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Backyard Transformation
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Backyard Transformation

Located on a spacious property in a high-end community in Gibsonia, Pa., Beall's Nursery and Landscaping was commissioned by the homeowner to transform his backyard into a family sanctuary. A pergola forms the ceiling of an outdoor living room across from an outdoor kitchen and eating area. Running alongside the pergola is a putting green lined with a rustic boulder wall.

Backyard Transformation

This outdoor room with a pergola sits at the edge of a 1300 square foot patio, with media and sitting walls made from Unilock Brussels block in a segmental wall system using concrete adhesive. This block also forms the lateral gas fire pit and wraps around a wolmanized post in the center of the columns. The sitting wall and columns are capped with snapped limestone that was cut on-site. Kichler LED lighting peeks from beneath the limestone caps on the columns, and festoon lighting hangs from the pergola.

When a homeowner in the exclusive suburb of Lake MacLeod in Gibsonia, Penn., wanted to completely overhaul his outdoor space, Pittsburg-based Justin Beall, owner of Beall's Nursery and Landscaping, was happy to take the job. He has been working in the industry for 21 years and is part of a three-generational family legacy of landscaping that includes his maternal grandfather and his father. Beall's family has been faithfully serving the eastern suburbs of Pittsburg for over 75 years.

Beall fondly remembers simpler times as he looks back on how much the landscaping industry has changed since his grandfather first started in the 1950s. "I always laugh because my dad did napkin drawings, and now my customers want to see 3D renderings. It's a different scale."

Beall's is a Design / Build landscape company with a nursery supply yard attached to the business. Beall and his team came upon this particular project after meeting the homeowner at the Pittsburg Home and Garden Show that the company attends annually. Due to their longstanding relationship with the show, their booth is stationed right at the entrance, so they are easy to find. "A lot of our work is by word of mouth or from our website, but we met him at the show," Beall explains.

The home was relatively new when the project that spanned nearly a year began in August of 2016. It was built by Barrington Homes, a premier Pittsburg custom homebuilder, in 2010. The backyard was very basic; in fact, Beall and his crew of ten men were starting out with only a bare, rectangular slab of concrete.

The homeowner's original vision was to create a freestanding, outdoor room with a pergola on a patio with a media wall and a bar and grill for relaxing and entertaining. However, he was looking through Beall's portfolio when he saw a different project involving a pool and decided to include that into his backyard plans as well. It then became a two-phase project, with Phase 1 focusing on the pergola and the patio and Phase 2 covering the pool, retaining wall, boulder wall and putting green.

Backyard Transformation

The Brussels pavers laid on the patio match the block used in the walls and columns in sierra, and the color used for the soldier course accent pavers is hawthorn burgundy red. The pavers span from the patio to the pool deck, providing the base for more Brussels block sitting walls that frame the pool and give the backyard a cohesive look.

Backyard Transformation

The apron encircling the pool was created with poured, dyed concrete finished with a swirl pattern. The same pavers from the patio continue onto the pool deck, contrasting with the concrete with a strip drain running between them. The pool bench starts at the corner of the house and runs on one side of the pool.

Phase 1
The team completed the stonework for the patio before laying the pavers. They built the media wall first, carving out a cavity in the Unilock Brussels block for the television and fitting it with a set of barn door style cabinets that the homeowner had purchased from a custom cabinetmaker in the area. Beall's team then moved on to the sitting walls, forming them out of the same block to frame the area beneath the pergola and then adding the columns and posts to support the beams, rafters and purlins. Once these features were complete, the team was able to tackle the pavers.

About half of the Brussels pavers for the patio were overlaid on the slab of concrete that was originally on the property with a thin layer of sand screed overtop, and the other half was overlaid on compacted subsoil that was wrapped with geotextile fabric and joined to the existing concrete slab with concrete adhesive. 2A modified aggregate was then compacted onto the non-concrete surface and topped with a 1" layer of coarse sand. The pavers were overlaid and compacted before Gator polymeric sand was applied and swept into the joints. PVC edge restraints were then placed along the edges of the pavers.

Phase 2
Due to the hilly topography of the neighborhood, there was more filling needed than cutting to prepare the ground for the pool. First, Beall's team had to build the tumbled Versa-Lok retaining wall and boulder wall to support the pool before bringing in truckloads of aggregate to level the ground for digging. Once the pool was in place, they installed strip drains on either side, with one running between the pool and the house to make sure water was not running towards the house and that it was also not running back into the pool. Water overflowing from the other two sides runs off into the landscape.

The story of this project is one of evolution and adaptation. Beall's was able to save on cost and demolition by overlaying pavers with a 1-inch layer of coarse sand on the original concrete slab that was already in the backyard, and the pool was an unexpected but successful addition. However, the real hidden gem came in the form of an unplanned brainstorming session with the homeowner.

Beall suggested that they break up the pavers and boulders visually by installing AstroTurf to cover a trench drain where there was originally going to be river rock. The homeowner then countered that they turn the area into a putting green. Continuing to build on the idea, Beall brought up the fact that the homeowner's son had requested a sandbox in the yard. Connecting this to the concept of the putting green, the owner and Beall agreed to design a sand trap for the area, fulfilling both the father's and the son's visions.

Backyard Transformation

Native western Pennsylvania surface rock forms the boulder wall that outlines the putting green and combination sand trap/sandbox. It acts as a retaining wall for a garden bed that is home to shade-tolerant perennials and evergreen trees planted in a wall-like formation to maintain some privacy for the property. The putting green is EZ Lawn AstroTurf.

Next to the putting green rests the boulder wall, made with 80 tons of native western Pennsylvania boulders found in the hills near the home and transported to the site in four large trucks. They were dry-laid to create a rustic look in the space. "It's an art," Beall says of the boulder work, "piecing them in one at a time, turning them around, flipping them over." This is not the first time Beall's Nursery and Landscaping has taken advantage of the abundant local materials of western Pennsylvania; however, the company also reaches outside its community, often traveling across the country to find large-scale plant material for its high-end residential customers. Some of the plants used for this project were retrieved from Portland, Ore.

The extensive project was not without its challenges. A rainy spring brought certain weather complications, but Beall claims that the biggest hurdle was simple bureaucracy.

Due to the exclusivity of the neighborhood, Beall had to present all aspects of the project to several committees and boards in order to receive approval, slowing down the progression of the work in some cases.

The Legacy Continues
The Beall family is still influencing the Pittsburg community, helping to fulfill landscaping visions through creative flexibility and consistent effort. Who could have imagined that a business that started in one family over 70 years ago would continue to affect western Pennsylvania neighborhoods today?

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June 19, 2019, 11:06 pm PDT

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