IMG_9580It’s fun to drive around during December and see what people have done to decorate the exteriors of their homes. Wreaths, garlands, bows, seasonal greens in showy containers – the displays can be beautiful, especially at night when colored strands of light illuminate tall evergreens or roof lines.

Classic holiday decorating is familiar and reassuring, part of a collective expectation that dates back well before the “Christmas IMG_9458tree” to ancient winter celebrations. But other elements have crept into the conversation:  ‘tacky’ Christmas decorations, disco light shows and grossly oversized plastic blowups that are completely unrelated to the holiday.  Can someone explain what carousels, penguins or giant dinosaurs with rotating heads have to do with Christmas? And why someone would buy these, let alone want to set them up on their front lawns?

IMG_9577They remind me of the ‘ugly’ Christmas sweater that suddenly is the fodder of news reports, holiday parties and social media. Once something people made fun of, ‘ugly’ Christmas sweaters are now seasonal sellers, which sadly means they’re here to stay.

I realize I’m on thin ice here in judging ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ taste, sort IMG_9462Bof The Grinch of holiday décor. But my heart really isn’t two sizes too small. I love the holidays and understand the need to not take styling, or anything we design, too seriously. Humor and entertainment should always be included, and kids should get their say with bolder colors, outsized figures and just plain more of everything.

IMG_9579But……. I would like to drawn a line out there in the snow (well maybe not this year since we don’t have any!). I’d love to know what drives the truly gaudy, over the top, hyperactive displays that feel they have to ‘scream’ Christmas.….and I’d love to know why we can’t stop looking at them.

Oh well, ’tis the season! Enjoy the show!

The Suburban Lot is our monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and maintenance services.


We don’t need Jon Snow (my Game of Thrones hero) to tell us what lies ahead, although based on the recent weather we might not believe him anyway. With leaves still on many trees and balmy November temperatures, this extended fall has many of us in a state of denial about the inevitable. The last two winters have been so hard on landscapes, however, so it is important to take steps now to prepare for the colder months ahead. Weather forecasts seem to be very ambivalent…..I have heard predictions of another extreme winter, to milder “El Nino” influenced scenarios. No one ever really knows, so it’s best to be prepared for the worst and pleasantly surprised if it’s mild.



Tips-to-prepare-your-yard-for-Winter-Perennials-620x400Now is the time to cut back perennials and do leaf and debris cleanup.  Apart from obvious aesthetic benefits, keeping the garden free of debris over the winter aids in limiting fungal diseases and molds from developing. Bag and remove leaves, or better yet, recycle them into your compost bin. Decomposed leaves are a key ingredient in humus rich compost and you will be happy next spring to use it as a soil amendment or topdressing for garden beds. Although we cut back most perennials close to the ground, some exceptions such as ornamental grasses, can look lovely through the winter as an architectural accent. This is not a right or wrong here however- it’s more of a personal preference.



Rake ChipsIf leaf clean-up is completed, it’s not too late to put down a layer of mulch. Mulch of any type provides a layer of insulation to the soil, regulates temperatures and preserves moisture which is a benefit all year round. In the winter, hydration is critical to plant performance and survival. Cold temperatures and winter winds are highly dehydrating (think of how your skin feels) so maintaining adequate moisture greatly affects winter survival of plants.



Wilt-Pruf-spray-evergreens-MSL-560x373Broad leaved evergreens, with their exposed fleshly leaves, are the most susceptible to winter dehydration and damage. For this, we recommend spray applications of anti-desiccants (or anti-transpirants) such as ‘Wilt-Pruf’ – a non-toxic waxy coating that is sprayed to both sides of the leaf surface to give it a layer of protection. It’s not a foolproof solution, but it can make a difference in the amount of damage incurred, and a less stressed plant can often go on to recover more quickly come spring. Note, that anti-desiccants should be applied when temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.



Arborvitaes-¬Knab 484-LDue to last winter’s extensive evergreen damage, burlap wrapping may be something to consider this year. In the past wrapping has been used to protect non-hardy plants, such as fig trees, from surviving winter outdoors. For those who have recently invested in new evergreens, or for a specimen that is precious, this extra step could be worth considering. Although not attractive, burlap will add yet another layer of protection and the payoff come spring is a completely undamaged versus the headache and expense of either waiting for recovery or replacement.



