Fencing Yourself In

Landscape Design

In his poem, “Mending Wall”, Robert Frost pondered the notion that “Good fences make good neighbors”. While the poet seemed to waver on the need for the fence, his neighbor steadfastly supported the need to upkeep the traditional wall between properties, to keep things friendly between them. We tend to agree with the neighbor; a fence can act as a good, clear line of distinction that can clear up any confusion, stop disagreements before they happen, and improve the appearance of most properties.

Throughout time, homeowners have chosen to surround their property with some sort of fence. Some fences were built for privacy, some for security, and some for purely aesthetic reasons; there are as many reasons to surround your property as there are designs and fencing materials from which to choose.

The Whys of a Fence

When you consider installing a fence around your entire property, or just a segment of it, you first must consider what the main purpose of the fence will be. Will this be a privacy fence, to block the view of your property from neighbors or passersby, or do you not want to see the neighbors or the roadway by your house? Do you want to add a level of security to your entire property? Maybe you just want to fence off a segment of your property to designate a certain space, secure a pool or keep a child or pet safe. Or perhaps you have wildlife in the area you’d like to deter from your entertainment spaces, landscaping, or gardens. Will your fence be mostly decorative, a way to finish the overall appearance of your house and yard?

Of course, you can have a fence that does all the above: a decorative fence that gives you both privacy and security. You can have a decorative fence in your front yard for maximum curb appeal, and a fence that offers more security and privacy in your backyard.

Once you decide on what you want your fence to do for you, your next step will be to choose what you what your fence to look like, and that includes what materials the fence will be made of.

Fencing Materials

There are so many options from which to choose when thinking about fencing for your property. We’ll highlight some great options for you to consider:

  • Wood: Wood has been the traditional choice of fencing for generations. The style of fence and decorative choices are unmatched, as are choices of woods available. Some woods work better in different climates; here in New England, cedar is the most popular choice. You can mix and match what kinds of wooden fences would best with your property. Front yards can have picket fences, and while back or side yards can have a slat-style fence for more privacy, for example. Wood fences will need to be kept on a regular maintenance schedule to prevent rot, pests, and warping.
  • Vinyl: This fencing looks great and is a good choice for both security and privacy. It can be used for both the front, back, and side yards. It comes in a variety of styles and colors, and gates can be added wherever needed. Vinyl fencing is low maintenance and long lasting.
  • Masonry: This type of fencing has literally stood the test of time. Drive anywhere in New England, and you will see stone walls, even in forests where properties once stood. Masonry walls can be built from brick, stucco, stone, and concrete. They will boost curb appeal, and can create private, secure yards.
  • Composite: Fences are made from panels that are a mix of wood, resin, and plastic. They provide security and privacy when used as tall panels, and a decorative touch when used in shorter panels. These panels come in a variety of colors and can look either like wood panels or natural stone. They are low maintenance and are not vulnerable to rot or pests.
  • Wrought Iron: Mostly used in front yards, these fences are highly decorative, and add a distinctive touch to your property. They are heavy, durable, and add security; they will not be pushed over easily and can withstand most weather. They are customizable and can match your landscaping. However, they are prone to rusting.
  • Aluminum: These fences come in a variety of styles and colors. They add security, but not much in the way of privacy. They will not rust, and do not require much maintenance, and are a popular choice for pool/kid/playground areas.

What Fence is Best

Only you can decide what fence or combination of fences is best for you and your property. Ideally, the fence you choose will add to the curb appeal of your property, provide safety for your family, including your pets, and give you a sense of safety and privacy. The fence will allow you to enjoy your home and surrounding landscape more fully, without you even giving it a second thought.

We’ve helped many homeowners design fence plans to add to their properties, and we’d love to help you come up with a plan of your own. Please call us at 603.707.0630 or email us to get started.

Everything You Need to Know About Mulch

Garden Center · Landscape Design

Mulch is arguably an essential part of the garden. It adds beauty, reduces our workload, and benefits the soil in many ways. There are so many types of mulch available; how do you choose the best one? Here’s a breakdown of wood and rock mulch and the advantages and trade-offs of each kind!  

