Thursday, July 17, 2008

Five Cool Hardscaping Elements

People often come to me with a rough idea of what they want but they're not sure how to put it in words. Pictures help a lot; when a customer points to something and says, "Make it look like that" I immediately know what he's talking about. What's harder is when someone wants to change their property, but needs a bit of extra guidance. I've always got plenty of ideas but at the end of the day, customers have to live with it. If I can inspire them they'll get more involved in planning their hardscapes and make them a lot more satisfied with the end product.

One way to get the ball rolling is to talk about particular design elements. If a customer really likes one, it turns into the center of the whole project. If you're looking for a starting point like this, consider the following five hardscaping elements:

Vertical focal points: If you have enough room, consider a vertical hardscape feature. Depending on what you go for these can offer shade, privacy and a way to unify the entire space's composition. People tend to look at vertical elements first, so arranging everything else around it gives you a way to guide a visitor's eyes. Examples include archways, decorative walls and rough stone piles. You can also build around a natural vertical feature like a tree.

Space divisions: Always remember that hardscapes are outdoor living spaces. People want to be able to sit comfortably, without feeling exposed or getting baked by the sun. Even when you want a big open space there should still be a nice little nook suitable for reading. Use screens, raised planters, walls and fences but be careful, because you want a sense of flow and unity with the rest of the area. If you divide the space too strongly it'll look like a stockade.

Grade adjustments: Some slopes are cool. They provide natural support for water features and flagstone stairs and give you a high place from which to enjoy the view. On the other hand, it's no fun to constantly have your stuff roll into a ditch because your backyard is just a big hill. To get the best of both worlds, level off part of the natural slope and support it with an attractive retaining wall. If you've got a serious incline, turn it into several flat levels. You can even add some stairs to go from place to place, or a water feature to unify all sections.

Complementary and contrasting textures:I touched on this a little bit in my last post on stone carving and engraving. The natural environment (which in Washington, can be almost anything) and previous landscaping determine the base texture. As a general rule, trimmed grass, terraces and other heavily landscaped features complement smooth or obviously man-made hardscaping elements like brick, tile and concrete. Natural-looking features go with rough stone. This is a decent guideline, but you can get as much out of breaking it as following it. A rough decorative wall bordering a brick patio or a concrete slab for a sitting space in a wild-looking garden both provide dramatic contrasts. They attract the eye to the distinct elements in each feature.

Color and light: These related concepts are always a big deal. For a cool space, the ideal combination is shade and a light tone. The tone reflects heat but the shade prevents glare. Darker colors work well when it's not as warm and on a cloudy day, they don't take on the dreary quality of the light. It'd be great if we could change a hardscape's color whenever the weather shifted but the reality is that you've got to make a choice. My advice is to pick one and then use all kinds of tricks to minimize the drawbacks when the weather isn't optimal. Use light-toned flowers and patio furniture to take the edge from dark tones in the summer. In cloudy seasons, light colored patios can do with a splash of warm color. Use earth tones from nearby natural stone to heat things up.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Work that Stone!

Out around Spokane we’ve got a lot of different terrain to work with, so we can justify almost any landscaping style as something that’s representative of the region. Truth to tell, we love nature and like big, rough, natural water features that stand out, but still blend in with the environment as it is.

That’s all cool, but there’s something to be said for just dropping the whole “nature” thing! There are times you want to make a bold statement with your landscaping, and times when you just want to add a personal touch. That’s why we also do engraving and stone working. We’ve got a whole other business – Garden Stone Creations – devoted to stone engraving, but we also blend it in with our landscaping efforts.

Here a few cool ways to combine engraved stone with other landscaping features.

Address: The postman’s not going to miss your house if your address is carved in stone at the top of an ornamental cairn you’ve built up at the foot of your driveway. Add your name (“The Johnsons”) or if you’re feeling classy, give your property a name (“Nifty Acres”) and put it on the engraving.

Poetry and Prose: We can carve some verses on one or more stones bordering your water feature or hardscape. Depending on the feeling you want to evoke. This could be a bit of favorite philosophy (“Don’t worry, be happy”) a lyric (again, “Don’t worry, be happy”) or something wacky, (“Don’t worry . . .” okay, you get the picture).

Pictures: We can add silhouettes and other pictures to your stones. These are cool conversation pieces, and another way to make your landscape your own. Every water feature or hardscape is unique, of course, but I admit that the untrained eye might just see a big ol’ pile of rocks and other stuff. Add a bold accent that fits you to a “T:” an animal, a portrait, or even a flag, if you’re feeling patriotic.

Polish: Like I said, we love a natural look, but a bit of polished stone can make your landscape features glow. For instance, if you mix rough and smooth stone around a water feature you’ll catch the sunlight in two different ways: from the water and the surrounding rock. Polished stone is nice to touch and sit on, too. Remember that landscaping is about building livable environments: places your kids will play and where you’ll hang out whenever you’ve got the time. They’re not just for looking at!