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!

Lighting Up the Night

Landscape Design · Landscape Lighting

You’ve got a beautiful home, and complementary landscaping which can be enjoyed year-round. How do you showcase these assets? The best way to display your property and surrounding land is to add illumination.

Aesthetic landscape lighting is a wonderful way to accent your home and grounds, provide safety to walkways, entrances and to your property overall, as well as increase the total property value.

With low voltage LED lighting, home illumination systems have become easier to install, use, and maintain. Most systems are custom designed around your particular needs rather than a one-size-fits-all system and are often paired with smart home systems. These systems can be controlled with apps and timers, and can be set for different seasons, and events.

Why Light it Up?

There are several great reasons for adding lighting your home and landscape. First, you’ll be able to add visual interest by highlighting architectural features and points of interest in your landscape, like flowering trees or a water feature.

Lighting your outdoor spaces will allow you to enjoy your property longer in the day and into the evening; you won’t have to head indoors when the sun sets, and you can use more of your property when it’s well illuminated, instead of some areas being dark voids in the periphery.

Security considerations should also be taken into account when contemplating landscape lighting. You can illuminate doors and windows, making it easier for your security system to capture clearer images. Strategic lighting also gives the appearance of someone being home. And, by illuminating pathways and walkways, you can insure safer passage around your property for family and guests alike.

Why Low Voltage LED?

Low voltage LED systems are primarily used in home lighting systems because they’re safe and cost-effective. With low voltage systems, there’s little chance of shock and the installation is quicker and easier. You can install an LED low voltage system on your own, as it’s relatively easy to learn, but for a larger home or a complex system, we suggest hiring a professional installer.

LED fixtures and bulbs use very little power, so the impact on your electricity bill won’t be as great with a low voltage LED system. The bulbs also last longer, so you won’t have to replace them as often.

LED lights come in a wide variety of colors and lenses, so you can design the lighting that works best for you and your home. The days of hot, bright floodlights are over! You can highlight some areas, have other areas softly illuminated, and of course, dimmers and timers on lights can be installed wherever you deem necessary.

Low voltage LED lights don’t get as hot as regular lights, even when they’ve been on for several hours, so they won’t add to the heat during the hot summer nights, nor will they affect any plants you may have surrounding them. And LED lights reduce light pollution, as the light they cast is more focused than regular bulbs.

How Should You Get Started?

After deciding to add lighting to your property, the first thing you’ll want to do is to create a landscape lighting plan:

  • First, decide what you want to light or showcase. Include any or all doors, windows, garage doors, pathways, and sidewalks to and from your house. Are there any areas in your yard or landscaping to which you’d like to draw attention? Flowering trees, decorative shrubbery, fountains and water features are popular choices, as are beaches, pools, and retaining walls.
  • Select the appropriate lighting techniques. Most plans have a good mixture of several techniques. You can: highlight a feature; create shadows; place a light a few feet away to “wash” the object in light; uplight or downlight with more directed beams of light; “moonlight” an area by placing a feature high up in a tree or light pole, and have soft light come down on the area; light up your path with lights running alongside walkways and drives; and place lighting in surfaces themselves, like stone walls or steps.
  • Choose the fixtures, bulbs and accessories that give you the desired effect. Again, this should be a good combination of several different items customized to your individual needs. Choices include spotlights, path lights, wall mounted lights, lights with motion sensors and/or dimmers, ground lights, and hanging lights.
  • Connect it to your smart home system and apps and set up a schedule for daily/nightly use, as well as vacations or other times away.

At Stephens Landscaping, we can work with you to create a lighting plan and install low voltage LED lighting systems that will fit your property’s needs and unique aesthetic. To get started, give us a call at 603.707.0630 or email info@stephenslandscaping.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Your Driveway Snow & Ice Free

Landscape Construction

Winter is a wonderful time to enjoy all that New England has to offer. Our abundant snowfall allows for all sorts of fun outdoor activities. But with the quiet beauty of snowfall comes something less enjoyable: clearing driveways and walkways full of snow.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to worry about clearing your passageways at all? You can have a driveway and sidewalk that stays clear of snow and ice by installing a radiant heating system under their surfaces. Many new houses are built incorporating heated driveways into their design, but installation can be done at existing homes as well.

