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!

How to Host a Great Easter Egg Hunt

Flowers are blooming, the trees are gearing up to provide us with shade and both spring and summer holidays are right around the corner. As you’re preparing for outdoor celebrations, don’t overlook Easter as a great opportunity to invite guests over for an afternoon Easter Egg hunt!

Here’s a tip: after you figure out how many little hunters you’ll have, multiply that number by ten or twelve. That will give the kids plenty of treats to feast upon as well as trinkets to play with (especially for those concerned about inadvertently creating a legion of sugar-crazed children, substitute small toys or coins for candy).

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Now for the actual hunt. Here are some fun alternatives to the traditional egg hunt:

Make it feel like a mission. Have each participating kid find one or two of each color egg and once they complete their mission, they can turn in their eggs to the host for a prize, like a sweet 401k (just kidding, go for something like a coloring book and some markers or crayons, or a fun game that they can play with their whole family).

Along with candy, trinkets and coins, feel free to put messages with something inspirational or kind written on them! If you want to tailor the notes to specific kids, assign each kid a specific color. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, use different colors of yarn for each kid to weave a treasure map around the yard. That way, they’ll get exactly what they’re meant to and each kid will feel as important as they truly are (and there won’t be any brawls over who found the egg first).

Who says kids get to have all of the fun? Have an adult team up with each kid (it can be a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin or older sibling) and search together. Hide some of the eggs in hard-to-reach places and when the little ones spot a bright color in a strange spot, their grownup sidekick can put the kid on their shoulders so they can reach it. Plus, they get to feel like they’re seven feet tall for a few seconds, which is nothing short of exhilarating.

Great news: you don’t have to break the bank to have a successful, thoroughly enjoyable hunt in your outdoor living space. When it comes to having fun, kids are certified professionals, and with fun adults to facilitate these kinds of adventures, they’re bound to have an unforgettable time.

 

Start Early & Be Ready for Summer

It may be bitter cold across most of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get excited for spring and summer now. These cold winter months do have an advantage: they give you ample time to plan your outdoor living space, so you can revel and relax in it when summer arrives. Here are some pros of planning ahead:

Let’s say you want a new paver for your backyard patio and pool. If you wait until summer to start thinking about it, you’ll have missed an entire season of enjoying your new outdoor space with your family and friends. Use the seasons to guide you. Determine what you want during winter, complete it in the spring, and then inaugurate your space in the summer! We’ll work with you to create a timetable that suits your needs.

Thinking about what you want ahead of time during the colder months will also help you consider what you’ll want year-round.

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Questions like “will I be able to use this when it’s chilly?” and “how will this color of paver look in the winter?” as well as “what kind of maintenance will be required in the colder months?” can be best answered when you’re in the thick of it. This way, you won’t just be thinking ahead for summer; you’ll be thinking ahead for the upcoming winters to come.

For those who love the great outdoors, winter can be a major bummer. But giving yourself something to look forward to in the next season can make you feel just as productive as you are during spring, summer and fall. And, you might just come to enjoy these months of nature’s chilly curfew.

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There’s an old adage that reminds us that though we can’t control the winds, we can adjust the sails. Nature has this made abundantly clear for many this year. We may not be able to control the symptoms of winter, but we certainly can find ways to look forward to the future. After looking back at how productive your winter was and seeing the fruits of your labor pay off in the summer, you just might embark on another fantastic project the next time winter comes calling.

Recipe of the Month: Traditional Wassail

iStock_000001436037MediumIf you’ve ever celebrated the holidays with someone of English ancestry, you may have had the pleasure of sharing a pot of delicious wassail. Wassail was originally considered a symbol of greeting and celebration. Drinking was often accompanied by caroling and general merriment, which makes it perfect for the winter season. Wassail, which means “be you healthy” or “be whole,” is a hot mulled cider traditionally enjoyed with others as an ancient southern English ritual intending to ensure a good cider apple harvest the next year.

So how exactly does one go about concocting this drink from olden days? It may have a rich history, but it’s very easy to whip up. You only need six ingredients, none of which require traveling back in time to the English courts:

  • 2 quarts of apple cider
  • 2 quarts of pineapple juice
  • 2 cups of orange juice
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Start by combining the apple cider, pineapple, orange and lemon juices in a large pot over low heat. Add the cloves and cinnamon sticks, bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour. Remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves and serve.

You can serve wassail hot or cold, though it is traditionally served hot. If you’d like it to be less tart, you can quarter the lemon juice or add more cider. Feel free to modify the recipe to suit your palette. (Ghosts from King Arthur’s Court are not going to come haunt you for breaking tradition.)

And voila! Fresh, homemade wassail. Enjoy!

Outdoor Entertaining Tip: Making Cold Weather Work for You and Yours

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The weather outside may be frightfully cold for many of you, but what about a delightfully bold, crackling fire outside? It’s a terrible thing to feel like you can’t enjoy the outdoors without worrying about frostbite. That’s why we’re spotlighting our fireplaces and fire pits along with ideas for entertaining outside! Don’t let the weather keep you cooped up with cabin fever. Here are some tips:

Plan something that coincides with the hottest part of the day. Depending on where you live, that still might be pretty cold! But there’s no rule that says it’s only appropriate to use a fire pit at night to roast s’mores and tell spooky stories. Fireplaces are for light and heat!

Invite some friends, neighbors or family members over for a mini-camping experience. Everyone brings a blanket and curls up in a chair around the fire to play a game. There are plenty of games you can play without sacrificing the comfort of heat. Try charades, or the endlessly amusing “who am I?” game. If you’ve never played it before, it’s easy and always a scream. Pick a famous person (alive or dead, real or fictitious) and write their name on a post-it, then stick it onto the forehead of the person to your left. Now guess, one question at a time, moving clockwise, who you are!

Have hot drinks and snacks ready, and don’t forget to remind everyone to bundle up. Check out our mulled wine recipe or whip up some hot apple cider. Or, if you happen to be an always-on-the-go type, let people pick their own drinks from a single-serve coffee/tea/cocoa maker. You could even set out pre-stuck marshmallow roasting sticks, warmly welcoming everyone the moment they set foot into your backyard.

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Now let the quality time and fun begin!

Outdoor Entertaining Tip of the Month: Orange-Scented Mulled Wine

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Don’t let the cold weather discourage you from enjoying your outdoor space this winter — all you need is a few blankets and a tasty beverage to keep you warm. This Mulled Wine recipe is one of our favorite remedies for frosty nights. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 large orange
  • Seeds from 8 cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 3 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
  • 8 to 9 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 bottles (750 ml. each) dry red wine
  • ¼ cup orange-flavored liqueur (optional)
  • Thin orange slices (optional)

Preparation

  1. With a vegetable peeler, pare 8 thin strips zest (4 in. by ½ in.) from orange. Juice orange, and reserve juice.
  2. Wrap cardamom, coriander seeds and ginger in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine.
  3. In a nonreactive saucepan, crush orange zest and 7 tablespoons sugar with a wooden spoon to release oils from zest. Add reserved orange juice, wine, and spice packet. Cover and bring to a simmer over high heat, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 30 minutes. Discard spice packet and orange zest.
  4. To serve, heat wine, covered, over medium heat just until steaming. If you like, stir in liqueur and more sugar to taste. Ladle into heatproof glasses. Garnish with thin orange slices.

From Sunset 2009