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Escape with Hardscapes: Brick, Stone and Concrete Transform Outdoor Spaces

Go to any area home and garden store and it won’t take long to realize that entertaining outdoors is becoming quite popular in the Roanoke Valley area. You’ll see more furniture, more lighting products, and more grilling accessories than ever before. To use these items, however, homeowners first need a defined outdoor living space. That’s where hardscapes come in.

Rud Peters, owner of The Landscape Store in Troutville, says hardscapes—any stone, brick or concrete designed to become part of your landscape—“are by far the fastest-growing trend in landscaping right now.” He says that thanks to all the do-it-yourself instructions readily available from books, the Internet and television, these projects are becoming even more attractive to the average homeowner.
Peters’ business is one of several in the Roanoke Valley area that supply all the goods needed to do the simplest projects, such as assembling a firepit, to the more extravagant, like fanciful walkways leading to patios that have half walls for sitting areas, and firepits and grills encased in stone.
Incorporating these features into your landscape can in essence add an extra room to your home, for use throughout most of the spring, summer and fall.
Retaining walls, although sometimes used for erosion control on sloping land, are perhaps the most popular hardscape for defining outdoor living spaces. A low wall can provide more places for guests to sit, and a high wall can help create privacy. Many people also use retaining walls purely for aesthetics, such as a beautifully designed wall that curves along a garden path.
Brian Ferguson, general manager of Marshall Stone in Rocky Mount, says his company is seeing more people forgo traditional wooden decks for raised concrete patios. “These are simply a concrete paver patio installed on top of a retaining wall. This eliminates the replacement of that deck when it rots—as they all do,” he says.
Creating curb appeal with hardscapes is huge, too, he adds. Sidewalks, asphalt driveways and decks can all receive a facelift with stone, pavers and concrete.
Going the extra mile with hardscapes pays off, he says.
“Our customers realize the value in utilizing hardscape materials in their landscapes. They are making their homes more comfortable for themselves—inside and out. These homeowners also realize that they’re making an investment in the values of their homes that will make them money when they decide to sell,” says Ferguson.
Peters agrees that says hardscape projects are a great idea, especially “if you want an investment you can recoup 100 percent of right away.”
Ferguson admits hardscape materials are typically a bit more expensive than traditional projects, but “they are, however, when installed correctly, among the most durable—and there is no doubt that they are the best looking.”
Requiring little maintenance, Peters says that “most hardscapes, done correctly, will last a lifetime.”
With the variety of options available in the area, that drab slab of concrete on the patio under your feet now has more potential than you may have ever imagined. With the help of a professional mason, your patio could become the talk of the town.
“The Roanoke area is blessed with a number of talented hardscape installers as well as suppliers,” says Bob Corbitt of Blue Stone Block Supermarket, Inc. in Roanoke.
School of Hard Rocks
It’s important to keep the entire landscape and style of the home in mind when planning a hardscape project. In subdivisions where homes are all built with similar plans, hardscaping is one way you can set your home apart.

The area’s hardscape suppliers are waiting and willing to walk you through the whole process. These “rock jocks” aim to provide the best quality in natural, manmade and commercial-grade products.
Peters, for instance, spent an entire winter three years ago visiting quarries throughout Pennsylvania, New York and Tennessee to search for the best flagstone—flat rock such as sandstone or slate. Pennsylvania and New York produce 95 percent of the “flagging” he sells, he says. He supplies natural and cut rock, depending on the homeowner’s tastes.
Products come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, textures and thickness, so the customer has choices when it comes to adding a personal touch to the outdoor living space.
At General Shale Brick in Roanoke, for instance, clay pavers come in many different shades. There are more weathered looks, like “Colonial Sand,” or the prestigious look, like the “Mount Vernon.” Then comes the choice between natural and manmade.
Corbitt of Blue Stone Block says his company carries both manmade products (like stone veneers, concrete pavers and paving slabs) and natural stone products. He says options for natural and manmade products are excellent, but the natural has “more limitations in regards to consistency, strength and ease of installation.”
In most cases, he says, a manmade product will be less expensive to install than a comparable real stone product, due to the exact tolerances in thickness. (In some cases, the natural products may be less expensive; however, the increased labor cost will drive the installed price up to equal or exceed the cost of the manmade products installed, he says.)
Pavers are always an option for sidewalks, patios, driveways and even streets. These concrete commercial products are made using various molds, and they look like naturally cut rock or stone. They are usually thick enough that a gas-powered tamper can lock them firmly in place, without any breakage. Pavers are usually installed using a segmented system, so that they can still freeze and thaw without cracking. Installation typically consists of a layer of gravel, a fabric barrier, pavers, and a special sand between the pavers that can harden up like concrete and resist weeds and insects.
At General Shale Brick, for example, you will find the heavy plastic paving edge that is used for sidewalks and patios to keep the pavers within their boundaries. They also carry polymeric sand, which is swept into the voids between the pavers then wetted; this sets up and holds the pavers in place, and retards any weed growth in between, Ballard says.
An alternative to pavers are brick chips or stone used in place of mulch on pathways. They help hold moisture in and they don’t have to be replaced every gardening season.
At many of the area suppliers, you will also find landscaping services and products that go hand-in-hand in creating a wonderful outdoor living space. Marshall Stone, which has one of the most extensive selections of natural and manufactured stone in the area, also carries concrete masonry units, mulches, decorative aggregates, sand, mortar cement and pigments, and prefabricated fireplaces and fire pits.
Ferguson points out another trend in hardscaping that will be catching on in coming years—permeable pavement systems. It has not taken root locally, he says, “but most certainly will in coming years due to the intensified emphasis on ‘green’ and environmentally friendly building.”
DIY Projects
With the obvious trend toward more prefabricated products in the hardscape industry, many projects are great for do-it-yourselfers—which means you can tackle that patio at your own pace and on your own schedule.

“Manufacturing companies are producing products that are making it easier for companies without ‘traditional masonry experience’ to provide these products for the outdoor living areas they’re building,” says Ferguson. That means everything from prefabricated fireplaces and fire pits that are simply stacked and adhered together, to outdoor cabinet accessories that can be modified for use with grills, refrigerators, or other outdoor appliances.
Ferguson adds that no matter what the project, visiting a supplier with expertise in hardscape projects can help you choose the right products for the job.
Marshall Stone’s website includes a DIY projects tab that includes installation guides, technical references and materials estimating guides. There are many photo galleries to give you ideas and inspiration.
Another great resource is the DIY Network online: The website lists the top 68 hardscaping projects, each with photographs and step-by-step instructions. Some even include videos. From walkways and retaining walls to outdoor kitchens, pergolas and play areas, you can be inspired to create your own backyard paradise.
Choose Wisely
If you forgo doing the project yourself, local suppliers will use subcontractors or recommend installers, many of whom are recognized by national trade organizations such as the National Concrete Masonry Association and the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute. Homeowners should always use authorized contractors or dealers with certifications in their field.

Hardscape suppliers and installers are busy during the spring and summer, of course, when everyone is hoping to have their yards ready for entertaining, but customers may not know that they are willing to work year-round.
Regardless of your time, skill or budget, there is no reason why those beautiful hardscape projects that have in the past been reserved for Hollywood mansions can’t be done right here in the Roanoke Valley.

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