Sprinkler-WinterizationDon’t forget to turn off all outside water lines and have your contractor professionally ‘blow out’ all lines for in- ground irrigation systems. This prevents water in outdoor pipes from freezing, expanding and exploding the pipes over the winter. There is never a good time for water damage, but winter water issues are all the more challenging when you add in the complications of freezing.


The Suburban Lot is our monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and maintenance services.



Dealing with deer in suburban gardens has become a significant deer-damageissue over the last decade. I easily remember a time when Montclair and surrounding towns were virtually free of deer. When fellow designers in areas farther west would bemoan limited plant choices, I almost felt guilty that I could plant whatever I wanted without concern.

Things started to change significantly around 2003, and every year since then the impact of deer on our local gardens has been more problematic.  This, in spite of yearly culling efforts, which in addition to managing  the population explosion, aid the re-growth of forests, reduce deer related traffic accidents and the slow the incidence of their tick born diseases.

Sometimes between deer issues and climate change, planting choices become so restricted that creativity is limited. Toss in a tree shaded, dry site, and you have the trifecta of design challenges!

I can’t debate the controversial politics of hunting deer (my ‘ex’ believed if they lived under our kitchen sinks, we wouldn’t think they were so cute), but I can comment on the ways in which we work to deter their destructive patterns.


boxwood and nepeta - CopyDeer are less likely to eat plants that are aromatic, have spiky, thorny  textured or hairy leaves. Any plant in the herbal or medicinal category: lavender, mint, yarrow or russian sage is of little interest. Boxwoods and peonies are other popular selections. Plants with thorns (holly or barberry), or hairy leaves (lambs ear) are also unpopular. Note, however, that starving deer will eat anything, particularly in late winter when food is scarce because the ground is snow covered. No rules are hard and fast in this game.  Your best bet is to plant things they like less and hope they move on. Avoid yew, hosta, and daylily as these common plants are among deer favorites.  A good list of deer resistant plants is from Rutgers University:


Deer fencing can be every effective, but it needs to be at least 7′ tall 0000027_4_x_330_standard_deer_fenceand  8′ is better. If deer can’t see where they are going to land they are less likely to jump fencing. Fencing plus adjacent planting can be very effective. In addition to regular mesh deer fencing, other barrier methods include ultrasonic devices which emit a high frequency sound that deters deer, and wireless electric deer fencing that repels deer with a mild shock Fencing must always create a 360 degree enclosure otherwise you risk capturing deer in an enclosure that they can’t exit.


131004-push-along-sprayer1There are a myriad of biological deer deterrents. Many use bad odors or tastes (garlic, coyote or human urine, cat feces) to keep the deer moving along. As these odors are offensive to humans, I prefer to use commercially available spray mixtures that include various natural and chemical compounds: Deer Scram, Repels All and Deer Stopper are a few brands we have tried. The best practice is to use more than one and rotate, as the deer become accustomed to one smell and it can stop being effective.


Large dogs can successfully chase deer away, however, unless they are out all the time, including the night time, deer quickly find a way around them. It doesn’t hurt to have a dog though as anything that decreases their comfort level can be a good thing.


Finally an important warning :  Fall is deer breeding season! Half of deer related car accidents occur during the fall mating or ‘rutting’ deer_carseason when deer frequently and unexpectedly dart onto roads. Be particularly attentive during morning and evening commuting times when visibility is poor and deer are most active. Peak season is late October through November! Drive carefully.

For help with any of your landscaping needs, please contact Mierop Design via the website



FullSizeRenderAs September arrives with shorter, cooler days, the landscape regains vigor and color with a final flower show before winter sets in.  In addition to predictable foliage changes, select perennials and shrubs come into their own, while annuals hit a peak before dying off for the year.

Image-1-3Some of my personal perennial favorites include asters, japanese anemone cultivars, turtlehead (chelone lyonni), and of course, many ornamental grasses.  Retail nurseries tend to rely on perennials that flower from spring into high summer, often omitting selections for later months when homeowners spend less time outside. In designing a garden for year round interest, it is important to include fall flowering selections.

Purple ornamental grassThey brighten autumn days and round out the garden palette. They enhance views from indoor windows and greet family, guests and passersby that appreciate your house from the street perspective.


Image-1-1Several excellent shrubs shine during fall months: beautyberry (callicarpa bodinieri) with its amazing cascades of bright purple berries, coralberry (symphoricarpos orbiculatus), many viburnum cultivars, and winterberry hollies (ilex verticillata cultivars). These brighten  the fall landscape and many work well for cutting arrangements to be enjoyed inside.


