What You Need to Know Before Installing Your Hardscape

So, you’ve decided to install a hardscape. We don’t blame you—they’re great! Hardscapes can add beauty and value to your home, not to mention more enjoyment. They’re versatile, convenient, and fun!

While hardscapes are a great addition to any home, the installation process can be a doozy – especially during the planning phase. With those early first steps in mind, we have some tips for planning your hardscape, as well as some questions you should consider. So take a deep breath… soon you’ll be enjoying your new outdoor living space!

Make a Plan

First things first- you need to have a plan. When designing your hardscape, make sure you plan for the entire area, even if you’re not hardscaping all of it immediately. If you sketch out the whole yard, you’ll have less to do when you want to add on projects.

Planning in full also helps with consistency. Say you’re putting in a pool. Down the road you may want to install a porch. If you don’t plan for this space, you’re going to run into issues… the porch may not be possible with the pool’s location and size, or may look funny if the pool isn’t properly placed.

In your sketch, be sure to mark off major features, like your house or that favorite tree you just can’t live without. Be aware of view lines. Your hardscape isn’t enjoyed only from the outside, but also from the inside! You don’t want to look out your window and be staring at the back of your grill…. so be aware of where you place utilities and other features.

Keep greenery in mind, too. Gardens and yard patches provide a nice balance to hardscapes. Grass gives a respite from hot surfaces in the summer, a place for pets, and a play area for children. Gardens can provide a pop of color and are a good way to implement nature into your hardscape. If you need gardening ideas, check out our gardening tips to beautify your hardscape.

Determine Your Budget

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but sitting down and determining your budget helps you make a lot of decisions about how to proceed with your hardscape. For example, can you build out the whole area? Or, would it be wiser for you to break your hardscape endeavor into smaller projects? Will you do the work yourself, or will you hire a contractor? Budget can also help you determine which materials to use.

Having trouble justifying your budget? Keep in mind that a beautiful hardscape can easily raise the value of your home. Get an appraiser to estimate the value added to your house by installing a hardscape, and you’ll be surprised! You might just find that you want to budget a bit more for that patio than you thought you did.

Choose Your Materials

Budget helps with this decision, but shouldn’t be the only consideration when choosing your materials! You should also consider durability and style. Are you going for a natural look? If so, consider incorporating wood into your design. Be sure to note that wood will require upkeep and is prone to weathering. If you’re looking for a more hands-off approach to your hardscape, you might want to choose a more durable material.

You should also be mindful of your home. Do the pavers you love match your house? Do you want to use brick, stone, or something else? If you’re not hardscaping everything at once, this might not be your only project. Choose materials that compliment your home and can be continued through other hardscaping endeavors.

Remember, hardscapes are a permanent fixture. Take your time in choosing your materials. You want to love your new space, and you want it to last. You also don’t want to break the bank!

Prepare Your Yard

Preparing your land for hardscaping is the biggest part of the installation process. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable doing this on your own, we recommend hiring a professional to help with excavation and installation (find a Belgard Authorized Contractor near you).

Excavation will be dependent on the size of the project. However, there are some general principals to focus on, such as foundation. A good foundation is needed for any hardscape project, and can ensure longevity of your hardscape design. Proper compaction of soil gives your foundation stability, and helps prevent settlement and runoff damage.

Be aware of where utility and plumbing lines are if deeper excavation is necessary. Knowing this before you start digging can help you avoid a massive headache (and a large bill)!

Finally, be sure to consider drainage issues. Planning for runoff early will help avoid a myriad of issues down the road. Runoff should be contained for site use, instead of being allowed to flow all over your concrete or other hard surfaces. Consider building swales (think shallow ditches) to collect surface runoff and provide irrigation for your soil and yard.

Relax

The installation process might not be the most glamorous part of your new hardscape, but with proper preparation, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying your backyard paradise!

Have more questions about the installation process, or tips for DIY-ers? Share them in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.

How to Throw the Ultimate Back-to-School Bash

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August is upon us once more. For many of us, that means the kids are heading back to school. Doesn’t it seem like June was just kicking off a season of family adventure? Time flies when you’re having fun in the sun!

After months of warm weather and long summer nights, why not take one more chance to celebrate the season and send the kids off in style? Just because school is starting, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the last of summer. Make August your time to throw the ultimate back-to-school bash!

A lot goes into planning a party, but thankfully, we’ve got all you need to make the process easy, quick, and fun! Check out these five steps and have the best back-to-school party on the block.

1. Center on summer

When planning your back-to-school bash, make sure you channel the season. Summer might not be over, but for the kids, heading back to school pretty much marks the end of summer fun. So, make this no ordinary outdoor party… you’re celebrating the end of summer, the kids starting another year of school, and all of the wonderful fun you’ve had together these past few months.

