Brick Paver Patterns and Styles

As is obvious to those who peruse this blog, I have had a fairly mad love affair of long duration with brick pavers as surface products, from roads to driveways to sidewalks to patios. Their elegant mosaic-like segmented beauty just appeals to me in its complexity. I have become particularly enthused about the concrete products but those old clay-fired bricks from homes and mostly re-used siding bricks can also make wonderful paving materials. They of course are just as segmented and are often even prettier in their rustic quality.

Here, for example, is a project we undertook just recently in Louisville, utilizing a Craiglist ad for a bunch of “old brick” someone wanted to dispose of. Needless to say the price was right, but the finished product we thought was equally satisfying.

From the back porch – nice, simple, durable and ready for the foliage surrounding it to expand and soften things nicely:

At times, simpler is just better. While strictly rectangular, a more plastic sort of design featuring gentle curves and a more rounded shape in general treat these rigid blocks as elements of more natural and more intriguing shapes.

But some patterns come already circular! From Pavestone, a product I have used many times, this gorgeous and simple integration of a small circle in an otherwise standard pattern:

Installers and designers have long since employed circular pattern insertions as points of interest and complexity. Brick Paver suppliers have oodles of “circular kits” with premade patterns which are easy to install.

Hardheads like me, however, occasionally go for the circular look as a second thought, opting to work like mad just to make things marginally more interesting for a client. What results, of course, is an absurd amount of crafty cutting, using standard bricks as our material and adapting their size to the circularity. On bricks which have an “antiqued look”, we also chip at the edges ourselves toi maintain the appearance of age and wear.

 But the variety of styles and patterns in the preformed brick-laying dimension has moved along, offering some gorgeous options in terms of coloring and shape.

The shade of this one is called “Cream and Tan” and the overall style is referred to as “Bishop’s Hat”.:

This rustic little design is a tumbled paver, composed of so many different sizes and shapes that we decided to use a completely random pattern in laying it.

The rougher, more rustic “tumbled” look has an implicit sort of aged quality – like an instant antique:

Among other virtues of these, more “imperfect” pavers revolve around the grouting, using different colored sands for the “infill” for the cracks between the bricks. With the overall coating of a coat of good sealer, the sand stays permanent and accents the stones with interest and a very functional role.

Pretty professional picture taking, isn’t it?   😉


The Most Modern Tools Of The Trade – Landscaping Notes

Owing to recent picture postings on a social media site, the nature and abilities of the machinery of landscaping became notable, commented upon by some amazed watchers and myself, in a brief but interesting exchange. What modern machinery has accomplished for not just landscaping but for the building trades in general, has been rather amazing. Below, we briefly touch on just a few mechanisms of help, celebrating an iota of labor-saving one can trust made landscaping not just different, but somewhat easier. It also released a million new directions of installation possibilities in an abundant and totally creative design future.

This is all about mental and physical things…….

Strictly educational – the “mental tools” and the wherewithal to use the “physical tools” can and most often come from various combination of learning events – general osmosis, class, on the job comparisons and experience. But both are extremely real, and each can be either modern or classical……….to some degree.

Mental Tools

Landscaping requires at least a rudimentary knowledge of the following fields:

Electrical Trades, Carpentry, Cement Technology, Hydrology (the behavior of water), Gas and access to the various kinds of gas used outdoors.

Additionally, we arrive at very trade-specific assumptions of competence, dealing with issues like Farming; Horticulture in general; Soils; Irrigation issues, including wells and water pressure; issues of relative Compaction under surfaces as well as the detriments of compaction regarding root growth in lawns and plants and trees.

In terms of design alone, an awareness of issues of compatible colors, structural architecture, and successful arrangements which include the tiniest elements of duplicity, for lack of a better word. Hidden wonders which magically appear on our walks around a property well illustrate a potentially pleasing scenario, designed with just that visual – or even aromatic or aural – pleasure.

Enough of that. Now come the Machines. Where will one learn these?

Installing All That – More Importantly – Making It Work

Other helpful considerations – and most importantly at the level of installation – involve the latest technologies, built to save the poor backs of our minions in the game. Below is a “Soil Thrower”, made to toss soil up to 50′ to an otherwise impossible area. As the picture below this one shows, it can deliver it up a few floors worth of territory too!

(enlarge any image by clicking)


Does this guy have a great toy or what??!


Combine that gorgeous masterpiece of dirty technology with this “Bark Dust Blower” and you have a quicker project in areas once considered nearly impossible to work in.