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -bean bag toss game with mulch playing areaThe Benefits of Wood Mulch 

Wood mulch usually comes in two forms: bark mulch and wood chips. Both are by-products of the lumber and paper industries, offering many benefits to the home garden. 

  • Moisture: they hold moisture in the soil, reducing the need for water. 
  • Protection: they protect the soil from erosion, wind, rain, and UV rays. Plus, they protect plants from extremes of heat and cold and the thaw-freeze cycle of early spring.
  • Reduce Weeding: mulch significantly reduces your weeding by preventing weeds from accessing the soil. 
  • Improve Soil: as the mulches break down, they furnish the soil with decaying organic matter and nutrients, which benefits the whole garden ecosystem. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -wood mulch in gardenBark Mulch vs. Wood Chips 

Both share all of the advantages mentioned above and differ mainly in aesthetics. You’ll find a wide selection of sizes and colors among both bark mulch and wood chips. The choice is mainly a personal preference about what you find beautiful and how your mulch best fits into the overall look of your landscape. 

A small consideration is that large, chunky mulch generally takes longer than small ones to break down and tends to shift around more in the garden during rainfall. Mulch from certain types of trees, like cedar, also lasts longer since the wood naturally resists decay.     

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -mulch pathway of rocksThe Benefits of Rock Mulch 

Rocks are another way to enhance the beauty of your garden, protect the soil, and reduce the workload of weeding. Rocks don’t break down as quickly as wood mulch, meaning you don’t have to replace them as often. If they become dirty, you can hose them off, and if leaves fall on them, it’s easy to blow any debris from the surface. 

A trade-off of their durability is that they don’t add nutrients to the soil. They can also be annoying to move if you want to access the soil for new plantings, etc. During the hot summer days, rocks also capture the heat, making them ideal for cactus gardens, rock gardens, or plants that benefit from warm and dry soil.

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -rock mulch in gardenTypes of Rock Mulch 

  • River Rock: these are smooth, naturally weathered stones in uniform gray, white, black, or a mix of colors. They come in different sizes. 
  • Crushed Stone: this mulch is made by crushing larger rocks. As a result, they have a rugged texture. They come in a variety of sizes and colors. 
  • Gravel and Pebble: these are the smallest type of rock mulch. They lend a particular zen look to a garden and are easier to shift around if necessary. They can be smooth like river rock or rugged like crushed stone.  

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - Everything You Need to Know About Mulch-assorted bulk mulchWhat Is the Best Type of Mulch?     

All mulch has the benefits of enhancing the beauty of your garden, reducing weeds, and protecting soil from the elements. Beyond that, wood mulch has the extra benefit of bringing nutrients to the soil, whereas rock mulch has the advantage of being durable. There’s really no “best” type of mulch. The choice is yours, depending on your tastes and application in the garden

Straw, grass clippings, and shredded leaves bring many practical benefits to the garden as well. They hold in moisture, suppress weeds, protect the soil surface, and add nutrients to the garden. However, these products don’t bring the same aesthetic benefit. They’re best in vegetable gardens or to add a layer of nutrients to a bed before winter. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -strawberries in straw mulchHow to Install Mulch 

Mulch is pretty straightforward to install, provided that you follow some basic guidelines. Ideally, you should have 2–3 inches of mulch evenly spread throughout your garden bed—don’t make piles around the base of your plants, as this can harbor pests! Ensure you don’t bury your plants or go above the crown of the plant—it will cause the plant to generate roots too high and girdle the plant. Make sure you leave your perennials uncovered so they can come back next year, and you’re all set! 

When it’s time to add more mulch, take a look at the condition of your existing mulch before you add more; old mulch can become compacted over time, or it might not break down the way you anticipated. If your mulch isn’t breaking down, adding more will thicken the layer of mulch beyond the recommended 3-inch maximum, which won’t help your garden! In this case, it’s best to clear out the previous layers before adding fresh mulch.

