A Louisville Treasure – Hidden Hill Nursery

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My good friend, the bacheloring and visiting Mike Sears, dropped in on me this weekend and we actually covered quite a bit of ground. But one of the nicest parts was hitting his junior high school Jeffersonville, Indiana days and those neighborhoods hard along the river. So we found ourselves very close to Utica and I decided to go see Hidden Hill. Mike was enchanted, of course and we got to see Bob who, as always, was as warm and engaging as ever. So I was going to just send this to Mike, but it’s been 4 years since this ran, so I’ll recirculate it a little.

Bob Hill spent 25 years or so working as a journalist for the  Louisville Courier Journal writing about diverse issues and subjects including gardening, society and historical facts about Louisville. He is enormously respected as a cool voice with a long view and deep, caring insight.  As a book writer, he penned one of my personal favorites: “The Crack Of The Bat”, the definitive history of the world-famous ‘Louisville Slugger’ baseball bat, a tool yours truly has used to good effect and also has broken into varied pieces many, many times as a baseball mutt in an earlier era. A modern day Luddite like me longs for that sound when I venture out to my favorite Spring pastime, sitting as near as I can to Muhammad Ali and watching the University of Louisville “ping” the opposition to death with their metal bats. ;-) Bob also wrote a true crime book called “Double Jeopardy”, a local crime which leads him to authoritatively comment and which was featured on the National TV show, Dateline, a couple times and which I read years ago. It is the definitive book on that tale as well, sad as it may be.

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Well, Bob Hill is as nice in person and as creative as ever. In fact, he may be doing things that make “unique” look normal. He owns and operates Hidden Hill Nursery, a fascinating, whimsical spot and a must-see on the garden traveler’s road map which also doubles as a nursery, selling exotics. “It’s my niche,” he says with a smile. Bob has most definitely NOT seen the last of me. I am involved in a small project even now which could use a few of his big old Yellow Magnolia’s. He welcomes – for the record – landscapers and designers at almost any time for purposes of sales. He does, after all, run a business in his nursery as well as present a marvelous jaunt amongst his various treasures.

Anyway, so my Mom and I took a jaunt on an unseasonably hot Autumn Day on Sunday, attempting to finally make it to this gorgeous garden on it’s final Open To The Public day of the season. We had spoken of it many times and I had heard rumors of it’s fascinating properties from the sports fans I hang out with at a local sports message board, Inside The Ville, a Scout.com site dedicated to Louisville sports.

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Inasmuch as the nursery and garden was compiled around his own home, Bob’s efforts over a long period of time have produced a totally delightful trove of small pleasures and simple beauty which reflect to a real love of the soil and the respect for Nature Herself which Bob gladly and openly brings to the game. Bob Hill is an obvious appreciator of artistic talent and a very non-shy exhibitor of just that. Pssssst…….he has pink bathtubs.

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He also features exhaust pipe lizards and a junkyard dog – in a hat no less! – who absolutely reflects that in reality, seen here overlooking a peaceful and gorgeous small waterfall which begins a coursing creek in an outstanding water feature under a cool, shady canopy smack in the middle of the Gardens.

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Like everyone I know, of course, Bob also features a very outspoken “oxygen tank duck”:

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We were also relieved to find directions posted on some nearby trees,  subtle, yet still effective:

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As far as this pair of pants (below) is concerned, I mentioned to Bob and his crew who were relaxing nearby that these overalls could “probably walk to get themselves washed”. Thank God they laughed.

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Butterfly chairs abounded!

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And as fun as all this was and is, Bob Hill is also a serious cultivator and appreciator of gorgeous plants and stunning beauty – all in a variety and diverse number of settings one has to get close to in order to truly appreciate their scope.

Take these automobile-sized leaves, for example, stuck hard solo under yet another cooling canopy -

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Since I am not at all certain this picture does justice to the sheer magnitude of these monster leaves, here is another cluster, battling it out with a giant Banana Tree in a sunnier location on the site -

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Make no mistake, designers and landscaping aficionados have much to delight their own senses, aside from the whimsical stuff. There are small features throughout the place, well-designed and gorgeous constructions in their own rights. Take this splendid courtyard as an example as we examine it from various views, including closeup pictures of the simple profusion of the prettiest plants in Nature. This “hot” little Chrysanthemum fronts a serene and exceedingly well-designed small patio/coutyard:

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Another few views:

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A detail I adored -  a small, shady perennial Paradise:

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This one………………the one below. I had to stop and look twice. Please enlarge.

