For many of us, living in the suburbs goes hand in hand with maintaining  a weed-free lawn that is as close to a lush, green carpet as possible. Likewise, healthy trees, shrubs and perennials are part of the reason we enjoy our homes.  Historically maintained using chemical fertilizers and pest control, if you are like many eco-conscious homeowners, you now want to make your garden as environmentally friendly as possible…..while still having it look great.

2011 07 12_2448A typical suburban landscape, though it incorporates elements of nature, is not really natural environment at all. In a self-sustaining ecosystem, like a forest, many different types of plants grow and support one another, creating a cycle of growth and decomposition, which creates nutrient rich, organic soil, also known as  “living” soil . When there is just one type of plant (monoculture), as in the case of lawns, that natural cycle doesn’t exist. The soil is often lacking in nutrients, weakening plant health and making it susceptible to diseases, pests and weeds.  Applying chemicals further compromises soil health by killing microorganisms, resulting in dead soil with no nutrients.

girls and catBeyond soil health, anyone with children or pets, as well as anyone concerned about the health of the planet, is looking for alternatives to conventional, chemical based care. However, you may be wondering, “What exactly does organic involve?” and “Does it really work?”

Organic care  involves treating your landscape as a whole living system where the soil, plants, and animals within that system are interdependent and sustain each other. Focusing on soil health will result in healthy plants, leading to an attractive and non-toxic environment that supports balance and biodiversity.

Organic lawn care eliminates the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides, as well as nitrates andlawn phosphates, which run off into waterways, causing problems in aquatic ecosystems. Dial Environmental uses a ‘probiotic’ approach—by  focusing on improving the soil through the addition of beneficial microorganisms. These organisms help break down nutrients so the lawn can absorb them more readily, which in turn, improves the quality and health of the grass without the use of chemicals.

Dial Environmental explains, “ The benefits of organically based plant care start with the soil itself, ensuring plants can absorb all the nutrients to thrive. With the applications, grass and other ornamentals will be healthier and more disease resistant, defend against insects and invasive weeds. By comparison, synthetic fertilizers provide quick bursts of color and growth but do not hold up.  In most cases, improvements will be seen within one full growing season.”

biochar_teaser_imageDiseases and pests that target trees, shrubs and other plantings are most often related to poor top soil, too much or not enough watering, or improper use of fertilizers. Care of the soil and proper irrigation are the basis of organic care. Organic fertilizers and soil amendments  are excellent ways to improve the soil naturally and make landscape plantings more disease and insect resistant.  Biochar, a carbon-enriched charcoal product made from wood, leaves and/or manure, increases microbial activity and improves water retention in soil. In addition, biochar production may remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, actually having the potential to positively impact global warming.

Any use of pesticides should be the last resort after correctly identifying the problem, correcting any underlying problem (s), and monitoring according to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

When diseases or insect infestations do require pesticides,  organic alternatives like horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, and botanical products like neem oil and chrysanthemum-based pyrethrum are environmentally responsible and effective choices.  The introduction of beneficial predators including ladybugs, lacewings and predatory mites is another natural method used to eliminate harmful pests. It may take several seasons to establish the predator/prey ecosystem in your yard, but it’s well worth the wait.


The Suburban Lot is a 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 property maintenance services.


flower 4As spring rushes in with a burst of fresh colors and textures, I find myself examining plant life again in an up close and personal way.  We all know the favorite adage about ‘taking time to smell the roses” however taking time to “see” the flowers is the first step in that process.


The seductive beauty of plants is what invites our desire to own gardens, and there is no more perfect way to purple flowerexamine that beauty than through the work of photographer Robert Llewellyn.  In an age of high-definition everything, his breathtaking macro-photography reveals the details and intricacies of plant life which our naked eye alone is not capable of seeing. The results are simply spectacular, pushing our ability to “see” into a new dimension.


The varied images in his three published works, “Seeing Trees”, “Seeing Flowers” and “Seeing Seeds” are awe-inspiring in their richness and complexity. The hushed beauty of the images re-awakens appreciation of the magnificence of creation. Enjoy a quick sampling of his work here, and then, my best advice is to “take the time” to find the books. They make for some great ‘seeing’ as well as great gifts for anyone, any time….especially gardeners!

