Five Tips for Flawless Fall Outdoor Festivities

Fall can be a fabulous time to entertain outdoors. The weather can sometimes be unpredictable, but in most parts of the country, the needle hasn’t dropped quite low enough to send everyone scampering indoors yet. Here are five simple tips to help make the most of your outdoor living space during this time.

1. Decorate for the Season

Many people decorate the front of their homes or their dining rooms to coincide with the season, but never think to take the same concept to the backyard, where everyone gathers. Put away the bright summery throw pillows and exchange them for warmer tones. Place a few pumpkins in a basket to create harvest-themed centerpiece on an outdoor buffet or table. Add little touches of autumn all around your outdoor rooms.

Hardscape lights2. Light Up the Night

Nothing says “festive” like flickering lights. Who says stringed lights are only for Christmas? Now that the sun goes down earlier, you can take the opportunity to add some fun and festive lighting to your backyard. Get creative in how you light up your outdoor rooms. Look for LED lanterns, solar landscape lighting, or flameless candles that can be set on timers to light up as soon as the sun goes down.

3. Get Warm and Cozy

Provide your guests with opportunities to warm themselves on chillier evenings. Options can be as simple as a hot beverage or a comfy throw blanket or can include any variety of outdoor heaters, from permanent overhead installations to portable floor or tabletop butane heaters.

4. Crank Up the Fire

Whether a simple chiminea or a custom outdoor fireplace, guests love to gather around a fire. The crackle and smell of an open fire warms the heart and soul as much as the body. Make the fire an interactive part of your event by roasting marshmallows or hot dogs, or just open a nice bottle of wine and relax.

coppa-ricotta-and-arugula-pizza.201408065. Make it a Tapas Night

Forgo the formal sit-down meal for a casual night of finger foods and small plates. This will keep your guests moving, create an additional fire source, and allow you to showcase your outdoor culinary skills all at the same time. Ideas include kabobs, grilled shrimp, and flatbreads or pizzas — all of which can be prepped ahead of time and ready to go on the grill or into the brick oven once the guests arrive.

Enter the Belgard Backyard Tailgate Sweepstakes for the Chance to Win a Fabulous $6,000 Grill Station

SweepsHeroThis fall, the perfect tailgate isn’t at the game – it’s in your own backyard. Enter the Belgard Backyard Tailgate Sweepstakes, take the style quiz, and find recipes and tips to make your tailgate unforgettable.

Weekly Prize Package

Weekly Prize Package

What You Can Win:  Weekly winners will receive a $100 tailgating kit including a heavy-duty apron. One grand prize winner will receive a Belgard Elements Bordeaux Grill Station valued at $6,000. >>ENTER NOW

What’s your tailgating personality?  Do you consider yourself to be a gourmet tailgating guru, or do you prefer to stick with the tried and true classics? Or, maybe you have a creative side and like to mix it up from time to time.  >>TAKE OUR TAILGATING QUIZ

Tailgating Tips & Recipes

Tailgating Tips & Recipes

Get Ready for the Big Game:  From lawn and paver maintenance to the top 10 tips for backyard tailgating, learn how to make your next backyard bash unforgettable.   >>READ MORE

Ultimate Tailgating Recipes:  Whether you’re on a quest to find your new favorite burger recipe or are looking for a gourmet twist on tailgating, we’ve got the recipe for you!     >>READ MORE

 

No purchase necessary to enter or win. Contest ends 10/31/2014. Void where prohibited by law. Click here for a full list of sweepstakes rules and regulations.

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

Belgard Aug 13

(image source)

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:

caramel

(source)

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.