Farmhouse Restoration:

Outdoor Fireplace

Outdoor Fireplace

I’ve always loved Farmhouse Restoration projects.  There is something very unique about these clients.  I find most of them spend a lot of time defining the balance of using modern technology with preserving the character of the old.  I enjoy taking this same level of sensitivity to the outdoor living environment.  I often propose core elements that would have been used during the original construction of the farmhouse.  This practice is not limited to the materials.  Lifestyles were very different 100-200 years ago and the design needs to reflect it.  I’m also not afraid to mix modern materials into the design if it improves durability, maintenance or better suites the client’s budget.  Getting to know where my clients fall on this spectrum is part of the fun.  There are no two clients the same making each project unique.  Farmhouse Restorations often lend themselves to a “Less is More” design concept.  This can be tricky.  If I don’t design enough, it looks unfinished.  If I design too much, it loses the Farmhouse charm.  Striking this balance along with the modern vs. old has been a large part of my success with these projects.

Let me know if you have a Farmhouse that needs restored.  I’d love to help transform and preserve the entire property with you.


See More Amazing Before and After Farmhouse Restoration Pictures at:

Award Winning Farmhouse Restoration

Award Winning Farmhouse Transformation

10 Steps When Considering a New Patio:

12As the saying goes, there’s no place like home and the Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York region of Pennsylvania with the Dutch country’s pastoral fields, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, and fiery sunsets is a great place to enjoy the outdoors. One way to do that is with a new or refurbished patio. Today, your local landscape design/build company can give you many options to choose from when considering a new outdoor living space. Patios can be anything from a small nook for one or two people to a space accommodating a large gathering for dinner. It can be transformed into an outdoor living room, complete with comfortable outdoor furniture, a fire pit, and a TV. The possibilities are limitless and you’re in control of your patio’s design, functionality and look.

Here are 10 considerations when thinking about your new patio and how to add pizzazz to your outdoor living space:

1. Sky’s the limit: Patios come in all varieties and can be custom built to your dreams, desires, and needs. They come with many options of bringing your indoors (think kitchens and living rooms) outside so you can spend most of the spring, summer and fall outdoors in your new living area.

2. Customized to your needs and desires: First thing to do is decide how your patio will be used. Will you cook on a grill, in a pizza oven, or cook the food indoors to bring outdoors? Do you want to gather around a fire on cool evenings? Will you be entertaining guests? Do need spaces for young children? Patios designed with multiple uses expand the functionality of your outdoor space.

3. Decide how big your patio should be: Some people want a patio that’s big enough to host a large group while others want their patios to be cozy and small for just the family to eat dinner outside. Maybe you just want a space to curl up with a book and a cup of tea. Your family, friends, and your entertainment needs all determine the size of your patio.

4. Determine your style: Are you looking for a formal, elegant layout or do you desire a more casual atmosphere? Do you want a bistro-style patio—that includes two chairs and a table enclosed by lots of plants and wind chimes? Do you want a more open concept near your pool that allows you to host dinner parties under the stars? Think about your style and tastes or the overall feel you want to achieve and tailor your space accordingly.

5. Think about shape: You can choose from a traditional square patio, to a relaxed circle, to a unique freeform patio flow. Shape in some cases can influence style. Square and rectangular shapes tend to imply a more formal feel while curvilinear shapes lean more toward informal. However a rectangular patio can be made informal with the choice of materials and layout of plantings. Before you start building, make sure that you’ve left enough room in your design for people to comfortably sit and walk throughout your new outdoor room.

6. Choose your location: Think about the ideal location to place your patio. In most cases this would be immediately off the rear of the house but don’t overlook other areas of your property. Perhaps a small patio in the front of the house would make an ideal area to visit with passing neighbors or a patio in a secluded back corner of the yard would be an ideal location for privacy. A comfortable outdoor space can be created almost anywhere so don’t be afraid to think “outside the box”.

7. Adding amenities: You may also want to consider adding a pergola, an arbor, a water feature, or lighting to go with your patio. These extra amenities provide shade, relaxation, and ambiance to enhance the overall feel and mood of your space.

8. Turn to the professionals: Once you’ve given some thought to the patio’s size, functionality, shape, and location, you need to hire a trusted landscape designer to bring it all together. A good designer can translate your ideas, desires and needs and help guide you towards a design that works best for you. He will know what questions to ask and depending on the answers, bring new ideas to the table. He will also be able to suggest the best materials to build your new patio and make the addition look seamless with the rest of your home in color and design.