Emphasize the best parts of the season, like the warm weather, long nights and of course, the perfect time to be outside. You know what that means…. get outdoors! Put your yard to use and center the party around your landscape’s best features—whether that be the pool, the patio, or the yard. There’s no better way to say goodbye to summer than making it the focal point of your party. Get everyone out of the house and enjoy the sun!

2. Choose your theme

Every great party starts with a great theme, and back-to-school parties are no different. In order to make decorating easy, choose a theme and stick to it.

Do you want to have a barbeque? Grab some checkered tablecloths and mason jars. Or maybe you’d rather pretend you’re at the beach and have a luau around the pool. In that case, think Hawaii– leis, tiki torches, the whole deal. Don’t really feel like going all out on decorations? No problem! Check out our tips for lighting up your hardscape for an easy way to add some flair to your backyard!

3. Make a menu

It isn’t a party until you break out the food and drinks, so take time developing your menu. Highlight your family’s summer favorites: BBQ chicken, burgers, fruit salad, and more. There’s no need to hide inside while everyone else is enjoying the sun… put your grill to use and cook outdoors with your family and friends!

Make sure you consult the kids about kid-friendly options—it is their last hurrah, after all. Get them involved and come up with “kid-cook” options that they can prepare too. And of course, don’t forget dessert. Need some inspiration? Check out our Salted Caramel Ice Cream recipe, or whip up some s’mores!

4. Plan activities

One of the best parts of summer is the endless list of outdoor activities you can do. Plan some fun summer games for your back-to-school bash. Want to get an expert’s opinion? Ask the kids! They are the masters of fun.

In the mean time, here are a few suggestions for you: If you’re having a pool party, enjoy a game of Marco Polo or set up water races. Winners get a prize, like a piece of candy! If a luau strikes your fancy, do the limbo or have a hula contest. Cornhole (bag toss) is great for barbeques, and water balloons are guaranteed fun for any theme. Be creative, and remember, get outside!

5. Have a blast

Planning and hosting a party can be overwhelming. Make sure to take a deep breath and enjoy your time with your family and friends. After all, that’s what this celebration is all about!

Remember that going back to school marks a big time for the kids. New teachers, new classmates and new subjects can be a lot of exciting changes all at once! So soak in the sun, reminisce with them about your favorite summer memories, and cherish your time together. Summer only comes once a year, and this is it for the kids. Send them off with a bang, and get ready for the fun the school year brings!

What to Know About Lighting Up Your Hardscape

Your patio looks great. Your furniture is spiffy and your outdoor cushions compliment each other. Your garden has grown into a green goddess of gardening perfection.

The only thing missing? The lights!

Belgard Light Post

What good is your outdoor paradise if you can’t enjoy it on a beautiful summer night? With so many big features to focus on—brick layout, grill options, fireplace structure—many outdoor enthusiasts forget that lighting is a key feature in creating the ultimate backyard living experience.

Why are lights so important? Well, besides making sure you don’t trip on your way to your Belgard Brick Oven, lighting can enhance your hardscape. It’s all about what you’re in the mood to do. Do you want to show off your perfectly pruned garden? Are you having an evening soiree with friends and family?

Don’t worry. Whatever your desire, we’ve got all you need to know about setting the mood in your hardscape.

If you’re in the mood to… Highlight Your Garden

Just because it’s dark outside, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show off your garden! Canopy lights are a perfect way to illuminate your plants and flowers once the sun goes down. These lights sit on an 18-24 inch post and can add a decorative element to your garden. Use low voltage lights, which are easy to install. You can even bury the cable beneath the dirt! Don’t want to deal with cables? Use solar lights!

If you’re in the mood to… Highlight Your Hardscape

Your garden isn’t the only thing that needs showing off! What about that great patio? For general landscape and hardscape lighting, spotlights can be very useful. Spotlights are used for a number of lighting techniques, including highlighting and uplighting. Highlighting is often used to illuminate trees by placing a spotlight near the base. Uplighting involves placing spotlights close to the base of a fixture (like a home or special hardscape feature) and creates a dramatic yet welcoming effect.

If you’re in the mood to… Light the Way

Lighting up your pathway is both a practical and aesthetic way to enhance your hardscape. The good news about path lighting? There are so many options. The bad news about path lighting? There are so many options! Perhaps you’d like to create a backyard beach paradise with tiki torches. Or maybe you’re more into the rustic, medieval look with lanterns. Or you love the traditional, tried and true canopy path lights. Whatever your style is, think about the mood you’re trying to create and use variety. For example, if your pathway is lined primarily with green, try using a bamboo path light to add some contrast. Avoid placing lights in a straight line or too close together. You wouldn’t want your path to look like a runway!

