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5 Patio Essentials When Designing Your Backyard

patio design with pool ted lare design & build

Designing your backyard patio is a pretty fun project, but there is a lot to consider when you get into the details. There are a few essentials to consider in your design that will make your Des Moines backyard patio into an outdoor escape you’ll never want to leave. 

 

Outdoor Kitchen & Food Prep Space 

One of the most common requests for landscape designs is to incorporate a dedicated area for grilling. Our design pros have a lot of experience, and tons of ideas for how to incorporate an outdoor kitchen space into your yard, even in small spaces. 

Ideally, your outdoor cooking area should be easily accessible from the indoor kitchen, so you can quickly pop in and out for whatever you need. A whole outdoor kitchen might be more than you want or have space for, but you’d be surprised what sort of innovative ideas our designers can come up with to create a super functional and beautiful food prep space near the grill.

 

Living & Seating Spaces

People love to congregate together! Whether it’s just family or the whole neighborhood, you’ll want to make sure you have enough space for everyone. A designer can create a layout for your landscape design that will maximize your seating options while maintaining beautiful design and highlighting the features of your yard. 

Even if you’re working with a smaller yard, a designer can help you create multiple defined outdoor spaces. A dining space with a table and chairs near the grill is a top priority, and a living room or family room space with comfortable seating is ideal for relaxing. It’s always nice to have a lounging space where you can soak up some vitamin D and watch the kids play, or even a private and secluded space where you can sit and meditate or enjoy a quiet cup of tea. 

 

Shelter From the Elements 

We usually get outside to enjoy the natural environment, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little shelter from the elements as well. A landscape designer will work with your yard and consider our climate, prevailing winds, and sun positioning to give you protection from the elements. 

Whether it’s with umbrellas, strategically planted trees for shade, a patio with a full roof, or an elegant gazebo, a designer can create shade and wind protection that blends seamlessly into the overall design of your landscape. With a little something between you and the sky, you can still enjoy your outdoor space when the weather is less than ideal. Watching the rain from a covered gazebo can be a cozy way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

 

Fire

Having a fire feature in the backyard extends the day, making your yard inviting and comfortable, even after the sun goes down. Firepits and outdoor fireplaces are available in endless styles and variations now. 

A landscape designer can show you a variety of ideas and designs that could fit in with your design style. Whether you prefer sleek and ultra-modern gas-powered firepits, a more traditional style wood-burning fire ring, or even an outdoor oven, our designers can work a fire feature into your space. 

Not into a firepit or a fireplace? Torches can give you a similar ambiance and are available in many different styles.

 

Integrated Lighting

Integrating lighting into your landscape is a subtle way to make a huge impact. A landscape designer will work in lighting that matches your style and highlights the assets and focal points of your landscape and home. 

Twinkling string lights make seating areas feel cozy and warm. Decorative overhead fixtures add an element of art to covered patio spaces and are the perfect finishing touch to really anchor a covered space. Discreet path lighting and accent lighting invite you to explore your yard after dark and highlight the best features of your home and landscape. 

Seeing the different elements of your space lit up after dark gives you a whole new perspective on your space, and a new reason to fall in love with your home! 

 

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Keeping these ideas in mind will help you design the patio space of your dreams for your family to enjoy for years to come. If you’re not quite sure how to put your design onto paper, get in touch with one of our professional landscape designers! We can help you nail down a design, and come up with a plan to make it happen.

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The Best Landscape Border Materials for the Long Haul

stone mulched garden ted lare design & build

When you plan your landscaping, you are planning for the long term. You want everything, especially border edging, to last as long as possible—no matter what Mother Nature throws at it. Since landscaping is often one of the most significant investments you’ll make in your property, it can feel like you’ve wasted money if products break down, decay, or start to look dingy after just a few years. 

There’s a wide variety of products you can use for border edging. Here are the pros and cons of a few of the most common edging options available, and what we recommend for the longest-lasting hardscapes in Iowa

Plastic Edging

Plastic edging is a very affordable option, and it comes in a variety of colors and styles. However, plastic edging is a true case of “you get what you pay for.” Plastic edging degrades very quickly when exposed to the elements. Sun fades its color and weakens the material while snow and freezing temperatures make it even more brittle. Then it starts to crack, break, and look bad in just a few seasons. The plastic edging looks cheap, and it only gets worse with time. While plastic edging may seem like a great deal, you’ll be replacing it pretty frequently, and cleaning up all the bits and pieces from your yard can be difficult. We don’t recommend plastic edging to anyone. 

Spade Edging

A clean-cut line of spade edging looks fantastic. It’s minimalist, it’s definitely the most affordable option, and it allows strong landscaping to stand on its own without distraction. However, it is a high-maintenance approach. To keep it looking nice, it needs to be cleaned up at least once per year, and perhaps a second time depending on how crisp you want to keep the edge.  