9. Personalize it: Once your new patio is built, you can decorate it with various plants, furniture, pillows, birdfeeders, etc. Maybe adding a walkway will be the final touch to complete your project. With the products on the market today there really is no limit to creating an outdoor space that is truly unique to you.

10. Renovate instead of replace: Perhaps you have an existing patio space that just needs a little T.L.C or a face lift to make it feel new again. Many of the ideas above can easily be incorporated into an existing patio without going to the expense of building an entire new one. A good cleaning and sealing can go a long way to revitalizing a older patio. Resurfacing is also an option for creating a new look to your outdoor space.

So, are you ready for a new outdoor living space? Give River Valley Landscapes and Pools a call today at 1-800-455-8666 or fill out their contact form at


Is Your Outdoor Living Space Ready for Summer 2014? 4 Reasons You Need to Plan Today for Your Next Project


Believe it or not, we’ll be celebrating Memorial Day at the end of the month. The spring has been cold, so it’s hard to imagine bringing indoor celebrations to the outdoors, but the weather will soon warm up to enjoy the time outside.

It may be too late to add a fireplace, pool, wall, or outdoor kitchen to your landscape in time for Memorial Day, but right now is the perfect time to start planning a hardscape project for completion by 4th of July or Labor Day.

A landscape design-build company can help you make your outdoor living dreams come true. But first, you need to do some homework to figure out what you really want in your outdoor living space:

  1. Observe: Keep a diary of your observations when you watch HGTV; when you surf on Houzz; when you read Better Homes and Gardens; and when you visit your neighbor’s house. What parts of their outdoor living space do you love? What parts don’t you love? What is the purpose of your outdoor living space? Write down what you like when you have the opportunity to visit someone’s home.
  2. Brainstorm: Write down what features you want to add to your outdoor living space. Do you want a total renovation where you’ll add a pool, fireplace, kitchen, and living area? Or will you only be adding a patio with a fire pit? There are so many possibilities to choose from, such as outdoor kitchens, retaining walls, fireplaces, water features, patios, steps, and outdoor lighting.
  3. Think about your entertainment needs: Do you love having people over for a barbeque? Or do you prefer a quiet dinner with a couple of close friends? Will your children be celebrating milestones where you’ll host big, lavish parties? Or do you have small children and need a place for them to play? Think about your entertaining needs so a space can be created to accommodate those needs, and maybe make you the envy of the neighborhood.
  4. Hire a landscape design-build company with 3-D design capability: 3-D design is all the rage now in outdoor living design. A landscape designer can take your ideas, along with your house’s measurements and lot dimensions, and put them into an interactive software program. Your designer can actually walk you through your design so you can add or delete features to meet your needs and dreams.

If you live in the Lancaster, Harrisburg, and York regions, and you want to bring your indoor living outside, sit down with Brad Groff of River Valley Landscapes and Pools. He will meet with you to discuss your ideal project. His team will then design it in 3-D; build it; as well as provide maintenance services once the work is complete.

5 Reasons to Add Native Plants to Your Landscape

003 (4)Native plants add rich color, texture and dimension to your home’s landscape and living in the Harrisburg, Lancaster, or York are of Pennsylvania there are plenty of choices. Not only do they beautify your property, but they benefit the local ecosystem’s sustainability.

Here are five reasons why you should add native plants to your south central Pennsylvania landscape:

1. You’re helping the local ecosystem. Native plants existed in Pennsylvania before European settlers arrived to our shores. And these settlers brought their European native plants with them to the New World. Yet, the wildlife in our area depended on, and still does depend, on our local plant life. Matter of fact, you could look at the ecosystem as interdependent, meaning that native plants depend on the local soil to grow, the local wildlife depends on the native plants to feed them, and the local wildlife feeds the soil with its waste.

2. You’re adding natural beauty to your landscape. No one can deny that native plants come in a variety of shapes, sizes, dimensions, colors and scents. And by adding them to your landscape, you’re adding interest to your property that your guests will be awed by every time they visit you.

3. You can be a part of saving bees and other pollinators. The bee population is in crisis with dwindling numbers. Many people will think, “Okay, we won’t be stung as much.”

However, bees are vital to our food system. If bees aren’t thriving and pollinating our plants that are needed for our food sources, such as clover for cows to munch on, then we could be endangering our food supply.