If you’re in the mood to… Have a Party

Who isn’t in the mood to have a party when the weather is warm? Don’t fret about complicated decorations – use lights instead! Lighting is an easy way to give your hardscape a festive atmosphere. Once again, it’s all about your mood. Use paper lanterns for a pop of color and a fun loving, youthful vibe. Or, have a southern soiree by placing candles or twinkling lights in mason jars for your backyard barbeque. Use your tiki torch path lights for a Luau! Want to take the romantic route? Candles are the way to go. Also, string lights can spruce up your hardscape, too. They come in several designs—butterflies, twinkling, standard Christmas style—and can be used for a variety of occasions.

If you’re in the mood to… Feel the Fire

We can’t talk about lighting without talking about fireplaces! What better way to light up the night than basking in the warm, natural glow of your fireplace? Fireplaces go with every occasion – pool parties, romantic dinners, family barbeques, or just relaxing and enjoying the outdoors! Cuddle up with your honey, tell ghost stories with the kids, and indulge in some s’mores, all the while taking in your landscape in the firelight. Don’t have a fireplace? See what we have to offer!

As you can see, lighting is all about your mood. What’s the occasion? The theme? The energy? Whatever you’re trying to accomplish with lighting decor, have fun when using this versatile method to set the mood in your landscape!

Have more hardscape lighting questions or suggestions? Share them in the comments! We’d love to chat about it with you.

Summer Recipe: Salted Caramel Ice Cream

The salted caramel flavor train is sweeping the nation and its next stop is right in your kitchen! Last month we gave you a skinny margarita recipe, and now that summer’s here it’s time to indulge. You’ll need an ice cream maker, so if you don’t have one, see if you can borrow one from a neighbor or friend! Here’s our recipe for homemade salted caramel ice cream:

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Equipment

  • Ice cream maker
  • 10-inch heavy skillet
  • 2 medium-sized bowls
  • Small, heavy saucepan
  • Whisk
  • Wooden spoon
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Fine-mesh sieve
  • Large bowl
  • Airtight container

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups sugar, divided
  • 2 ¼ cups heavy cream, divided
  • ½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs

Step One: Heat 1 cup of the sugar in a dry, 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir it with a fork so that the heat distributes evenly. When it begins to melt, stop stirring and cook it by picking up the skillet and swirling it around so that it melts evenly. When the sugar takes on a dark amber color, it’s time for Step Two!

Step Two: Add 1 and ¼ cups of heavy cream to the sugar (this might spatter, so be careful!) and cook until all of the caramel (AKA dark, melted sugar) has dissolved. Move this mixture to a bowl and then stir in the ½ teaspoon of sea salt and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract. Pro tip: if you don’t have two ½ teaspoon measuring spoons, use the same spoon for dry ingredient first, then the wet ingredient last. That way you’ll end up with the right amounts of both.

Step Three: Bring milk, the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and the remaining ¼ cup of sugar to a boil in a small, heavy saucepan. Stir occasionally.

Step Four: Lightly whisk eggs in a medium-size bowl, then add half of the hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour it back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until a custard-like consistency appears and coats the back of the spoon, registering 170 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. Do NOT let the custardy mixture boil!

Step Five: Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and then stir in the cooled caramel. Chill the custard, stirring occasionally, until it’s very cold – this will take between 3 to 6 hours. Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker (it’ll be soft), then transfer it to an airtight container and put it in the freezer to firm up.

This recipe will last you a whole week, so once you’re done be sure to save some to show off what a cooking maestro you have become!

Need more inspiration? Check out our Idea Book and learn more about how to take your hardscape to the next level.

 

Planning Ahead for Summer Outdoor Parties

School’s out for the summer and it’s the perfect time to make the most out of some good weather and the great outdoors. Summers are chock full of opportunities to throw a party – it seems like every week there’s a new reason to celebrate! Graduations, holidays, you name it. But party planning isn’t all fun and games. It can take a lot of hard work and preparation to keep the chaos at bay.

With that in mind, we’ve got some tips and ideas on how to celebrate the most important days of summer.

Have the Best Hydration Station in the Nation

Whether you’re planning a party for the Fourth of July, National S’mores Day, or Labor Day, you’re going to need to keep your guests safe from the summer super-villain known as dehydration. You’ll be everyone’s favorite host or hostess if you keep cold refreshments outdoors in several easy-to-spot locations. Clear containers with metal spigots are cheap, attractive choices for self-serve drink dispensing. Plus, everyone will be able to avoid passing out from heat stroke before the fun starts.

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Trust us on this – everyone will thank you for using the ancient art of peer pressure to stay hydrated. It sounds basic, and even obvious, but millions of Americans are chronically dehydrated. It’s not just from lack of water consumption; popular beverages like tea, coffee and soda dehydrate you more than you might expect. With busy day-to-day lives, it’s easy to forget the basics sometimes and it helps to be reminded. So whip up some fresh lemonade (with real lemons and even some mint leaves if you’re feeling decadent) to keep your guests happy, healthy, and full of energy to keep partying. If you’re hosting the Fourth of July get-together, bonus points if you make strawberry lemonade (because it’s red, of course).

