First Fruits

The rain is finaling drying up and the warmer weather has turned the hugel mound into a tomato jungle. Last week we made the decision to heavily prune all the suckers and many of the accompanying branches that were without fruit or flowers on the tomatos. There were several early crops (hardly a crop and more like a couple plants) that were ready to be harvested these past few weeks. The first out of the mound were the plump heirloom beets grown from seed. Shepard, our rising second-grader and only son had the honor of plucking the first beet from the dirt.

The tops of the beet root were slightly scaled from exposure to the air and the rest of the root beneath the dirt pulsed red and felt smooth like sanded wood. Jon and Shep washed them under the outside spicket beside the hoop house; wrapped the beets in paper towels; then drove straight home to get a closer look.

We lobbed off the tender greens and sauteed them that afternoon. They were dressed simply in olive oil, salt, fresh  pepercorn and a twist of lemon. The silky greens were meaty and minerally, but nothing like the bulbous red beet below the greens. I admit I was never a beet fan until I had them roasted and glazed in homemade plum sauce. Slurp, snarf, snort.. Yes. It was that good.

Since then, we’ve made toothsome pesto from the opal and sweet basils, and used the mustard greens in a quiche with thick-cut bacon and eggs from our hens.  Suzanne took some of the tender Romaine home over the weekend for lunch wraps. All the first fruits of our communal garden on the hugel mound have tasted better than expected and were well-worth our effort.

Everyday we leap over the heaps of mud and debris piled in front of the hugel mound eager to inspect the plants for growth. Without fail, my mouth gapes open as I pet the fronds from the colossal tomatoes, then squint in disbelief at the dent corn that we thought Wayne stunted, but in fact has grown as big as a thoroughbred. The ears have delicate pink silk pom-poms and should be ready within days. Today Jordan and Aaron noticed the strawberries and watermelon in the neighboring mound were starting to layer. We also pulled up and promptly re-planted an onion. We are still hedging bets on whether they are scallions (spring onions) or big ol’ bulb onions.

Life can be like the plants in the hugel mound. What was once discarded and devalued refuse can be melded together, nurtured and given time, love and tenderness. Now, it produces healthy fruit and teaches us the renewing and life-giving principles that are replicated throughout Earth’s creation. The first fruits were always given to honor God’s life-giving goodness.

May God be honored by our first fruits.


Our six-week old hugel mound


Shep loved eating the beet greens that afternoon


Opal Basil, Chocolate Mint and Citronella

Homemade Honeysuckle Hydrosol

Those beautiful vines are in full bloom right now and many of us love the sweet linger of the smell of honeysuckle. The vine has been used for years by herbalists as an anti-inflammatory for respiratory infections and even to treat bacterial infections internally as well as topically.

Our family loves to simply sniff and suckle the nectar out, but decided we would distill some and use the hydrosol as a spray for cuts and burns.  There are many ways to prepare the honeysuckle. It can be simmered and drank as a tea, but a hydrsosol takes advantage of rendering the essential oils and other water-soluble phytochemical properties the flower has to offer.

Hydrosol is made by collecting the distilled water after the flower is gently simmered in the bottom of a stanless steel pot with distilled (haha) water that collects on the top of an inverted glass lid then drips down into a bowl that sits on top of a ramekin. Ice cubes are added to the top of the lid and once the steamed essence from the flower hits the top of the cold lid, it drips back down into the bowl.

This hydrosol lasts longer than a tea and again has more essential healing properties than can be rendered in a tea.  After 30 minutes of distilling we had collected approximately six ounces of hydrosol which was left to cool to room temp, then poured into a sterilized amber spray bottle.

Be sure if you plan to use your honeysuckle that it is wild-growing, not exposed to or treated with pesticides and is the correct cultivar- Lonicera Periclymenum. Happy honeysuckle hydrosoling everyone!

adding honeysuckle around ramekin to bottom of pot

Adding honeysuckle around ramekin to bottom of pot. Add enough water to submerge the flowers.


The lid is upside down and the ice causes immediate condesation inside the pot dripping into a sterilized bowl that sits atop the ramekin

Huli Huli Chicken.. It’s a Hugel Mound!

You may be asking about the referential treatment of a Hawaiian chicken dish and a newly discovered permaculture technique- hugelkulture. The chicken dish really has nothing to do with anything, but we like to use it for emphasis when announcing some exciting news. The exciting news is our newly-planted hugel mound!