This is a sculpture whose sensuality belies its metal composition. It plain looks good enough to eat.

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This small setting below may say more about this splendid garden wonderland than anything I could have imagined. We happened onto this on our way out – it is across from that splendid pink bathtub!

I have no idea of the purpose of this little clearing – if one exists. But I can aver that this reveals a factor of the epitome of excellent landscape and garden design which shows the invitation and the promise which are the rudiments of the most mysterious and excellent designs in the world. When perception rules in the fields it belongs in and the eye becomes trained to accept mystery and to drink in beauty like a fabulous natural drink, then gardens such as this will be everywhere.

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Bob Hill, we absolutely loved our visit. You did real good in my book and my Mom agrees.

That’s unanimous, then. :-)

Brick Pavers As A Product and Installation Issues

“Pavers”, in the sense we refer to here are compressed concrete bricks, perfectly formed to interlock initmately, forming a non-moveable structurally road strength surface. The “compression” comes from the manufacturing process, where the paver forms are filled, then shaken to void out air holes and to better distribute the cement itself. They end up being somewhere in the vicinity of 8,500 PSI (pounds per square inch). To get an idea of how hard that is, your standard concrete walkway downtown is about 4,500 PSI. A patio out back in your yard will usually be in the vicinity of 3,500 PSI. Thus, these are harder than ‘normal’ cement products. They are being used in many newer applications, including city streets. 5 million square feet of the Honk Kong Airport’s entire runway and general tarmac is composed of these little beggars, as well.

The concern in Hong Kong dealt with the massive rains of the Monsoon Season and the tendency to flood. Brick pavers offered a drainage solution which intrigued the planners, who still produced plans containing ample numbers of catch basins to conduct water throughout the airport’s tarmac. Later tests revealed the incredible infiltration of water between the actual cracks of the pavers themselves, producing very nearly zero work for the planned catchments.

Pavers, simply by their segmented nature, allow water to pass directly down between one another, as this picture shows in more detail.

(enlarge any picture by left clicking)

Another recommendation they carry with them is the fact that they are somewhat flexible. In this, I refer to the component factor: it takes a lot of brick pavers to contribute to a driveway. Whereas a cement driveway will develop cracks atop shifting bases, or can collect water underneath and thus heave, where the concrete structure will crack and split and then deteriorate further with time, pavers will heave just like the cement, but will not have some monolithic break. They will ride the heave and stay intact. Thus freezing and cracking may well be the least of worries. The actual fact is, those who prepare the base are the stars of this particular show. Proper preparation below any surface yields much less trouble, later.


Under any surface, cement, asphalt, or brick pavers there needs to be a compacted base consisting of some sort of compactable material. Typically a mix of small rocks and “fines” from the same rock created at quarries do the trick. The fines do what we indicated above with the forming of pavers in the mold: they fill in totally and thus ensure, upon being squished with some titanic and compressing machine, that the subbase is going absolutely nowhere. When covered, there should be no voids to collect water where freezing can affect the ultimate size and cause breaks or heaving. A compacted base would also solve a lot of cement problems regarding breakage and deterioration but it seems not all contractors take the time for this hard and time-comsuming work.

Depending on the soils underneath, the base material should be at least 6 inches thick for drivweways and 4 inches for patios and walkways. In the absence of base material, or Class II Base as we call it, washed sand can actually be used as a base material.

In any event, for truly muddy or expansive type soils, one should overexcavate appropriately and add this completely new material. I once had a project, in Vancouver, B.C. where we were scheduled to install pavers aside a parking garage. The only problem was, there was this hole from earlier excavations about 12 feet deep and some 50 feet wide and it was full of water. This was exactly where the pavers were supposed to go.

I backed a line of trucks holding washed sand up and dumped them, pushing them in, finally, with my trusty Bobcat, bit by bit, allowing the water to escape from the rear of the hole, and succeeded in filling the hole in a day. Two days later, we were compacting and constructing and, 5 days later, we had made ourselves a brick fire lane, 20 feet wide, coursing over this former hole. It was actually sort of amazing, really, but I swear, that drive is at nearly the same level it was when we constructed it, today, some 22 years later. Here’s Nature’s bottom line: Nothing compacts like water!


