Pro Tips with Jamie Snyder

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Retaining Walls: How to integrate them in your Swimming Pool Area

Posted by Josefine Koehn on Tue, May 08, 2012 @ 02:09 AM

retaining_wall_landscaping_nySince there is no such thing as a flat yard, the first thing, when building a pool is to think of where and how to create a flat level surface. Although there are a few different ways to create a flat area for your swimming pool, we want to focus in this article on different options for retaining walls and how to best integrate them in the landscape of your back yard.

Make it Look Great
Walls can be an eyesore and make the space looked close up, especially if they are too high and do not offer some attractive edge. The Albert Landscaping Group works with Stonemakers’ Concrete, which is versatile and easy to work with. Thanks to the special mixture, it is very strong and durable. Another plus for great-looking landscaping projects is, that Stonemakers’ product can easily be shaped and will look like natural stone when we are done.

Use it the Smart Way
There are also a few design tricks to integrate a retaining wall in the whole landscaping project. First of all: Do not build too high. If the slope is too steep, use grading and filling up in addition to the retaining wall. Also think of the wall as part of your living space. The wall does not have to look like the “Berlin wall” and just act as a divider. Why not build in a patio surrounded by a seat wall? The perfect place to gather after a dip in the pool. Plus: You do not have to gather dozens of chair to provide seating for your friends.

If you love to garden, you can easily add a beautiful flowerbed surrounded by a retaining wall. Did you look for a good place for a sandbox, a play area for your little ones or a BBQ-spot? Voila, here you are. There are plenty of ways to use the area enclosed by a low retaining wall.

Add Water Features
If the height difference between parts of your yard is significant, you can even use the elevation change to integrate a waterfall. The extra plumbing won’t make a big difference in the overall cost and you will add an eye-catching feature to your outdoor living space. The retaining wall does not have to be just functional; it can add beauty and space. Contact Jamie Snyder about the different options for your swimming pool project.


Insights as to why retaining walls fail – Part 1

Posted by James Snyder on Sun, Feb 27, 2011 @ 36:12 PM


If you are reading this chances are you may be considering a retaining wall in the near future. Or you may have already had a wall installed that recently failed. Unfortunately folks, some people this year will buy a retaining wall that will fail. That’s a fact –some dishonest or unqualified contractor will take advantage of someone. Hopefully reading this will give you some basic knowledge so you can avoid being a victim. In a perfect world you would just be able to trust every contractor that showed up to bid and award the project to the lowest bidder and get the same quality of the highest bidder. This will seldom work out.

Check out the video below to hear a client of Albert Group Landscaping & Swimming Pools talk about what they went through when their retaining wall failed and how we helped them.

Failed retaining wall orange county NYHere is a 4 year old retaining wall that needs to be replaced - before it crashes into the homeowners 4 year old garage.

 There will be a lot of information here, so I will post this in two posts. For someone truly looking to buy a retaining wall– I promise to make this article worth the time to read.

Every year - in my relatively small service area - I receive 10-15 calls from people that have had a retaining wall fail. Now I’m not talking about an old tie wall that simply rotted away –I get another 20 or so calls for those. I’m talking about retaining walls less than 5 years old - some less than 1 year old - that have failed to 1 degree or another. I feel that it is my job here to give you the information you need whether it is good, bad or indifferent.

The Good:

If this wall has started to fail and is just leaning it has probably not hurt or killed anyone yet. The good thing is that you now know to keep your family away from it. It’s a good idea not to put anything in front of it either - like a car.

More Good:

You may have actually gotten lucky and learned a lifelong lesson. You get what you pay for. From now on - every project you do – you will also do your “due dillagence.”

The Bad:

When I receive the call for a failed retaining wall the conversation usually starts out like this. “I need someone to come over and give me an estimate to fix a retaining wall.” The bad is that not only are retaining walls not usually repairable, the material often needs to be replaced. See you might be able to re-stack a block retaining wall, but you will not get down to where the problem originated.

