No need to weed

Even if you have expansive perennial gardens, yard work does not have to be hard work Just ask Kathleen Nelson, whose gardens now cover almost two acres. Kathe, like you and me, hates to weed-so she rarely does. Fact is, she rarely has to. She’s got her low-maintenance, anti-weed method down to a science. But it’s not rocket science. It’s simple stuff-stuff that saves her so much time that right now she is off planting more and more flowers.

Kathe fought tenacious invaders for two years. "Then a friend brought a truckload of mulch. That’s when the garden began," she says. "For me, mulch was the key. I couldn’t stop myself from having huge gardens. With mulch, I could keep weeds under control-so I could have even more gardens."

"When I first started gardening, I just kept weeding," says Kathe Nelson. "I had an incredible mess, and I struggled." Then she discovered the wonders of mulch.

Mulch keeps water from evaporating, deprives weed seeds of light, and prevents germination, Kathe says. She recommends at least an inch of mulch in flower beds, and as much as two.

But don’t overdo your mulching, she cautions: Huge piles will prevent deeply buried roots from receiving oxygen. Kathe uses several kinds of mulch: sawmill chips, shredded tree trimmings, bagged pine chips, buckwheat hulls, and on occasion, crushed rock. And if you’ve ever wondered about wood chips depleting the nitrogen in your beds, Kathe says, relax. "That hasn’t been a problem," she says. "My plants are so happy to not have weeds that they don’t notice any nitrogen problem." A

A blanket of plants prevents sun from reaching soil, so weed seeds can’t germinate between them. Drifts also reinforce themes and knit a garden together.

Kathe doesn’t believe in being able to see the dirt in her beds. She plants her flowers thc, covering every inch of soil with perennials in a kind of living mulch.

Kathe replenishes mukhes, such as these barkfree wood chips (left), every fall. While this tall switch grass covers a lot of territory by the end of the season, it starts in spring from ground zero.

A native bowman’sroot (in flower above) is skirted by two hostas, which in turn are surrounded by a ground cover. See any dirt? Of course not.

New landscape lights

As soon as days get longer and warmer and greener, we reconnect with the outdoorsspying a butterfly’s fluttery flight, inhaling a lilac’s luxuriant aroma, reading till nine under the light of the sun. This means the landscape lighting we install needs to look just as wonderful by day as it does by night.

This 23-inchhigh fixture is a natural when it comes to illuminoting a flower bed or walkway. Made of brass, the California Tulip light from Rockscapes, Inc., features a simple shade and gently curving stern that mimic a flower without stealing the show ($49).

A rounded shade directs light downward, making this fixture especially ideal alongside steps. Measuring 12 inches high, the Large Mushroom Light from Intermatic Inc. is made of die-cast aluminum and treated with a verdigris finish ($26).

Handcrafted from commercialgrade cast metal, this 20-inch fixture will withstand many years of nature’s little outbursts. The verdigris finish of the Hanover Lantern, Inc., Thatched Hat Light blends into your landscape too ($175).

Today’s best landscape light designs bridge the gap between standard black fixtures and overly glitzy ones. Their stylish shapes blend into your landscaping and please the eye.

Once you settle on a style that complements your home, decide what you want to illuminate. Some fixtures are better suited to lighting up steps and pathways, while others simply beam pretty pools of light onto flowers and ground covers.

Household current for all landscape lighting-even 120-volt fixtures can be lowered to 12 volts with a simple plug-in transformer. This makes the lights more economical to use, and means there’s less risk of electrical shock when lines are exposed to the elements.

Tucked into a bed of plantings, this sleek, 161hinch fixture provides style without sticking out. The brushed copper shade of Kichler Lighting’s path light will naturally weather to handsome patina (with stem, $86).

Make room for music

Live music lends vitality to any room, but finding the right spot for a baby grand can pose a design dilemma that even the masters find challenging.

At the Cedar Rock house in Quasqueton, Iowa, architect Frank Lloyd Wright went so far as to ask the Steinway Company to customize one of its pianos so it wouldn’t overpower the room. You may not need to take such bold measures if you follow these tips for maintaining a sense of harmony between the instrument and your home.

Stay in tune

When assessing a likely spot, take a look at environmental factors that will affect the instrument’s performance. Remember, pianos are made mostly of wood and have as many as 4,500 moving parts, so before placing the piano, pay close attention to fireplaces, doors to the outside, and even heating and air-conditioning vents. Changing temperatures may cause a piano to slip out of tune, but the real enemy is a fluctuating level of humidity. Ideally, the room’s relative humidity should be between 40 and 50 percent. If the humidity of your local climate varies widely, ask a piano dealer about high-tech humidity controls that can be installed inside the piano.

