Creating Warmth and Privacy

December 1, 2011

A stone fireplace serves as the focal point for this backyard project.

By Clayton Ditzler

The Landscape Artist Inc., has been providing the Calgary area with residential landscape design and construction services since 1977. When the company was called out to revamp a modest backyard in the city, the result was a functional, easy-to-maintain outdoor space with a striking fireplace as its visual centrepiece.

Starting the project

The Landscape Artist finds clients in a variety of ways, progressing from the tried and true methods of referrals, Yellow Pages listings and home and garden trade shows, to the more modern channels of social media, such as Facebook.  Thanks to numerous referrals, the company has a solid base of repeat customers.

The clients on this particular project are the owners of Diamond Fireplace & Stone, a business that has been awarded a local Consumers Choice Award, an accomplishment it shares in common with The Landscape Artist. This project was the catalyst for what has become a great working relationship; the two companies now collaborate regularly on projects that involve outdoor fireplaces, kitchens and other cultured stone features.

The project site was a modest-sized backyard measuring 15 m (49 ft) deep by 13.3 m (43 ft) wide, with little to it beyond a raised deck off the back of the home. The only original elements that remain in the finished project are the fences; the pre-existing deck was in need of repair and did not fit in with the desired renovation concept. With a south exposure and some good borrowed landscape from neighbouring trees, the backyard served as a great blank canvas from which to design.

The client’s main focus for the new backyard was to create spaces to entertain and relax. This included creating space for an outdoor kitchen, outdoor dining area and separate garden room effect for intimate seating around the fireplace. Low maintenance and privacy were also important priorities for these busy homeowners.

Planning and preparation

While The Landscape Artist handled the design of the backyard, Diamond Fireplace & Stone provided the inspiration for the centrepiece of the space, the fireplace. Size was a major consideration—the feature could not be too large, or it would overwhelm the space. As such, care had to be taken to reach a balance in regard to scale. In addition to providing an impressive visual focal point, the fireplace also provides heat for cool evenings spent outdoors, as well as some added privacy.

The resulting landscape design separated the fireplace area from the main patio with a lawn and some shrubs, connecting the two areas together with a short sidewalk. When seated in the fireplace area, it feels enclosed and private.

To create a larger dining area and added privacy, a small landing was incorporated into the design, with stairs at the door heading to the main patio level.

To achieve the other goals of a larger dining area and privacy, a small landing was incorporated into the design, along with stairs at the door dropping down to the main patio level. Here, trees and shrubs were added to provide the desired privacy. Also by getting people lower down into the garden, the fences have a greater impact for providing privacy. The advantage of this approach is that it creates an abundance of usable space, rather than chopping up the backyard by trying to incorporate a new raised deck.

Priding itself on getting jobs completed as efficiently as possible, The Landscape Artist assigns different crews for each major step of installation, each specializing in a particular aspect of construction and following each other in quick succession. A project co-ordinator oversees the efforts, piecing together a schedule, keeping everyone busy and contending with any weather issues.

On this particular job, the weather was the only real factor that required some scheduling adjustment. Construction fell in the typically rainy and unsettled month of June, pushing the project into July. That said, not including design time, the job took less than six weeks start to finish.

Construction begins

Construction began with the arrival of the demolition crew, who removed the existing deck and scraped out the whole yard down by 304 to 457 mm (12 to 18 in.) in preparation for the hardscape elements. Since none of the original landscape elements were to remain on the site, this went quickly.

In addition to the outdoor dining area, softscaping elements and fireplace, the clients also chose to incorporate an outdoor kitchen.

Next came the carpenters who, in order to set the grade at the right level for optimum slope on the patio and turf spaces, built a 254-mm (10-in.) high retaining wall from pressure-treated timbers. This was constructed along the back of the property, with extra care taken to stay out of the overland drainage easement. Next, a concrete footing was poured for the fireplace and rough grades were set for the paver patios, along with trenching for gas lines to the fireplace and kitchen area.

The landing was constructed from modular concrete block (Pisa2), using Revers-a-cap coping for the treads and nosing; pavers were used for the infill and patio spaces. The installers were able to take advantage of the cobblestone pavers’ ability to create curves, which resulted in some extra circle and half-circle details. While these added touches took a little extra time, they contribute greatly to the overall finished product.

Polymeric sand was applied to the paver joints, eliminating the maintenance of joint sanding (since the initial construction, it has not been touched and still looks like new).  Pavers work especially well in Calgary due to the city’s freeze/thaw cycles, which have a tendency to crack concrete. The combination of pavers and concrete block used for the landing complement the cultured stone and stucco on the house, giving the whole project a unified look that flows together beautifully.

Once the pavers and concrete were in place, the crews from Diamond Fireplace came in to frame the kitchen and fireplace and apply the cultured stone. The fireplace insert is stainless steel and rated for outdoor use. In this case, it is a wood-burning unit with a natural gas log lighter (natural gas units are also available).

The fireplace design included two wings that act as additional seating, while also broadening the base of the unit giving it a more anchored feeling. The base also partially wraps the seating area for a more intimate feel. This has become a fairly regular feature in The Landscape Artist’s fireplace designs. The company also now takes the time to design 3-D models so clients can better visualize the finished product.

The finishing touches

The last crew on the site was the softscaping crew, which, in terms of workers, was the biggest. In the final three days of the project, workers filled the beds with loam, planted all the trees, shrubs and perennials, installed the irrigation system, placed some larger accent rocks, laid the sod and mulched all the beds with landscape fabric and washed rock. This final step provides a low-maintenance finish to the beds and the light colour serves to brighten up the garden.

A variety of trees, shrubs and perennials offer seasonal flower and foliage interest, while requiring limited maintenance.

015_CRW_7246_186MAC[5]Among the plants used is the space were many ‘old standards’ that fit the bill for low maintenance but also provide a good variety of seasonal interest with flowers and foliage variations. A Colorado spruce tree was chosen primarily for winter interest; the tree’s great blue colour also contrasts well with other plants. The Schubert cherry tree, whose grey bark, white flowers and green-turning-to-burgundy foliage provides four seasons of interest and anchors the back of the garden. Three Swedish aspens were strategically placed for privacy and vertical accent. Larger tree specimens were selected for a more instant effect.

Shrubs include wayfaring tree (Viburnum), dwarf Korean lilac, Diabolo Ninebark, potentilla, dwarf arctic willow and spireas, along with a few junipers for winter interest.  All these require little in the way of special care and function to soften the landscape. The goldflame spirea and potentilla provide the separation between the fireplace ‘room’ and the rest of the garden.

For perennials, low-maintenance varieties were chosen that only require seasonal cleanup. As there wasn’t room for many different plants, the key was choosing species with interesting foliage. These include bergenia, daylily, Siberian iris, autumn joy sedum, and Pulmonaria. Others that provide a welcome splash of seasonal colour include creeping baby’s breath, alpine asters, Heliopsis, Liatris and leopard’s bane.

A satisfying result

Unlike many other jobs, which required some degree of finessing around unforeseen problems, this project went smoothly (save for the occasional weather-related issue) and resulted in a great future working relationship with the clients that has generated many much-appreciated referrals.




LandscapeProfile_headshot_edited-1Clayton Ditzler is a certified landscape designer (CLD) with The Landscape Artist Inc., in Calgary. He has over 20 years of experience designing residential landscapes. He may be reached at[6] or by visiting[7].

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