Heating System Options

There are several options available to keep your driveway and walkways clear of snow: portable mats, a hydroponic (hot water) built-in system, and an electrical (wire grid) built-in system. We breakdown these systems, including installation details below:

Portable mats: These are the easiest and least expensive to install. It consists of portable mats that you lay down before any storm, wherever you want to keep snow from sticking and piling up. They come in a multitude of lengths and widths, so you can purchase mats to best fit your space requirements.

These are a good way to try out a heated driveway before committing to the time and expense of an installed system. The downside is that these mats must be placed before the snow comes and removed after the storm. They should be stored somewhere before the next use.

Hydroponic systems: If you are having a house built, the ideal time to install this system is before the driveway or walkway is laid. If you are adding this to an existing property, the driveway or walkway will have to be torn up, system installed and passageway redone.

This system uses tubing that is installed under the surface of your driveway and/or walkway. A warm, non-freezing water solution gets circulated through this series of tubes, and this solution is heated by a boiler that is usually located in the garage. This system is controlled by an automatic sensor or can be controlled manually. The driveway is then laid on top of this tube.

Electrical (wire grid) systems: Like the portable mats, these are a series of electrical wires that are meshed together in a grid pattern. These mats are embedded into the soil beneath the driveway, then paved over. Again, this is best done before the driveway is laid, but can be done to existing driveways if the driveway is torn up. Grids can be connected to cover the driveway completely, and this system is also controlled by a sensor that can be controlled manually or automatically.

Things to Consider

Apart from the initial purchase and installation costs, you should also be aware that heated driveways and walkways will incur operating costs each year as well. The boiler for the hydroponic system will use additional electricity or gas (however you heat your home) and the electrical grid system will increase your electricity usage.

If you install the hydroponic system, you’ll need to have the boiler inspected each year before the winter season begins, to keep your system in the best working order. While each system will likely give you 20 or so years of use, like any other mechanical system, breakdowns do happen, and you may need to do small repairs and maintenance over the years. If something really goes wrong, you may need to tear out part or all your driveway or walkway to repair the problem.

However, in weighing the pros and cons, having a heated driveway/walkway system to combat the snowiness of a typical New England winter is an absolutely excellent idea. Installing a heated driveway and walkways are wonderful ways to ensure the safety of your family and your visitors around your property this winter and will take away a lot of worry and fuss. You won’t have to find and rely on someone to plow and clear your property, and your driveway will be ready for you whenever you need to use it. You’ll increase the life of your driveway by not exposing it to great variations in temperature, or by being scraped by snowplows and shovels or corroding chemicals to melt ice and snow. And, you’ll increase the property value of your home.

We’d love to discuss the possibility of adding a heated driveway/walkway system to your home. Contact us, or give us a call at 603.707.0630.

Our Favorite Native Landscape Additions

Planting

Native plants occur naturally and have meaningful effects and benefits to birds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife. They are low maintenance, beautiful, require less water and fertilization, and help the climate by storing carbon dioxide, and providing vital habitat for wildlife. Utilizing native plants in your landscape means they are more likely to establish quickly and will be hardy. Some of our favorite natives that we incorporate into almost all of our landscape designs include:

Perennials

  • Joe Pye Weed: These fast-growing flowers are favorites of butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. The tall, vanilla-scented wildflowers grow in leaf clusters several feet high, and in the summer, tiny mauve colored flowers appear on top of the leaf stems. They prefer an area that’s full sun to partial shade, and moist, well-drained soil. It’s best to plant these when there’s no chance of frost.
  • New England Aster: This is a favorite here in New England and can be seen practically everywhere. This easily-recognizable flower grows to about five feet tall, and while the most popular variety has a medium purple flower with a dark yellow center, asters come in different shades of purple and even pink! This aster is drought-tolerant, deer resistant, and does well in all types of soil. It’s a late summer to early fall bloomer, and while it’s blooming, you may see the lower leaves drying up. But, don’t worry…your plants are not dying; this is normal.
  • Blue Flag Iris: These lovely, classic irises are great additions to your garden, and do especially well around any water feature. They prefer soil that is acidic, rich, and moist, and to be located in an area that is full sun to part shade. These are early bloomers, and you can expect to see flowers from May to July. These are known to attract pollinators as well as hummingbirds.
  • Sweetfern: This zero-maintenance plant has a sweet scent when crushed, and the leaves resemble little ferns, as its name implies. This shrub will spread itself out over the years, making clones of itself throughout your garden. It does well in poor, acidic soil, and is known to be a “nitrogen-fixer”.
  • Hayscented Fern: This is a great fern if you have an area that needs some good coverage. These ferns prefer shade to part shade and grow from to eighteen to twenty-four inches in height. The fronds grow into a beautiful green color from the spring into the summer, and in the fall, turn a lovely yellow. When disturbed, the fern gives off an odor similar to fresh-cut hay.

