Patios – Surfaces


I have found the design and installation of patios to be one of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of landscaping. Designed to provide privacy, intimacy and beauty, there are few more delightful presences in a landscape than a well-conceived patio. Few items in any landscape carry such personal impact and complexity. When one considers the amount of time homeowners might find themselves spending outdoors – and, let’s be clear – many of these folks have literally never faced that choice before, it becomes  a “dream landscape”  for their very home and life and therefore more than a bit special.  😉  Many of these folks are newly-retired or will be, many are younger folks than that, but who have dreamed of a garden and wondrous patio and back yard. But the majority I have worked with – with some billionaire exceptions – are “just folks” who have achieved much.

I always depend on some feedback in design, is what I am saying. Asking clients what they really want is the shortest line to satisfaction. Interpretation is huge, also, so I always try and mine the wealth of ideas of the person paying the bill.  In the end, once a design is close to completed, there is another factor as well………. I literally plan, sometimes, for them to discover something they had no dream might happen. There are these very  cool projects where client gratitude can literally be off the charts. Truly, even those installing these landscapes often look at them when they’re done and go: “Wow!”

The elements to consider at the beginnings are vast. Structure, shape, color, texture – all come under intense scrutiny and all are way too available. People, including myself, often get confused simply owing to the increasingly wide variety of suface choices.


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Wildly different surfaces can constitute a floor of a patio and these bring a strange and now-exotic range of choices. One can now choose from plain poured-in-place cement, to a more extravagantly-colored finish like the mottled and primitive-looking color of the patio above.  A furthur example of a great Stamped Concrete surface, colored and textured by professionals:


Or one can have fresh cement  sprinkled with “seeding” and exposed rock color in a cool monolithic sort of presence called “exposed aggregate”, as in the picture below.


One can opt for brick pavers, sandstone and other fabulously gorgeous stones acting as the floor – complete with riotous and hidden secrets from everyone’s private back yards, such as your very own personal swamp!

bogHere is some stone, cut and fit like a puzzle yet nice and flat and congruent with the overall theme.

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Or the secret supply of “Infinity”, with this bizarre pool designed to simply disappear and the court yard around it:

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From extravagant to purely functional, so many different things are possible. Circles inside of squares!


Placid, rough-hewn “tumbled pavers” supply an antiqued look to a freshly-paved patio.

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Fed from a walkway encircling this grand home, this patio is sufficiently enclosed to feel nice and private yet wide open to a mountain view at the same time, to the West. In a sense, it is possible to “have it all”, from relatively small rocks spewing the trickling sound of water to vast magnificence during the day.

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It has a rather “Big Brother” set of boulders at the other end of the patio.

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And a look from above, the patio situated to the lower right in this picture, behind the wall –

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All patios can be instructive as we take items from each which we find appealing to ourselves. These hold much intellectual and intuitive curiosity as we begin selecting our own particular wish lists. This is all good –

Doing Landscaping Yourself – DIY Projects

I have sometimes commented in this blog about how many of the best projects I have ever encountered were the results of someone doing it all by themselves. Some homeowner projects are, frankly, breathtakingly beautiful. I felt honored to be there and I am being serious. There is just something about the amount of love and careful attention one who is invested in his own place can deliver which even the best professionals will never approach. I stand in awe of these people, to this moment. No just equal with, but in awe. They are the World’s best.

At the same time, I have seen some amazingly bad work, too. It is hard to keep the laughter in check, now and then, but good manners insist. Sometimes, when I am called in by an exasperated owner or by someone who has bought a place beset with the efforts of the person who preceded them, I arrive with a pretty good sized grin. They know I know they know I know why they called, or something like that. 😉  And, being completely honest, the amount of work required to repair or re-do a yard’s landscaping or a paver project can be more – not less – expensive than to start from just plain dirt.

It pays to do it right. It pays in ways which are very value-adding and rewarding. But landscaping – and even gardening, especially at the start up – are very physically and mentally challenging. I am not trying to mystify anyone about what we do because it really isn’t that hard, in many ways, at least mentally. But there is a physical component which is extremely demanding.

The Physical Part

I have had people work for me who developed tendinitis the very first day which took a month or more to get over. The repetitive nature of the work and all the heavy lifting demands an awful lot. In short, be smart. Most larger DIY projects would be aided greatly by the helping labor of some high school or college kids or by someone who needs the work. These people are not hard to find. Be smart. Use help, in the first place.

In the second place, plan. Plan ahead and know why. It never hurt to consult with someone professional, by the way. I have overseen many DIY projects for a small consulting fee, beers or even for nothing. I don’t drive a hard bargain. But that’s just me.