4. You can dig into your Pennsylvania heritage. Even if you’re not a born and bred Pennsylvanian, you can learn a lot about the people who settled in Penn’s Woods. There are even Pennsylvania museums that still grow natives as a teaching tool. So, not only can you include natives in your landscaping, but you can also join other networks and visit places to learn more about this type of plant media.

5. You can create a place of interest and education into your backyard. Do you have grandchildren? Are there birdwatchers in your social circle? A great way to engage different age groups and people with varied interests is to create a native garden that brings a large diversity of bees, birds, and other wildlife to your patio while you’re hosting an intimate dinner.

There are a wide variety of Pennsylvania native plants available in Dauphin, Lancaster, and York Counties. River Valley Landscapes has been a leader in incorporating native plants into people’s gardens for over 20 years. Matter of fact, they used the economic law of supply and demand with local nurseries to bring in more Pennsylvania native plants. Now, native plants are a hot commodity in today’s garden centers and nurseries.

If you would like to learn more about adding native plants to your landscape, call River Valley Landscapes at 1-800-455-8666 or fill out their contact form at


3 Reasons to Hire a Landscape Designer for Your Outdoor Lighting Project


You’re planning on expanding your backyard this spring to include lighting, hardscape features, and plant media, but you don’t know where to start when it comes to designing and planning the project.

A landscape designer is trained to take your dreams and turn them into a living space that you, your family and friends will enjoy. If you’re planning on adding outdoor lighting or you want to include outdoor lighting with your overall plan, you need someone who can envision the entire scope of the project. A hardscape project is more than the sum of its parts. For example, a designer knows that your lighting system needs to match your hardscape exteriors, as well as where to place the lighting’s wiring within the architecture of your outdoor rooms for safety and functionality.

Here are three reasons why you need to hire a landscape designer for your outdoor lighting project:

1) A landscape designer knows horticulture and he knows how to integrate lighting and plants together for maximum impact. For example, a landscape designer would use plants that are slow growing around lower path lights. If he installs bollard-style LED lights, your designer knows that taller grasses and flowers would fit better with that design. Additionally, a landscape designer can envision how the plants will look in six months, a year, and five years, as well as how to prune them to grow in a particular direction.

2) A landscape designer knows architecture and can design your entire outdoor living project into one, fluid, open area. For example, a designer knows what wattage light goes best with your entire hardscape and landscape plans. He can create your design and incorporate the following effects of LED lighting into your outdoor living space:

  • Up lighting
  • Down lighting
  • Path lighting
  • Silhouette  lighting
  • Focal Point Lighting

3) A landscape designer knows LED technology. He is capable of installing the entire electrical system during construction of your patio, deck, and other outdoor living spaces which may save you money compared to hiring subcontractors for each part of the construction process. And if you’d like to add outdoor lighting to your current hardscape, a landscape designer can also install the electrical and lighting systems even after construction is long finished.

A landscape design firm is considered a one-stop shop for all of your outdoor living needs. Designers are trained to incorporate plants, lighting, and other hardscape features into one continual space. They’re also able to handle the technical side by installing electrical and lighting wiring during the construction phase of your outdoor project.

Are you planning on building an outdoor oasis in your home this spring or summer? Or is your hardscape already finished, but you want to install a LED lighting system to your outdoor space?

River Valley Landscapes and Pools provides landscaping services to the south central Pennsylvania area. Call today for all of your outdoor living needs at 1-800-455-8666 or fill out the contact form.

10 Top Landscaping Trends for Central PA in 2014

RVL Fireplace 3DThe New Year has arrived. Every year, there’s a lot of talk of what’s popular and how those trends fit into the landscape and hardscape design world. Nationally, new colors, to stay-at-home dads, to sustainable living, to edible gardening are all having an impact on how landscape and hardscape designers are creating outdoor living spaces for their clients.

