Lawns are lap of luxury at this lawn sale

Lawns are lap of luxury at this lawn sale

published in Fort Wayne Newspapers

I was mesmerized by the Ring of Fire. It sat under a gazebo, on a deck surrounded by warm wooden benches, its flickering flames, gurgling water and flittering glass pebbles encouraging me to put my feet up and perhaps mull for a while the meaning of the Johnny Cash song by the same name.

Rocky DeLucenay, who co-owns Old Smokey’s with her husband, Kevin, didn’t seem to mind. She was chatting with a small crowd doing the same at their exhibit at the Backyard Living Expo, held April 23-25 at the Allen County Memorial Coliseum.

The expo goes beyond ground and grass to show homeowners how their outdoor space can be an extension of their home. And the look is anything but ordinary. Take the Ring of Fire, for example.

A master control allows the homeowner to summon a heat-generating gas fire, a water fountain and lights underneath that give a subtle glow to the water and any choice of decorative rocks and glass. The ring can be set into a deck, built into a number of stone finishes or mounted into a pedestal.

It’s new to Old Smokey’s this year, but it’s the type of accessory long enjoyed out West. “You see the coasts doing this for years, then we catch up in the center,” DeLucenay said. “Old Smokey’s tries to get on the bandwagon before everybody else.”

The West Coast influence is wider than the Ring. Other luxuries include an outdoor wood-burning fireplace set into stone, stucco, brick, tile – whatever one chooses – with a stainless steel surround for all-weather durability. Homeowners can build in refrigerators, sinks and bars. Old Smokey’s featured a grill with all the bells and whistles – literally: It boasts a meat probe that sounds an alarm when the food is finished. The entire unit pops out for winter storage.

Such elaborate cooking and entertainment stations call for an attractive backyard surface. But even a simple concrete patio can become a work of art with a new staining process perfected by Pelkington and Sons.

The popular trend of concrete stamping, which turns a driveway or sidewalk into cobblestone, brick, flagstone or even wooden planking, requires newly poured concrete to hold up well, said owner Chris Pelkington.

But acid staining can be applied to an existing slab in more than 60 colors, giving it a textured, rich hue. Homeowners can use multiple colors for an artistic look, or even have a custom design applied to the concrete. Expo samples included deep burgundy, sage and mustard washes, as well as a gracefully drawn floral bouquet etched into concrete with multicolored stains.

Indoor inspiration was evident on another outdoor surface. DeckStrip’s new outdoor carpet strips come precut in a variety of colors to be pasted over wooden deck boards that have seen better days. A separate center adhesive strip makes it easy to position the carpet on each board before permanently affixing it, said Pat O’Connor, who debuted the material in Chicago earlier this spring.

Do-it-yourselfers can buy the kit; the less intrepid can call DeckStrip for installation. It requires no maintenance, will not stain or mildew and eliminates slipping around pools, O’Connor said. Homeowners can alternate carpet colors to create a pattern with character.

The crisp look of a new deck lasts for decades with another surface catching on in northeast Indiana. “Vinyl is slowly making a big push in the Fort Wayne area,” said Andrew Vanderford, owner of All Outdoor Solutions.

It offers a myriad of advantages: It won’t warp or rot, requires no stain and stays cool when the mercury rises. “It makes your house distinctive,” Vanderford said. The vinyl comes in white, gray or tan, making it easy to match your home – and your fence. The same material can be used for picket and privacy fences to secure your pets and children or screen the rest of the world out.

Aluminum is another trend in fencing. “It’s been around a long time, but it’s starting to blossom,” Vanderford said. Aluminum fences can mimic the handsome look of wrought iron without the rust.

Its durability makes aluminum a popular material for patio furniture as well. Taller barstool seating still is winning fans, but a new furniture grouping takes height to the other extreme. “Conversation settings” cluster low-slung chairs around the outdoor equivalent of a coffee table. A version at Olympia Pools and Spas sported a sophisticated black finish with a tightly woven tan fabric.

Patio umbrellas are especially useful outside a newly constructed home, which typically has little natural shade. Pointed market umbrellas are a fresher look over round styles; the top models rise at the touch of a button, tilt and feature twinkling lights under their ribs.

Of course, one can’t cover the entire yard in patios and decks. Wayne Mulder, owner of Tranquil Creations, finds water features are always popular with clients.

“The one we do a lot of is the pondless waterfall,” Mulder said. Water bubbles from a pump buried beneath decorative stone and trickles down a slight slope, where it is pulled back in by the pump and recirculated. Without a pond, there is little maintenance, fewer mosquitoes and low water use.

Pavers have made a big comeback, Mulder said, including classic red brick. To enhance ponds and walkways, he suggests plants and shrubs that offer nonstop blooms, such as the endless summer hydrangea. Tranquil Creations also has seen a renewed interest in annuals; its pot-maintenance program is increasingly popular.

Such natural beauty is enjoyed all the more when the comforts of home are extended outside. Tables with built-in ice buckets cut down on trips inside for drinks. Conversations with guests are uninterrupted thanks to automatic grills. Fire pits warm cool nights, and burbling fountains drown out mowers and traffic. All can be tailored to match one’s style, and all can be enjoyed with little maintenance.

So what if the grass is greener on the other side. With a backyard living space such as this, no one will ever notice.