Nor do the newer technologies stop there. For heavy duty work in small places, hydraulic science and the wonders of newer and more reliable engines have made lifting easier as well.


If you think this is a “small deal”, then you’d be wrong. What one man can do with these machines is staggering – these are a productive increase of exponential dimensions, frankly.


This next baby looks like something only wrecker could love. You’d be wrong. This is a “Knuckling Grappler”, which can grab a boulder or a log or a piece of wood and rotate in absolutely any direction – 360 degrees. You could literally insert things sideways into a hole if you wanted.


Consider its use in the construction of walls such as this one:


These don’t get built by themselves.  😉


As dilapidated as this machine looks, it has built one heck of a lot of gorgeous walls. In fact, this technology can only be improved on by quantity – not quality. This one can handle a ton or two at a time. The next generations provided more stable footing and huger capacity, but they all do the same work.

Diamonds and modern cutting technology. The Diamond Drill has become a paving guy’s primary utensil. Cutting road surfaces, bricks and coring into upstanding cement or solid rock are all easily accomplished now with this rapidly-expanded and amazingly efficient new technology. One can now take a boulder and bore a hole completely through it, down many feet, until it becomes a clearly-perforated stone, fit for making into a Bubble Rock water feature. Here is a nice close look at one such blade – this one for coring.


Each of the 3 stones below has just that – a long cylindrical hole running down its length, under which a pump runs water to its base and out the top. This technology has produced an entire new galaxy of Bubble Rock Water Features.

The truth is, a closer look at the pavers forming the patio in the foreground of this shot – which were also cut by a diamond blade on a table saw – show how exact that aspect of paving has become as well. Now very cool curves and more appropriate fits are made to increase the overall curving appearance of hard, severe surfaces.


Here is an even better, closer look from the same project looking back, at how the most modern diamond blade technology can result in very satisfying curving appearances: (enlarge this one)


A Summary Of Modern Tool Impacts

The tools themselves have opened up the entire field of landscape design. What was once a massive, intensive labor, requiring lots of folks struggling over a long period of time can now be done in a day, using 2 men, with the right machines. This relieves costs and increases possibility.

Ask yourself this. When you see this picture below – of the Portland, Oregon Chinese Garden – how long do you think it would take to plant all the big plants and trees there? Since the whole place is a block square, let’s peek in from the outside:


That’s 20% of the big trees planted there, a few which weighed a nice solid 5-8 tons, complete with hand-dug root balls. We even designed a special chain for quick-release.

Well, if I told how long, on one would believe me, but I can say this much. We cheated like crazy. Here’s what we used to place the trees:


180 tons of landscaping love!

He can sit in one place and deal with an entire city block. Which, fortunately, was exactly what we had! He is also good for dropping in a few thousand tons of dirt, for the record. In other words, in the immortal words of Dana Carvey in his spoof of George Bush’s post-Berlin Wall statement:

“Before the crane – no dirt. After the crane – Chinese Garden.”  😉

If you think that’s something, wait ’til I talk about landscaping that 42 story Vancouver high rise!!


Draining Landscapes and Gardens – Part II

I know, I know. Drainage concerns are about as fascinating as watching paint dry, just less so. In my frantic efforts in this blog to allow you all to peer over the shoulder of what a landscape designer/installer faces however, I would certainly be remiss in not giving this “take”. In any thorough look at landscaping, omitting this issue of how we face and what we do with the accumulated water from rainfall (and other sources) on the strips of land as large as we deal with would be pretty uncivilized, frankly. The fact is, it is the first thing we ever look at. Bar none. So bear with a shovel-wielding, backhoe-driving contractor for yet another teeth-grinding trip through the uber-fascinating world of drain water. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The creek bed drain below is taken from the same example project I featured in Part I. As mentioned, these items posed a pretty splendid solution to the larger issues of how to deal with rainfall on the landscape. Generally sloped to receive runoff, these channels allow water to leave the project, en route to safer and less destructive places.

Other projects also have in-built reasons for drains and, frankly, most of them we won’t see. The issue is to either make a drain system organic with the design or to hide them. Since drainage is a strictly functional problem, and landscaping designs are such cosmetic enterprises, it is often better not seen nor heard.