Direct sunlight can also cause problems. In addition to slight expansion and contraction of the wood caused by the sun’s heat, too much exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause a piano’s finish to fade.

Sound advice

How a piano sounds depends both on how it is tuned and on the acoustics of the room in which it is played. Too many hard surfaces can make a piano sound "bright," as the higher frequencies bounce from surface to surface. Dampening some of the sound with carpeting will make the instrument seem quieter and take the edge off the upper octaves. If you have hardwood floors, simply put an area rug under the piano. Draperies and wallpaper also offer modest sound-dampening qualities.

A lesson in scale

Because they are large, pianos tend to be the focus of the room. But a big dark piano doesn’t have to steal the show. To add balance, consider another hefty piece of furniture on an opposite wall. Bookshelves, an armoire, or even large paintings can round out the ensemble and add balance to the room by filling vertical space. Since pianos are typically dark in color, you’ll want to keep the room’s colors fairly light to prevent it from feeling cramped.

Long-blooming perennials

Many gardeners today are lured into the seductive world of perennials without anyone letting them in on gardening’s shameful little secret: Most perennial flowers don’t bloom all that longsometimes only two or three weeks, and then pfft. In the nation’s shift from annual bedding gardens to beds and borders landscaped in herbaceous perennials, some first-timers are caught short with transitional dead spots in their yard, sometimes for weeks on end. This, of course, does not have to be.

By planting such long-blooming perennials as the Butterfly Blue pincushion flower (see previas page), gardeners can have enduring plants that flower-as does this remarkable pincushion, or scabiosa-from spring until frost. While other long bloomers don’t bloom quite that long, you should be able to count on a minimum of six to eight weeks for each plant recommended here. The purpleflowering East Friesland salvia (near right) is another worthy subject. Do a little mixing-and-matching of the various high-performance perennials and you’ll have wall-to-wall flowers throughout the growing season.

Hybrid yarrow

The cream yellow Moonshine achillea, or yarrow (far left) and its yellow-yellow cousin Coronation Gold (near left) are middle- or backof-the-border plants. The grayish foliage is attractively fernlike; the flower heads stunning. Plant in full sun.

Bloom time Throughout summer

Plant heights Moonshine-2 feet Coronation Gold-3 feet Gaura

Angelic little flowers climb swaying wands which grow longer and longer during the season-producing more and more wee angels. Bonus: The white flowers fade to pink, and the gray-green leaves can turn brilliant red come fall. Full sun to part shade.

Bloom time Late spring to fall

Plant height 3 to 4 feet

Zagreb coreopsis You may already know the pale yellow Moonbeam variety of coreopsis/ Zagreb is its showier golder incarnation. Full sun to light shade.

Bloom time Summer to fall

Plant height 15 inches

Dropmore Scarlet honeysuckle

This handsome vine has a multitude of trumpet flowers-scentless, unfortunately-that attract hummingbirds. Bonus: berries. Full sun to part shade.

Bloom time summer through fall

Plant height 15 to 20 feet Red valerian

Bushy clumps of centranthus naturalize freely, so watch its spread. Full sun.

Bloom time Early summer to fall

Plant height 2 to 3 feet

Verbena bonariensis

This strikingly vertical tender perennial sows itself. Invasive where hardy. Sun

Bloom time Midsummer through fall

Plant height 3 to 4 feet Luxuriant bleeding-heart

this fringed dicentra is a ferny-looking wildflower. Unlike many other woodland bloomers, Luxuriant’s foliage does not die back in summer but remains gray-green and perky until frost Full to light shade.

Bloom time spring and fall

Plant height 15 inches

Hybrid Lenten rose

These hellebores need a little babying the first year or two as they settle in, but the results are more than rewarding elegant flowers just as winter wears out its welcomoe. Bonus: In most climates, the foliage is evergreen. Full to light shade.

Bloom time Late winter through spring

Plant height 18 inches

Carydalis lutea

Yellow is a tough color to find in a shade lover, but this lacy-leafed delight will brighten almost any darkened nook with its pastel blossoms. Corydalis is another vigorous grower, which makes it easy to use as cascading filler in a stone wall. Full to light shade.

Bloom time Spring through fall

Plant height 15 inches

Idea-packed closets

Nobody likes searching high and low through ill-organized, one-sizefits-all closets. Storage that’s carefully tailored to your needs-ideally arrayed within a comfortable dressing room-makes a master suite just that much sweeter. Whether you’re a die-hard neat-freak or just looking to shave some time off morning and evening routines, here’s a trio of super closets loaded with ways to pamper yourself and your wardrobe.