Metal Edging

Metal edging products are very utilitarian and leave very clean lines. With that said, they’re not particularly attractive or creative, and they don’t bend well. These products are most useful in straight lines for commercial applications and utility areas of your home.

Natural Stone Border

One of the best and longest-lasting options is a natural stone border. Natural stone has a classic, timeless look, and fits into any landscape beautifully. As edging, natural stone is extremely durable, and weather and sunshine won’t drastically affect the look or texture. If you’re going with stone, avoid soft stone, like Iowa Buff, as it will discolor and degrade very quickly. Choose a dense stone that will stand up well to wear and tear over time. 

Stones that are at least 6″ wide and 2-3″ thick are the best for durability. If you have areas that see regular traffic from lawn equipment, like around pathways and patios, choose larger stones. Natural stone can be cut to custom sizes and installed end-to-end for a tighter or looser fit, depending on the look you’re going for.

Paver Stones

Paver stones are also a top option for landscape borders. These days, there are so many varieties, styles, sizes, and colors available to choose from! They’re also very durable and will last for a very long time. Similar to stone, we recommend larger and thicker pavers—at least 6 inches wide—for high-traffic areas.


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If you need help choosing and installing a landscape border, one of our landscaping pros would be happy to give you their opinion and some pricing for your home.  

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Working with a Landscape Pro- Your Questions Answered

stone walkway Ted lare design and build

When it’s time to consider a new landscaping project, you need to know the basics of how to work with a landscape professional. What is the consultation process? How long will it take? And how much is all of this going to cost? 

Our resident landscape expert Keegan Lare, shares his advice on what to expect when you work with our professional team here at Ted Lare.    

The First Step: The Phone Consultation  

After you call in to start a project, we organize a phone conversation with one of our designers. This typically happens within 24-48 hours of the initial call, depending on what part of the season we’re in. 

During this call, we answer any questions you may have, and we try to get a feel for the projects you’re looking for. If it seems like a solid fit for both sides, then we schedule an on-site consultation at your home or your business if it’s a commercial job. 

 

Next Steps: The On-Site Consultation

We usually meet for up to an hour to check out your residence and discuss our initial thoughts on your project. 

We charge $300 for consultations in the Des Moines Metro area, but this $300 gets credited back to you if we do the work. Depending on the complexity of the job, we may charge additional design fees to account for some of our design time. This will all be discussed on-site and agreed upon before we move forward. You will also receive that amount back in credit if you decide to carry out the project within the first year.

Most importantly, the on-site consultation is a time for you to ask questions, so don’t be shy!  

 

Common Questions during the Consultation 

Here are some of the questions you can expect us to discuss with you when we visit your property for the first time. 

 

What are your goals? 

In general, we like to ask homeowners what their top 3 goals are for their outdoor spaces. These goals help us focus on what is most important to you and allows us to develop a plan that meets your aspirations.

 
How do you live? 

We’ll also ask for general information about your lifestyle. For example, how big are the gatherings you expect to have on your new patio? What does a typical weekend look like for you? Do you love the sun, or prefer to hang out in the shade?

 

What are your tastes? 

Any images that show your taste in materials (patios, walls, etc.) always help us get an idea of what you like. Providing any previous plans for the property also helps us save time creating a base plan from scratch. 

 

What is your budget? 

Discussing a budget range is very helpful so that we know any limitations on the project. We’ll generally give options with different price points, as clients find it beneficial to have a few choices.  

 

Information Gathered for Design 

When at your site, we capture all the data we need to create an initial design. This includes several photos of the yard and home, critical measurements of the space, and information on accessibility, powerlines, and obstacles. 

This process can be quick or rather extensive, depending on the existing conditions of the location. New homes without a lot of previous installations are easy to measure and capture. Older homes with many existing hardscapes and plantings can take longer to document. 

Design Timeline 

We try to respond with design ideas and a preliminary budget within two weeks of the first meeting, but this time frame depends on the complexity of the project. If there are many construction elements to design and price out, it may take longer.  

 

Moving Forward 

After we provide you with an initial design, the decision is in your hands on how to move forward and set a schedule. Often there are different phases of work to choose from, such as tree removal, garden preparation, installation of hardscapes, etc. We are happy to do it all at one time or phase it in over a few years. Usually, it makes sense to do as much construction as possible in one trip to limit the cleanup expenses involved in multiple trips over several years. 

Once the project scope of work is agreed upon, we work to schedule the project in the near future.  If it is a simple planting, it may only be a few weeks before we can complete the work. If the project involves a lot of construction, it might be a few months before we can start a project. Once we start a job, we see it through to completion.  Our install crews are some of the best around and you will love working with them.


