Belgard Provides Charm, Improved Function and Cost Savings for Playground

Every play element of the new Chastain Park playground is designed for group play, from multi-person swings to “racing” slides and harmony stations. (photo: Chastain Park Conservancy)

What happens when kids get involved in the design of a playground? Amazing things! Just ask the community surrounding Atlanta’s Chastain Park. The only public playground serving the 85,000 school-age children within a 5-mile radius, the park’s playground had not been renovated since 2000 and was in dire need of an upgrade. The existing playground had a lot of deficiencies, primarily in that it really only appealed to a small demographic (ages 5-12). The majority of the play structures were too dangerous for smaller children, yet not challenging enough for older children.

A Mega-Tandem™ retaining wall provides an acoustic backdrop for one of the park's harmony stations. (Photo: Carson Matthews)

A Mega-Tandem™ retaining wall provides an acoustic backdrop for one of the park’s harmony stations. (photo: Carson Matthews)

Enter play specialist consultant Cynthia Gentry, an expert in childhood development who met with school children from the surrounding community to begin the design concepts. Kids were asked to imagine what they’d like to see on the playground and put that imagery into drawings, which became the inspiration for the all of the designs.

Gentry then enlisted the help of another consultant, Robin Moore, who specializes in nature-based play, currently a strong movement in childhood development circles. Together, Gentry and Moore conducted a charrette, or meeting of the minds, with representatives from the private school located inside the park’s grounds, local public schools and pre-schools, civic associations, the Parks Commission, and various members of the community. At the charrette, the group reviewed all of the children’s drawings and synthesized them into rough design concepts. A second charrette was held at NC State to compound all of the concepts into one overall design.

Landscape Architect Bill Caldwell took the ball from there, handling permits and turning the master plan into design documents for drainage, utilities, elevation, landscaping, hardscaping, and construction of the restroom pavilion. Caldwell contracted renown water resources engineer consultant, Bill Jorden, to develop the stormwater management plan to meet all of Atlanta’s ordinances for stormwater runoff quality and quantity.

Urbana Stone® permeable pavers throughout the playground manage stormwater, reducing water runoff and reducing pollution. (photo: Chastain Park Conservancy)

Urbana Stone® permeable pavers throughout the playground manage stormwater, reducing both stormwater runoff and pollution. (photo: Chastain Park Conservancy)

“Our goal was to not create a detention pond on a beautiful site of rolling hills and historic oak trees. I also didn’t want to have to convert the flat spaces currently used for open play. Belgard products helped us to avoid these traditional stormwater management strategies,” Caldwell said.

With the help of Belgard Urbana Stone® permeable pavers and Mega-Tandem™ Mass Segmental Retaining Wall™, the team was able to conserve land, meet the stormwater requirements, and save a significant amount of money in the process.

“Because the playground was being built into a hillside, the project required substantial retaining walls, which initially called for poured concrete. We got two Mega-Tandem Walls for the price of one poured concrete wall. Also, using the Mega-Tandem allowed us to value-engineer the pavilion and reduce the amount of poured concrete needed for the foundation. Overall, we saved over $200,000 on the project, factoring the cost savings on the pavilion and the site walls,” Caldwell said.

In addition, the 9,000 square feet of permeable paver walkways controls the amount of rainwater runoff that rolls downhill, which alleviates erosion problems. “An impervious system would have caused a concentration of water flow to the lower elevations, which would have generated more runoff than the original site,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell also notes that the Belgard permable pavers and retaining walls allowed him to create the playground out of what was formerly unusable space. “I love the fact that we took a hillside with a 12-15 degree slope that was basically non-functional and turned it into a 1-acre parkland that is a highly functional and usable space and has become a high-value component of the park,” he said. “We created something out of nothing.”

And what Caldwell considers the best part…this playgound was designed by kids for kids, regardless of age or abilities. The entire playground is ADA compliant, with multiple handicap accessible play elements. “Even the texture of the permeable paver walkway adds a sensory element for children with sensory disabilities, which is not something they would get with a smooth poured concrete sidewalk. Addressing disabilities of multiple spectrums was always part of the discussion from the beginning,” Caldwell said.

Photos courtesy Carson MattHews and the Chastain Park Conservancy.