More Bad:

A retaining wall will most certainly cost more to fix than you originally paid to build it in the first place. Simply put there is more work to do now. Assuming when the wall was first installed there was no wall there, now you have all a failed wall to throw away. This is not cheap. Now if the reason the original wall failed is that you went with a low bidder, you’d be foolish to go the “cheap route” again.

Even more bad:

Trying to sue the original contractor will only make your lawyer rich. An honest lawyer will tell you that you will probably win the lawsuit. Now once you have a judgment against that contractor he will almost certainly have filed bankruptcy. I personally know of 4 contractors that have used this tactic to avoid payments of one form or another.

The indifferent:

Noting really is indifferent about a retaining wall failure. It will cost you time and money to fix. Your property will become a construction site again. Like buying car parts you are spending money just to get back to where you started.


Part 2 coming soon where I analyze:

The 5 top causes of retaining wall failure.

  1. Drainage not installed correctly – or at all - as we will see is sometimes the case.
  2. Soil not reinforced.
  3. Base not correctly installed.
  4. Re-bar not correctly installed in concrete walls.
  5. Block walls not installed correctly (you truly won’t believe this!)

I had the opportunity to interview Mr. & Mrs. Enriquez about their retaining wall project. They were generous enough to talk about what happend to them so that it won't happen to you!

To Scheule a free estimate with Albert Group Landscaping and Swimming Pools click here.

5 ways StoneMakers retaining walls have changed the industry FOREVER

Posted by James Snyder on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 @ 40:11 AM

StoneMakers retaining walls have changed the industry, that's a fact! Here are 5 examples of things that retaining walls can do now that were unthinkable before StoneMakers hit the market.

  1. StoneMakersSPEED - Build a 75' long by 4' tall retaining wall in 5.5 hours. That's not an exaggeration, it's actually an understatement. Just so you understand what used to take me THREE DAYS now takes 5.5 HOURS. You know what this means for the consumer - BETTER PRICES!
  2. VALUE - Make a retaining wall that looks like natural stone, but is stronger than stacked stone or stacked block for that matter. Put simply - you cannot get a stronger or better looking wall for the money.
  3. COLOR THEORY - Block retaining walls come in few colors. Some companies have more than others but the reality of it folks is that most companies hover around 6-7 color choices. StoneMakers has 33 colors! And to top it all off you never use just one, which would not look natural. To make our retainer walls look like natural stone we blend the StoneMakers colors. In the end we have an infinite number of colors to choose from.
  4. MONOLITHIC - Back in the day - say 2009 - If I wanted to make a wall look like natural stone I had two choices. Buy natural stone or use cultured stone as a veneer over some type of concrete wall. This wall could be block or poured but the outcome was the same. Sure cultured stone looks fine if done right. Done wrong it looks like the wall has zits. Either way it's nowhere near as strong as a monolithic (one continuous piece) wall is. And Natural stone is flat out expensive.
  5. ENVIORNMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE - No forms mean no waste. Even if every contractor recycled their forms the wood wasted is staggering. A small retaining wall may have a few hundred pounds of wood used as forms. Multiply that times the number of jobs that contractor does a year and you can see how that ads up. With StoneMakers there is ZERO wood to throw away.

Want a professional to come to your home or business and give you a free estimate for your StoneMakers project? CLICK HERE!

A dozen spring plants to make your flower garden explode with color!

Posted by James Snyder on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 @ 25:02 PM

As the snow starts to melt for however brief of a time I am reminded that spring is right around the corner. And for me that means 2 things spring cleaning and spring planting.

For the sake of this conversation I’ll be talking about bulbs, annuals, perennials and flowering trees.  Landscape designers throughout Orange County NY know to stick with tried and true plants to guarantee success. A simple way to know you are buying a plant intended for this area is to buy from a local nursery. To avoid complaints they only stock plants that work here in Orange County  – Zone 5. If you are in Westchester County NY zone 6 will be more appropriate. To find your zone check out the Arbor Day Foundation’s Hardiness Zone Map by clicking here.