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The landscape consultation process is often that simple. For a small fee and in short order, you can have professional designers guide you towards your ideal renovation. If you have any further questions on the landscaping process, or would like to start a project, please don’t hesitate to contact Ted Lare Design & Build. We would love to hear from you!

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Creating Shade

It’s no accident that many of us wistfully imagine a shady sanctuary, relaxing under the leafy boughs of a tree. The image of a perfect afternoon spent under the cool shadow of a tree has been romanticized by poets and painters for centuries. We can’t deny that there’s something nostalgic about letting our minds drift off underneath a beautiful shady tree – and what better location than from the convenient security of your own backyard?

When you think of creating your own backyard oasis, you aren’t limited to giant trees with decades of growth. There are some fantastic options that provide the shade and elegance that you want, some of which can fit into the corners of even the smallest suburban lots. Here are some of our favorites that you might have seen in your neighbors’ yards:

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

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Best Large Shade Trees for Iowa (over 30 ft tall and wide)

Ted’s Pick: Swamp White Oak

Tall, mature trees are destined to become landmarks in the neighborhood. Thanks to its faster rate of growth (compared to other oaks), Swamp White Oak reaches its mature height sooner, bathing everything around it in cool shade. 

Swamp White Oak is also well-suited to the landscape because of its high tolerance for urban soils. It’s tough, and yet also ruggedly handsome. The thick, straight trunk has attractive peeling, flat-ridged bark. Its leaves spend the spring and summer with dark green surfaces and white, fuzzy undersides. In the fall, the color matures into lovely shades of yellow and golden brown.

Other large shade trees to try:

fiddle-leaf fig plant

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Best Medium-Sized Shade Trees (around 30 ft tall)

Ted’s Pick: Hot Wings Tartarian Maple 

It’s hard to beat a maple when it comes to fall color. What sets Hot Wings apart is the presence of red tones before the fall begins. During the summer, the branches bear clusters of bright red samaras that look almost like fruit or flowers against the brilliant green foliage. In the fall, the leaves take on a gorgeous display of red, orange, and yellow tones.

A fast-growing specimen, Hot Wings Tartarian Maple grows “out” as much as it grows tall, which gives it an attractive rounded habit at maturity. On top of offering plenty of shade and color, this maple is also very cold-hardy and has no trouble surviving a Des Moines winter.

Other medium shade trees to try:

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fiddle-leaf fig plant

source

Best Compact Shade Trees for Patio Areas or Corners of Home (under 30 ft)

Ted’s Pick: Serviceberry

There’s so much to love about serviceberry trees. Not only are they wonderful choices for adding three-season interest, they produce delicious edible berries similar in color and flavor to blueberries. The Autumn Brilliance cultivar is especially beautiful, with its intense orange-red fall foliage.

In the early spring, the serviceberry blooms profusely with crisp white flowers. As spring fades into summer and the flowers are replaced with berries, you’ll notice your yard becoming a lot more popular with the local birds!

Serviceberries are medium growers, which allows them to look well-established after a few years while remaining compact.

Other compact shade trees to try:

These trees are great options for people looking to create shade in their backyard landscape. They provide a relaxing respite for you and your plants, soaking up the sun in any area where you’d rather not. Provided a little bit of space, some good soil, and simple regular upkeep, even a modest tree can be a practical addition to your backyard that gives back year after year. 

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Top New Annuals 2019

Ted Lare Top New Annuals 2019

Top New Annuals 2019

The Ted Lare Look

Our annual gardens are where the hottest of trends get to shine every year. Many years we have our favorites from seasons past holding over to grace our gardens once again, but the temporary nature of annuals has us excited to try new things each year to capitalize on new trends without any risk!

Our favorite annuals for this year bring the best of color, flair, and enthusiasm to our gardens, and with thrilling plants and flowers like these, how could you not be excited about summer and spending some time in your own yard? Every year it seems like our annuals are bigger, better and more spectacular – and 2019 is no exception. These are our top picks for the most popular and successful annuals this year, ready to be brought home to dazzle your backyard and containers:

begonia top annuals 2019 Ted Lare

Canary Wings Begonia:
Begonias are an essential staple in the American garden, but the Canary Wings Begonia brings a uniquely colorful twist to set it apart from the rest. These shade-lovers are a phenomenal way to bring stylish blooms to those darker parts of your yard that might otherwise go uncelebrated, especially with the Canary Wings variation. With this brilliant new variety, you can enjoy golden-chartreuse foliage decorated with pops of crimson flowers, that will truly brighten your shady spots from spring through summer. Plant alone or with other shade lovers in a garden or container for a design that is not only on-trend this summer, but confidently commands attention in your garden design.