There are even bulbs for fall….peacock orchids (acidanthera murielae) and fall blooming cyclamen (cyclamen hederifolium) are more unusual selections for the plant connoisseur. Give some a try next year or encourage your designer to use them.


IMG_8791 And don’t rush to remove summer annuals too quickly!  Dahlias, salvias, verbena bonariensis and annual daisies are putting on strong show, so enjoy those last weeks of color. There is still time to get in cabbages, kales, winter pansies and ornamental grasses  that will push the garden to those last moments before frost .

Please contact Mierop Design for more information about all of our services: consultation, design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance.



thermomFollowing record breaking June rainfalls for New Jersey, the recent high temperatures coupled with weeks of no precipitation make this summer one of the hottest and driest on record. “Wilting, withering” and “mercury popping” is how one writer aptly describes growing conditions this year – and I couldn’t say it better.

IMG_8350-2Early leaf drop and discoloration are evident. Many plants and lawns, in spite of regular irrigation, look scorched and burned. With little rain and continuous high temperatures, plants are taking a beating, in some cases failing to reach full potential for size and flowering. Even many ‘full sun’ selections in my nursery look stressed, and have been relocated to the shade house to recover and prevent further damage.

IMG_8337Climate change, man-made or otherwise, is a reality that affects all life. Over the last twenty years I have observed dramatic shifts in what is considered ‘winter hardy’ in our zone 6. Now perhaps I have to reconsider what is ‘summer hardy’? Extremes on either end of the spectrum have made specifying and providing warranties for the landscape a challenging task.

thThe best bet for summer survival is to keep plants as hydrated as possible. Lawns and beds may need heavier and longer watering in long runs of high temperatures where no rainfall is predicted. Of course, check for any current watering restrictions.  For lawns, ask your contractor to keep the blades set high to 3 or 3 ½”….a scalped lawn in dry heat is fast to burn. A 2” to 3” layer of mulch is also crucial to lock moisture in and to maintain lower soil temperatures.

thPlants should also be carefully sited to make sure they are in the best location for their sun tolerance. Some items may need to be moved. Drought resistant varieties that prefer dry heat and little to no irrigation (lavender, catmint, coreopsis, artemisia) will likely increase in their landscape value as time goes on. I’ll be taking this into consideration as I plan this winter for next year’s installations.

For help with any of your landscaping needs, please contact Mierop Design via the website:



IMG_0047One of the great pleasures of the summer garden are big displays of annual and tropical plants in containers. It’s an oxymoron: ‘big’ plus ‘contained’ – and that’s part of the power of these important components within the landscape.

Beautiful when they are first installed in mid-May, just past fear of frosty night destruction, tropicals (plants not winter hardy in our zone 6 climate) take a short while to fill out and come into their own. By July/August and beyond, container plantings peak in beauty. Voluptuous and showy, they are garden dessert – a sweet treat on top of an already full plate of peak summer perennials and shrubs. Their non-stop flowering potential makes them invaluable in summer landscapes which often hit a color lull as temperatures rise.

Sherman-Bujalski (5)In addition to the vast tropical palette of exotic plants, containers themselves offer their own world of decorative delight. There are abundant choices in every style, taste: from traditional terracotta, wood, limestone and cast iron, to a brave new world of resins and reproductions that winter our weather extremes, are lightweight, easy to move around, and are often reasonably priced. Finishing techniques have become so sophisticated that it can take close examination and a ‘tap’ test, to separate real from mimic.

There are styles and sizes to suit every taste and space requirement. Streamlined bold geometrics are popular now and look newest in bold colors that play off plant palettes.


Container versatility also crosses from merely aesthetic to functional. A well-sited container can draw the eye along a deliberate axis, disguise an ugly utility, serve as a safety barrier or enclose a space. In winter months, they house evergreens and add visual play to otherwise bleak landscapes.

yellow flowerA big gift in a small package, containers offers both high returns and low risk on your time and dollar investment. So go crazy with colors. Mix bold centerpieces with fillers and spillers. Combine different sizes in a still life of shapes on your deck or patio. You can always change things up next time around!

For assistance with any of your container or annual installations please contact Mierop Design.