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Photographs from Robert Llewellyn are also available for purchase through our studio/showroom on Walnut Street. Any of the images can be custom ordered in various sizes, allowing you to enjoy Llewellyn’s  trees, flowers and seed pods in your home any time of the day, month or year. See his website: and feel free to contact Mierop Design for further information.

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The Suburban Lot is a 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 property maintenance services.


Every March or April, a day arrives in the design studio when the phone suddenly starts ringing again. It’s uncanny that, after months of winter hibernation, so many people awaken simultaneously to greet the start of a new gardening season. Stored wish lists find their voice reaching us by phone, email or internet searches for answers and services.

Spring comes with its own chore list but as with most home improvement projects, before you jump in (or hire others to jump in) it’s a good idea to know your priorities: what to do first and how best to do it. As with children, gardens are demanding and needy in youth, but the rewards of good stewardship are tremendous and enduring.


IMG_0074Outside water bibs have been closed all winter and it’s time to get them back on. Find your hoses and set them up in accessible locations. Hose carts, bowls and bibs can tidy up hose storage against a house foundation. I personally struggle lugging heavy hosing around the garden and get especially frustrated when it runs over my perennials or snags on a stone edge. I have recently converted to using lightweight expandable hoses. Their inner tubing expands and contracts with water flow and they have truly made watering a lightweight chore I no longer dread.  Spend for the most heavy duty model available as less expensive styles have a tendency to break.


IMG_0078Check trees and shrubs for dead or winter damaged branches and prune as needed. This is also the moment, without leaves blocking your view, to prune out crossing branches or to reshape and re-size shrubs like roses, hydrangea, spirea, caryopteris, twig dogwoods and many other species. Refer to books or on-line guides about proper pruning techniques and timing for specific plants. Generally speaking pruning is the best way to rejuvenate your garden, keeping things in bounds and at peak performance.


IMG_0079Open up the soil surface in early spring by lightly cultivating around shrubs and perennials. Avoid disturbing roots by remaining outside the drip line of most plantings. An open porous surface allows water and fertilizers to penetrate the soil. This is also a moment, as new foliage starts pushing, to apply fertilizers if needed. I recommend an application of slow release Osmocote for perennial areas and a dry application of Holly-tone or Miracid for ericaceous (acid loving) plants such as rhododendron, azalea, andromeda, mountain laurel and holly – especially if they are planted along house foundations which tend to be home to alkaline soils. Use fertilizer sparingly and always read labels for rates of application.


IMG_0083Many perennials need support as they grow and produce flowers. Heavy spring rains are known for trampling flowers – peonies in particular. I recommend setting up stakes and grow-throughs when foliage is up just a few inches. Waiting longer makes staking more difficult and time consuming, and waiting too long makes it impossible or highly unattractive. Try to position stakes in a natural way around and within the growth habit of the plant. Using branches and twigs tucked within a plant is a more time consuming method, but has the advantage of being almost invisible.


IMG_0084Contact your irrigation contractor to set up an appointment to run through and start up your automatic system, checking for any winter damage. Repair, add or subtract heads as needed based on last year’s history. Consider setting up a spring watering schedule and then adjusting for more frequency or run time later in the summer when things are hotter and days longer. Your system may be automatic but it still needs regular monitoring. The extreme weather variations of the last two years have created real challenges, and irrigation systems need continual tweaks and adjustments to reflect what is happening with heat and precipitation.


Take stock of areas where plants have failed or haven’t performed as you would hope. When the space is open in the spring it’s easier to see where you need to fill in. Make a list of locations that need attention taking note of light and soil conditions in that area plus colors that may be missing……then select accordingly.


FullSizeRender (10)Once clean up and pruning is completed, it’s time to add a layer of mulch if necessary. If your mulch is still visibly intact this chore can wait. Mulch maintains even soil temperatures and minimizes water evaporation – very important in summer months. I like to add a 2” to 3” layer of hardwood mulch into tree and shrub plantings, and only a light dusting around perennials. Another option in perennials areas is to mulch with compost from your own garden, or composted topsoil or manure which can be purchased by the bag. This is a lighter material that adds nutrients to the soil while it decomposes.