  • Bulbs are awesome. Some varieties will give you dramatic color when nothing else will.  And most bulbs make great cuttings to bring into your house. Try these 3 bulbs – Tulips, Crocus- Daffodils -  the next time you plant for spring to enjoy the early color. Don’t get upset if the deer eat them though, that’s just part of it.

Tulips, Orange County NY landscape contractor


Daffodil, landscape gardener monroe nyDaffodil

Crocus, landscape designer orange county nyCrocus peeking through the snow

  • Annuals take over where blubs leave off to continue the wave of color in your gardens. Consider annuals an easy way of updating your garden all year long. Used in accent areas of your garden or in hanging baskets they allow you to easily make a change without breaking your back or the bank for that matter. If they start looking shabby just pull them out and change them.

Begonia, landscape contractor goshen ny


Marigolds, landscape contractor monroe ny


Pansies landscpe contractor orange county nyPansies


  • Perennials will be with you for a longer amount of time, so picking them out should require a little more planning. What size will they eventually get to? Do they have maintenance characteristics that match my lifestyle? Will they be suitable for my soil, water, light and wind conditions? Will they be next to the street? If so will they tolerate the salt from the plows? What about deer. As you can see there is a lot to think about. But right now I’m just thinking about early bloomers. Look up these three and see if they fit your needs.

Phlox landscape gardener in fishkill ny


Shasta Daisy landscape contractor in wappengers falls nyShasta Daisy

Dianthus landscaper in monroe ny



  • Flowering trees are some of the most fickle of the flowering plants. Known to sometimes just not flower at all if the conditions are not perfect makes seeing them flower that much more rewarding. Although they are only in bloom for a short period of time flowering trees are so beautiful that the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC receives more than 700,000 people each year!

National Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC, green meadows landscapingNational Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC

Snow fountain weeping cherry tree landscaping monroe nySnowfountain Weeping Cherry

Crape Myrtle landscaper monroe ny

Crape Myrtle



It’s been fun discussing some of my favorite spring plants. To have Albert Group Landscaping design or renovate your gardens click here.

Top 5 questions people ask when buying a retaining wall.

Posted by James Snyder on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 @ 15:01 PM

As a retaining wall contractor I get all sorts of questions. Below are the 5 most common questions I am asked about building retaining walls.

1.       What type of material should I make my wall out of? These days there are 2 basic choices block or concrete. The railroad tie or plain old wood tie walls are a thing of the past and rightfully so. They don’t last. If you are building a wall now - SRW (segmented retaining wall) blocks or concrete is the way to go.

retainer wall cornwall ny

Old "Railroad Tie" wall

Retaining wall cornwall NY

New retaining wall made from SWR (segmented retaining wall) block.

2.       I’ve heard all about these new types of walls without forms – what are they and are they any good? The new walls you are referring to are StoneMakers retaining walls. These walls are not only good they are the best! It’s everything a homeowner could want. Strong, beautiful and affordable. It’s only every so often a product like this comes along. If you have a contractor that is certified to do these you are sitting pretty.

3.       I have a lot of water issues, what can I do? Well seems like you already did everything you had to. Telling your contractor about water issues you know for sure to be a problem is essential. Keeping these things secret does no one any justice. Automatically your contractor should build your wall to NCMA specifications. But if he or she is not NCMA certified they might not even know about these specifications so helping them out by telling them about any potential problems is beneficial to all involved. Click here to learn more about the NCMA.

4.       Do I need a building permit for this? Well that depends on a few things. Your local building department will be able to tell you right away. Unfortunately every building department can make their own rules on this so guessing or saying “usually such and such can be done without a permit” is useless. Better to ask for permission than forgiveness.