Rainwater Harvesting Now the Hottest Outdoor Design Trend

Permeable paver patios and driveways can be designed to collect and recycle rainwater. (Product shown: Eco-Dublin® pavers)

With last year’s annual survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), green practices began to dominate the list of top outdoor design trends like never before, with 8 of the top 10 trends all related to eco-friendly or sustainable practices. With the recently released 2016 survey results, make that number now 9 out of 10, with rainwater harvesting making a giant leap up to the top spot. Take a look at last year’s trends compared to this year’s.

2015 Top 10 2016 Top 10
1 Native plants Rainwater/graywater harvesting
2 Drought-tolerant plants Native plants
3 Edible gardens Drought-tolerant plants
4 Fire pits/fireplaces Low-maintenance landscaping
5 Low-maintenance landscapes Permeable paving
6 Permeable paving Fire pits/fireplaces
7 Water-efficient irrigation Edible gardens
8 Rain gardens Rain gardens
9 Lighting Water-efficient irrigation
10 Rainwater/graywater harvesting Reduced lawn area

These trends reflect consumers’ growing commitment to landscapes that reduce water use and stormwater runoff, says Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA.

“Water issues are hot topics for many communities, and many people are turning to landscape architects for creative green infrastructure solutions,” said Somerville. “Sustainable residential landscape architecture, if part of a broader integrated site design, can dramatically reduce water usage and stormwater runoff over the long term while creating a healthy residential environment.”

With a combined rainwater harvesting permeable pavement system, Belgard offers a way to combine three of these top outdoor design trends with a single design element. With this type of pavement system, rainwater drains through the joints between pavers and percolates down through a bed of gravel into a collection cistern, where a pump can recycle the water for irrigation or water features. Pollutants are removed from the water as it drains through the gravel, which adds additional protection for the environment.


Many municipalities and states offer grants and tax incentives for installing either permeable pavers or a rainwater harvesting system, which is likely a factor in the growing popularity of using permeable pavers for this purpose. With the variety of attractive Belgard permeable pavers available, homeowners can build stunning outdoor living areas, driveways and walkways that are as ecologically responsible as they are beautiful.

Contractor’s Corner: Working with the Southern Living Idea House

Landscape Contractor

Landscape Contractor John Sauders proudly stands in front of the 2016 Southern Living Idea House, which opened to the public on June 25.

John Saunders

John R. Saunders III of Nature’s Edge, LLC.

Belgard Authorized Contractor John Saunders was the natural choice to install all of the landscaping and outdoor living areas of the prestigious 2016 Southern Living Idea House, which was unveiled last month in the Birgmingham community of Mt Laurel, Alabama. A lifelong resident of Birmingham, John has 23 years of experience in the landscaping industry, 15 years as owner of Nature’s Edge, LLC.

“It was exciting as a company to have our name associated with such a high-profile project,” John said. “It was a great opportunity to work with new builders and landscape architects and showcase Belgard products in this way. It’s been a fun project to be involved with.”

Hardscaped areas include a Mega-Lafitt™ paver patio with a Weston Stone fire pit.

Hardscaped outdoor living areas of the 2016 Southern Living Idea House include a Mega-Lafitt™ paver patio with a Weston Stone® fire pit (pictured above), an adjoining dining area, picturesque walkways and a paver driveway. Stay tuned for additional photos to be released in the coming weeks.

A Belgard Authorized Contractor for nearly a decade, John states that his relationship with the Belgard brand helped make the project possible for him. “Belgard recommended me and was very instrumental in helping me get the job done. My rep, Will Dowlen, was quick to respond to any of my needs and made sure we had what needed quickly. It was a very quick turnaround, and we had to make sure the house was ready for viewing and that everything was done correctly to ICPI standards.”

A full-service landscaping company that handles design, installation and maintenance, Nature’s Edge handled installation of all of the Idea House’s softscapes, hardscapes and irrigation. John says that his favorite part of the hardscape design is the Old York™ paver driveway, which was installed in a herringbone pattern with a Lafitt™ paver border.

“Old York was easy to install and gives the driveway that classic cobblestone look from back in the day,” John said. “The Lafitt pavers created a picture-frame type of border that added a modernesque feel, combining the old with the new.” Photos of the driveway — as well additional photos of all of the hardscaped outdoor living areas — will be release on the Outdoor Living by Belgard blog in the coming weeks.

Overall, John states that he’s never disappointed with a Belgard installation. “I absolutely love the product. I have installed every Belgard paver and like them all. Probably 95% of our installations these days are Belgard. Their customer service is bar none, and others just don’t have the product quality and consistency,” he said.