Simply chose a location with shade or morning sun and provide well-draining soil to get your begonia off to a great start. For such a complex flower, the Canary Wing Begonia is actually simple to take care of as long as you put in the initial effort to give it the light and drainage it needs.

sunfinity sunflower top annuals 2019 Ted Lare

Sunfinity Sunflowers:
There’s something traditional and charming about sunflowers that’s hard to improve upon in the garden – except maybe extending their growing and blooming season so that you have the chance to enjoy their cheerful bright yellow flowers for longer. Sunfinity Sunflowers take the winning formula of our favorite sunflowers and give them to us with a newly improved and extended blooming time in our garden! A charming presence in the backyard and an excellent choice to cut and enjoy indoors, these blooms are a simple joy that doesn’t quit.

Instead of a single flower that’s gone too soon on other sunflowers, enjoy over 100 blooms per plant all summer. These flowers have it all and are extremely low maintenance, so you can just plant them and forget about them – although that will be hard to do with their blooms exploding with enthusiasm all season long. Fit for both containers and gardens, there’s always a way to bring these sunny flowers home to cheer up any garden style and design.

vinca top annuals 2019 Ted Lare

“Tattoo” Series Vinca:
This new vinca variation brings the artistry of your garden design to life, with vibrant and intense flowers with stunning petals that look as if they’ve each been hand painted. With new colors, like Black Cherry, Black Coral, and Tangerine, offering top-notch color saturation and style in every bloom, you can take your backyard design from charming to professional with the addition of just one popular Tattoo Vinca variety.

Everything that modern gardens look for, the Tattoo Vinca bring intensity, color, and ease of care to your backyard. Simply pick a location with good sun exposure for the brightest and most vibrant results with a healthy plant that is ready to keep working to impress all season.

superbells top annuals 2019 Ted Lare

Superbells Doublette:
The Love Swept Doublette series brings a hint of romance to your yard with cascading calibrachoa blooms in blushing shades of pink with lacy white trim. We’ve come to trust Superbells varieties to bring the best blooms for the longest in our gardens for years now, and we’re very excited about this popular new color that we can add to our annual repertoire.

Wonderful for containers, these stunning flowers will spill out for a cascading effect of delicate but bountiful blooms that require little to no encouragement and minimal maintenance to absolutely thrive in your backyard. Plant by themselves in a container as they often grow so successfully that they overtake any other container mates. Thankfully, their beautiful pink and white tones on dainty flowers contrasted against emerald foliage is all the statement that you need for a single container – giving you all the lush garden style you want for this year.

salvia top annuals 2019 Ted Lare

Salvia Skyscrapers:
This beautiful bloom offers a uniquely vertical bloom that adds intrigue, contrast, and something strikingly artistic to your garden design this year. Three colors have been introduced in 2019 to offer beautiful blooms in shades of Dark Purple, Pink, and Orange – each prettier than the last and ready to pair with your current backyard style. With flowers towering like a skyscraper far above their foliage you’ll love the unique look and shape of these flowers that draw the eye to them.

Not only stylish, these flowers are also proven to be quite drought and pest resistant, with easy maintenance to make keeping their blooms around a dream. Blooming from late spring all the way through fall, they are practically tailor-made for our Iowa summer season. Try them as a vertical thriller in your containers or as a background element in your landscaping and add intrigue to your garden design this year.

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New annuals are exciting ways to keep your garden up to date on all the newest trends. In addition to following hot styles like color trends (we love the focus on chartreuse and coral that we’re seeing this year), picking up some of the newest and hottest annuals on the market is not only a treat for you with the latest developments in ease of gardening, but a style refresher that makes your garden fashionable and up-to-date.

Canary Wings Begonia Images Via Ballseed

Sunfinity Sunflower Images Via Harris Seeds

“Tattoo” Series Vinca Images Via Harris Seeds

Superbells Doublette Images Via Proven Winners

Salvia Skyscraper Images Via Proven Winners

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Designing for Curbside Appeal

Designing Curbside Appeal

First impressions can say a lot about a person and the same rule applies to a home. The view from the curb tells us all we need to know about the people inside and as homeowners, we want that initial impression to be a good one. Whether we have the time to spend grooming and maintaining our properties or not, having a presentable house is a source of pride and an essential component in maintaining a beautiful home.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Rejuvenating Your Home:
When starting the journey to revitalize your home’s curbside appeal, there can be a lot to consider. In our experience, though, there are a few key components to every home where a simple change can make a significant impact.

A fresh coat of paint on your home can make the difference between “old and dated” and “modern and lively.” Paint that is faded or chipping will draw the attention of guests and passers-by, but not in a good way. Freshen it up with a new layer or consider changing it up with an exciting hue and watch your home transform into something entirely new.