5.       I only plan on staying here x number of years more. Can this be built cheaper? Sure, but not by me. It’s my job to be honest and the problem here folks is that a wall can either be built to spec or not. The real issue lies in that no one has a spec for a wall built to last 3- 4 years. It’s either built to spec or it’s not, that’s it. I had a customer that had a wall built by another contractor and it lasted three days! Not 3 weeks, not 3 months – 3 DAYS! They were kind enough to open up their home to me one weekend and allowed me to interview them on camera. What they went through was horrible and for them to talk about it with me so that others may avoid their pain speaks volumes as to how caring they are. This video was taken about a year ago and I have since done more projects with them and have more planned. 

To have Albert Group come out and discuss your retaining wall project click here.

8 Tips to make your next paver job turn out great! Pavers done right!

Posted by James Snyder on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 @ 51:09 AM

We’ve all seen it, sometimes it’s obvious and looks horrible. Other times you can’t quite put your finger on it but something is off.  In either case it could have been prevented by following the steps below.  We’re talking about pavers that look bad.  So if you are about to try a paver project yourself or are new to the trade – follow these steps below for surefire success.

  • Dig deep because 4” of base just won’t cut it in cohesive soils. First how do you know if you have cohesive soil, easy bring it to get tested. For a small fee - around $200 - they will tell you the gradation and standard proctor density of the soil. Gradation is the makeup of the soil and standard proctor density is a measure of how “tight” they were able to compact the soil in the lab. If you have more than 1/3 clay it’s time to call a professional and have the soil amended by pounding huge chunks of stone into the soil to stiffen up the sub base.  And my company never uses less than 8” of base material, 12” for driveways.

  • Don’t use a demolition tool for an artist’s touch; pick them up to make them look right. From about 20 feet away they will both look the same but up close there is no competition. A demo saw is a quick and dirty way of cutting an edge or soldier course. I’ve seen it done time and time again by landscaping companies right here in Orange County NY. It sure is faster and that’s great but in the end I’d rather have quality - period.

  • A wedge is for holding a door open not for curves. This is got to be the king of being lazy, you need to make a soldier course around a curvy patio or coping on a pool so what do you do. On a curve the only way to make it look good is to cut EVERY one. Anything else will look chunky and you will inevitably be left with a tiny wedge that you need.
  • Go big or go home,  if you can lift it – it won’t compact anything. Compactors come in roughly 3 flavors vibratory, ramming and kneading. I have yet to have a soil gradation test come back where I was able to use my vibratory plate compactor. Rammers or “jumping jacks” as we call them and trench rollers are the only approved ways of compacting cohesive soils. One thing all the good compactors have in common is heft. The trench roller below weighs over 3000 pounds!

trench roller resized 600

  • I think it’s done. O.K. we talked a lot about compaction, but how do we know when we are done. The only real way is to test it. A simple Dynamic Cone Penetrometer will do the trick and save you the headache of re-doing things down the line. Industry standard is 98% Standard Proctor Density or a CBR (California Bearing Ratio) of 150. Let’s face it if you don’t test you are just guessing and you’re bound to guess wrong at some point.

dynamic cone penetrometer

  • Bond lines – don’t have them running or in a basket. They don’t call them interlocking for nothing. Pavers that have long continuous bond lines are prone to failure. That line is like creasing a piece of paper and is considered a weak point.  In a running bond or basket weave pattern there are loads of long straight lines. However much you may like that pattern do yourself a favor and stay away unless you pour concrete underneath.

         running bond  DSC 3782 (Large) resized 600

        Running bond on the Left, Modified Herringbone on the right, Both look great but the Modidied Herringbone is stronger!

  • You got to keep em separated. The base and sub-base that is. A geotextile such as Mirafi 500x will do just fine. This is basically a layer of tough fabric that keeps the sub-base from contaminating the base while allowing water to pass through.  Check out the PDF on it here.
  • Never lose your edge. Pavers need something at the edges to keep them from moving on the horizontal plane. You can use all sorts of things to do this. A house foundation will do just fine on a patio or walkway that meets the house. Belgium block set in concrete or just concrete by itself will also work great. If none of those appeal to you or are just not an option specialty products are available to do this. Paver edge is sold in either aluminum or some form of plastic. In either case use bright spikes not galvanized. You need the spikes to rust and “grab” onto the soil.