Hügelkultur is a German word meaning mound culture or hill culture. The process involves replicating decomposition such as that found on the forest floor. When large trees  or nurse logs are covered with other decomposing material such as leaves, branches and soil, the logs beneath break down thereby feeding the soil and retain water from rain cycles which again, water and feed the plants above. Oh how I love a closed circuit!

So earlier in the year Wayne and Aaron  were nice enough to house and germinate heirloom seeds from a previous trip to Monticello. They also had their own seed trays going and after a year of allowing our very own hugel mound to “marinate” and become primed for planting, we were soon ready to transplant these sweet little sproutlets into the hugel mound.

Our mound was created over a year ago from large logs topped with branches, grass clippings, leaves and all other forms of debris brought back from our landscape clean-ups. All this dumpster-bound debris was piled on top. Griff took care to spread a nice layer of our black gold soil on top like a layer of dirt icing.

We waited until after the last frost date, then transplanted several varieties of tomatoes, corn, beets, beans, potatoes, onions, strawberries- the list goes on. Wayne whined there wasn’t enough fruit so we snagged a kiwi vine known to deliver a lot of fruit and work well in edible landscaping. We also added two blueberry bushes- one which is a late harvest cultivar and another mid-season.

It’s been a month now and we have not had to water the mound once and all the plants are thriving with no limp, no gimp and even the rabbits that keep peaking around haven’t bothered to nibble nary one beet leaf.

The hugel mound is a communal and experiemental effort for all the CG Fam. We invite all the crews to dig in and help cultivate the mound, learn a little about permaculture practices and of course the best part- share in the spoils. We already have noted a few things we would do differently for next year, such as plant-spacing. There may be other challenges as the days get longer and hotter.

We hope we can continue to plant within the mound into the Fall rotating out different plants. So far this has been a minimal cost- the seed packets, seed trays, growing medium and the full-size blueberry bushes and kiwi vine. We are aspiring to only use recycled and repurposed items that are brought back from jobs as either yard debris or leftovers from hardscape jobs.

We will update the blog as time rolls on and the plants continue to grow and feed off the hugel mound. Cheers!

beginning to place the mater plants

A swale beside the mound helps water shed ​and some is absorbed into the mound


Beginning to place plants and terrace the soil for planting along the sides of the hugel mound

Meet Wayne our In-House Horticulturist

We received great news the other week that our very own Wayne George passed the State Horticulture exam! Wayne has worked with Custom Gardens for over a year training under Alvin Norton (Custom Gardens’ Garden Care Foreman for over 20 years).  Wayne is a Gloucester native who graduated from Gloucester High School in 2009 and attended J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, VA.

After becoming immersed in various garden projects with Custom Gardens and learning more about cloning cuttings to create new plants, a deep love for horticulture began to take root in Wayne.  As he worked alongside Alvin, Wayne was given more responsibility. He expressed more interest in furthering his education and Wayne began studying and preparing to become certified by the state of Virginia as a Horticulturist.

Wayne receives his state certification as Horticulturist.

Wayne receives his state certification as Horticulturist.

“Virginia Certified Horticulturists impact the region where they work and live in many ways,” VNLA Executive Director Jeff Miller said. “Having someone with this breadth of expertise and know-how in their community allows residents and businesses to confidently seek advice and assistance as they improve Virginia’s green landscape.”


Custom Gardens will offer Wayne’s expertise to clients as an in-house Horticulturist who can trouble-shoot and be available to answer questions for Garden Care clients. Garden Care is a unique service that offers everything from selective pruning, dividing perennials, hand-weeding and much more.

Garden Care is a unique service that offers everything from selective pruning, dividing perennials, hand-weeding and much more.  As one of Hampton Roads’ few providers of Garden Care and horticulture services, the Custom Gardens family is excited about Wayne’s recent accomplishment in becoming VCH certified. Custom Gardens looks forward to having Wayne provide excellent service to existing and prospective clients. To reach out to Wayne, please email [email protected] or leave a message for Wayne at 757-833-8110.


Prepping for Spring!

Now that the ground hog has seen his shadow, we are gearing up for warmer weather and getting started on some fun landscape projects! During the Winter the CG family spends a lot of time reorganizing and looking for ways we can better care for our clients properties and train on new techniques and new products. This past year Jon, Jesse and Griff braved the roads and headed to New Hampshire to the StoneMaker’s HQ to build a beautiful waterfall and fire pit with their patented concrete product that they carved and sculpted to look like materials found in nature.