Title ShotDespite that wise old advice, there seems to be too little time as we rush through our work and personal lives to ‘stop and smell the roses’. Given my line of work, it’s especially ironic that I forget constantly. This summer, with plentiful rains following an early spring drought, flowers seemed to pop all at once – and many of them roses.

One of my favorite showcase jobs planted three years agoDrift Roses literally stopped me as I was driving. I pulled over to take photos of a full on explosion of color – mostly from a new series called Drift roses: Peach Drift, Coral Drift, Apricot Drift, Pink Drift, Sweet Drift etc. These repeat flowering low shrubs offer prolific non-stop color and a handsome compact habit that make them easy and fun to mix with other perennials. Though not fragrant, they make up for that with their big late spring into summer show.

knock out rosesKnockout roses have taken the market by storm for their ease of care and performance. Aptly named, they flower non-stop from June through the fall. Go into any garden center and you’ll find them in abundance. Reaching to 4’ x 4’ they come in a variety of colors, both in single and double shapes.

If you really want to SMELL roses, however, you have to go to Daviddavid austin roses Austin, my favorite breeder. Austin has perfected the best of all rose possibilities by hybridizing old fashioned types with newer repeat-flowering varieties. His magnificent cultivars combine the perfection of form and fragrance of old roses, with the repeat flowering and disease resistance of newer varieties. Romantically named after English authors and literary references, they delight all the senses with names like ‘Jane Austen’ or ‘Jude the Obscure’. A look through his catalog (, is like going through a candy store. You’re not sure which one will be more delicious.

endless hydrangeaRoses peak in June, but let’s not forget that other big summer show off – the hydrangea that takes us well into the later months. Last year the most common garden complaint was about non-flowering. The harsh winter of 2013 caused complete die back to root systems. Winter 2014, though harsh again, caused less damage, and this year there is excellent flower production on old and new wood. Look for standard mopheads like the popular ‘Endless Summer’ series, more subtle lacecaps (hydrangea macrophylla varieties), oak leaf typesstrawberry vanilla (hydrangea quercifolia varieties), plus the fantastic new upright panicles (hydrangea paniculata varieties) that have been hybridized to include many new cultivars. Ones that mix and change color from white to pink like ‘Fire & Ice’ or ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ are newest – their names allude to what’s going on with these exciting new cultivars.

Remember: Take the time now to appreciate summer flowers! The moment is fleeting – so stop to smell, admire and breathe in all that beauty we wait the rest of the year to enjoy.

Contact Mierop Design for any of your landscape design, construction or horticultural and garden maintenance needs.


This winter was one of the coldest in recorded weather history for our zone 6 region. With snow events continuing into late March, a full month later than the brutal winter prior, extreme low temperatures left heavy damage in many landscapes….and many homeowners (and contractors) distraught over the losses.

Image-1Broadleaf evergreens suffered most. Their fleshy leaves, exposed to the unusually late cold and ice, burned just like food left too long in the freezer. “Freezer burn” caused leaves to completely die, or to have brown sections of unsightly damage.



Every winter we expect some winter damage, but this spring, it’s the damage extent of the damage that is so hard to fathom. Plants like laurels (prunus laurocerasus) considered ‘marginally’ hardy for zone 6, suffered the most. However, many fully hardy geneses such as holly and rhododendron, suffered equally, if not more. Fully hardy in our zone 6, they form the backbone of many winter landscapes.


Flowering trees also took a hit. Many crape myrtles, a particular favorite that we have become accustomed to planting liberally, died completely. Although they can regenerate from their roots, it hardly seems worth the wait. Very established specimens as well as newbies didn’t make it, so age did not offer protection. Ones that survived may have had a slight positioning benefit that shielded them from the worst winds and exposure.

The good news is that a lot of this damage will regenerate on its own. Most laurels and hollies are slowly pushing new growth now. Your patience will be rewarded as many shrubs and trees return to fullness within the season. Most dead leaves drop on their own, but you can go ahead and cut them off if you don’t want to wait. Cut back to live wood to encourage new growth.

Plants, of course, can also be replaced. The question is: replace with the same, or go for something hardier? I am an eternal optimist. I also want to plant what I want to plant. I love laurels and I am willing to live with their imperfect winter performance, but maybe you’re not so it’s time to consider something new.

Steps can also be taken in the fall to protect broadleaf evergreens: anti-desiccant treatments and burlap wraps may be the difference between life and death in an extreme winter. Less hardy varieties can also be planted in locations with more screening from harsh winter winds, or protected areas near walls, fences or other larger planting screens.