DIY Resources

One of my favorite DIY resources to recommend to people is a place called DIY Guides.  I’ve been following it a while now. Mike runs an interesting and diverse site which covers just about everything there is to do with DIY projects, but I especially liked his takes on landscaping. The thing is, there are professional ways to approach things which are do-able and ultimately very necessary. We don’t do these things for our health. He tends to include them thus he has my respect.

This Blog

Reading in this blog in my posts on installations should provide an excellent background on many aspects and especially the “why’s”. I like to give this out because issues like preparation, when ignored, can lead to so many unforseen problems. In many cases, I strove to supply not only the why’s but also the how-to’s by illustrating what we do on our own projects. We do take things to a sort of extreme, but then we get paid for that. Our prep is generally always a bit more than good.

Please browse the category listings dealing with Installations if you have questions about our approach. I have been asked many times about DIY projects and I honestly still believe knowledge is as important as the physical part.

Do-it-yourselfers are a love of mine, in the end. I like seeing the pride of someone who does it right and finishes with a proud and deserving sense of accomplishment. What we do is not the most important thing in the world but it sure can make life more interesting and enjoyable in the aesthetic sense. It can also make a guy feel right proud. That is very cool.

A Swimming Pool Project In The Pines- Part 1

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This group of nuts is enjoying themselves while their poor hard-working landscapers continue flailing away in the efforts to make them this happy year-round. There were always kids around us during this project and the truth is they made it more fun. Likable and almost always helpful, at worst they did their damage at night after we had left. We knew what we were heading into, however, since most of the guys working with me had kids of their own, as did I. Let me say right now, kids rock. As long as we don’t crush any, they can play along any time. A definite kid-friendly crew there.

This project is stuck back in the Ponderosa Pines along the route between Reno and Lake Tahoe, an upscale neighborhood tucked back into the hills. Relaxed and pretty friendly – with some notable exceptions – the ‘hood was home to bank managers and contractors, architects and doctors who seemingly “arrived” with places like these. At least, that was our purpose as the landscapers – to give a dream home some fleshed-out sensibility. It was a high-budget effort for a contractor who had done very well indeed.

While the above picture shows things upon opening it up – it was the first day of swimming – those below here give a better illustration of what we encountered when the pool work itself was almost complete – done by others – and when we began our own work in more earnest.

We also had an element complicating matters which showed up at the worst time, lol:

Life at 7,000 feet above sea level! It could snow almost any time, particularly in Spring. The fact was, in Fall, you waited until the first one, then went back to town and forgot about the area for 5 months, barring an unseasonable Winter. Summers, gratefully, the weather could be 5-10 degrees cooler than a hot Reno, Nevada where folks were dealing with 100 degree weather. Add the shade and you have the perfect mid year project.

We had helped at various stages to get the the pool underway, including the initial excavations, using a monster excavator or two. This sucker was going to be 11′ deep at the deep end, owing to the extreme possibility that the “Tree House” being erected would get someone diving in from virtually ‘high dive’ climes.

Looking closely, boulders can been seen strewn around the upper edges of the swimming pool. These were not ‘afterthoughts’ whatsoever. They were obviously always in the plan but they reqired more than just your average “Plop a rock in place” effort. These babies are cemented in place to prevent eventual cracking of the pool by weight and settling. Not only that, but we attached substantial angle iron braces to the boulders themselves as a sort of “staking”, to embed them in the native soil. The ground underneath was compacted thoroughly prior even to that. Thus we had the boulders which were penetrated and secured to the thick angle iron bracing, then set in cement. All this was done prior to the acceptance of the soils by the swimming pool contractor upon commencing his own work. Here’s a reasonable picture of one or two of the granite boulders, weighing in at about 5 tons. The big one there was the largest, weighing in at about 5 tons. This is not your every day pebble!

I’ll continue this next time. This, much like the Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, remains one of the most challenging and fascinating projects I ever worked on.

The Finished (Sort of) Project At The Pool

Typical of this blog, owing to my usual tendency to take multitudinous pictures ‘in progress’, I am having some trouble finding the final pictures taken of this pool project. I often take pictures for legal and educational reasons, the truth is.  I like proving the work was done appropriately.  It has less to do with suspicious motives or anything else, although in the event of contestations, the record is right there.  I just feel the clients feel better served knowing some of the history put into what they see. It also serves me extremely well in this blog because people can get a much better sense of what actually goes into a landscaping project.  When I tell clients to “Expect Beirut”, lol, I need a reason.  I do indeed mention that landscaping is just about 80% preparation and 20% finishing.  That’s the God’s truth, the fact is.

The picture above has to do for now.  It being wet illustrates the overall look when we finally put a bright sealer on top of the pavers, giving it a permanent “wet look”.

A little more perspective along the side:

When I find (grrrrrrr) the others, I will update this.  It looked fabulous, planted and sealed. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it.  There was a party opening it officially to the neighborhood, friends and family which was a challenge to survive.  I made it and slept over that night, lol.