Bring attention to your address. While your address isn’t the only defining feature of your home, it is certainly one of the most important. Without it, guests would never make it to your front door. Make sure your address is clearly displayed in a bold, modern font and is visible from the curb to prevent any confusion. We can also mount your address to a natural stone to make it more visible from the street.  

Adding color with container plantings is another surefire way to bring life and intrigue to draw people into your space. You can do this with porch pot containers, window boxes, or hanging baskets that will add a softer element to your home. This is probably the easiest way to make an improvement instantly.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Landscaping for Curbside Appeal:
With the house in order, the next priority on your list for creating curbside appeal should be your landscape. Your landscape is what brings unity between the natural and manmade elements in your front yard. To ensure a top-quality appearance, we will assess the following and make improvements as needed:

Trees: These stately additions come with many benefits for any property, but they can also be a hindrance if they aren’t cared for. Take a look at the trees (or lack thereof) in your space and ask the following questions: Are they encroaching on the house and blocking its appeal from the curb? Are there spaces that could use shade or dimension?

Shrubbery: These foundation plants are excellent for creating dimension and texture in a space, but if they aren’t maintained properly, they can often end up looking more shaggy than snazzy. Maintain them with regular trimming for shape and size or consider replacing them with slower growths for a more low-maintenance look.

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Planting Beds: Shrubs and trees make for beautiful touches of foliage, but they don’t offer quite the colorful array of a garden. These seasonal flowers will keep your space looking pretty and picturesque with a season of spring and summer color.

Garden Bedding: Over time soil, mulch, and rock used as garden bedding will need to be replenished to keep the clean and polished aesthetic we like to see in our space. A simple layer to revitalize each year will keep it looking updated and new.

Pathways: These walkways guide both the eyes and the feet through the yard, adding a welcoming touch that brings guests right to the front door. To keep it looking crisp and clean, make sure to keep your pathway clear of any overgrowing plants and spilling dirt or debris that will take away from the crisp lines. If your current sidewalk is out of date, we can bring it up to speed with a new paver or stone pathway.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Other Elements to Add Curbside Appeal:
Lighting: Your home shouldn’t just look its best during the day. Keep it looking top-quality even at night with some carefully planned touches of lighting. Whether you’re just looking to light the way to the door or highlight a mature tree or key feature of the house, new LED light fixtures can make a dramatic difference. You will not believe how much you love coming home to your newly lit home – our lighting installations look just as amazing for homeowners as they do for guests!

Porches: While most of our outdoor entertaining happens on the back patio, a front porch or patio can allude to the inviting warmth that can be found within the home. Reflect the comfort of your home on the porch with a swing or bench laden with outdoor pillows that will beckon neighbors and friends to stop by for a coffee and a chat.

Creating the right first impression with your home may seem like a quite the feat, but with some carefully planned elements to focus on, it can be as easy to create as it is to look at – especially with the help of our landscape design team. To reimagine the curbside appeal of your home today, consult with one of our designers today to begin the transformation.

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Specimen Boulders, Outcropping Stones & Stones to Add Character

Specimen Boulders and Outcropping Stones

The best things in life are worth working for, and we don’t hesitate to make sure we have the perfect outdoor spaces to enjoy that are tailored to our exact needs. We pour lots of work into the design and aesthetic of our homes and gardens, and a lot of our energy is focused on creating a lush and thriving garden space to enjoy. We all want our yards to be an outdoor escape within the comfort of our own fence, a gorgeous living sanctuary to enjoy those precious moments when life slows down.

While it makes sense to focus on vegetation, hardscape – the non-living elements of your backyard design – contribute almost as much as our favorite plants. Rock and stone are the perfect contrasting element to vegetation that make our gardens look truly unique, adding both aesthetic appeal and function.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Specimen Boulders and Rock Gardens:
The best designs use elements of contrast and space to make the stars of the piece really stand out. Using hardscaping is a great way to incorporate different shapes, textures, and colors that plants can’t offer. By adding these additional elements to your garden, you can elevate the appearance of your whole yard.

Hardscaping is just as flexible as your favorite plants, and you can use it in a variety of ways that perfectly suit the style and function of your outdoor space. Rocks can be big statement centerpieces, functional structure elements, or even add reliable intrigue to areas that your plants might struggle to flourish in. The possibilities are nearly endless and entirely customizable to your exact needs. Here are some of the most popular design elements in hardscaping:

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Large boulders that offer unique shapes can add character to your garden while anchoring your outdoor design with a central focal point. A large specimen boulder provides natural structure for the rest of the garden to follow. Complement boulders by surrounding them with a rock or flower garden.