Paver edge

Here we used a retaining wall as one edge and aluminum edging where the pavers meet the gravel

There are countless other tips and tricks of the trade that I have learned over the years but these 8 should get you started.

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5 Reasons why NOW is the best time to buy your inground swimming pool

Posted by James Snyder on Thu, Feb 10, 2011 @ 33:12 PM

fiberglass swimming pool contractor orange county nySo you've been thinking about a new inground swimming pool and this year you have decided to finally do it. Great! Now what? Well, if you are like most people you will wait until spring, hop on-line and call a pool guy. That approach seldom yields the results you are looking for. By that time most "pool guys" are backed up for at least 1-2 months. Let's face it, if they were not backed up at this point they would be out of business plain and simple.

  1. Manufacturers give dealers better pricing in the off season to move product. This will save you money if you buy pre-season.
  2. The closer to "pool season" you wait to buy your pool the longer you will wait to have it installed. First come first serve - that's the way it's always been. And, if you find a guy to do it last minute it means only one thing. Nobody wants him at their house for whatever reason.
  3. This is a big purchase and there is a lot to know. Buying early will help you learn everything you need to know without feeling rushed.
  4. The nature of pool building dictates that your property will get torn up and then put back together. Doing this early gives the plants and lawn plenty of time to fill in and look beautiful for your mid-summer pool party.
  5. Swimming pools are supposed to be stress reducers and when you install early you are not thinking about swimming these are the most stress-free installations we do. But in July you are thinking about swimming and when the building inspector holds you up for 3 weeks just because they can. You will understand perfectly why waiting is no fun.

3D Landscape and Pool design, You only have one shot to get it right!

Posted by James Snyder on Fri, Feb 04, 2011 @ 41:08 PM

Designing landscapes and swimming pools is what I do. So it should come as no surprise that I can visualize the project before it's even started. That being said, when it comes to landscape design there are so many variables that it may take several attempts to get the design exactly the way the client wants. This is where designing in 3D helps you - the client - visualize what I am talking about.

For instance when I design an outdoor kitchen grill area would you rather see this:Outdoor Kitchen Grill

Or this:3d landscape contractor monroe ny

Even though both pictures represent the exact same thing it is much easier to see the look I am going for in the bottom picture. That is because you don't have to imagine things like the counter overhanging the stools, you can see it.

Check out the video below walking you through a drawing. This will give you a sense of the creative process I use for designing outdoor living areas for my clients. And as always if you would like us to come out and give you a complimentary consultation all you have to do is ask.

Bring the indoors outside by adding an Outdoor Kitchen.

Posted by James Snyder on Mon, Dec 06, 2010 @ 00:11 AM

Outdoor kitchen landscape design is an increasingly popular trend in garden planning, not just in the year round warmth of southern Florida, but in cooler climates as well. Modern outdoor design takes the elegant style of your interior living space and continues it into the yard, creating the same functional living space on the outside. Because the kitchen is an integral part of entertaining at home, many people prefer an outdoor kitchen or sometimes referred to in the cooler climates as a ‘Summer Kitchen’ for convenient cooking and dining in the beautiful outdoors.

A growing trend in outdoor living is to bring aspects of your interior outside your home to create the same functional living space in your backyard. This modern approach to landscape design is sweeping the nation as evidenced by so many popular home and garden TV shows. Since the kitchen is focal point of entertaining at home it’s only natural that many people are installing outdoor kitchens for convenient dining outdoors.

describe the image

Designing Your Outdoor Kitchen

Today’s outdoor kitchens are not simply a grill with a picnic table. They are much more elaborate and there are many things to consider to be sure that your outdoor kitchen functions the way you want and looks great.

