Landscape Construction Materials
Also known as the hardscape, common construction materials are the building blocks for creating a winning landscape design for your home.
For many, residential landscaping brings to mind dogwoods, azaleas, and
Kentucky bluegrass. In other words, they think of landscaping and plants
as synonymous. But you should also include walls, patios, outdoor lighting,
walks, and decks. These are referred to as hardscapes. Landscape architects
incorporate many of these items as important landscape features.
Wood construction materials
Wood construction offers the homeowner a readily available and relatively
simple way to create functional, pleasing outdoor garden features. Selecting
the proper kind of wood is important because the finished product must withstand
the sun, weather and insect attacks. The wood must be strong and resist wear,
splintering, and warping.
Use either the heartwood of a decay-resistant species or lumber that has
been treated with a preservative for outdoor construction. Be careful selecting
preserved wood that will come in contact with people, children, pets, and
food plants. Naturally decay-resistant woods are redwood, cypress, and western
red cedar. Various outdoor grades of these woods are available, although
all are quite expensive. Another option includes new recycled plastic wood
alternatives that do not need to be treated and are people safe.
Waterborne salts are the best wood preservatives. Wood treated with these
salts can be painted or stained; it is odorless and non leaching. To eliminate
any confusion, ask for "salt pressure-treated lumber." It is also a good
idea to help select the various sizes and lengths. Try to find lumber that
is not warped or splintered and that has the fewest knots.
Using treated lumber
When designing a structure to be built with treated lumber, try to use the
entire board. Common lumber lengths are 8', 10', and 12'. Longer boards
are progressively more expensive. A deck designed to be built with 10'
lumber will be much less expensive than one designed with planks 10'
8" long. Also, remember that you are working with "outdoor scale." Instead
of an 8' ceiling and walls 12' - 15' apart, outdoor spaces might
be defined by a 25' tall tree canopy or the backyard fence 75' away.
Imagine the finished design
If you are designing a deck or patio for outdoor entertaining, imagine all
your guests in the allotted space. Outdoor furniture is usually heavier and
larger than that used indoors, and people are accustomed to more elbow room
outside. Stake off the space you plan to use and see if it "feels" the right
Brick and stone usage
Brick is one of the easiest construction materials to use and is readily
available. Building a walk, terrace, or patio can be a weekend project. Laying
brick on sand/stone base (with or without mortar) is an acceptable landscape
practice. For patios and walkways, especially in areas that have freezing
temperatures, you will need to excavate 6" - 10" of earth and fill with
a compacting gravel and then leveled with sand before laying the brick in
Railroad ties for inexpensive foundations
Railroad ties offer many possibilities for landscaping. They make very attractive
retaining walls, planters, or borders. Use care to square off rough ends
and turn down ragged edges. Avoid using railroad ties where they will come
in contact with people, pets and vegetable gardens.
Crush stone / brick
Rather than go to the expense of laying brick or pouring concrete, crushed stones or crushed brick can provide a good foundation for walk ways and transition zones. These materials should be at least 4" deep and have a sturdy edging to keep the material from spreading out into the lawn or planting beds. Use a mix of the crushed materials along with individual pavers to create a stepping stone effect that will remain dry even in the wettest of climates.
Long gone are the days of expansive slabs of flat, boring concrete that we used to call patios. Today, concrete can come in a variety of colors, and designs that look nothing like your parents old patio. New techniques allow the concrete's surface to be transformed into an endless array of possibilities. While more expensive that the just plain old gray, the added expense is well worth investigating for a truly spectacular result.