High-Rise Built-Ins

Pinched for space? Maybe it’s right over your head. Here, combining two closets with the shallow attic above them created a dressing room that literally reaches for the rafters. Vaulting the ceiling made room for a third tier of hanging space for out-ofseason clothing, plus shelving for shoes, hats, and other items. Down below, the hisand-her closet has a mirrorimage arrangement with a drawer-lined peninsula dividing the two areas (left). In the background, a 6-foot-high three-way mirror lets the owners get in-the-round looks at themselves and makes the space seem bigger than it really is. Ties and belts are easy to find in carefully organized drawers (above).

Space-Savvy Corridor

Another good way to carve out space for a dressing room is to "borrow" from the bedroom. Located along an outer wall in the master suite, this dressing area joins a large walk-in closet with the master bath. The inside wall consists of built-in his-and-her bureaus and cabinets that stop short of the ceiling to promote cross ventilation into the sleeping area.

On the outer wall, the architect added two banks of shelves enclosed by clear plastic doors. Because everything can be seen at a glance, the owners don’t have to waste time rummaging around to find things. Between the shelving units, a window seat provides a comfy spot to put on socks and shoes.

One for Him, Two for Her

Special storage needs demand special solutions. When the owners of this new home decided to build, they knew they wanted his-and-her dressing rooms. But she also has a large collection of clothing from her native India, so they planned a third, cedar-lined closet off her everyday closet. Here, shelves hold silk saris, tops, and skirts, with special-occasion dresses and matching pants neatly aligned on hangers.

Tiers of drawers and cabinets (left) line the passage from the bath in the background to a walk-in closet behind the camera. Good lighting helps the owners mix and match color choices.

Clear plastic cabinet doors (below) keep shoes, luggage, and a cherished Korean chest on view but dust-free. A cushioned window seat has a bank of storage underneath.

Both dressing rooms have center islands that provide drawer storage and a place to fold clothes or pack a suitcase. The closet’s fixtures are covered in white laminate, and lighting that simulates daylight makes colors easy to see.

Garages that belong to the house

A well-designed garage does lots more than just bring cars in from the sun or snow. It can provide space for storage, plus maybe a shop, a studio, or other hobby area.

Architecturally, the best garage also brings a sense of "belonging"-serving as a visual companion to the house and looking as if it’s always been there.

This charming brick carriage house is our first case in point Several years ago, owners Laurie and David Davis converted their original attached two-car garage into a family room. To replace it, they built a detached garage that mimics their 1957 ranch in its arched openings, brickwork, and roof pitch.

Two decades ago, architectural designer Gary Salter started planning a Colonial-style house for his family. He created an authentic period design that fits nicely into historic Norwell, Massachusetts.

Green paneled doors and red brick siding (top) help the new garage blend into the neighborhood (above). The entry to the garage and its upper level (right) matches the home’s detailing.

When he drew up plans for the original house, there was no way to attach a garage because of the septic system’s location. So, for 20 years, the family got along without a garage.

"Finally we decided to do something," says Judy, Gary’s wife. Judy acted as the client, citing her needs and preferences, while Gary supplied the design know-how.

Their solution-the half Cape Cod "house" shown here-won an award in Better Homes and Gardens magazine’s 1996 Home Improvement Contest. Janis and Gary Hostetler’s new garage solves several problems at their stately Indianapolis home. It gets their cars off the street and makes room for the workshop Gary has always wanted. Best of all, the garage accommodates secluded outdoor living in a bustling downtown setting.

Architect Terry Bradbury strove to ensure the new structure’s proportions, hip roof, and trim echoed the classic Italianate detailing of Janis and Gary’s 120year-old home. A patio, topped with a classy pergola, links the house and garage.

From its arched doors to the cupola and weather vane up top, the new garage (right) mimics an 18thcentury relic.

For security reasons, the windows on the garage’s side (above) aren’t windows at all. They’re an ornamental arrangement of shutters and trim pointed to match the house.

From the front, the garage (below right) looks like a neighboring home. Both house and garage are set back from the road and blend into the wooded landscaping.

"I don’t feel like I’m downtown when I’m sitting out here," Janis says. "I feel like I’m in an outdoor living room."

The garage features a bonus room upstairs that could someday provide more living space. "We toyed with the idea of an apartment up there," Janis says, "but decided we didn’t want people living in our backyard."

This new garage belongs to a house with history-a cottage that was built in the mid-19th century and later moved to a wooded hillside site in Zionsville, Indiana.