For pavers, an extra step is typical at the end of the compaction drama: a one inch layer of sand is put in place at the exact level one desires the pavers to go. Eventually, this sand bed will allow a bit of movement as the pavers get compacted into place and grouted with yet more, and possibly other decorative, color coordinated, sand. What this achieves is some allowance for error, as well. Artists with a plate compactor can literally change a grade where necessary, by adding water and worrying a hump into submission by whacking it until it conforms. While this sounds inexact, the best operators can achieve a perfect grade. It’s what they are paid to do.


The job is almost done. I am being serious. There is some darn hard work, toting pavers over for placement and all, but establishing the base is always the big achievement. By the time your sand is screeded (levelled into place), laying the pavers is good old brainless work, in most cases. I advocate hiring the high school student for this phase, lol. (You know that saying, “Hire the high school student….while they still know everything?” oops, sorry, honey). I could not resist, sorry……now, where were we?

Establishing a laying pattern is mental. There are any numbers of patterns available, from Herringbone ones to Running Bond patterns and some extoic ones as well. Just the same, laying them becomes easier once the pattern is established and repitition becomes the norm. At this stage one fills in the blank area with bricks.


Finishing involves a few things: edges and retaining systems, grouting the pavers with sand and the final compaction. There is also sealing which I will also address elsewhere.

Edges and restraining: If curved, the edges of any paver edifice will require cutting. Many people use the “guillotine” method of pressing two sharp edges manually, thus cleaving the brick. I have seen projects done this way which worked well. Nevertheless, I always advocate cutting all pavers with a brick saw, using a diamond blade and water, thus getting a crystal clean cut at exactly the edge one desires. It just looks more professional, to me. Once in place, I restrain my bricks with either plastic or aluminum edging, complete with holes for knocking down some nice 8-10″ spikes and holding it tightly in place. The edges of all component structures are always the weak point, but with edge restraints, one can withstand tires and accidents alot better.

Grouting with sand: This implies spreading a layer of sand over the entire paver area, then sweeping and watering the sand into place inside the cracks of the pavers themselves. One also cleans when finishing with water. I like to compact the pavers one final time with a thin coat of sand over the bricks. The sand “lubricates” the passage of the compactor and the compaction process shakes the sand into those cracks. Then is when I typically wash, finishing the grout process and the project itself.

Essentially, that’s it. One can expect a lifetime’s worth of satisfaction from this stuff. Indeed, one may well expect generations to enjoy the fruits of this labor. Modern bricks are replacing city streets in many cities, especially those who experience rain problems, like Seattle, Portland or Vancouver, B.C. They add wonderfully to the resale value of a home, even aside from looking as good as anything out there can look. I will deal with the more artistic values of brick pavers elsewhere, but the color combinations, laying patterns and bricks themselves are mind boggling in their diversity and possibilities. They are a huge step forward in landscape technology and offer yet another wondrous and durable possibility for outdoor pleasure.

What’s In A Picture? – Swimming Pool Angst

There is such a thing as “Potential Energy” in something as simple as a photograph. I get this from my own reaction to what is implied in the picture below. I had a funny reaction, looking at this recently, seeing as how it took place so long ago and the Completion Party – July 4th of that year – saw me sleeping on the couch there, pretty much unable to drive. Of course, this was long, long ago. ;-)

But now and then on projects one gets a sense of being literally “overwhelmed”. I recall even the day that this one was taken and that sense I remember like it was yesterday. We also deal in time constraints impressed in a world where we promise completion. At that time, it looked impossible what with all the hundreds of small chores and even a few big ones left. We made out fine – as usual – but I’ve never forgotten those sensations.

Let’s look deeper into this picture. This was taken about 2/3 of the way through the installation of a patio around a swimming pool. For those who follow this blog, I have used other pictures showing various views of not only the finished product but of some of the construction phases I was far-sighted enough (for once ;-) ) to actually take. I will refer to things as this post enlarges below and I will ask the reader to go back to the picture. I think it will reveal better what, exactly, I am speaking of. If one really cares to get a concept of what’s involved in constructing landscapes – and particularly if you are considering having it done – you might want to pay some attention. Everyone does things differently but all landscapers will tell you what you see below is a factor in any project.

click image to enlarge, sometimes twice for more detail


What sort of electrified me when I looked at this shot was not just the obviously “clustered effect” which typifies many of our projects when you include the varied number of machines and equipment we use and the storage issues relative to them. From parts and supplies to the machinery that moves them around to the Porta Potty – these all needed addressing. Then, of course, there is the actual work…………….oh yeah!  But first – space……………

The mini excavator shown above is a bear to find space for, as well as the Bobcat skid steer machine which sits behind it. Then there are the piles of gravel and soil one wishes to have precisely when one needs them. This can lead to problems – owing to the timing of completing certain areas which then make it impossible to cross by machine, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Lots and lots and lots of logistical problems comprise these larger projects, many of which do not offer such a wide sweep of land to park our parts and equipment. This then, produces yet other sets of budgetary and “manners” problems. We take up space!