FullSizeRender (8)Have you ever gone to plant bulbs in the fall but can’t remember where you current bulbs are?  You start digging and oops, you’re unearthing and slicing into existing bulbs? Spring is the moment to mark the spot where you already have tulips, hyacinth, daffodils or any of the other options for early spring color. Alternatively, mark out where there are no current bulbs so you know where to safely dig when the time comes. This simple chore will save you lots of heartache and make for a better result with the new bulb additions.

TIP: My all-time favorite gardening gloves are Foxgloves. Soft, IMG_0088supple and machine washable, these gloves fit like, well, a glove. The thin breathable stretchy cotton fabric absorbs perspiration and allows a full range of hand motion. Available in many fun colors, please stop by our studio on Walnut to try on a pair.

The Suburban Lot is a 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 property maintenance services.


I lost my mother recently and had the honor of being with her as she passed.  I was grateful to have been there, with my daughter, for her final moments. My thoughts turned to how she had been present for my first breath and I, her last. A wise friend remarked that although it was the end of this life, perhaps it was also the beginning of another.

As a devoted gardener, I fully embrace this idea. I have observed theIMG_9973 cycles of birth, death and birth again for twenty plus years in the landscapes I design and steward from nursery plants to maturity, old age and sometimes death.  It is a miracle we take for granted that every spring, after the harsh winter months, buds swell again with new life.

IMG_9953We tend to worship the peak moments in our gardens, but every phase has its beauty and place in the cycle of life. Conception, birth, growth, maturity, decline, death – each has an equal moment in time and space.


As we race into another spring planting season, let’s collectivelyIMG_9967 push the pause button to honor the vast continuum of life. And to consider that death isn’t good or bad, it just is. Fortunately for those of us that love landscapes and gardening, we have in our own gardens an amazing visual and sensual illustration of how this all works. All you have to do is step out of doors, breathe and open your eyes.

The Suburban Lot is a 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 property maintenance services.






Fortunately, blizzard Jonas didn’t snow over my vacation plans. After three hours on the phone, I managed to change my departure date and get out of Newark Airport a mere two hours before it shut down for several days. A six hour flight turned into a 22 hour adventure, complete with a layover in San Francisco. But, as soon as I crossed the lobby at our hotel along the Sea of Cortez at the end of the Baja Peninsula – I knew it was all worth it!!

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Sun, sand and guacamole for one whole week! As 0207011035a landscape designer, however, I’m always traveling with a creative eye – judging how everything looks and searching for elements that I can borrow and adapt in my work. It becomes a hunt for inspiration and makes the trip more interesting.

IMG_9661Due to an explosion of interest and availability for tropical annuals over the last several years, many commonly used selections are now readily available : bougainvillea, mandevilla, croton, trumpet vine and aloe. Of course, in their native habitat they grow far beyond what we can IMG_9667expect in our zone 6, but nonetheless we can enjoy them for the short show we get between May and October. I love the way Mexicans are not afraid to mix strong colors- in fact, the more the better.

cm_mierop_micocina_005Aside from lush tropical vines and flowering beauties, Mexico offers great inspiration for hardscape areas. Exciting textural combinations, mosaic accents and dramatic stucco colors look so appropriate in this sunny environment. I look forward to adapting some of these ideas into my suburban projects. *photo Carlos Martin

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The Suburban Lot is a 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 property maintenance services.


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

The Fall Garden

The fall garden needs more attention from gardeners and landscape designers alike. It’s a time of equivalent beauty to spring and summer but because attentions may be elsewhere at this time of year, plants with fall interest are often overlooked. Japanese anemones, asters in all shapes and sizes, verbena bonariensis (my personal favorite), obedient plant, gaura in pink or white are all putting on a big show – while other perennials and shrubs are repeating earlier performances. The fading colors of many hydrangeas have their own special appeal at this time and make excellent cut flowers as well. Because many nurseries stock up early on great spring and summer performers, the use of fall perennials and shrubs is less emphasized in planting designs and most contractor installations. Extending interest into the fall season keeps the garden interesting into this later part of the year…a great reason to consider adding in these plants to your garden!