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-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!

5 Reasons to Add a Landscape Water Feature

Landscape Design

Water features are a great choice for adding visual interest to an outdoor space, and their benefits extend well beyond the aesthetic. Below are our top 5 reasons to consider adding a pond, waterfall or other water feature to your landscape, as well as some popular designs we’re seeing.

1. Invite Relaxation & Stress Relief

Research has found that watching and listening to flowing water helps to relieve stress and create a feeling of calm. The soothing sounds of water in features such as fountains or streams promote peace and relaxation in an environment. Running and splashing water also creates a white noise effect, which can minimize other everyday environmental sounds (like traffic and neighbors) that may be less pleasing.

2. Promote Natural Cooling & Improve Air Quality

Many water features will create a cooling effect in the area around them by adding moisture to the air. Water also helps purify and improve air quality by creating negative ions in the air. Negative ions naturally pull toxins, pollen, and dust from the air. During hot summer days, you’ll enjoy sitting near your water feature, enjoying the cooler temps and pleasant atmosphere.

3. Add Beauty & Style

The addition of a water feature can add a striking focal point to your landscape. It can bring natural, tranquil beauty to an area that had been previously unused and extend your sense of style to the outdoor space. Tie an overall vision of your landscape together by incorporating design details or elements that you’ve used in other places; using the same tiles in a fountain that you’ve used in your walkways or patios, for example.

4. Increase Property Value

A beautiful and well-maintained water feature adds visual interest and charm for potential homebuyers and can increase the value of your property by extending living and entertainment spaces.

5. Attract Wildlife

The addition of a water feature to your landscape will attract wildlife almost immediately. Birds and insects of all kinds will be drawn to the water feature. While this can provide a bit of fun and entertainment for you and your family, attracting pollinators will also help your gardens grow healthy and birds will help keep the lawn soil aerated. Even your pets will love being able to trot over and sip water whenever they get heated being outside on hot days.

Types of Water Features

Once you’ve made the decision to add a water feature to your landscape, you’ll need to choose which type to install. Since there are many choices available, selecting one (or a couple) comes down to the size of your property, the outdoor space you have available, and what aesthetic you hope to achieve. Here are a few of the most popular water features we’ve seen and installed.

Ponds and Water Gardens
Ponds have been a classic landscaping choice for years and add a soothing touch of nature to your outdoor living space. Your pond may be a clean and clear body of water and be used as a reflecting pool. A waterfall can be added to generate soothing sounds of splashing water. Some ponds also have added interest like water lilies and other aquatic greenery, or colorful koi fish.

Streams and Waterfalls
Streams can meander through a large part of your property making it look as close to a natural stream as possible. Space permitting, you could add a waterfall as part of your stream if you have a section of property that has a nice pitch or slope. A waterfall can be created with either natural or manufactured stones and can be designed to break up into different pools or flow down a series of steps. The design is based on the size of your property and depth of your imagination.

Fountains
If you’re looking to add a stunning focal point to your landscape, fountains are the way to go. Much like the centers of European city squares, fountains are always the eye-catching center of attention. Fountains can be as simple or as ornate as you’d like them to be. They can be lower to the ground or tiered high and can have a sitting area made around the pool below them. You can even start a wishing-well tradition. Fountains can also be built recessed into walls, to add just the right rustic touch to a patio space. Most fountains run on recycled water, so the impact on the environment and your water bill is minimized.

At Stephens Landscaping, we have a lot of experience in installing and maintaining water features and would love to help you design and install a water feature of your own. Please call us at 603.707.0630 or contact us to start planning your project today!

How to Add Texture to Your Landscape

Garden Center · Landscape Design

Texture is a defining feature of any beautiful garden. From soft and airy to bold and impressive, a variety of textures gives your garden another dimension of feeling. You can achieve this by growing an assortment of plants or using different materials in your landscapes. Here are some ideas to get you started!

How to Create Texture with Plants

Usually, when we refer to texture, we’re talking about the sense of touch. For example, some surfaces feel rough, while others feel smooth. When we’re talking about a garden, texture comes from how the plant looks, including the plant’s shape, the type of leaves and flowers, and how light interacts with the foliage. 

SL Garden Center-hosta in garden bold textureBold Texture

Plants with big leaves or prominent flowers bring a bold look to the landscape. They stand out among the other plants and draw attention, like hostas, peonies, and blazing stars. Too many bold plants in one area compete for the spotlight and create a cluttered look. To balance out the bold plants in your landscape, nestle them among plants with other textures. 

Coarse Texture 

Some plants bring a coarse look into the garden. They stand out by their spiky flowers, stiff leaves, or bumpy, veiny, or rugged foliage. Comfrey, rhubarb, and globe thistles are all examples of uniquely coarse-textured plants. Mixing them among fine plants creates a pleasing contrast and sense of depth in your garden.        

SL Garden Center-lavender and yarrow bloomsFine Texture 

Fine texture comes from any plant with a soft and airy look; this often includes plants with clusters of tiny flowers, like yarrow, or those with soft, light, and thin leaves, like lavender and fennel. Soft grasses that wave in the wind also bring fine texture into the garden. 

Medium Texture 

Some plants may not be noticeably coarse, fine, or have any bold features. If their texture doesn’t stand out, we can call them medium texture. Many plants fall into this category, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important in the garden. They’re necessary to balance the fine and coarse textures. Plus, they may have beautiful color, scent, or something else besides texture to offer your landscape.

Creating Texture with Mulch and Stonework     

Just as plants are not the only part of your landscape, they also aren’t the only components that create texture. Anything visible impacts texture, including mulch and stonework in your garden. 

SL Garden Center-adding mulch to garden bedTexture with Bark Mulch 

By the same token, smaller pieces of bark mulch also create a finer look than large pieces. Finely shredded wood or bark gives a softer and airier feel to a bed, whereas big nuggets of bark have a bolder and rougher look and many interesting colors, lines, and bumps.  

Smooth and Coarse Rocks  

Not surprisingly, rough, jagged rocks bring a coarse texture to the landscape. Crushed stones or volcanic rocks on a garden bed are good examples. They contrast the smooth look of river rock and pea gravel. If you look closely, you’ll also notice that smaller stones bring a finer look to the landscape than larger stones. 

SL Garden Center-focal points in gardenBoulders and Other Focal Points 

Besides the mulch or stone you put on your beds, any boulders in the landscape or other focal points like wooden barrels, rustic benches, and art pieces also have certain textures. Once you start to notice the texture of an object, you have one more tool for creating beautiful visuals in your garden. 

There are no hard and fast rules for interpreting texture. Once you start paying attention, maybe you’ll notice more nuanced categories than those above, or perhaps you will simplify them into coarse and fine categories. Whatever your approach, playing with texture in your landscape is a beautiful way to add depth, contrast, and vitality to your landscape.

For more gardening ideas, feel free to visit our garden center in Moultonborough, New Hampshire! Follow us on Facebook or Instagram for updates and featured products.