Machines and Innovations in Landscaping

This is another recirculated post which I think stands another glimpse.  Having recently rediscovered the advantages of the newer types fire breathing torches which can warm and subsequently loosen frozen sand and make it malleable enough to re-install pavers, my respect for innovations and machinery reaches a yet higher level.

Ah, now here is a favorite topic! My very favorite!   1

Innovations in landscape construction technology have brought about an entire industry’s flowering. Say what you will about gorgeous designs configured with wondernew computer programs, all splashy and easy to read, forced on poor landscapers by Draconian architects whose tolerance for ignorance is often quite  small. Personalities can be nearly predictable. Ungrateful bastids.  😉  Who do  they believe paved the way for such exotic things?

I’m mostly kidding, but I often like to ‘pick back’. It’s a fault. Let’s just call it a cheap form of revenge and leave it there. I’m good with that. I’ve met some unbelievably fascinating LA’s,  so I’m being a hard case with cause. And some humor. Harry Haggard, are you listening? 🙂

Those “on the ground” know. This is not especially cast out because I have some bone to pick with anyone in the industry whatsoever, from designer to client. In the end, many are those in the Landscape Architecture field who appreciate modern innovations and what they can accomplish. My point is this – the advent of field innovations in figuring things out – on the installation end – has lowered prices and has made what was formerly impossible, far more possible. Indeed, I am convinced these innovations have opened doors which  had no dream of access prior to their discovery.

Here, for example, from a video from a business I have worked around for years, from Portland to Seattle to Reno – and especially Ren0 – Parsons Rock Walls – is what is possible. Note the machine that does pretty much 100% of the work, with its knuckling fittings and how it moves a virtual 360 degrees while carrying 6,000 pound boulders. These guys actually do perform great work, by the way. Their legacy is all over the cities mentioned – extremely hard to miss. The clip is long and it is a bit of pimping for them, but it gets interesting, machine-wise. Which is the point.

These innovations in hydraulic coupling and rotating technology have lowered the price of wall-building astoundingly and – for sure – made even their very usage far more attainable.

We once had the front yards of 45 homes to landscape in northern British Columbia. It was going to require adding about 1,500 yards of soil, owing to the entirety of the existing land being Glacial Schist. We owned a back hoe with a rear “dipper” or bucket. But, lordy, how to level it all? Since the housing project was contracted by the Canadian National Rail Company and  coming as it was on rail cars, stopped to tilt and dump next to our homes, we had a few advantages. We put our heads together with a welder friend and here’s about the closest proximity to what we arrived at:

1Except ours was 6″ x 6″ bar, 16 feet wide (!) and had small cylindrical and rounded 1″ spikes on the bottom at 4 inch intervals to stir the soil as it graded. And no bucket – we adapted it so that it would attach directly to the boom itself. (Recent innovations, by the way, in “knuckling”, like above, provide an even more appealing  rotating possibility, now up to a full 360 degrees.)

Other innovations just fly off the top of one’s head:

Sod Cutters – now 4 wheel drive and no longer those precarious machines which were incredibly heavy and which broke backs from those trying to steer them over uneven ground.


Laser technology now acquaints us with construction levels which can be operated by one person. To try and locate a half inch increment in a 100′ long plane can be done by pushing a button and walking to hold up a stick which returns the signal and beeps solidly when level. So easy a Cave Man can do it! These same lasers are now attached to graders and informed automatically when to gouge or fill to make a perfect plane. Don’t tell anyone, but modern exhibitions have unmanned graders and even bulldozers producing perfect earth work with the help of lasers.

Placing brick pavers has become a bizarre bag of tricks. At the Hong Kong airport, whose runways are entirely composed of brick pavers – and we are talking square miles  and hectares – the machine of choice looked like this:

1 This one takes an entire layer of bricks, holds them together nice and tightly, and lays them down, approximately 50 at a time. Imagine the savings and also imagine the new possibilities implicit in being able to attack huge tracts in mere days instead of months.

The scale of landscaping is somewhere substantially smaller than, say, road building. Yet so many of the same principles apply. Increasing innovations made by sharp in-the-field installers have made steady increments in lessening prices and creating opportunities for newer waves in design. Water pumps alone have virtually revolutionized “pondless” waterfall systems and the newer and perhaps most interesting take-off – Bubble Rocks. The newer pumps’ durability is frankly off the charts.

Indeed, one of the most thrilling developments in landscaping – at least concerning “Hardscapes” – concerns the development of better and more versatile Diamond Blades and edges. The afore-mentioned “Bubble Rocks” are all bored by cylindrical plungers who bore their ways downward through fascinating and gorgeous stones and which allows water to be pumped up through them. For any aficionado of the real color of rock – this is a decided thrill.

My personal favorite machines are fairly obvious ones. In no hierarchy whatsoever, I absolutely adore the skid steer (or Bobcat as has become a near-common name) machine. I have loaded and carried 10,000 yards of soil on one job alone with one of these. Here’s one at work without me in the cab – a rare occurrence.


Secondly, the Excavator – and in particular the modern miniature – the Mini Excavator – are both shown in this picture where they played an irreplaceable role –


The world of machines has reduced the time it takes to make a landscape from the dirt up. Having said that, it has also enabled newer ideas to emerge from a strictly designing aspect. This synergy is essential in understanding why I feel Landscaping as an art is entering – or has entered over the last 20 years – a completely new flowering of possibility and of artistic expression.

From new innovations in lighting and transformer technology, pioneered by my good friends at Unique Lighting (who, I might add also developed their own techniques from field work and who were curious enough to apply this knowledge to actual artistic style) –


To the swimming pool-makers, who incorporate paving into the overall ambiance by utilizing the newest breed of modern adhesives and waterproofing-


All these things combine to make this world even fuller with wonders and which represent the artisitic and craftsmanship achievements and potentials of a fascinating combination of talent, dedicated to a principle of improving our lives.

10 thoughts on “Machines and Innovations in Landscaping

  1. Good lord….you’ve done some beautiful work. You know, just think of all the HARD work you did back when you started and how much easier that might be now, due to the technology. Do you miss the work? Freddy
    .-= Freddy´s last blog ..I Don’t Know =-.

  2. I was reading a Thomas Perry novel this evening and he was describing some guy – “made hard by the unrelenting and brutal work only small businessmen could possibly endure……….” LOL, it said it all. No, I don’t miss that so much and, yes, I miss landscaping………….but not the bad weather landscaping. I’ll be back into it, I can smell it coming.

  3. To a person who knows very little about heavy machinery and what it can do, this is a great primer! And very fun. I’m still boggling over the Hong Kong airport PAVED WITH BRICKS! Wow! how aesthetic is that? and I wonder how it holds up over time, compared with asphalt: does it wind up costing less per year?
    .-= Pomona Belvedere´s last blog ..Old Garden Books – Online =-.

  4. Pomona, it is very aesthetically-pleasing. Anything done in segmented pieces is complex and gorgeous, in my experience. Add the durability factor – these bricks are rated at around 8,500 PSI – that’s “breaking strength” from just force. Your average curb and gutter – which I might add are called “strengthened” (as opposed to sidewalks and such) are rated at 4,500 PSI. Being segmented, if there is heaving, the bricks would not break and then separate like huge slabs of cement do. Plus, if any do get broken, you just pull it out and stick one back in. Lots of assets to brick.
    .-= Steve´s last blog ..Machines and Innovations in Landscaping =-.

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