Here are the 10 top landscaping and hardscaping trends for 2014 that you need to know if you live in central Pennsylvania:

  1. Let a certified landscape designer come up with the plans for your dream – Whoever you hire to design your new deck, outdoor kitchen, or any other landscape/hardscape project, should be willing to listen to your dreams, desires, and goals that you have for your outdoor space. After listening to you and asking pertinent questions, a qualified landscape designer should be able to take that information, as well as the raw data of budgets, measurements and yard size to transform it into a plan that meets both your needs and desires.
  2. LED lighting for outdoor living – LED lighting has evolved over the past few years. No longer do you need to sacrifice peace and tranquility with the harsh, blue LED lights of a few years ago. Now, they’re available in warmer yellow colors and softer glows. Additionally, LED lighting saves you money: they use less energy to light your outdoor space and they’re coming down in price.
  3. Low maintenance outdoor living – One of the over-arching themes for 2014 is low-maintenance, outdoor living. Some low-maintenance, landscaping options include adding more drought-tolerant, deer-resistant perennials, shrubs, and trees to your property, as well as adding automatic irrigation and easy to care for deck flooring like composite decking, pavers, and concrete pads. Pergolas and arbors add interest and can connect your outdoor rooms to the rest of your landscape. Consider building bubbling brooks or pondless waterfalls, which require less maintenance than traditional ponds.
  4. Colors, colors, and more colors – Earth tones are still the color of choice for patios and outdoor kitchens. Yet, this season has two interesting color trends forecasted: the monochromatic marriage of black and white, as well as blocks of bright, bold colors. Put away those pastels and think about how your can transform your deck or patio into a black and white geometric pattern. If black and white isn’t your thing, make a statement with bold colors, like deep blues, cayenne reds, and orchid purples.
  5. Millennial Man’s influence on landscape design – Believe it or not, the newest generation of home buyers is coming to age and is having a profound effect on landscaping trends. For the millennials, women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners and men are staying home to raise the kids. Thus, dads are having their say on landscape design and décor. They like to have more DIY-friendly landscapes, man caves, outdoor kitchens, and edible plants.
  6. Sustainability – Sustainability is still a trending buzzword for 2014. Fortunately, there are many sustainable landscape ideas that your designer can incorporate in your property from green walls, to edible potted plants, to adding LED light bulbs to your fixtures.
  7. Adding dimension to your style – Traditional gardening is out. Now, it’s geometric meets carefree by adding flowers of different dimensions and shapes. Tall flowers mixed in with low-lying plant media add dimension and interest to your property’s landscape.
  8. Trees are still in – It’s still trendy to include trees in your landscape. They offer multiple benefits to homeowners, including cutting down on energy costs by keeping your home cooler in the summer and by providing wind-resistance in the winter. They also add beauty, simplicity, and sustainability to the mix.
  9. The organic touch – A love for good stewardship is inherent with our heritage and by using organic materials in your landscape, you continue that tradition of caring for the earth. You can recycle your plant media for compost, as well as use recycled materials, for example, in your landscape design and outdoor living projects.
  10. It’s all about you – The bottom-line to all of this trendiness is you. And a good designer will construct a plan that reflects you: Your tastes, likes, and dislikes. Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you want in your landscape and hardscape projects because you will be living with the finished product for years to come.

Remember, while it’s nice to know the trends, it’s more important that you have the final say-so to your landscape or hardscape design. Some trends change each year, but less maintenance and better design are definitely in for the long haul.
Do you need a certified landscape and hardscape designer? Then, look no farther than River Valley Landscapes. For more information about their design services, call them at 1-800-455-8666 or fill out their contact form at

Preparing for the Holidays

Preparing for the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful.  Take this time to walk around your property cutting greens.  Greens will enhance any fireplace mantle, window sill, center piece or even window boxes.  Here is a window box I put together last week.

A Beautiful Window Box for the Christmas Season

A Beautiful Window Box for the Christmas Season

3 Simple Holiday Tips:

  1. Take extra cutting to ensure a great selection
  2. Look for different textures and colors (don’t be afraid of the bold)
  3. Don’t be afraid to add some deciduous plants such as:  winterberry holly or redtwig dogwood

Now go and enjoy the holiday season.


the right designer

Choosing the right landscape designer can mean big savings. It has always puzzled me why some people would pay one company to design their project only to send it out for bids. I guess I know why. People think they are then comparing apples to apples and will get a better price. This can be true to some extent, but all too often they are not comparing apples to apples.
We have a project going on right now that our client called me just to say how impressed he was with our staff and particularly Andy our mason.  Andy was scribing a piece of flagstone around a boulder.  His craftsmanship really impressed our client, but not another mason on the job site. Our client said the other mason ,representing another company, stopped to watch what Andy was doing. The other mason just shook his head and said that is what mortar is for. I told my client those are the details that are not in specs when pricing out a project. We assume those details while many other companies assume the short cut.
I refuse to believe most people just want the lowest price. I believe people want to be treated fairly while getting the most value for their investment. …………