18298A project this size would have easily taken over a week with several teams in place. This was all completed in one day! I know, I know.. Takes my breath away, too. We can’t wait to bring it back here to Hampton Roads and create some beautiful outdoor features.  The price point is also much easier on the wallet because less manhours are involved and the concrete product is molded or sculpted to any shape or variation of rock, boulder or even tree imaginable. Yep- even trees! We are planning a sneak peak this year at the W&M Home Show March 12-13th!!

Kitchen.facebook_1455132443993Here’s a picture of the outdoor kitchen they built the next day at a different property. Amazing to think all of that was created by pouring concrete into panels and adding washes of color in layers that give subtle variations and add to the authentic look and “feel” of natural stone.  You can learn more about the product and get inspired by more projects using the Stone Makers product here. Can’t wait to show off this new product! Call us about scheduling an appointment to see more pics and learn more about this innovative and inexpensive way to create your own unique outdoor oasis. It’s sure to please!

Plants Deer Dislike

Thanks to their fuzzy leaves, strong fragrance, or bitter taste, the following plants aren’t among deer’s favorite nibbles.

Spring-blooming perennials

Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) Shade-loving, fernlike plant with pendulous heart-shaped flowers; hardy to -35° F.

  • Bluebell (Hyacinthoide hispanica) Bulb plant with small bell-shaped blue, white, or pink flower clusters; hardy to -25°F.
  • Crocus (Crocus sp.) Low, clumping bulb plant with white, yellow, or purple flowers; hardiness varies.
  • Daffodil (Narcissus sp.) Bulb plant with showy yellow or white blooms; hardiness varies.
  • Fritillaria (Fritillaria imperialis) Bulb plant with bell-shaped orange, yellow, or red flowers atop stalklike stems; hardy to -5°F.

Summer-blooming perennials

  • Bluebeard (Caryopteris) Shrubby plant with deep-blue flower clusters; hardy to -5° F.
  • Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) Compact relative of mint; small purple flowers; hardy to -25° F.
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officianalis) Large-leaved plant with purplish flower spikes; hardy to -5° F.
  • Lavender (Lavandula) Sun-loving, aromatic flowering herb; many varieties; hardiness varies.
  • Monkshood (Aconitum) Shade tolerant, with hoodlike purple-blue flowers; hardy to -35° F.
  • Mullein (Verbascum) Woolly leaf rosettes with tall flower spikes; hardy to -15° F.


  • Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) Creeping evergreen with dark blue flower whorls; hardy to -35° F.
  • Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) Bell-shaped waxy white flowers; hardy to -45° F.
  • Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) Shade lover; small white or pink flowers; hardy to -25° F.
  • Spotted deadnettle (Lamium) Variegated leaves with white or pink flowers; hardy to -25° F.


  • Aralia (Araliaceae) Large, bright green foliage with small white flowers; hardy to 5° F.
  • Andromeda (Pieris japonica) Rounded shrub with hanging white or pink flowers clusters; hardy to -5° F.
  • Boxwood (Buxus) Compact, tiny-leaved hedging shrub; hardy to -5° F.
  • Bush cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticose) Extremely cold-hardy; roselike flowers; hardy to -35° F.
  • Oleander (Nerium) Tall, evergreen shrub with large white or pink flowers; hardy to 15° F.
  • Russian olive (Elaeagnus augustifolia) Willowlike leaves and yellowish summer flowers; hardy to -35° F.

Williamsburg Landscaping News and Events

Summer is about to kick off and as we finish out Spring, we wanted give mention to some Williamsburg landscaping events that Custom Gardens will be attending and some other local events that you don’t want to miss!

Yorktown Market Daysyour yard in a year

Be sure to come on out every Saturday along the York River and enjoy local craftsmen and farmer’s best offerings! Custom Gardens will have their information available for interested persons that want design and installation work for their Williamsburg landscaping needs. This is on-going every Saturday until the beginning of November. Be sure to click on the vendor list and read through all the amazing local produce and wares available!

Ford’s Colony Homeowner’s Appreciation Day

Williamsburg landscaping companies and other contractors will be present to answer questions and give demonstrations for homeowners of Ford’s Colony June 21st, 2014. Be sure to come by our table and say hello! This event will take place up at the club house and kicks off at 9 am.