John adds that he also enjoys the perks of being a Belgard Authroized Contractor, including the added credibility — which he says gives him a leg-up on the competition — and access to the Belgard Design Studio, which offers free 3-D design renderings for authorized contractors.

“The Design Studio is awesome,” John said. “It helps the homeowner feel like they’re standing on their own patio. We can visualize things before they happen, but getting the homeowner to visualize it is another story. 2-D drawings are great, but 3-D is better.”

Tips for Keeping Your Cool

With triple-digit heat indexes spanning the lower half of the country, many people are now scurrying indoors to avoid the heat, forced to enjoy their beautiful outdoor living spaces from the comfort of the kitchen window. However, there are a number of design tips and tricks that can alleviate some of the heat and allow you to get more use from your outdoor living spaces during those dog days of summer.

Advantages of Pergolas

A pergola can provide multiple design benefits for an outdoor living space. The open-air aspect allows for unrestricted air movement while still defining the space to visually create the look of an “outdoor room”. Additionally, the structure itself both filters the direct sunlight and can provide the framework for a outdoor-rated ceiling fan. To provide additional shade and add to the visual interest, flowering vines — such as Wisteria or Morning Glory — can be trained to grow atop the pergola.

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Outdoor Living Structures

The benefit of a roofed structure, as opposed to an open-air pergola, is that it provides a little more protection from the elements, including both sun and rain. Although late afternoon sun and driving rain will still creep in, you’ll still have increased shelter, as well as additional opportunities for fans, lighting, audio/visual equipment and appliances.

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Made in the Shade

There are a variety of affordable products available that can help increase the amount of shade in your outdoor living space, particular during that unbearably hot time of the day when the sunlight comes in at just the right angle to make you feel like you can fry an egg right on the patio flooring. Attractive options include indoor/outdoor curtains, retractable solar shades, and colorful sun canopies.

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Permeable Paver Water Features

Particularly in hot climates with lower humidity, water mist can significantly reduce the ambient temperature of a localized outdoor area. An alternate option to a traditional water-misting system is to install a water-recycling permeable pavement system that incorporates a water feature. The paver system can collect and recycle rainwater and provide a fun activity for kids, all while releasing mist into the air that will help alleviate some of the oppressive heat.

Yummy Summer Slider Bar

An American classic: Beef sliders with American cheese on a sesame seed bun.

An American classic: Beef sliders with American cheese on a sesame seed bun.

Summer is a time for living and entertaining outdoors. Whether it’s the Fourth of July or just an average Monday in July, we Americans tend to spend the day focused on what we are known for: eating. Nothing like celebrating our independence by eating like the free men, women and children that we are. This year, maximize your freedom of food choice by setting up a slider bar. Sliders are smaller than regular burgers, which will allow you to try a few different kinds at once. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Nice Buns
The most underrated part of the burger: the bun. A bun can either make or break your burger. While the sesame seed bun is probably the most iconic bun out there, there are also several other types of buns. From Kaiser rolls to English muffins to croissants, be courageous with your bun choices. An excellent option is King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls, which are the perfect size for sliders and add a little extra sweetness to every bite.

Kicking it up a notch: Ground beef and pork with arugula, tomato, caramelized onions and blue cheese on a grilled bun.

Kicking it up a notch: Ground beef and pork with arugula, tomato, caramelized onions and creamy blue cheese on a grilled bun.

To Beef or Not to Beef
Ah, the heart of the burger, the meat. You could go traditional with ground beef, or you could even try chicken, turkey, or pork — or all of the above. When you’re going with a non-traditional slider, you can either grill cuts of meat or ask your butcher to grind the meat. Another option is to make pulled pork by cooking a Boston butt in the crockpot. Simply season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, brown sugar and apple juice, then cook it until the meat pulls apart. Is so easy, yet so good! There are also plenty of vegetarian options. You could try a portobello mushroom cap in lieu of meat, or you could pick up black bean burgers from the frozen food section of the grocery. Who knows, you may even have your meat-lover friends trying to swipe your veggie burger away from you.

It Actually IS Easy Being Cheesy
For those of us who require cheese on our burgers, make sure to have plenty of cheese options for your slider bar. American is always a classic, especially on the Fourth of July. But feel free to experiment a little. Excellent choices include pepper jack, Swiss, feta, blue cheese, goat cheese, and Havarti. If you want to be really adventurous, check out the gourmet cheese section of your grocery store and look for something interesting, like a Melkbus with black truffles. Mmmmm.