To find the best type of mulch for your garden, visit our garden center in Moultonborough, where you can peruse our bulk products, including spruce and hemlock, and our wide selection of bagged mulch, including cedar. We also have a handy bulk material calculator on our website to tackle the math for your project! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook or Instagram for the latest sales and updates!

 

Love for Outdoor Kitchens

Landscape Design

Hot weather has come to New England, and we, of course, want to spend as much time as possible outdoors. And we certainly don’t want to heat up our kitchens and our houses while we cook. A great way to remain part of the summer fun and help beat the summer heat is to install an outdoor kitchen.

Outdoor kitchens have progressed beyond having a BBQ grill and mini fridge tucked away in the corner of the yard; many standard kitchen appliances are available in models that can be installed outdoors, so you can customize and design a kitchen that will truly fit your family’s needs and your home’s space and décor. Adding a beautiful and well-equipped kitchen greatly increases a property’s value; some homes have seen a return on investment of 100%-200%.

Create a Plan

Once you’ve decided an outdoor kitchen is right for you, you need to start by figuring out what you primarily want to do in this kitchen. It’s easy to get carried away while dreaming and designing, and as with every renovation, the costs can add up quickly.

Think about how your family eats, and how much you entertain. Will you need a brick pizza oven, or will a steel one do? Or do you need a pizza oven at all? Will you need taps in your wet bar, or will a built-in ice chest for chilling beverages suffice? A large grill is great, but will you need a roasting spit? Do you need a small grill or fridge, or larger ones?

There are so many appliance choices available, so taking time to think about how you use your outdoor space is really the best first step. You can fill your shopping list with “must haves” from there.

Choose a location

Think of an outdoor kitchen as an extension of your indoor kitchen. It should be located close to your indoor kitchen, if possible, to make the inevitable trips indoors to grab ingredients, pots and pans, etc., easier on the chef. The kitchen should be designed to keep the chef part of the outdoor activities, so as you’re choosing your location, allow space for seating in and around the kitchen area itself.

Consider how this kitchen will fit into your décor. Ideally, you’ll want this kitchen to be built with any stonework that already exists around your home, so you can match or complement the patio tiles or wall masonry. Will you be able to extend your roofline to cover this kitchen, or would you prefer this kitchen to be under an awning or located in a pergola or separate structure? The kitchen’s location would be best situated in a spot that’s at least partially shaded and away from the wind, to make it a comfortable spot for cooking, eating, and entertaining.

Kit it Out

Once you’ve thought about what you want to do with the space you’ve chosen, how your family eats, and how you want to entertain, now, it’s time to go shopping. There are so many choices available for outdoor kitchens when it comes to appliances and fixtures. Here are some quick “shopping” lists to help you consider:

Cooking

  • BBQ Grill
  • Pizza Oven
  • Roasting Spit
  • Smoker
  • Warming Drawers
  • Gas Side Burners
  • Gas Griddles
  • Hood Vent
  • Proper venting for Gas Appliances

Cooling

  • Refrigerator
  • Ice Drawers or Bins
  • Wine Chillers/Fridges

Wet Bar/Beverage Center

  • Sink
  • Blender
  • Kegerators
  • Taps

Standard Kitchen Necessities

  • Countertops/Prep surfaces
  • Sink
  • Dishwasher
  • Storage Cabinets, Drawers and Shelves
  • Trash/Recycling
  • Pantry Storage
  • Compost Bins

Entertainment & Comfort

Material Considerations

Choosing the materials for your outdoor kitchen build is like designing your indoor kitchen, but with one extra consideration: this kitchen must withstand the elements across all four of New England’s seasons. During the hot summer months, you must be able to touch surfaces without getting burned, and surfaces must be able to withstand the cold, snow, and sometimes abrupt changes in temperature we experience throughout the year.

