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Installing Customized Hardscapes

American Beauty Landscaping

The existing wall is cut down to floor grade, exposing the foundation of the original walls. Consequently, the view from inside is opened up and the new outdoor "living room" begins to take shape. The new terrace will go right over top of the existing structure.

With all of the various manufacturers in today's marketplace, choosing materials for custom hardscaping can be an overwhelming task. To help streamline this process, American Beauty has limited ourselves to two local distributors who have provided both great service and products to us over the years. This gives us flexibility in both color and textural choices that ultimately determine the character of a project. During the initial meeting with our client, we are usually able to narrow their choice of materials with different photos of our work highlighting the materials. This also aids us in bidding by having prices ready at time of presentation.


This project won the "Judge's Special" Award from the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association's annual 2000 event. Here the yard is pictured six months after ground breaking.

Sometimes the architecture of the home automatically limits your choice due to its inherent style or period. For example, a historic home from the 1840's (whether a farmhouse or elaborate Victorian) would be well-suited to reclaimed foundation stone or natural cut sandstone. A manmade interlocking wall would be out of place simply because the materials and methods were not available 150 years ago.

On the other hand, a newly constructed home would lend itself to a Lafarge or Unilock product. These are just guidelines (which may be crossed), especially with some modern construction emphasizing a traditional look. We have also successfully combined "old" and "new" materials for a customized, eclectic look. Remember though, there should always be some connection of the hardscape to the home itself…repetition of color or texture.

These planters will define the space and add color and texture when they are filled with botanicals. Hundreds of tons of fill dirt and slag provided the backfill for these planter boxes and raised terraces.

Other considerations for creating a unique hardscape are grade changes and "lines of force." Lines of force are imaginary lines that extend from the sides of the structure. Even on an apparently flat lot, depth and interest can be created by raised beds or a step in a walk along these lines. The excavated soil or "cut" from a walk or drive can be used as "fill" in the beds, thereby eliminating the hauling and disposal of this base material. A client will appreciate the contractor's thriftiness in using his or her own asset. This can only work if the feature (wall/step) is intimately integrated into the site's design. A feature that appears tacked on may provide the illusion that the designer or contractor is just selling them a wall and not a look or feel.

The home's lines of force can also be used to create a unique site specific design. These extensions of the home or other structures on the property link the home and site together by integrating the two. This architectural extension into the landscape creates boldness, depth, and a sense of longevity…it's not just plants.

Case Study: Creating a High-End Hardscape

Step 1 - Determining the Customer Needs

Improving the outdoor living space of a million-dollar-plus home was the challenge we faced for a local resident. The original design (by a building architect) was to surround the large spacious rear windows with a patio space from 6- to 12-feet wide with a 3- to 4-feet high brick wall on the inside that vaulted over 8 feet above grade. As a result, there was inadequate space to entertain. There was no way to see the remainder of the yard, let alone use it. As a landscape design/build firm, the first step in any successful plan is to determine the wants and needs of the client. Using photos of other jobs, magazine ideas, and/or sketches, as well as a lot of imagination, the client is guided through grander possibilities and his horizons are definitely expanded.

Step 2 - Creating a Plan

It is essential to discuss a budget with the client at the onset, or a lot of time may be wasted and feelings hurt. Most consumers have little idea of the expense involved in landscape design, so education and guidance is necessary. In some cases, the client may feel comfortable doing the project in phases. The important thing is that the end result not be compromised.

Matching design style and materials is a must if you expect to be considered a truly professional and knowledgeable company. Large, high-end custom built homes of brick or stone should not be given a wood deck for an outdoor living space. Unless the client insists, it is our philosophy to steer the client toward brick and stone construction to effectively match the existing architecture.

Step 3 - Construction

Each stone is chosen and placed to create the effect of a random appearance. With these materials, length and width vary from piece to piece. The pavers are laid on a base of slag with sand swept between the joints.

You have to be quite confident and experienced to cut down the brick walls of a home merely seven years old! With the ultimate goal of improving the existing architecture and expanding the outdoor living space, it had to be done.

Once the demolition was complete, the plan called for a major expansion of the upper patio. The concrete floor was veneered with a tumbled paver to suggest an old world look. New garden walls were built and the choice of Celtic block suggested a natural look. The various sizes and shapes are very labor intensive to install, but the end result is definitely worth it. In some cases the walls were "double-faced" which required stones to be cut in half. Thus an inside and an outside wall was constructed. All such stones were glued with construction adhesive.

Hundreds of tons of fill dirt and slag were required to backfill the newly constructed planter boxes and raised terraces. Semi loads of pavers and wall stone needed to be transported to the rear of the residence. In order to accomplish this, a temporary "construction road" was built through the client's beautiful backyard to facilitate the transportation of these massive amounts of materials. The client must be made aware of this necessary disturbance and assured that it will be restored to "better than new" when finished.

Our sophisticated designs and complex layouts require extremely talented technicians to successfully accomplish their installation. Also necessary is a good supply of the latest power tools and hand cutters to make life easier for the craftsmen. Skidsteers, cut-off saws, vibratory tampers, and miles of stakes and string all produce extraordinary results when put in the hands of an experienced, well trained staff. A scope and tripod are essential when working with multiple grade changes. Building true square corners is essential in even the simplest of plans.

