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posted: 5/20/2012 6:00 AM

Water, fire can transform a backyard

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  • Aquascape builds water features like this.

      Aquascape builds water features like this.
    Courtesy Aquascape

  • Aquascape offers this mushroom fountain.

      Aquascape offers this mushroom fountain.
    Courtesy Aquascape

  • Stone like this basalt is always popular for fountains at Aquascape.

      Stone like this basalt is always popular for fountains at Aquascape.
    Courtesy Aquascape

  • Belgard makes the pavers for this patio and water feature.

      Belgard makes the pavers for this patio and water feature.
    Courtesy Belgard

  • A natural or ecosystem pond is a choice from Aquascape.

      A natural or ecosystem pond is a choice from Aquascape.
    Courtesy Aquascape

  • Aquascape features pondless waterfalls.

      Aquascape features pondless waterfalls.
    Courtesy Aquascape

  • Here is a Belgard fireplace in the Chicago suburbs.

      Here is a Belgard fireplace in the Chicago suburbs.
    Courtesy Belgard

  • This fireplace from Belgard is in the upper Midwest.

      This fireplace from Belgard is in the upper Midwest.
    Courtesy Belgard

  • Firepits can help the Midwest's tropical season seem longer.

      Firepits can help the Midwest's tropical season seem longer.
    Courtesy Belgard

  • This firepit warms some chilly nights in the upper Midwest.

      This firepit warms some chilly nights in the upper Midwest.
    Courtesy Belgard

  • Firepits are popular choices for backyards.

      Firepits are popular choices for backyards.
    Courtesy Belgard

  • Fountains bring running water to backyards.

      Fountains bring running water to backyards.
    Courtesy Belgard

  • Apple Landscape installed this fireplace and patio with materials purchased through Lurvey of Des Plaines.

      Apple Landscape installed this fireplace and patio with materials purchased through Lurvey of Des Plaines.
    Courtesy Lurvey

 
 

Water and fire are elemental and have fascinated people forever, which helps explain the popularity of fountains, ponds and pools as well as fireplaces and firepits in suburban backyards.

And the economy has actually led more people to spend money improving their landscapes.

"Homeowners are embracing remodeling solutions instead of relocation to create spacious and functional living space for their families, and part of that renovation is to their backyards," said Ken O'Neill, vice president of marketing for Belgard Hardscapes. "The most recent trends in outdoor living include the integration of natural elements, such as rock, water and fire, into an outdoor room to create beautiful transitional spaces that blur the lines between indoors and out."

It's hard to find someone who does not love sitting waterside whether on vacation or in their own backyard.

"People want the sound of running water in the garden," said Jennifer Zuri, marketing and communications manager for Aquascape in St. Charles. "Some people use major fountains as part of their rain water harvesting system to irrigate their gardens. It's very environmentally friendly."

And there are less expensive ways to accomplish this, she said.

Fountain kits start at $150, Zuri said.

"You can take a big ceramic urn you've always had in the yard, buy the pump and sealant and turn it into a fountain. The rock look is very popular, too."

Small waterfalls without ponds are another thrifty choice, she said. For homeowners with enough space to take on a pond, the current trend is to build them on rock and gravel rather than concrete, she said.

"These are lower maintenance than concrete," said Zuri. "It looks more natural, and the beneficial bacteria will cling to the rock surface, and the fish will eat it and then fertilize the plants. It's cyclical. These are low maintenance and environmentally friendly. Concrete cracks and leaks and is a pain to fix. That is used for more formal ponds.

And you can still find people who buy larger ponds.

"We definitely get the people who want to turn their backyards into an oasis or retreat, too. They want a bigger pond with a waterfall. Pond renovation is popular now. It's almost like a kitchen. When you've had it a number of years you want to redo it."

People still choose to build swimming pools in the suburbs, too.

A showroom has worked so well for Keith Appelhans of Apple Landscaping in Wauconda that he is putting the finishing touches on an expansion that includes two swimming pools.

"People want to really touch and see and feel the product after they see it online or in a catalog," he said.

Potential customers can "play with and try" all the equipment Appelhans has installed in the show room, and if they make an appointment they can bring their swim suits and try out the swimming pools, which cost $45,000 and up.

And anyone who gets into the water should check out the spa chairs.

"Jets massage your back, and there's a holder for an umbrella right above you," he said. You can install a few of these instead of buying a spa along with the swimming pool.

"Not everybody's a swimmer. Some people just want to hang out," he said.

Appelhans said his company combines pavers from different manufacturers for areas like pool decks, patios and outdoor kitchens.

"That's our signature," he said. "Then the customer gets a unique look. We integrate natural stone, too. Putting stone and pavers together helps keep to the customer's budget while still creating the 'Wow factor.'"

Water is soothing and very popular, but fire serves a practical purpose in the Midwest, lengthening our too-short summer season by providing warmth in the spring and fall.

Appelhans, with the help of his on-staff designer who also works with customers, created several fireplaces for the new showroom, including a 13-foot tall one "that looks like it's out of Colorado."

And to give fire its due, here's what Leigh Hunt, an English poet and writer in the 19th century had to say about it, courtesy of woodheat.org:

The most tangible of all visible mysteries -- fire.

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