The point with all this is to appreciate the respect one needs to maintain towards rain, snow and all the potential problems they can present. Water trapped under a home can bleed it’s humid evaporation upwards, causing mildews and molds which are unhealthy and foul-smelling. And, unfortunately, not all homes are constructed with adequate drain systems surrounding their foundations, another vulnerable point in water issues. What I have found is that we landscapers have become one of the rectifiers of these problems – and, as time has gone on, perhaps the only possible ones outside of calling the home builder back to reshape the entire property.

So it became something I consider almost foremost when I analyze the possibilities and challenges of any project. Generally, of course, we slope all patio and walkway surfaces appropriately, usually at a 1-2% slope. This takes the water outwards away from problems. But what then? Taking the water away from a home is important as it can be, but what about when water is directed away from a structure towards another structure, such as a free-standing wall?

The amount of pipe under this entire edifice shown above and below, from the two waterfall systems to dealing with both walls, measures in the hundreds of feet. The hidden drains and their sources measure in the smallest percentiles of slope but are enough for water to find and then get conducted away. We managed to hide the collection points for runoff possibilities in this project well enough. After all, rocks can hide a multitude of things. But there is another entire problem facing the catchments –  its final emergence. Where does it go, if not the street? What we found on this project was that we had to disperse the runoff enough to keep from eroding the hillside to the rear. That required yet another measure of construction all on its own.

Some drains are as straightforward as they can be. We will often just simply run a water test and see where it tends to go. Who woulda thought???  😉  On the creek bed below, we found an easy solution that looks good and actually adds something to the landscape, generated from the driveway behind it and its collection point. Simply put and very obviously, this one just runs off onto the street.

Other factors requiring drainage thought: water features. Nearly all of my water features have an in-built automatic fill system. Requiring a homeowner to get his hose out and go fill up the daggone pond is sometimes done – if they ask for it. But I have found the auto-fill to be simple and effective and – generally – pain free. But, things happen. If an “auto-fill” is run off the irrigation clock for example, the possibilities for mistakes are fairly numerous. Someone could forget the difference between AM and PM, for example. (Are you listening Mark? :-)). This meant 12 good solid hours of a 3/4″ pipe’s worth of water streaming into his pond and overflowing. Or, a guy could have the TV set to some compelling ball game and simply forget about that hose he set in the pond to fill it up. So we drain them as well. This is call an “overflow” drain and should be essential in any water feature, form the smallest to the very largest. These can come in straightforward and simple methods, combined with offering surface draining as well:

This one above, taken in early Spring, shows just how effective it was judging by the discoloration of the dried mud on the creek rocks. Below, we have a successfully-hidden drainage point, well-planted with swampy sorts of grasses which offer a congruency with the pond itself. It drains forward – when necessary – and onto a constructed cement drainage ‘swale’ that courses down the backs of all these properties nearby:

That about wraps up my drainage spiel. I have some fresh paint on our fence out back I need to get back to watching dry. God, this is a great day! Where’s my beer?  Roovveerrrrr!!  Darn that dog.

Incidentally, here are some shots of the more severe-looking landscape above. The first is from its onset:

The next gives a picture from the neighbor’s perspective and shows in better detail not only the killer view these guys have of Reno, Nevada but also the slope which we built on top of and which we had to somehow protect:

And here’s a few of those pipes I talked about, during construction:

The Role Of Landscaping – And The Future

What is the role of what we call Landscaping?

It’s an intriguing question and one that gets bandied about now and then by observers and those involved in the field itself. Guys like me. In the end, there are only a few perspectives available in the most general sense. One argument seems to admit the role of “Beautification” as the penultimate goal, seemingly assuming that there are cultural and intellectual advantages in “Beauty”. While I can’t argue that, I am one who believes there is a far more universal impact even yet to landscaping. I just feel assigning Landscaping to a cosmetic existence, while somewhat accurate, honestly misses the larger point.


When we take in the larger effects of landscaping – such as dealing with Urban Planning, for example – we cross a threshold into judgments as to whether the cities we live in are toxic in any form or fashion. When we then analyze what this toxicity really means, we find that many cities began and unfolded almost completely unplanned. What happened was that the rush to Industrialization begat more crowded cities as people desired to live near where they worked. Naturally, transportation was always an issue as well, from the days of the individual horse, the buggy, the trolley and to the currently very ubiquitous car.


Of course sometimes we hearken for those Olden Days  😉 even amidst modern ones………


In the late 1800’s, urban planning began taking flight in the US as towns and cities began realizing what a complete cluster they had inherited. Entire city plans were then bid, submitted and enacted, impacting hugely cities like Louisville, Montreal, Baltimore and many others.