Ten months later, the planter boxes are brimming with colorful annuals and trailing vines. The planter patterns were intricate and labor-intensive to install, but definitely worth it when you look at the finished landscape.

When you design and build such intricate garden hardscapes, you separate yourself from most other companies. You certainly thwart any do-it-yourself notions no matter how talented the owner thinks he is!

The bi-level terraces created two distinct areas. The upper terrace, some 36 x 14 feet, is just one step below the threshold of the existing residence. It is more intimate and accommodates family gatherings. A large outdoor grill was installed and encased using the pavers as building stone and mortared together. A smooth stone top provided additional cutting areas on both sides of the grill.

Now the entire yard is open to view from the family room, as well as the multi-level terrace and steps. The bi-level terraces create two distinct areas: an upper terrace approximately 36 x 14 feet and a lower terrace approximately 20 x 20 feet (featuring planters).

Semi-circular steps proceeded downward to the next level; a 20- x 20-feet space surrounded with large planter boxes of wallstone. The planters effectively define and separate the areas providing softness and a much-needed change in color and texture. The formal design of strong linear walls and the curved steps both work together to repeat architectural features in the residence.

Curved steps continue downward again, exiting into the backyard, while secondary stairs lead to a large English Garden off to one side. The view from the first floor is spectacular and unobstructed. The entire backyard can now be seen, as well the expansive gardens and water features which will become the next phase.

This structure was built for years of enjoyment with a minimum amount of maintenance. The clients love to entertain and are also avid gardeners. This outdoor living space effectively accomplished every goal the client had expected, with outstanding beauty, function, and purpose. The judges from the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association felt the same way: this project was honored with the Judge's Special Award in the "Landscape Ohio" annual event of 2000.

Design/Sales Principles

There was a time in every contractor's life when they seemed to chase after every job that came their way. After a few years of this (and compiling some fine projects along the way), we've set certain parameters for our firm in which we operate most efficient and profitably. These are guiding principles you can use to ensure success in your own hardscape dealings.

First, make sure your clients know your time and talent is a valuable asset by charging for your drawings. Here, the old adage applies: "you get what you pay for." At the initial consultation, take time to listen to their likes and dislikes while walking the site with them. By physically being there together, brainstorming the various ideas that pertain to the project and showing photos to stimulate ideas or focus on material choices, you can better utilize your drawing board time by compiling this siphoned material onto paper and creating a proposal.

The multi-level steps help create interest as well as provide a functional grade change. This outdoor living space met all the client's goals, including the major expansion of the patio, providing a place to entertain and hold intimate gatherings.

Each job or photo builds upon the previous ones by creating more challenging and unique projects. By pushing the envelope, designers can stretch their creativity and the crew's talents. This constant growing pain is great for a project, but if improperly bid, can be ruinous to a firm's profit. Remember, every project is different. This isn't a rubber stamp industry or assembly line. A square foot or a face foot price for one job is not universal. Bid the project and create understanding in the client as to its complexity.

Approximately 50 percent of our work is directly related to creating outdoor rooms - terraces or patios that provide an extension of the homeowner's living space. With our Zone 5 climate, the reality of physical use is limited to six months. Therefore, it is imperative to extend the value of a client's investment to all 12 months. You can achieve this in the design process by taking into consideration the views from the home into the landscape. Also, with shortened daylight hours, emphasize outdoor lighting integration into each project. This promotes extended viewing pleasure from the home and increased security. Also, this added feature increases sales with few callbacks. (Lights don't die from overwatering!)

The new garden and terrace walls were built with Celtic block to suggest an old world look. In some cases, stones had to be cut in half to accomodate "double-faced" walls. Designing intricate gardenscapes takes time and talent, but will help separate your company from most other landscapers.

Create a professional atmosphere for employee and clientele alike. Insist that all project presentations be at your office. This pulls the client away from any at-home distractions. It also subtly reinforces your professionalism, and that your time is valuable (as is a lawyer, doctor, or accountant's time). Hang large photos of your detailed work in the lobby for visitors to admire. Upon entering the conference room, where we present our design with photos and product samples, clients are met with one full wall devoted to state, local, and national awards. Displaying your awards reiterates your professionalism (much like a doctor's diploma). They also have a view of our display garden and water feature accessible from the conference room through French doors. This gives the homeowner a prime example of how we are able to manipulate space and incorporate hardscape and plant material in creating the "feel" they desire.

In your marketing, emphasize any award-winning design and hardscape capabilities you might have. This will set you apart from local competition. Prior to the initial consultation, send your client a video showing examples of your work with background information on your company. It's also a good idea to provide peace of mind to your clients with an unconditional guarantee on installations.

Roger A. Myers, II Case Study. CEO/Designer A.B.L., Inc. Est. 1979, Certified Landscape Installer, Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association, B.S. Degree, Kent State University.

Christopher L. Mikol, A.P.L.D. - I & II Materials/Methods and Design/Sales Mr. Mikol has been in the green industry for 15 years. He has a B.S. in Ornamental Horticulture, teaches design at Kent State University Salem Campus, and is certified through A.P.L.D. He has been honored with numerous state and local awards and has been chief designer with American

Beauty Landscaping since 1994.


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February 28, 2020, 2:09 am PDT

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