Smaller rocks make the perfect fillers to make the most of every square inch of your landscaping. Have fun piling them around other objects, making a fire pit, or fitting them directly into your garden plan. As smaller items, you even have the flexibility to revise your garden style and move them around year to year for a refreshed design. You can even experiment with matching your stones to the accent colors of your house for a coordinated look.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Outcropping Stones and Retaining Walls:
Sturdiness and stability are some of the first things that come to mind when we think of stone in our garden landscape. As the anchors in our yard, it makes sense to use stone as foundational elements in your landscape design.

Outcropping stones are large, rugged stones that are designed perfectly for stacking. They’re best used to create beautiful retaining walls and stone steps that are the perfect marriage of stunning style and fabulous function. Use them as a unique way to line your landscape, or mark the boundaries of your property with them – their natural beauty is the perfect way to achieve manicured lines in your landscape design without sacrificing the look of organic materials.

Retaining walls are not only about creating clean lines and style on your property, but they help to prevent erosion and sliding soil, which can drastically change the structure of your home and yard. Retaining walls are ideal for people in hilly areas who are fighting gravity to keep their landscape designs together, but are also useful as borders on vegetable gardens and flower beds. Try pairing pale stones with dark foliage and mulch, to catch the eye and highlight your favorite plants.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Rock Mulch:
The perfect thing about using rock in the garden is how useful stone can be in addition to all of the aesthetic benefits. One of the best examples of this is using rock mulch, in which attractive stones provide exceptional drainage for arid-climate plants such as cacti, succulents. Rock mulch is also the cure for rock gardens struggling with water diversion and drainage.

While organic mulch needs to be replaced with each season to keep your garden in top condition, rock mulch doesn’t decompose and won’t require the seasonal chore of changing it. Use a weed barrier under your mulch to suppress unwanted plants to keep your stonework looking clean and polished all year, every year.

Filling your entire yard with plants can sound exciting, but the maintenance can be absolutely overwhelming. For those that prefer to focus their efforts towards making their favorite plants look stellar, or even those with an eye for design that want to add some texture to their landscaping, rocks can be a great choice. Attractive stones and boulders not only require less maintenance, but they’re a stunning and ruggedly beautiful addition to any home.

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Landscaping Essentials for Building a New House

Landscaping Essentials for Building a New House

Homes are where we let dreams happen. A new home comes with a new start, and a new chance for your surroundings to reflect your family’s style. Home is the place we go back to every day, where we build our futures, and where we feel safest – it makes sense that we’d want to shape them to fit us and our needs.

New homes can also be overwhelming. With so much hope and expectation, it can be tough to know where to start. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no rush. There’s a lot to be enjoyed about moving into your new home, and you don’t want to rush through the milestones. You don’t need to go from bare dirt to a prize winning garden in one month. Setting goals is important, but so is the process.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Getting Started with New Landscaping:

As you make plans for the construction of your new home, it is important to also think about the outdoor spaces as well.  As you select the size and layout of your home, think about how much space is left on the lot and how you want to shape the outdoors of your home. Think about the activities you want enjoy and how your new yard is going to accommodate them.  If you like to play sports in the backyard or are entertaining the idea of a pool area, then you want to create or preserve a large level lawn area for these activities.

Here are some general questions you can think about as you plan the build of your new home:

  1. What direction do I want the backyard and frontyard to face? Think about shade and sun, wind direction, and the existing views at different lots you may be looking at.
  2. Do I want the backyard to be shady or sunny?
  3. Will there be enough room on the sides of the home for lawn equipment to access the backyard?
  4. Will we want a privacy fence in the backyard?
  5. Are there views from the home you want to preserve?
  6. Are there other views you want to hide or screen with plantings?
  7. What size of patio or deck do you need?  Consider everyday activities with family and other occasions where you might want more space?
  8. What outdoor functional features do you want to include or plan for in the future? (firepit, outdoor kitchen, pool areas, shade structures, additional patio space)

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Spend a little time with your family talking about all of your wants and dreams for your new outdoor spaces included with your new home.  Then spend a little time prioritizing these different items on your list. Similar to the indoors of your home, you may need to trim some items off the list as budgets are developed for your new landscape construction.

As you get started building your new home, you will want to get a reputable Landscape Designer involved during the building process.  Our design team is the perfect resource for any new homeowner looking to get started. We’ll help you navigate the planning, design, and execution stages to guide you towards your dream yard. If you are looking for a truly unique design, try to get a designer involved early in the building process as you are budgeting for all of your expenses.  We can help with generating ideas for your outdoor spaces and shaping your own ideas into conceptual designs for construction.

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Steps to Landscaping your New Home:

It can be overwhelming to landscape your entire home.  Here are the steps we recommend to prioritize your new home landscaping.