Now we're talking gourmet: Pulled pork sliders with kale-slaw on a ciabatta roll.

Now we’re talking gourmet: Pulled pork sliders with zesty kale-slaw on a ciabatta roll.

Veggie Tales
A good burger always has its fair share of veggies on it. Sure you could do the ole lettuce and tomato, but we’re trying to provide freedom of slider choices here. Try also providing an assortment of options like sprouts, arugula, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and roasted red peppers. Grilled fruits (like pineapple or mango) also make a great addition.

To Top it Off
No burger is complete without that special sauce. Ketchup and mustard are fine, but if you haven’t caught on yet, we’re trying to be a little different. On your sliders, try topping them with sauces such as sriracha, creole mustard, cilantro mayonnaise, hummus, any of the different flavors provided by Tabasco, or just doctor up some “secret sauce” in the kitchen.

Would You Like Some Fries with That?
Finally, we need a side dish or two to round out those slider options. Since a burger bar can be pretty labor-intensive, you may want to try and keep the sides easy. In fact, whatever you can do to prep ahead of time will keep you from spending the day chopping while everyone else is having fun. So keep it simple when it comes to the sides. Grill some corn on the cob, heat up some baked beans, grab a bag of coleslaw, or just throw some frozen fries in the oven. Honestly, no one is going to care about the side dishes because they’ll be filling up on yummy sliders.

Pretty Handy Girl
Backyard Transformation

By guest blogger Brittany Bailey of

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Anyone who has children and/or dogs knows that muddy pathways around your home are a huge problem for the interior of your house. Muddy footprints (and paw prints) can make keeping your home clean a monumental task. As a mom of two boys and a dog, I can tell you that our yard was a big mess of bare pathways, and frequently that mess was tracked indoors.

Several homeowners before us installed rounded landscape timbers and pea gravel to stop the inflow of mud into the home. Unfortunately as the timbers rotted, the gravel spread outside the frames. In its place, a congregation of weeds sprang up. Frankly, I think the weeds were enjoying themselves more in our backyard than we were. It was embarrassing to invite friends to a weed-filled jungle with rotted timbers dotting the landscape. We longed for a backyard that was devoid of messy pathways, and was a usable space for entertaining. This past Autumn, we decided a plan needed to be implemented to solve our landscape woes.

dublin-cobble-front-walk2Several years ago, we had a Belgard pathway and circular patio installed near our front door. We love the look of those pavers. The Dublin Cobble® has an old world feel, and the color variation between the pavers gives them the look of old tumbled pavers. I watched the landscaping crew install the Universal Circle Kit and was amazed by how quickly and easily the pavers fit together. To us, Belgard has always stood for quality landscaping hardscapes.

After the plans were drawn for our backyard, choosing the brand to use for hardscapes was easy. Deciding on the pavers and wall blocks was more difficult because of the large variety of Belgard products to choose from. In the end, we were able to merge formal and informal areas easily. The hardscapes complement the style of our house and look like they’ve been here for decades.

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Now you see them, now you don't! Exposed trashcans now have a new hiding place and cleaner access, thanks to a new pergola and Dublin Cobble® walkway.

Now you see them, now you don’t! Previously exposed trashcans now have a new attractive hiding place and are more accessible, thanks to Brittany’s new pergola and Dublin Cobble® walkway.

Patio before and after

This previously unusable space is now Brittany’s favorite spot. The Mega-Arbel® paver patio created a dining area off of her deck, with a surrounding Keystone® Stonegate® wall to help define the space and add additional seating for company.

Dangerously decayed wooden steps were replaced with Granika steps and trimmed with Keystone Stonegate wall and Tandem Caps to tie in with the patio and seat wall.

Dangerous decayed timber steps were replaced with Granika Step™ units and trimmed with Keystone® Stonegate® wall and Tandem® Caps to tie in with the patio and seat wall, providing a safe and handsome walkway down into the lower yard.

Firepit before and after

Brittany’s rustic firepit area got an updated look with the help of a Mega-Arbel® landing and a custom walkway made of  Keystone® Stonegate® wall caps. The patio is trimmed with Tandem® Caps to coordinate with the upper patio.

To see more dramatic before and after images and take a complete visual tour of Brittany’s new beautiful outdoor living spaces, visit her backyard reveal blog.