If any of you were in attendance this past weekend at Ford’s Colony we were on site for the fabulous Hidden Treasures Garden Tour and what beautiful weather we had! Two weeks before was the Brews, Blues and BBQ Event on the York River. Custom Gardens decorated the stage and corporate tables with lush annuals and hung around to sample BBQ!

Father’s Day Gift Ideas

Be sure to check back with us for any upcoming events and don’t forget Father’s Day is right around the corner and what better way to honor him than with a gift certificate for lawn care! Give us a call and we will be glad to provide one you can include in your Father’s Day card! You can reach us at 757-833-8110 or send us an email!


Lawn Care Service & Advice

Custom Gardens Garden Care Service

Custom Gardens Lawn Care


Lawn care service calls abound these days and many clients need advice for caring for their lawn and what services we provide if you can’t go it alone! We thought this would be a great topic for our readers and hopefully you can get some great tips for improving the condition of your lawn, deciding if lawn service is right for you (and what kind) as well as answering frequently-asked questions by other Williamsburg, Yorktown and surrounding Peninsula clients.

Lawn Care in Springtime

It looks like Old Man Winter is moving on and we can finally talk warmer weather and with warmer temps comes… you got it! Weeds! Many folks need to pretreat for broadleaf and crabgrass right now. We use a preventative to control the weeds throughout the growing season. Prosecutor is used for weed control in beds and hard surfaces. We also recommend a pre-emergent that prevents the weeds from ever rearing their insipid little heads.

Greening Your Lawn and Plants

From March to May seeding, fertilization and cultivation/dethatching should also be performed. The Virginia Cooperative Extension has great videos entitled, “Lawn to Dye For” with excellent and easy tips for dethatching,  fertilizing and treating for pre-emerging weeds. Rejuvenation pruning to reduce the size of overgrown broadleaf evergreens should be done in March and early part of April. Think about gardenias, hollies, ligustrum, nandina, photina, and pyracantha. Don’t forget to fertilize and water as well! Remember only prune Spring flowering plants such as forsythia and Azaleas immediately AFTER they bloom. These should not be sheared, but should be selectively pruned. See our Landscape Resources page for tips on cutting back and deadheading you perennials as well as other typical problems such as deer control and erosion issues that are specific to our   Peninsula clients.

Lawn Maintenance

There is no substitute for protecting your lawn from future problems that result from neglect- or what we describe as not investing enough into maintenance for your outdoor retreat. Often clients love the results of their new plantings and their beds are laid out to give them enjoyment for longevity, but even with the most carefully-planned plant choices for your soil-type, zone and level of care, if it is not maintained, it will result in overgrowth, disease, and contribute to larger problems such as interfering with underground lines, plumbing and can even undermine your foundation if left unchecked. We service clients with every level of need and budget. We have some that only need our Express Care which is a mow, blow and go for a low monthly price, to more extensive lawn care maintenance packages that include weeding, trimming and leaf removal, all the way to highly specified Garden Care packages that feature services exclusive to our client’s property and specific needs, such as selective pruning, mulching and bed care. Whatever your lawn care service needs- we have plan. The worst plan is not having a plan! 

Grounds Maintenance, Your Pets and the Environment

Many of our clients love enjoying their outdoor retreat with the family and want to protect the environment and pets from any reactions caused by materials and treatments that are carcinogenic and otherwise unhealthy to people, pets and the environment. Custom Gardens is known as a company that takes its responsibility to steward the environment very seriously. We always encourage using materials that are safe for the environment and your pets that have low to no impact on existing habitats. Click here for products and advice for your lawn care and garden that will treat a range of problems from lawn thatch digesters to natural pond cleaners- these are safe and effective products. Also, check out some of our other recommended products and treatments from a 2013 blog that covers everything from deer repellant for your plants to chemical-free fertilizers.

As we journey into Spring don’t forget that we would love to help prioritize your gardening needs and offer any helpful advice! We love hearing from you so please feel free to leave any comments or questions here on our website or give us a call at (757) 833-8110!

Subscribe to our MailChimp list.




Landscaping Yorktown

Local Landscaping Digs in Yorktown

We like to send out a monthly eNewlsetter that highlights our current projects for folks considering different types of outdoor retreats to look at and draw inspiration from. The following landscaping project took place in Yorktown and involved very little major construction or financing to complete and wasn’t in our eNewlsetter. However, landscaping is not always about a major bed renovation or hardscape installation and we wanted to give an excellent example of how a few minor changes can make a big impact in landscaping!