  1. Budget for Sod and Irrigation
  2. Assess how much you want to spend on the new landscaping for your home.
  3. Pick a Landscape Designer to work with and obtain Estimates for Hardscapes (pool, patio essentials, retaining walls, paths, etc.), Tree Plantings, and Planting Beds.
  4. Review estimates for proposed work to see what fits your budget.
  5. Revise hardscape and planting designs to fit your initial install budget.
  6. Continue to refine the design and material choices as construction approaches

We recommend trying to get as much of the heavy construction installed upfront, such as patios and retaining walls, during the initial home construction. These items are much easier and less costly to install before your lot is sodded.

Tree plantings are also nice to get started early as well, as they will take a while to grow into large shade trees.  Other than that, the front planting will most likely be required by your development. Hardscapes, Front landscaping, and Tree plantings are the areas to focus on first. Other items are easy to take care of down the road.  

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Preparing for New Plantings & Sod:

A vibrant and beautiful garden is impossible without good soil, and setting a good foundation is a great investment in making your gardening and yard maintenance easier for years to come. With a new home you’ve got a great opportunity to set this foundation – without any landscaping in place you can address your soil before you get started with anything else.

Some developers try to cut corners by leaving you with very little black soil, scraping it off and leaving a frustrating and unworkable amount for you by the time you move in. As you sign contracts with your home builder, ask questions about black soil depths in the lot and what is expected after the final build. The deeper the black soil the better, as you will have to water your lawn less and any new plants will thrive in black soil, compared to compacted clay. Four inches of black soil is the absolute minimum you’ll need for a healthy lawn, but of course more is better and even required for things like gardens and flower beds.

Even if you’re confident you’ve received the promised top soil, it can be a good idea to supplement additional black soil while everything is exposed, especially for areas you plan to plant during construction or later down the road. A full dump truck of black dirt spread across your front foundation will make a big difference to your future plantings installed with your new landscaping.  We recommend having 12” of black soil for planting bed areas if possible.

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Landscaping Design for your New Home:

The toughest exercise in self-restraint can be planning your hardscaping and waiting until you have a confident idea of what you’d like your yard to look like before you start laying down permanent fixtures.

Our landscape experts are the best source of knowledge to help set your plans and designs in stone. We can help you through the entire process, from preliminary planning and conceptual design all the way through final construction.  All of our designers have years of experience and the creative vision to help you build the new home of your dreams. Our detailed plans will let us help you do it right the first time. By taking the time to do it right, you can make the most of your opportunity to design a perfectly-customized outdoor space. When you are ready to start planning the backyard of your dreams, get in touch with your design team to get started.

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Landscape Design Trends: Covered Patio Areas & Pergolas

Covered Patio Areas & Pergolas

“Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be.” 
– Gossip Girl

Some people may have a fondness for rainy days, but wet weather can get in the way of enjoying your backyard. A rainy picnic is a classic frustration that has pushed covered areas to be an outdoor patio essential and make them one of the top of current landscaping trends.

This is all about lifestyle. If you find yourself wanting to spend more time enjoying your own backyard, this is how to make it happen. Imagine being able to get outside earlier in the spring, stay later into the fall, and even grill in the rain.

Why a Covered Patio?

A covered patio can be built as an extension of your home, or as a separate structure out in your yard.  As counterintuitive as it may sound, we cover our backyard space because we love to be outdoors. A covered patio opens up so many new opportunities to enjoy your time at home outside more often:

Extend the Year: Iowa isn’t quite a tropical oasis, and our harsher weather leaves us treasuring our fleeting summers. With a covered patio, your year is extended. Early spring and late fall become part of your outdoor living and entertaining season, and your summer can include protection from unpleasant weather and hot afternoon sunshine. 

Amenities: Covered patios spaces are perfect spots for outdoor kitchens, hot tubs, fire places, and outdoor TV setups. 

Protection: We are used to needing to protect ourselves and our outdoor space from rain, snow, and UV rays. With a covered patio, however, you won’t need to run outside to cover the patio furniture at the first sign of rain and you can feel free to leave your books outside without worry. 

Resale: It doesn’t take much to cover a patio, but by essentially adding another room to your house, your resale value will improve dramatically.

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Pergolas

A covered patio is an extension of your indoor space, usually sharing at least one wall with your house. A pergola is a structure that shades the seating area below it, but does not provide shelter from rain. The most common type of pergola is constructed from cedar wood. Alternative and more modern materials may include steel or aluminum.  