Automotive access to the garage (above) is from a back alley. The garage’s raised-panel siding doesn’t copy that on the three-story house, but similar proportions, materials, and color schemes tie the two together.

The garage’s rear entry (above) opens to a patio with world-of -itsown privacy. Stairs inside lead to a room above.

You hardly realize this is the back of a garage (left). The garage’s windows mimic those on the back of the house.

The homeowner would have preferred the convenience of an attached garage, but property boundaries, hilly terrain, and mature trees ruled that out. Instead, she built a rustic "barn" that looks as if it’s been on the property for more than a century.

On the ground level, the garage accommodates the owner’s 1952 British roadster, the minivan she uses for everyday wheels, and an extensive collection of garden tools and supplies. An exterior stairway climbs to a loft that stores garden furniture and other seasonal items.

Matching stain color and roofing help the garage and house righ harmonize without looking exactly alike.

Placing the stairway outside (above) doesn’t take away from storage space inside the garage.

Outdoor furniture and Christmas decorations go up and down these stairs several times a year.

A deep overhang at the front of the garage (right) serves as a porch, complete with a tilt-top picnic table.

Wrought iron hinges and latches give the overhead garage doors the look of swinging born doors.

Garage door danger

You may have been in this situation and escaped without incident, but not everyone does. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, 50 children in the United States died or suffered permanent brain injury between 1982 and 1992 as a result of accidents involving automatic garage door openers. Thousands of others suffer less-serious injuries every year. Make your garage door safer by putting it through these tests once a month.

Reversing test: Garage door openers manufactured after 1982 are likely to feature automatic reversing mechanisms that sense obstructions and send doors back up if they hit something while closing. To test the sensitivity of the mechanism, some manufacturers recommend placing a block of wood on the ground beneath the door. The door should reverse within two seconds of contact. Consumer advocates say that this test should instead be conducted with a large, unwrapped roll of paper towels which more accurately simulates the body of a small child. If your door doesn’t pass the reversing test, a knob on the motor housing will allow you to adjust the sensitivity until it passes. Garage door openers made after 1993 have even more sophisticated safety features. According to federal mandate, they must be equipped with pressuresensing reversing systems along with photoelectric sensors that prevent the doors from being activated if there are obstructions in their path. They may also be outfitted with switches that must be held down constantly to operate doors.

Balance test: For maximum safety, the door must also be properly balanced. To test this, disengage the electric operator and stand outside. Lift the door 3 or 4 feet off the ground, let go, and step away quickly. If the door drops to the ground, it is out of balance. Because balancing a garage door requires adjusting the tension on heavy-duty springs, it should always be done by a professional. The springs should also be attached to safety cables. In the event that a spring breaks, the cable will stop the spring from flying off and causing injury or death.

Equilibrium test: Finally, perform an equilibrium test. With the electric operator disengaged, watch and listen to your garage door as you raise and lower it. If it is hung properly, it will glide up and down smoothly without screeching or Littering. If it is lopsided, or not moving smoothly on its tracks, it should be adjusted by a professional. Not only will lopsided or improperly installed garage doors not function well, they’ll put undue stress on the electric motor, making it difficult to correctly adjust the reversing mechanism and causing a potential fire hazard.

Considerations for parents: Teach your children that the garage door is not a toy-no matter how much they like to push buttons. The National Safe Kids Campaign recommends that you teach your children to wait until the garage door stops moving before they enter or exit a garage. They also suggest locking a garage door’s remote control in your car’s glove compartment.

Easy living house

We can learn a lot from houses. Some teach us the finer pionts of home maintenance, while others beckon us to slow down and appreciate life. This home leans toward the latter. Built with charm and ease of mind, its classic Cape Cod design harbors plenty of ideas for your place, too.

Architect Paul Kreuger decided on the locally grown Cape Cod style for this summer home near Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The one-level design hugs the landscape, lending itself to an interior free of steps and other barriers-and ensuring the empty-nest owners will enjoy the home well into their retirement years.

Most Cape Cods feature tight rooms and low ceilings with upstairs attics. But this home boasts an open-beam design with little in the way of interior walls, creating wonderful volume.

Laid-back living dictated the arrangement of rooms. The kitchen, dining room, living room, and porch-where the homeowners spend the most time-enjoy the best views of the ocean. Ceilings measuring as high as 16 feet provide the roominess of a much larger home-without the cleaning responsibilities.

Although a couple of rooms have rugs, the entire home’s floor is oak-treated with polyurethane so water dripping from a bathing suit isn’t a problem. "And the wood is the color of sand," Kreuger points out, "so you don’t worry about every grain of sand that might be on the floor."