Now the work. The work! Almost forgot!   ;-)

The stage of construction above began at the point of the following photographs:


This picture complete with Owner! Oh – and the painter. We are not around just yet.


Obviously, this is a somewhat primitive stage in the development of the project. Where Tim is standing and in all the areas where pavers are to be laid, we will need to add a whole bunch of gravel first, to provide the necessary underlying foundation for a strong, never-altering patio. What may be missed – even in this photo – is some noteworthy work we accomplished to get even to there. Placing the large boulders on the edges of the swimming pool required our efforts as well as placing the bricks near the cascade hard by the “spa” – the circular area where paving bricks were virtually ‘hung” on mortar. The same bricks which are shown here are already adhered as the “coping stones” surrounding the pool itself, giving us our level and one permanent outer parameter for installing the paver bricks.

Back to the picture – am I Marcel Proust?

So – finally, referring back to the origination of this spiel – what we see there are some accomplishments, first. Note at the top of the picture the gorgeous blue color the swimming pool water accrues once it’s loaded into the pool itself. That is the upper portion of a cascade that actually does fill the pool and marks the entry point of the pool’s recirculating water. This is actually “finished”.

This picture, believe it or not, comes around the period of the top picture and shows the same pile of pavers hanging at the spa, feeding the eventual “turn” the pathway makes up alongside our creek and back into the house.


Once again, referring to the top shot, the pavers shown where they are below the spa are also “finished” – the cuts made, the curving pattern accomplished, pipes supplying drip irrigation and lighting wire are laid in. Now, the pavers themselves will make the corner there and turn, accompanying the side of a long creek which played strategically into the design. With a waterfall beginning in the front yard, we coursed a small river down that side of the house, ending at a point we can also see in the above picture.


If you notice, there seems to be a ramped incline of sand running hard by the pool cascade. Well, our hope was to make it appear as a bridge where water would “seem” to flow from the creek to the cascades themselves. That “bridge” needs addressing yet as well as the corner turn of pavers. The picture below is a very early morning shot of at least a partial angle of what “finishing” implied. Enlarging the picture shows it a bit better:


In the end, we completed the little river and the little pond faking itself into the pool. It all looked as wonderful as it possibly could and I was left with a huge sense of satisfaction……….until the next job – which had already started!


Patio Paving – Swimming Pool Part 2

We had always been around during the construction of the pool,  The pool-makers would call and ask for back filling, once things became settled in the ground itself.  We paid a lot of attention to the future and the last foot or so of back-filling was devoted to putting in gravel and base material.  With the budget we had, this place will outlast the house by a century or so.  It could well be one of the most compacted surfaces I ever installed. I am positive it is in the 99 percentile of compaction.

So we began installing pavers around the pool.  We attended to drainage issues and found it necessary to install the drain shown protruding in the picture above.  The pavers we used were Belgarde’s “Bergerac” Pavers, an expensive but gorgeously-antiqued model, set in a random pattern.  They were also an additional inch thick!  These big beauties came in at 3 1/4″ thick, providing a huge challenge for not only our cutting apparatii (gas-powered table saw with a diamond blade) but also requiring substantial grinding for the wild number of curves.  Talk about labor intensive!

Obviously, we had other issues, such as a fire pit shown in the bottom picture.  The necessity to hand-shape curving pavers was especially intense when around boulders, as can be seen above.  The irregularities don’t seem so drastic when the boulders first get placed.  But, wow, they get intense when the finishing starts.

I am thinking the project lasted almost 2 months.  There was a lot going on in general – a water feature which was designed to appear to be supply the pool water from the front yard and a 130 foot creek, originating at a waterfall out front.  We tried to make the area behind the falls by the spa appear to be a bridge just to enhance this idea. 

At any rate, it was intense but as we neared completion and began planting, we started to see things coming together nicely.