It’s All Fun and Games

The thrill of playing games isn’t just a great way to avoid awkward conversations with your friend’s great-uncle’s boss about politics. They’re a wonderful way to bond and have fun with people you love (and get to know new people). For a Fourth of July or Labor Day party, break out a game like Apples to Apples or Pass the Popcorn (this one’s especially great for movie buffs). These kinds of games are the perfect party game: they’re low-stress and minimally competitive. You don’t want to be the party thrower who gets everyone embroiled in a friendship-ruining game of Risk or Monopoly.

You can play Apples to Apples outside, but if you really want to take advantage of the green grass and summer sun, play a game of kickball or four-square. These kinds of games are fun for young and old alike, and there’s a reason kids love them so much. Children are certified experts in fun. According to the U.S. Department of Fun, you’re going to have a great time. Okay, that department isn’t real. Yet.

Unwinding

If you’re having a low-key get-together, these tips are for you. The Fourth of July is about reveling in freedom and relaxing underneath a canopy of stars and fireworks with people you care about. Not much of a party planner? No problem. You don’t have to turn your house into a public park to have a good time. Try coordinating a trip with your friends to go to the nearest fireworks display. Have everyone meet up at your place then carpool to the festivities. Make sure you have a designated driver and then relax, thinking about the kitchen you won’t have to clean up tonight. When you get home, everyone can curl up around the fire pit and roast s’mores together.

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If you’re not much for hosting parties on the big days, try something new this year and celebrate National S’mores Day! It’s on August 10th and it’s our new favorite excuse to eat the celestial combination of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. If you’re a homebody or a camping fan (or fanatic) here’s our suggestion for celebrating this day of deliciousness. Plan a backyard camping ‘excursion’ for you and the kids or some good friends, tell spooky stories and feast on s’mores to your heart’s content. Buy all different kinds of chocolate: exotic flavors, flavors you’d never think to combine, flavors you’ve never heard of.

Life is better when you’re having fun and making good memories, and there are endless ways to make each day memorable. How do you plan on celebrating these holidays? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

Gardening Tips to Beautify Your Hardscape

We hope you’ve all enjoyed the first official month of spring! Regardless of how the weather has behaved in your area so far, you can rest assured that sunshine is on its way – and with it, plenty of time to relax and entertain in the yard.

But first, we all have work to do to get our outdoor living areas ready for extended use. Time to wipe down the tables and chairs, sweep off the patio and most importantly, whip your garden into shape so you can blow away your guests.

This year, consider taking a fresh approach to your garden; one that works in tandem with the design of your hardscape to create a truly unbelievable getaway.

Here are a few tips to help you knock off the winter rust and beautify your outdoor living space with some natural beauty.

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Bring walkways to life. Pleasant walkways are one of the key elements of the perfect hardscape. Not only do they provide a safe and comfortable walking path for you and your guests, they also guide the eye toward your yard’s best features and add visual interest to the landscape. This year, make your walkways even more magical by surrounding them with Irish mosh or thyme. This type of greenery will add character to your pavers and make your yard feel more a part of the natural environment.

Add vertical interest. Is your hardscape feeling a little one-dimensional lately? Try giving it a more robust and enchanting flavor with some clever layering. Make us of both short and tall greenery. Use ground level flowerbeds as well as elevated platforms and pots to create the illusion of a more diverse landscape. Consider adding a sunken garden that can serve as a little hidden getaway for you on warm summer evenings.

Make the most of your surroundings. If you have beautiful naturally occurring bushes or trees in your yard, use them as focal points rather than trying to fight against them. After all, the point of outdoor living is to bring you closer to nature in a way that gives you all the comfort and convenience of being indoors — not to isolate you from its beauty.

Make your garden pop with neutral pavers. If you want to draw visitors’ eyes to your meticulously manicured garden, try a more unassuming color stone in your hardscape so as not to distract. Our Lafitt pavers come in natural-looking stone colors that allow your gardening skills to shine and embellish the design of your hardscape.

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Keep it fresh. Change up your look with seasonal updates so you never get bored of your outdoor living space! Try pansies, bloodroot or lilacs in the spring. Switch things up deeper in the summer with fresh aster, daisies or dahlia.

Smart gardening can do wonders for the mood of your hardscape. Depending on your style, you can use flowers, bushes, trees and other plants to give your outdoor living space a bright, airy feel, or a secluded, mysterious one. Whatever your personal preference, use these tips to spur your creativity and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Happy Gardening!