large bed of ornamental grass echoes the plantings in the front yard and helps to tie the whole property together. This picture was taken on a misty fall morning, and it illustrates well how the grasses can create an interesting texture up close while fading into a graceful haze in the background.

Tucked away all over the property are little details that were carefully selected to reflect the clients' tastes and past. I'll finish off this tour by sharing one of my favorite elements that ties in closely to the owners. These miscanthus grasses are all grown from plants that the couple brought from their previous home in Missouri. They wanted to keep a little bit of that garden with them, and this is one of the ways we incorporated that into the landscape. What I love about these grasses in the fall is that the seed spikes appear bright and coppery in the full sun, but they add a warm pinkish color in dimmer light as you see in this picture. With a fine texture and strong form, they're gorgeous all year long.

I hope you enjoyed your garden tour today! And just think, you could have your own outdoor living space to truly extend your home into the garden. We specialize in making breathtaking designs that take your personal interests into account. We don't just come up with plans our clients like that fit in with the neighbors; we strive to understand people and artfully reflect that understanding by designing stunning landscapes.

Friday, October 2, 2015

October Featured Plant: Beautyberry

Gardens of Growth has launched a new website with a fully integrated blog, so we're slowly moving everything over to the new site. Click here to go to the new blog where you can see old posts as they disappear from here, along with new posts. Thanks!

Beautyberry is an underused shrub that is simply gorgeous late in the season. With dense clusters of glossy purple berries cascading down arching branches from late September long into fall, it adds a surprising pop of color into the October landscape.

Image source:

There are two species of Beautyberry commonly grown in the landscaping industry. American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is native to the southeast US and has somewhat larger, less glossy leaves. Purple Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) is from Asia and has more refined, glossy leaves, but both are excellent additions to the garden. As a word of warning, American Beautyberry is a little less winter hardy than Purple Beautyberry, so if you're planting in an exposed area you may want to use the Asian species instead of our American one.

Image source:
Common Name: Beautyberry

Scientific Name: Callicarpa species (mainly C. americana and C. dichotoma)

Notable Varieties: 'Profusion' (lots of berries), 'Early Amethyst' (berries earlier than usual), 'Duet' (white berries and variegated leaves)

Light: full sun to part shade

Size: 3-6' tall and wide (C. americana is usually larger than C. dichotoma)

Soil: tolerant of most soils, including clay, but does need decent drainage

Blooms: white or pale pink blossoms clustered on stems from June to August

Other Notes: bright purple berries last from September to November; it blooms on new wood, so prune in early spring if needed; harsh winters may kill branches to the ground, but new growth will quickly follow in spring

See other plants of the month here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Designing to Remember: The National 9/11 Memorial Plaza

Gardens of Growth has launched a new website with a fully integrated blog, so we're slowly moving everything over to the new site. Click here to go to the new blog where you can see old posts as they disappear from here, along with new posts. Thanks!

Landscape architects can play a pivotal role in helping us remember triumph and tragedy in the form of memorials, monuments, and outdoor places for reflection. In honor of the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we'll take a look at the design of the National 9/11 Memorial, designed by Michael Arad (architect) and Peter Walker (landscape architect), and think about how it helps residents and visitors in New York City commemorate the past while looking forward to the future.

Image source:

The plaza covers about 8 acres at the former site of the World Trade Center and is set at street level to fully integrate it with city life. The most immediately obvious design features are the two massive square pools recessed into the ground and fed by waterfalls flowing from the rims of the structures. The pools sit on the footprints of the twin towers and represent the loss and pain while also creating a soothing, healing sound. The names of those who lost their lives in the attacks are etched into bronze set around the two pools. The long list serves to emphasize the scale of the tragedy but also to recognize the importance of each life.

Image source:
These pools are surrounded by a grove of swamp white oaks that provide shelter and will one day screen and soften the view of the brass-rimmed pools. This symbolizes the fact the life will continue and the nation will recover, but we will never forget. Swamp white oaks were selected for their tolerance of city conditions and golden fall color. As they grow to a mature height upwards of 50 feet, the oaks will form a dense ceiling above the plaza that creates a serene, almost church-like space for reflection in the middle of the bustling city.

Without careful design, the flat, expansive space could appear monotonous. The designers punctuated the parallel rows of trees and pavement with areas of lawn, groundcover, steel grating, and varied paving patterns. The overall lines of the trees aren't interrupted, so the design becomes interesting and engaging both from a distance and up close. Stretches of grass in front of the entrances to the museum allow for some sunlit space to rest.

Image source:
In keeping with the desire to look to the future, the memorial-museum project is seeking LEED Gold certification by implementing sustainable design and construction practices that minimize the project's impact on the planet and ensure that it will endure for years to come. The plaza itself is one massive green roof for the museum underneath. The oaks and other plants are planted in a matrix of specially formulated soil that fills a mostly hollow concrete structure to allow ample root space for the oaks. Urban trees rarely get the root space they need to thrive, so in a traditional setting these swamp white oaks would die long before reaching maturity. With this system they should live for decades, as long as there are no other problems. The green roof captures enough rain water to supply most of the annual irrigation needs for the plaza.

The National 9/11 Memorial is just one of many examples of how a well-designed landscape can help us connect to our past without being trapped in it. The pools permanently remember the twin towers, and the oaks create a sacred space for remembrance. Yet the oaks themselves and the sustainability of the design remind us that we can move forward and plan for the future. For a more in-depth look at the design and all the meaning behind it, visit the 9/11 Memorial website or check out the information available on Peter Walker's website.

Friday, September 4, 2015

September Featured Plant: Little Bluestem

Gardens of Growth has launched a new website with a fully integrated blog, so we're slowly moving everything over to the new site. Click here to go to the new blog where you can see old posts as they disappear from here, along with new posts. Thanks!

Image source:

As we head into fall, I'd like to showcase one of the many ornamental grasses that begin to steal the show as perennials stop blooming and trees and shrubs are about to start to change color. Little Bluestem is a clump-forming prairie grass native to almost all of the United States and Canada, but you don't need a field of it to enjoy its ornamental value.

'The Blues' mixed in with some
rattlesnake master.
Image source:
With such a wide native range, you won't be surprised to learn that Little Bluestem is very tough and adaptable. It can handle clay and drought, extreme heat, bitter cold, and even air pollution. Late in the summer seedheads appear. In the fall, you get a lovely rust-colored display as the leaves turn dormant. In the winter the seeds and foliage turn beige but can be left up for interesting structure and texture and to feed native birds. This grass certainly doesn't get the attention it deserves. The straight species can be hard to find in retail settings, but there are many popular varieties available for purchase. The most common is probably 'The Blues' which has a strong bluish cast to the foliage.

Stunning fall color.
Image source:
Common Name: Little Bluestem

Scientific Name: Schizachyrium scoparium

Notable Varieties: 'The Blues' (blue foliage), 'Standing Ovation' (brightest fall color), 'Prairie Munchkin' (only 2' tall)

Light: full sun

Size: 2-4' tall, 1.5 to 2 feet wide

Soil: tolerant of most soils, does best on drier soils with moderate to low fertility

Blooms: inconspicuous tan flower in August

Other Notes: extremely drought, heat, and cold tolerant; tolerates pollution; brilliant fall color; winter interest; native to Indiana

See other plants of the month here.