When designing your outdoor kitchen it is important to really think about what appliances and features you want to have. Not every option will be right for everyone, nor will everyone have the same budget to work with. They can be as simple or as grand as you like.

The most basic designs will include at the very least a grill and counter. There are many types of grills available. The grill that is right for you should be large enough to cook for the number of people you typically entertain. A grill with a large cooking surface or double rack design will allow for larger meals to be made while a smaller grill will be perfect for more intimate gatherings. Side burners are an excellent way to prepare full meals without the hassle of being stuck inside. One thing to keep in mind is how often you want to go inside your home for supplies such as drinks, access to a sink, food and so on.

Below are just some options that are available for your outdoor kitchen.

  • sink with hot and cold running water
  • refrigeration
  • trash bin
  • drink station
  • cabinets for storage
  • electrical outlets
  • beer taps
  • wine coolers
  • pizza ovens
  • warming trays
  • yes- even a dishwasher

The Best Materials for Your Outdoor Kitchen

Your outdoor kitchen will be open to the elements throughout the year, it is important to select materials designed to be outdoors. Materials such as concrete, stone, marble, slate and granite are especially well suited for outdoor use and can provide many years of service. Not just for the next 2 or 3 years but for 20 - 30 years.  

The Final Touches

The final touches to any outdoor kitchen landscape design, regardless of how simple or elaborate, are outdoor accessories that enhance the overall style of your home. Dining furniture, decorative accents like sculptures, throw rugs, or potted plants, and the right outdoor lighting design can help unify your outdoor kitchen with the rest of your outdoor design as well as with the interior of your home. Creating a unified look throughout your property is extremely important for a professionally designed appearance. Our landscape design team specializes in upscale designs, including outdoor kitchen landscape designs, and provides complementary on-site consultations to property owners throughout Orange, Dutchess and Westchester counties in NY.

Albert Group Landscaping’s landscape design department utilizes a 3D virtual tour for your custom designed landscape and pool projects.

Posted by James Snyder on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 @ 50:10 PM



                 Let’s face it – when it comes to a custom designed landscape or swimming pool project, being able to visualize the project first in 3D is the difference between really knowing what you are going to get and not. Traditional Landscape design plans and pool builder drawings leave much to be desired. Our 3D computer software takes over where traditional 2D blueprints leave off.  Now, with our advanced software it is possible to have the feeling of walking through your finished project right at your kitchen table. We will gladly travel to your home in Dutchess County, NY - Orange County, NY or Westchester County, NY and perform a “measure call” to size up your project and discuss all of your design requirements.  

When we come back with your proposal you can see your design concept in 3D for all of the outdoor living areas we build including swimming pools, waterfalls, outdoor kitchens and grills, pergolas, fountains, paver and natural stone patios, steps and retaining walls along with all of your plantings which will show the different layers of your garden as it will be in the real setting.  Retaining walls, walkways, patios, steps and elevation changes are shown in true to scale 3D so you can fully understand the spatial relationship of each structure. With the twilight and night time modes you will understand the different evening lighting effects, a great way to eliminate hot and cold spots in the landscape and get the most functional landscape lighting package.

                  With the 3D virtual tour you will see how spaces accommodate furniture, foot traffic and accessibility or if the pool or patio is too large or too small. In seconds you can see how adding or subtracting area affects a space, ensuring your finished project is exactly what you want.

                    Thank-You for reading my blog! Please feel free to comment or call me directly at 845-283-8787.

   Jamie Albert Snyder


Landscaping designers dutchess county ny

This picture shows the project before we did any work. The house is located in Dutchess County, NY between Hopewell Junction, NY and Fishkill, NY.


landscape design dutchess county ny


Above is a landscape design that out designer came up with for a client.


landscape designer fishkill ny


This picture shows the finished product from pur design concept drawing.  You can see how closely the project resembles the 3d rendering. 



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