No one can predict next year’s weather except to say that it will beburlap tree unpredictable. Regardless of what side of the climate change argument you fall on, recent winters have been undeniably brutal. And by the way, in case you were wondering about that plant warranty, landscape designers and contractors are not in control of extreme winter weather!


Witch-Hazel-2-resizedAfter a long and difficult winter, the signs of renewal come as a welcome relief. The late snows kept things hiding, but hellebores and witch hazels, magnolias and cherries are all visible now…along with early bulbs like daffodils and grape muscari.

While it’s exciting to see new life pushing up through the earth, there are important tasks that also need your attention now.



Remember to turn on outside water lines. You’ll be needing them if you haven’t already, and if you have hired any professionals to do landscape work, that’s the first thing they will be looking for.


You did this in the fall, now it’s time to check leaders and gutters again. Keep them free from debris and leaf accumulation to avoid clogging that can drown plantings in too much water.


After removing dead plants, branches and leaves from your lawnsPruning-Tree and beds, prune away dead and damaged branches from woody trees and shrubs. Many shrubs that didn’t get hard pruned in the fall can be pruned at this time (hydrangea, butterfly bush, caryopteris). Prune back any perennials that were left in the fall such as grasses and others that remained for winter ornamental reasons.



Lightly turn the soil over with a cultivating tool. Soil can become compressed over time and opening it up lightly aerates root systems and permits water and fertilizers to penetrate more easily. It also looks really nice to see freshly cultivated dirt.



Add a layer of mulch to your beds if you didn’t last fall. Mulch addsemail_mulch protection, keeping soil temperatures even and preventing water evaporation. As it breaks down mulch also supplies nutrients and organic matter that replenish the soil. For perennial areas, I recommend something lighter such as a layer of compost or composted manure, lightly cultivated it into the soil base.



If you get to this chore early, you’ll save yourself heartache later when the foliage is too tall to manage. Set stakes or ‘grow-throughs’ around or over plants that get tall and split: peonies, daisies, salvias and veronica are common selections. Most plants look better with a little light support…but don’t make it too obvious….it’s an art to keep it subtle and not make plants look girdled, but it’s worth the time to keep perennials at their best. Staking can also be done naturalistically with twigs and small branches set carefully in-between plant foliage. This is more time consuming, but a very appealing way to invisibly make plants look perfect all season.


Please contact Mierop Design for assistance with any of these horticultural maintenance chores. Our Landscape Guild Master Gardening Crews are happy to help! 973.744.1758


IMG_4329It’s finally spring and the urge to spend time out of doors is powerful. The sights and smells of a fresh new season are exciting, especially after such a protracted winter indoors. The time is here to get that spring ‘to-do list’ going.  A short series of classes offered at Van Vleck House & Gardens  by me and my business partner, Frank Contey of Terra Graphics, can help jumpstart your season.

Entitled Landscape by the Yard, we will be teaching four sessions topbeginning Wednesday, April 1st. The first class, “Think Spring” will focus on key chores for the ‘do-it-yourself’ gardener, as well as highlighting design considerations that inform all outdoor room planning


van vleck wisteriaBest known for its gigantic, dramatic swags of wisteria that flower in May, the Van Vleck property is extraordinary from both architectural and landscape history perspectives. Originally built as a private residence over 140 years ago, three generations of Van Vlecks lived on the 5.8 acre estate and developed the grounds. In 1993, the property was gifted to The Montclair Foundation by heirs of its last resident, Howard Van Vleck. A recent capital campaign has raised funds to update the facilities and attract more annual visitors to this extraordinary suburban jewel. Last year saw the debut of a new educational facility with programming for both children and adults in our community.

I was privileged to have been asked to assist the campaign kick off in2009 07 16_0898 - Copy 2008 by designing and building the formal “Tennis Garden” with my partner Terra Graphics. Last year, Frank and I were again fortunate to have been asked to host the educational launch with a series of classes for adults. More recently Terra Graphics completed an extraordinary mosaic “Butterfly Garden”, superbly designed for children by Molli Dowd of Afterglow Design. The Butterfly Garden will debut this spring and I am sure it will become a favorite local activity for parents and children.

Garden Mag Sharper (2)Landscape by the Yard was given a nice nod from Garden Design Magazine! Classes begin Wednesday, April 1st and run from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Educational Center. Visit for further details.

We hope to see some of you there!!