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R.A. Smith National, Inc. Knowledge Blog

The Prayer Gardens of St. Dominic

by Tom Mortensen 29. October 2015 11:46


Over the past 10 years, I have been involved
with the design and installation of the Prayer Gardens of St. Dominic, part of St. Dominic Catholic Parish in Brookfield, Wis. One of my daughter’s teachers at St. Dominic Catholic School approached me back in 2005 with the idea of creating a special place on the parish campus, and I saw this as a way to give back to the community of friends and families by sharing my talent and passion for landscape architecture in a positive, meaningful way.

The gardens are a very special place and projects such as this don’t come along too often in one’s career. 

The installation of the gardens spanned the past 10 years and was funded by generous donations from members of the parish community. A local studio owned by another parish member created sketches and designs of the various shrines throughout the gardens. The maintenance of the gardens is being donated by a landscape contractor who is also a parish member. Parish pastor Fr. David Reith was the guiding force that provided the ongoing leadership, involvement and support that made this project a reality.

Read more about the garden project in “Landscape Architect and Specifier News” (below) and on our firm’s website.

 Prayer Gardens of St. Dominic.pdf (405.24 kb)





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Landscape Architecture

"Volcano Domes" of Mulch Could Destroy Your Trees

by Tom Mortensen 6. May 2013 17:58

You see them everywhere, except in the woods. Lumpy, domed volcanos of mulch around the bases of every tree on a site. What some people don’t realize is that they are slowly stressing and ultimately killing their trees. Building up mulch against the trunk of a tree 4” to 6” and sometimes even 10” above the natural root flare is a very effective way to stress and kill a tree. This can cause fungus and insect infestations at the base of the tree, cracking of the bark and girdling from mice that like to live over winter in these volcano domes. If you can’t see the root flare where the buttress roots meet the original ground level, you have too much mulch or soil on the tree.



Landscape Architecture

Trimble SketchUp Brings Projects to Life

by Tom Mortensen 3. July 2012 05:19

More and more, we’re seeing projects come to life using Trimble SketchUp as a 3D modeling design tool. As a landscape architect, I don’t necessarily use it as a final rendering tool for presentation graphics as the color rendering capability is not that sophisticated, but where it has been very helpful is in the design development and decision-making process on complex projects.

As an example, SketchUp became an invaluable design tool when our team was exploring some of the spatial relationships on the recently completed Summerfest project. This tool allowed the design team to relate to each other’s respected disciplines in 3D, making the meetings very productive. We also used SketchUp recently for a series of design charrettes for a large, regional park planning project in the village of Sussex, Wisconsin as a “live” design and visualization tool at public meetings. Participants were able to make decisions and draw consensus through the use of 3D imagery, while the park design was being developed in real time.

We also used 3D laser scanning technology along with SketchUp to build a series of renderings for a large courtyard plan for the Veteran’s Administration in Tomah, Wisconsin. For video tutorials on how SketchUp works, visit

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