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.

Falling in Love with Fire Features

Landscape Construction

Fall is arguably the most beautiful time of year in northern New England, and so it makes sense that many of us want to extend our time outside and enjoy the great weather, beautiful foliage, and cool nights that this season brings.

One way to add to the enjoyment of staying outdoors as the temperatures dip is to add a heating element to your outdoor spaces. You can add a decorative touch as well as a heating option by choosing a fireplace or fire pit. Both are wonderful additions to your outdoor areas and put out about the same amount of heat but have different things you should consider.

A Heated Focal Point

When you install a fireplace or fire pit on your property, it becomes a focal point of your landscape and a natural gathering spot that’s perfect for entertaining and socializing with family and friends. It’s a casual place to hang out and chat or unwind after a long day. It’s easy to sit around a fire and sip cocktails or roast marshmallows to make s’mores (or both!).

A fire element adds warm tones of light to your landscape and provides a good “wall” at the end of a patio or seating area, especially if you install a fireplace. A fire pit can help you create a new seating or conversation area if you want to break up a large expanse of lawn or use a previously unused/underused corner more efficiently. A more permanent fire element, like built-in fireplaces or fire pits, can increase your property value as well.

Fireplaces

By matching or complementing existing masonry to your fireplace addition, you’ll extend your patio and entertainment space. You can opt for a wood-burning fireplace, or if you already have gas as a heating or cooking element in your house, it’s not difficult to have a gas line run outdoors for a fireplace. When installing an outdoor fireplace, just make sure to build one with a large enough chimney to be able to get a good draft for ventilation.

Firepits

Sitting around a fire pit evokes almost the same feelings as gathering around a summer bonfire on the beach or a campfire in the woods. Usually circular or square in design, a fire pit allows people to gather around all sides. Fire pits can be portable or built into patios as a permanent fixture.

Fire pits have several options to fuel their fires. Wood is traditionally used in fire pits and provides a nice flame and heat. With open wood fire pits, wind is a consideration. When placed in a windy location, the smoke produced by traditional wood burning fire pits can shift onto you, your guests, or toward your house at times. Debris and dirt may be more visible, and you may need to drain rainwater from it often. With wood, you’ll need to have storage nearby to keep your wood dry.

Great Fire Pits

If you are warm to the idea of wood-burning fire pits, there are some smoke-free options. Two companies we recommend are:

  • Solo Stove: This portable firepit offers a great burn with almost no smoke. It’s designed to maximize airflow and has air vents placed in strategic areas. You may get a little smoke when lighting or putting out the fire, but that’s about it. The trick is to keep wood below the secondary air vent and not overfill it, then you’ll enjoy a great fire without being bothered by smoke.
    Their stainless-steel design fits well into any décor and allows for easy cleaning. They also offer a lifetime guarantee from any manufacturing defects. Solo Stove also makes a matching pizza oven.
  • Breeo fire pits are another company that offers smokeless, portable fire pits. Breeo’s pits come in several design, glass, and color options. You can even custom design your fire pit on their website, so it’s built to your own specifications. Breeo’s fire pits are smokeless due to raised air vents on the bottom of the pit, enabling oxygen to feed the fire regardless of ash build up. Their double-walled build allows hot air to enter from vents at the bottom and escape at holes in the rim at the top. This escaping air causes a secondary ignition of flames, burning off the rising smoke.

Breeo also offers accessories like fireside furniture and implements you can use to cook directly on the flames themselves. As with all fire pits and fireplaces, make sure to clean all debris, drippings, and food particles completely off before relighting the fire.

Other Fuels for Fire Pits

Propane and gas fire pits are other options for fueling fire pits if you don’t want to bother with wood. Both gas and propane fire pits have instant ignitions, so you don’t have to mess about getting a fire started. And both can be shut down instantly without waiting for flames to die down or embers to cool.

There are no sparks emitted from a gas or propane fireplace, so these types of fire pits can be a safer option. To avoid carbon monoxide build up, both gas and propane fire pits must be used in well-ventilated areas.

We’ve helped many homeowners add a fire and heating element to their landscapes and outdoor entertainment spaces, and we’d love to help you come up with ideas to incorporate a fireplace or fire pit into your property. Please call us at 603.707.0630 or email us to get started.

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!

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!