For countertops, consider surfaces that are easily cleaned and that won’t readily show burn marks if hot pots get put down on them or show stains if something is spilled on them. Choices include:

  • Granite is always a good choice (we are the Granite state after all), but since granite gets hot in the sun, use it in shaded areas. If you must use it in the sun, choose a light color.
  • Quartz is another popular choice for countertops in indoor kitchens, but it will yellow in the sun and can’t stand up to our freeze/thaw cycles, so damage can occur.
  • Concrete is a good option and can be beautiful, but keep in mind that it needs to be sealed every couple of years.
  • Soapstone is beautiful in kitchens, but it scratches easily, and any oil will leave a stain.
  • Metal will be too hot to use as a countertop outdoors, and with our humidity and snow, will corrode quickly.

For cabinets, consider building cabinet frameworks out of stonework or masonry that matches your existing masonry or tiles. You can use stainless steel doors and cabinets that are nestled right into the stonework. If you prefer wood, there are many options that work well outdoors too.

At Stephens Landscaping, we’ve helped many homeowners design and plan their outdoor kitchens. We’d love to help you, too. To get started, call 603.707.0630 or email us!

DIY Garden Pathways

Garden Center · Landscape Construction · Landscape Design

Pathways are a beautiful and essential feature of any landscape. Besides laying out a place to walk, they create a path for the wheelbarrow, save surrounding soil from compaction, and divide your garden into distinct spaces. With a bit of creativity, you can build pathways that are both visually pleasing and very practical. Let’s walk through the DIY options and lay out the steps to build them! 

The Mulch Pathway

Mulch pathways are one of the least expensive and simplest pathways to install. The first steps are to mark out the path and dig out some of the soil. Then, lay down some landscape fabric as an extra barrier against weeds, and fill in the mulch. Over time, you’ll need to replenish the mulch and remove any weeds that take root. Still, the mulch path is simple, practical, and a pleasing way to create a passage through the garden.  

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center -DIY Garden Pathways-stone and gravel pathwayStepping Stones

Stepping stones are another versatile DIY option and add charm and character to the garden. One option is to use evenly spaced rectangular or circular stones. Alternatively, natural-shaped flagstones lend a rustic look to your steps. 

No matter your choice, the steps for installation are the same. Mark out a path and place the stones in your preferred arrangement, keeping an equal distance between the center of each stone. Then, dig a place for each step in the ground. Lay down a level base of sand in each hole and tamp down the sand for stability before laying the stones in their final position. To finish, you can plant groundcovers or moss around the stones, which will beautifully frame the stones over time.

Pathways are a beautiful and essential feature of any landscape. Besides laying out a place to walk, they create a path for the wheelbarrow, save surrounding soil from compaction, and divide your garden into distinct spaces.

Gravel Pathways 

Besides mulch, gravel is the next easiest DIY option for smooth transit in the garden. However, to make a lasting pathway that is stable and free of weeds, you’ll want to follow the preparatory steps below. Because gravel tends to spread and get knocked into the surrounding areas, make sure you cut definitive edges, lay down plastic edging, or border the path with stones. 

stephens landscaping garden center - diy pathways -pathway with mulch around stonesFlagstones

As already mentioned, flagstones form beautiful stepping stones. You can also use them in continuous pathways, where the stones are beside each other. These smooth, naturally cut stones create perfect imperfection. They’re durable, long-lasting, and age well over time. Follow the steps below to build a solid foundation for flagstone paths. 

Paving Stones 

Pavers are interlocking bricks that form a solid and stable path. They are sleek, even, symmetrical, and lend a polished look to the landscape. You can choose both the color and the pattern of arrangement. Make sure to follow the steps below for a DIY approach that resists settling and remains level throughout the years. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center -DIY Garden Pathways-building a pathwaySteps for DIY Gravel, Flagstone, and Paver Pathways 

When making these types of pathways, you want to ensure you have a solid base. Here’s a quick guide to get you started:

  1. Mark out the path, using string to create straight edges. 
  2. Dig down approximately 6 inches into the ground. Note: a flat head spade comes in handy. 
  3. Fill in the bottom layer with loose stones or pea gravel; tamp them down, and cover with landscaping fabric.
  4. Fill another layer of sand, tamp down the surface, and level it. 
  5. Lay down the pavers, flagstone, or gravel. Tamp down the stones with a mallet to make them level and keep them in place. 
  6. To finish, fill between the cracks of the stones with sand and sweep away any leftovers on the surface.