Shrubs

  • Low Bush Blueberry: This low bush is a great idea for an area where you need ground cover, or a nice border edge. The shrubs don’t grow very tall; they only get to a height of about two feet. They are very picky about their soil conditions, preferring sandy, well-drained and rich soil, and they like to be in full sun or partial shade. In the spring, they’ll feature small white flowers, the summer will bring some sweet edible berries (not the big ones you see in the supermarket, but still delicious and enjoyable. For those big commercial sized berries, you’ll need to plant the high bush blueberry, which is described below), and in the fall, the leaves will turn a very vibrant red. This shrub will add color to your garden for many seasons.
  • High Bush Blueberry: If you’ve ever gone blueberry picking at a farm, you probably picked from a high bush blueberry. They are the most commercially-grown variety, and their berries are featured in most stores and farmers’ markets. These shrubs handle our cooler temperatures well, and they actually need some cold days in the winter to form berries in the spring; they’re perfect for New England. These bushes like moist soil but not standing water, so they should be planted on a slope for good drainage. They prefer full sun to partial shade (the more sun, the more blooms, more fruit, and more brightly colored fall leaves.) They do require regular watering.
  • Clethra: Also known as summersweet or sweet pepperbush, this flowering shrub grows from three to eight feet tall, and features fragrant white, bottle-shaped flowers. This plant blooms in stages throughout the summer, and while it prefers wet soil (it’s usually found around the shoreline), it is drought-resistant once it has become established. It’s a favorite of pollinators like bees and butterflies.
  • Winterberry Holly: This classic Christmas favorite is a perfect choice for adding winter color in your garden. While the shrub will drop its leaves in the fall, the red berries will continue to grow up until the spring. While the berries are a favorite feast for a variety of birds, they are toxic to people, dogs, and cats. The shrub can grow in both wet and dry soils, and in full sun, part shade, and full shade conditions. They grow from six to ten feet tall. You must plant a male and a female shrub of the same species in order to have the shrubs bloom at the same time and to have berries grow.
  • Kalmia Latifolia: Commonly known as mountain laurel, you can see this flowering shrub in gardens all over New England. Its delicate pink and white bowl-shaped blooms appear in late spring and early summer, and once the blooms have passed, the dark green leaves will stay on the shrub throughout the winter months, adding a welcome patch of color. This shrub is a favorite of pollinators and does best in moderate to partial shade. It prefers to stay moist, so it’s best to keep your shrub watered well.
  • Serviceberry: This plant can either be grown as a sizable shrub or small tree. In early spring, it blooms in pinkish white flowers, which then turn to delicious berries that look like blueberries but are a bit sweeter; they are ripe when the berry is a dark purple. In the fall, the leaves turn a beautiful shade of deep reddish orange. It prefers to be in full sun to light shade; the more sun, the better the flower and fruit production. It will tolerate many soil types. During the first year after you’ve planted, make sure to keep it well watered; after that, it will be pretty drought tolerant.