When winds outside howl, the living room-with its fireplace and shelves full of books- provides an always-cozy respite.

Sunshine sates the living room and adjoining spaces through a large, south-facing window. Because of the window’s height, you can see light filtering through the trees almost as if you were outside.

No four-walled kitchen and separate dining room for this family. The oll-in-one room lets everyone participate in good cooking and lively chatter.

Time away from the scrub brush and dust mop is spent in the living room enjoying a toasty fire on a cool day, or outdoors exploring a nearby wildlife sanctuary. Boating, fishing, and bird watching come easy in these parts.

By deciding early on what furniture pieces would go into each room, the architect and homeowners were able to cut down on unnecessary floor space. "Everything we put into the house is a useful item," Kreuger says. The 13xl4foot master bedroom, for instance, accommodates a queen-size bed plus the usual dressers and nightstands-but no more.

Beadboard paneling finishes the home’s walls, ceilingseven the kitchen’s built-in desk and island-for on informal vacation-house feel. Easy-care laminate counters are perfect for no-hassle deanups.

The centrally located dining area extends to a large deck outside..

A three-wing plan (left) with zoned heating allows the guest bedrooms to be shut off when not needed, saving on energy costs.

Just as much thought went into the room’s location. The master suite, which angles away from the living room, enjoys wonderful views and separation from the guest quarters.

Ease also extends outside, where the landscaping is completely maintenance-free. Because fresh water is precious here, indigenous birch trees, Russian sage, and fescue grass make up most of the plantings. The landscaping choices were never a question-most of us would also trade in the lawn mower for a fishing pole.

Don’t be alarmed

Arms loaded with groceries, you unlock the door and make your way into the kitchen. But before you get there, sirens start to sound. You just set off your new home-security system. Once the noise stops and you square things away with your monitoring service or the police, you probably don’t give your little goof another thought. After all, it happens to everybody.

Unfortunately, this is too true. False alarms happen far too often, according to police chiefs and alarm industry experts. They say that between 90 and 95 percent of all alarms that are reported don’t indicate a break-in or attempted burglary. Falling prices and an increasing interest in home protection may be bad news for burglars, but also add up to more false alarms than ever before. If you own or are thinking about buying an alarm system, you can prevent false alarms. The National Fire and Burglar Alarm Association says 76 percent are caused by user error. Here are some tips to avoid accidentally tripping your own security system.

Get into the routine

The most important step to avoiding false alarms is getting used to your alarm system. After your whole family is trained by the installer, it will take some time to get used to the added step of turning the alarm on and off. Many families post notes inside the door to remind each other that the system is armed. You might also try tying a red ribbon to the doorknob as a more subtle reminder.

Training is critical

Anyone who has a key to your house should also be trained to use your home-security system. Using the system will become second nature for you, but not for the neighbor who brings in your mail while you’re away for a few days. Give detailed instructions to anyone who has a key to your house, and also give them a mini training session. Call your monitoring company to tell them you’re training a new user, then watch over the person’s shoulder as he or she practices arming and disarming the system.

Changing your life

A change to your lifestyle may also make you more prone to accidentally setting off your alarm. If you change work hours, for example, you’ll have to fit the alarm into your new routine. Cats and dogs can set off some security alarms, too, so if you get a pet, be sure to call your installer before you set your alarm. Your installer may have to adjust the motion sensors or replace them with pressure sensors that pets won’t be able to set off. An elderly parent who comes to stay with you may also need help getting accustomed to using your alarm system.

Check the system

Finally, have your alarm installer come back and inspect the system once a year or any time you think it might not be working correctly. Generally, the electronics are very reliable, but now and then a system will be installed incorrectly or will simply wear out. Both are causes of false alarms that can be easily avoided.

Crashworthy minivan

Ford Windstar continues to hold its spot atop the minivan safety ratings based on recent government tests. In frontal collision tests of 1998 vans, the Windstar earned a five-star rating for both driver and front passenger protection.

The latest tests used a Windstar with lower-power air bags, which deploy less forcefully than the previous version. The new air bags were just as effective as the ones they replaced. This is the third consecutive design of the Ford minivan to earn the top rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Also tested in the latest 35-mph crashes were the Dodge Caravan and its slightly larger sibling, the Grand Caravan. Both received threwstar ratings for driver and passenger.

Windstar also excels in offset frontal collision tests run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry research group. Windstar earned the institute’s only "good" rating and received its Best Pick selection out of nine passenger vans.