Typically, a pergola will have a sturdy post and beam wood frame that is covered with additional wood rafters for shade. Recently, more material options have been introduced, such as fabric shade sails or adjustable aluminum louvers. The end result is a shaded and protected area that still remains open to the rest of your yard. It’s the perfect spot for picnics, reading, or entertaining. Imagine your own personalized version with flowering vines, or maybe with a hot tub for entertaining. If you’re a romantic, imagine a freestanding pergola for a secluded corner of the yard, perfect for quiet time at home. If you are an entertainer, imagine a modern gazebo, complete with an outdoor kitchen and big screen TV for weekend parties. A pergola or covered patio is all about taking the outdoor lifestyle of your dreams and making it your reality.

You can do almost anything with a covered outdoor patio or pergola. We can customize any space to suit your family and lifestyle. When we are done with your backyard, you will not believe you lived without it for so long. 

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Landscape Design Trends: Fire Pits & Outdoor Fireplaces

Fire Pits and Fire Places Outdoor Landscaping Design Ideas Trends

“Screw your nightclub. I want to be with outdoorsy people who drink by the fire pits.” 
– Unknown

Why an Outdoor Fire Pit?

It’s human nature to look for the centerpiece of a space, a hub to organize ourselves around. It’s no coincidence, then, that this makes centerpieces so important in design. Outdoors, the most compelling centerpiece is a fire. 

While outdoor fireplaces come in a myriad of forms and designs, they all have the same function. They bring people together, whether for an afternoon roast or a late-night chat across the coals. 

The first step toward creating that experience is to take a look at how you already use the space in your yard. A fire pit will become the center of gravity in your backyard, and will affect the space around it, so place it somewhere that you want people to go, sit, and relax. 

Natural Gas, Propane, or Wood?

This is one of your first design questions. Do you want a campfire, the country vibe of a wood fireplace, or the clean convenience of gas? What could be a drawback for one person, could easily be a benefit for another. It’s largely a decision about what kind of fireplace experience and lifestyle you’re after. There are pros and cons to both:

Cleanliness: Wood may be a renewable resource, but gas burns cleaner. The smoke carries far less odor, and it produces less floating embers. Gas fires tend to give the fire experience without too many of the uncomfortable side effects. Particularly for those with family members with asthma or scent sensitivity, gas is the preferred choice. 

Ease: Gas is so popular because it’s convenient. It’s a lot faster to flip a switch than to start a fire from scratch, and it’s a relief  to know your fuel is always at hand, rather than chopping logs when you’re running low. 

Safety: Gas fireplaces should be installed by professionals. Wood has its own safety concerns, including chopping wood, and installation location.  Wood-burning fire pits and fireplaces should be located farther away from the home.

Cost: Wood-burning is cheaper in both installation and fuel, if you have it readily available. The cost of installing gas varies, depending on whether you have a propane or natural gas source  nearby.  If you have to run a new line from a long distance, it will cost a little more. The level of automation you choose will also influence the cost of a gas fire pit.  If you are OK lighting a match to start the gas fire, it will cost you a lot less than the convenience of flipping a switch.

Luckily, the decision doesn’t have to be final. You can convert a wood fireplace or fire pit into a gas burner by installing an insert. It is always cheaper to do this upfront with the initial project, but these changes can always be implemented. The cost of an insert can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the size and automation level you desire.

Fire Pit or Fire Place?

Outdoor fire comes in 2 basic styles: fire pit or fireplace. 

A fire pit is cheaper, and allows people to sit all around it. Fire pits are made for roasting marshmallows, drinking some beer, and relaxing into the late hours of the night over crackling embers. They are more difficult to incorporate into a covered outdoor room and are more vulnerable to wind, but tend to invite a more outdoorsy feeling. The height of the actual fire pit can be customized for your specific needs.  It can be sunken in the ground 12” for a more primal feel, or raised 12” with a finished stone cap for a more contemporary feel.See our portfolio of our backyard fire pit designs

A fireplace is where the fire burns above ground, typically with a chimney above. They are more expensive but can provide a larger focal point, creating an outdoor living room wherever it goes. Fireplaces are perfect for sipping wine and putting your feet up under a blanket in a cozy patio chairSee our portfolio of our backyard fire place designs

Material Options:

Fire pits and fireplaces can be created out of a variety of materials.  We use a lot of natural stone for fire pits, although there are some nice manufactured stone options available as well.  Both last a long time and costs are similar, so the main factor driving the decision is purely visual. You can see some of our installed fire pits and places on our Landscaping Materials page.

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Design Ideas:

Your ambition can go as far as your imagination and budget allow! You’ll need a stone or non-flammable base to build on, but after that, the world of design choices are entirely up to you. The easiest solutions include buying a portable metal or stone firepit to give some fire and warmth. It may not be a signature centerpiece, but it’s an easy way to get started.

On the other side of the spectrum, makeover your entire backyard living space to include a patio area with a firepit in the center to anchor your backyard. Transforming a patch of grass into a stone oasis will change the atmosphere of your yard as a whole and create the perfect space for comfort and socializing.