Trees

  • Birch: Birch trees are a popular choice in many yards. Most everyone in New England is familiar with these tall, stately white bark trees. But birches come in many different varieties as well as the more known white ones. There are short shrub-type birches with reddish leaves that do well in a rain garden, a dwarf birch is a shrub good for ground cover and tolerates cold weather well. River birch are a tall pinkish-brown tree that “sheds” its bark throughout the season and features dark green leaves that turn a beautiful yellow in the fall, as well as many more! We’d love to discuss what variety would work best for you and your landscape.
  • Sugar Maple: As New Englanders, we love our sugar maples. This tree is the primary source for maple syrup, a long-enjoyed tradition here in northern New England and a popular wood for furniture. This fast-growing tree needs room to grow, and prefers deep, well-drained loam or light clay. Once mature, this tree provides good shade in the summer, and spectacular foliage of bright red and orange in the fall.
  • Red Maple: This is a tall tree. With heights reaching about 100 feet and a spreading root system, this is a tree that needs a lot of space in which to grow. This tree is easy growing, and not fussy—it grows well in both wet and dry soils, is fairly drought-tolerant, and does well in shady or sunny locations.
  • Eastern Hemlock: This tall tree can grow up to 100 feet but can also be used as a hedge with proper, consistent pruning. It needs to have good drainage and be away from strong winds. The foliage of the eastern hemlock is fragrant and attracts both birds and butterflies, and will yield an abundance of pine cones. This tree is a slow grower, and needs direct sunlight and moist, well-drained soil. This tree will grow into a pyramid shape when not trimmed.

There are many options available to you to add year-round interest and color to your garden and landscape. We’d love to help you create a plan to maximize your space and achieve all of your landscape goals. Contact us to discuss your ideas or give us a call at 603.707.0630, and be sure to visit our Garden Center. We’ve got new plants coming in weekly, a wide selection of pottery, landscape aggregates, and annuals—all available for delivery! Come visit us Monday – Saturday: 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. Closed Sunday. Or give us a call at 603.677.9100 if you have any questions or are looking for something special.

 

Perched Beach Construction

Landscape Construction · Landscape Design

Adding a perched beach to your waterfront home expands your options for relaxation and entertainment as well as increases your property value. Installing a perched beach isn’t an easy task, but by getting guidance and following the State’s rules, you could be relaxing on your own private beach.

What exactly is a perched beach?

A perched beach is a sandy area that is at least 1 foot above the high-water line. It usually looks like a terraced area, with a retaining wall and steps leading from the water’s edge to the sandy area. These steps must stay 1 foot behind the high-water line. Perched beaches often need a back for supporting grade.

Love the idea, but not sure where to begin?

First, you’ll need a plan. There are many rules and regulations you’ll have to follow, so it’s best to work with someone who has experience in designing and installing perched beaches right from the beginning.

Then, you will need a Wetlands Permit from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NH DES). This permit will take at least 75 days for the State to review. It’s important to leave enough time for the process as the beach cannot be constructed without a permit.

What are some other considerations for the planning stage?

  • Your beach and other water access structures cannot be more than 20% of your shoreline frontage, so if you have 100 feet of contiguous shoreline, your beach can only be 20 feet wide, and this also depends on other existing features.
  • Be aware that you can’t build a perched beach on a slope that’s greater than 25%, calculated from the high-water line to the back of your proposed construction. However, your beach itself must be flat, and have no slope to it at all, which will minimize any runoff into the lake.
  • You’ll also want to locate your beach in an area that will impact the environment the least, where you will have to remove the least amount of vegetation, and where animals, birds, amphibians, etc. do not nest. Your beach cannot contact the water’s edge at all, and you can’t dredge the lake bottom and/or add sand to the lake for any reason.
  • Your plans must include ways to divert surface runoff around the beach to allow for sand erosion during storms.
  • Your perched beach must be 10 feet from property boundaries, unless you get permission from all effected abutters.
  • During construction, you can’t have any machinery in the water, and you can’t move any boulders along the shoreline, except to build the steps to your beach.
  • You can only use 10 cubic yards of sand on your beach, and it must be clean sand. You can only replenish this sand once every six years.

These are some of the basics to get you started with designing your own perched beach area; there’s a lot more to this process. For more information, you can contact the NH DES Wetlands Bureau by phone at (603) 271-2147, via email, or by mail at 29 Hazen Drive; P.O. Box 95, Concord, NH 03302-0095.

Let us help!

The team at Stephens Landscaping Professionals has experience in designing and installing perched beaches. Below are just a few pictures from some of the projects we’ve completed.

We’d love to help you create a beach that truly enhances your lakefront home. Reach out or give us a call at 603.707.0630.

If you’re interested in learning more about how a perched beach may improve your home’s value, contact our friends at Lake Life Realty, who will be happy to provide more information about what they have seen in their experiences around the lake.