Balance and Scale

Moving on with the show to our lovely landscaping project taking place right here in Yorktown; lets talk about updating a pre-existing bed. Our Design Team received a call from a homeowner who had a lovely pre-existing bed that merely needed a few modifications. The existing plants were under-size for their placement and the scale of the house. Larger more appropriately-sized plant material was installed for balance. Two Sky Pencil Hollies and one Spirea were removed and replaced with Arborvitea ‘Emerald Green’ Hoogendorn Holly. An overgrown taller variety of roses in front of the porch were removed and a colorful moderate-sized Knock-Out Rose was installed. These simple alterations accomplished balance and symmetry with a more pleasing appearance. This project proved minor changes can make a large impact to your pre-existing beds and not wreck havoc on your budget! Take a look at the before and after shots at the end of the article.

Chesapeake Bay Protection Act

Landscaping in Yorktown occasionally involves compliance with a regulatory agency such as the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act under Resource Protection Areas. Check back for more projects that involve design and compliance with those regulations. Non-compliance can result in heavy fines and having to excavate the entire project. Don’t let this happen to you! If you  live on the water and need landscaping  in Yorktown, call the Design Team. We have completed numerous projects involving compliance with such regs. If you live in York County, check out this map that outlines the protection areas and resource management areas to see where you are in relation.

By the way, if you want to sign up to receive the newsletter, we would love to put you on the list. You can receive helpful tips that are common concerns for Peninsula Residents and other interesting gardening facts.  





Ask the Landscape Architect


Have you ever wondered what defines a Landscape Architect? What differentiates a Landscape Architect from general contractors and when you would need to retain one?

We sat down with our Landscape Architect, David Chewey and asked him when and why a homeowner should retain a Landscape Architect and what type of return on investment when using a certified Landscape Architect should one expect. Read below for great answers to these and more landscape architecture questions!

What is a Landscape Architect and what is the

david chewey

Custom Gardens Award-Winning Landscape Architect

difference between a Landscape Architect and “Landscape Contractor”?

A Landscape Architect has a tremendous influence on how people interact with their environment. We can be defined as artists who shape the world in which we live. We design spaces for people to experience visually, physically and psychologically through careful consideration of all outdoor components. Landscape Architects need to creatively blend art and science to ensure that a site not only looks good but that it also functions well. In order to become a Landscape Architect you need to obtain a 4-year college degree, have the appropriate amount of work experience, pass a licensing exam and then maintain that license with continuing education credits. Our schooling and extensive work experience allows us to knowledgeably coordinate with clients, architects, engineers, building professionals and government officials to ensure successful projects from initial design to final implementation. In contrast, a landscape contractor focuses more on the construction aspect of a project. Landscape Architects and landscape contractors need to work closely together. Effective project management of all the moving pieces results in a successful end result.

 What are the current trends in residential Landscape Architecture?

Current trends in residential landscape architecture suggest that homeowners are looking to create outdoor environments that bring all of the amenities from inside the home to the exterior of the home. Spaces that incorporate fireplaces, fully stocked outdoor kitchens, outbuildings with TV & audio capabilities, etc. A well designed space should be an extension of your home. The goal is to blur the boundaries and enhance the experience.

 Does the value of a home increase after using a Landscape Architect?

There have been studies to prove that a well planned and professionally executed landscape plan will in fact increase the value of your home. First impressions go a long way when selling a home and a well designed environment will bolster that first impression, as well as the overall experience. A homeowner can expect an increased sale value of up to 10% or more. The investment of using a Landscape Architect will not be wasted and 100% or more of the cost can be recovered.

What professionals do you work with when designing a residential property?

As Landscape Architects we are capable of managing all of the nuts and bolts of a complex landscape project. We need to coordinate with environmental specialists, architects, engineers throughout the design process. Once the design takes shape we pull the team together for construction. The team is dictated by the project scope and will contain members such as electricians, masons, carpenters, plumbers, plant specialists, irrigation contractors, pool builders and so on. A comprehensive landscape project can be overwhelming to a homeowner. Relying on a Landscape Architect skilled in project management will take the pain out of the process.

If you would like more information on becoming a Landscape Architect, check out the American Association of Landscape Architects at We would love you to call and talk more with David here at Custom Gardens if you have any follow-up questions. Also, if you are a student studying or preparing for a career in Landscape Architecture and desire an intern experience with an established Landscape firm that services the Williamsburg and surrounding Hampton Roads area, call us at 757-833-8110. We would love to hear from you!