The Water Garden


 Everyone is drawn to water; it is the magical element that connects all life. Casting back my memory to the days of my youth, during one of those seemingly endless summers, I can visualize me and my buddies on a pilgrimage to one of the local ponds. My kid days were pretty good ones, my parents were kind and patient; they didn’t lock me in closets or whoop me for being a boy and by nature a rascal. They allowed me to be a boy and that meant exploration. Many of those serene summer days were absorbed on the grass covered banks catching frogs or turtles, fishing, skipping stones or simply watching the clouds drift by in perfect blue skies.  If we tired of the pond, it was off to the local swimming pool to play water tag, or sharks and minnows and at once to be plagued and allured by the girls.

         Those days seemed to last for decades. Today, if I am not careful, they are gone in the blink of an eye. Water is still an important part of my life. We are fortunate to have a swimming pool and a water feature in our garden. And now, unlike in my kid days, after an adult day and all it entails, I find a hot shower to be one of the greatest luxuries we have in the civilized world. Water in the garden, with all of its quenching, cooling and cleansing properties can help us revive old memories while creating new ones.

          During my first meeting with clients I find they often have a pre-conceived idea of the “naturalistic” water feature as the default model. However, the possibilities for design are wide open.  Fountains,  reflecting pools, water walls, dry streams, swimming pools, and features with water moving from one level to another, are just a few of the design possibilities .  At first, it is the sound a feature makes that our client’s desire. Different types of features will create different types of sounds. When the sound of a fountain or water wall is trickling or softly surging it is calming and peaceful. When the sound of a cascading waterfall is rushing and splashing it is stimulating and dynamic. However, be careful of what you wish for, the sound of the cascading waterfall placed too close to outdoor and indoor living spaces can become noisy and tiring. Beyond the sound a feature creates, the shape of the feature should reinforce the experience of the garden and site. Informal pools will usually work best when they are far from the house. Curved lines will tend to make a small space feel smaller. A simple rectangle, circle or ellipse might help pull the viewer and the architecture of the home into the garden, particularly if it is on axis with an important view from within. Regardless of the shape or size all gardens can benefit from some form of water feature.  

           If you have a desire to have a naturalistic feature, with the cascading waterfall, then buyers beware. The term naturalistic can be misleading.  Although the appearance is unassuming it does not follow that they assume no maintenance. The informal feature can require the interest and skill of a hobbyist or professional to resolve some of the maintenance issues, particularly if you plan to keep fish. I believe this confusion exists with regard to the maintenance of informal planting design as well. A second point which is more subjective has to do with the designation “naturalistic.” Informal may be more appropriate. What is natural about a “naturalistic” water feature existing in the suburban yards they are typically installed in? This is not to say that they don’t have their place in the landscape, particularly if you have a wooded site where the context is more appropriate, or if your design calls for the creation of a wooded setting. But if they are placed by the deck, off the back of the house, with a handful of shrubs and perennials sprinkled like parsley and potatoes around a Thanksgiving turkey, I have to ask why.

       When day turns to night a different experience unfolds as the feature is lit from within or serves to reflect nearby artificial light. This nocturnal transformation brings a heightened quality not only to the water feature but to the garden. At its best it can transport you into the presence of a dream world that is soothing, calming and mesmerizing. During our summer gatherings, whether it is during the day or in the evening, we have found our guests usually settle in near one of our water features. It is a testament to the magnetic quality of water.

         One of the things I have learned over time is that water features look much larger on two dimensional landscape plans than they do when they are built, particularly with regard to swimming pools. Good designers develop an intuitive sensibility that guides them towards the proper scale and proportion for a water feature and the surrounding elements. For example: if you want a swimming pool, it will most likely be important to design a terrace that balances the size of the pool. The terrace should allow for lounges and possibly dining. The space may need to allow for overflow from the proposed or existing dining and entertaining areas. How the space is organized and how it relates to the site is more important than how many square feet you have. A space that is laid out by a talented designer with a good design process will be more functional and appealing than a similar space that has  more square feet of space, but simply fails to work for the intended uses as a result of unsatisfactory design work. Harmonizing the water feature and other elements, with local codes, setbacks, and restrictions requires a balanced design that sympathetically addresses the issues. When the time comes to build be prudent and select a good builder, as water is very unforgiving and mistakes can be costly and thoroughly frustrating to correct.