Building a pathway is well within reach of the DIY gardener. When working with flagstone and pavers, remember to lay a solid base the first time so you don’t end up with sunken and uneven stones in the future. With that in mind, you’ll be well on your way to laying beautiful and functional garden pathways, no matter what style you choose. For more gardening and landscaping tips, feel free to follow us on Instagram or Facebook, or visit us in person in Moultonborough! 

Let the Music Play

Landscape Design

Now that summer is here, you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors with your family and friends. From a simple night outside enjoying your property, to hosting parties, barbeques, and other gatherings, one thing that’s always on the menu is music. In this blog, we’ll run down things to consider before adding an outdoor audio system to your property.

Bring It Outside

The installation of an outdoor audio system may help you enjoy your outdoor spaces a bit more. Music is a welcome addition to family dinners and will also help pass the time as you work the barbeque grill. Soft background music helps fill in gaps in conversations, and what party is complete without a great playlist? But you can play more than music over outdoor speakers. You can take your workout outside, practice yoga on the lawn, or listen to motivational podcasts as you putter around the yard. You can even be outside and listen to the Patriots or Red Sox games, so you never miss a minute!

Getting Started

As you can imagine, an outdoor audio system is different than an indoor system. An outdoor system usually covers a bigger area, and its components need to withstand the elements. While you may use the system primarily during good weather, it needs to survive outside in all kinds of weather conditions.

To get started, you’ll need to decide:

  1. What kind of sound do you primarily want outside? Do you want music for parties, for soothing background “white noise”, or sports broadcasts? What do you want to be doing outside when you sound to accompany your activities? Of course, you can choose more than one option, but what were you imagining listening to when you began to think of installing an outdoor sound system?
  2. Where do you want to hear the sound? Do you want to primarily hear the sound in a patio area? Or do you want music by the pool, too? How about music around an area of your lawn, or even the entire perimeter?
  3. How do you want to control the sound? Do you want to hook outdoor speakers up to a phone or mobile device, use multimedia applications on a dedicated laptop, use an existing sound system in your house, or a traditional stereo system that showcases your vinyl collection? The quality of the sound depends on the speakers, of course, as well as the source of the music.
  4. Do you want a wired system, a Bluetooth system, or a mixture of both? It really depends on the size of the space you want to have the sound reach, and which type of sound you’ll be listening to.

Map Out Your Plan

Like any addition to a well-maintained landscape, you’ll need to plan where you want to install your equipment. While the controls will remain inside your home or pool house, you’ll need to map out where you would like your outdoor speakers to be located.

It’s very important to note that you cannot use indoor speakers outside; these speakers will not withstand the weather conditions outdoors; you’ll really want to get some designed specifically for outdoor use. Many quality outdoor speakers are made to be rust proof and airtight and deliver great sound amplification for the best sound quality.

Fitting in with the Landscape

Gone are the days of the big black speaker boxes that are obvious wherever you put them. Today’s speakers can be small, wall mounted and can be installed up in the rafters of pavilions and gazebos; small hockey puck sized speakers that can be placed unobtrusively amid the plantings and mulch around your yard, and even bigger speakers that are designed to look like rocks or lamps and can blend in seamlessly with your existing landscaping.

It’s a good idea to create a plan that incorporates a variety of speakers that would work best in your property, depending on their location. You could put speakers high up on the wall of your gazebo so they wouldn’t be readily seen, a couple of speakers in your shrubbery, and some lamp speakers along the pathways, for example. Again, it depends on what sound you want to reach along what parts of your property.

One last consideration—if you have an automated smart home or multi-room music system already installed, you can most likely add controls to your system to bring sound outside. Speak to your installer to see if a program or app can be added; you’ll still need to install speakers outside, of course.

At Stephens Landscaping, we’ve helped many homeowners install outdoor audio systems. We’d love to help you design and install a system that works best for you and your property. Give us a call at 603.707.0630 or reach out over email!