Suddenly, sensible plans began emerging on how to get humans from one point to another, because the plans included such provisions. Also, the development of the City Park became seen as absolutely necessary. Why?

Isn’t that “just landscaping”?


It turns out, certain general criterion began appearing as absolutes in the “livability” of cities.  A useful guide in this enterprise is Kevin Lynch’s A Theory of Good City Form (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1981). Lynch offers five basic dimensions of city performance: vitality, sense, fit, access, and control. To these he adds two “meta-criteria,” efficiency and justice.

As Cliff Ellis opines here:

“For Lynch, a vital city successfully fulfils the biological needs of its inhabitants, and provides a safe environment for their activities. A sensible city is organized so that its residents can perceive and understand the city’s form and function. A city with good fit provides the buildings, spaces, and networks required for its residents to pursue their projects successfully. An accessible city allows people of all ages and background to gain the activities, resources, services, and information that they need. A city with good control is arranged so that its citizens have a say in the management of the spaces in which they work and reside.”

Pretty dry stuff, but it applies.

The Future

The picture below also dealt with something to add to the 5th largest city in Japan – Sapporo. What designer Isamu Noguchi was asked to do was to produce a vision, reclaiming what was once the garbage landfill on the finished site shown below, which is now the world-famous Moerenuma Park. It was one of his final projects and a very noteworthy one.


Noguchi called this park a “lung”. The presence of air-cleaning and ion-producing carbon-based plantings cause not just an innate sense of space and beauty, they also tend to act to make us plain healthier, both mentally and physically. It seems we crave such things, dating undoubtedly from our origins as land walkers, nomads and hunters. We surely crave them with a near-visceral sense of attachment. Speak with any older group of baseball fans from Brooklyn or Boston and among the first things you’ll hear is how luscious the fields looked at ball games. The grass was literally nearly and end in itself.

Here, in this futuristic park, the contrived features resemble ancestral images, while at the same time – at least here – promoting a futuristic sense of possibility. The clean lines of this pyramid remind us of what is timeless in design and most attractive in dimension. The smells alone would make it pretty.


Recently, Huaxi, China held a confab inviting the world’s best young architects to devise individual buildings which could comprise the new elements of the already-celebrated city. From the event: “The site of Huaxi is famous for its dramatic and beautiful landscape, as well as a diverse mix of minority cultural inhabitants during its history. Its future is defined by the local government’s urban planning as a new urban centre for finance, cultural activities and tourism. MAD brought the young architects together here in the summer of 2008, for a 3-day workshop to create an experimental urban vision for Huaxi.”

What they came up with was wild:


Their question: “Are we going to continue copying the skyline of Western cities created over a hundred years of industrial civilisation? Will Manhattan and Chicago continue to be our model city, even after 15 years of urban construction in China? Is there an alternative future for our cities that lies in the current social condition, where new technologies leave the machine age behind, and where the city increasingly invades the natural space? Based on an Eastern understanding of nature, this joint urban experiment aims to explore whether we can use new technologies and global ideas to reconnect the natural and man-made world.”


Let’s face it – it;s not as if efforts to get to exactly this end have not proceeded apace. Frank Gehry’s designs for buildings and grounds show exactly the same non-conforming principles as those wildly “impractical” designs from the MAD Group of Huaxi.

Except for this –

Frank Gehry’s actually already exist!


Do they ever!

Also from the Huaxi Group’s statements: “In the past 15 years, around 10 billion sqm of built space has been created in the urban areas of China. In 20 years time, another 200 to 400 new cities will be built. Until now, the results of this overwhelming urbanization have been defined by high-density, high-speed and low-quality duplication: the urban space is meaningless, crowded and soulless.”


“The city is no longer determined by the leftover logic of the industrial revolution (speed, profit, efficiency) but instead follows the ‘fragile rules’ of nature.”

Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.


The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles:


An apartment complex by Gehry:


The paradigm seems to be shifting yet again and this time the most fervent hope is to provide alternatives to the prior style of efficient function, elevating us all into an appreciation for Nature’s intrinsic delicate nature, embodied by – of all things – the buildings around us and their grounds. Nature is also accidental, cruel, aristocratic and occasionally homely. It’s just the way it is. Integrating Truth into everyday passages asks us to provide a Nature which is every bit as inspiring and dominating as nature herself.