While most of our landscapes are designed to be enjoyed during daylight hours, when autumn rolls around, we have far fewer of those hours in which to spend outside. If you want a dynamic and inviting fall landscape, add fire to draw friends and family into the brisk autumn air.
Fire pits create a reason to gather, socialize, and celebrate with your friends and family outside. There is a universal joy that comes from sitting around the fire whether chatting, roasting marshmallows, or just staring deep into the fire’s core.
But how does one incorporate the element of fire into the landscape?
This comes back to the age-old landscape design answer: it depends.
Designing a Fire Pit into the Landscape
If you’re in the preliminary stages of planning your landscape, fire can be incorporated from the earliest stages. Because fire pits are about attracting people to sit and stay awhile, they are often built directly into the hardscape. Permanent, bench seating may be built around the fire pit, or if you prefer adjustable seating, you will have a hard surface to securely place chairs.
Fire pits may be positioned close to the house, but I also like to make the fire pit a destination within the landscape. By placing a fire pit further from the house, it draws people out into the landscape. Strategic design can also obscure the location of the fire pit. The purpose of this is less to hide it from view from the house, but to provide seclusion for people around the fire.
Even if you choose to make your fire pit a destination rather than keeping it close to the house, don’t think of it as an afterthought! A secondary patio with attractive stone steps or a walkway from the main patio through lush landscaping can expand the usable space of your property.
If your hardscaping is already established, you may be able to build a fire pit off of an existing patio or buy a pre-fabricated fire pit to add to your landscape. There are many styles of fire pit to consider, whether it is portable, pre-fabricated, custom, wood-burning or gas-burning.
One of the simplest ways to add fire to the landscape is to place a portable fire pit onto an existing hardscape area. The advantage of this, is that portable fire pits can often be less expensive than built ones and they can be moved around the site.
On the converse, the ones that are light enough to move around are often made of cheaper materials, which wear thin and need to be replaced every few years. Those made with better quality materials are much more expensive and more difficult to move around.
Most hardware stores these days have several selections of DIY kits which are designed to be built in a weekend. These can be placed directly on the ground or constructed on existing patios. Most of these consist of concrete block which are set in a circle and come in a variety of colors.
Built-in fire pits tend to look more intentional, upscale, and refined because they are clearly planned and part of the bigger landscape. They may be created from stone or cast concrete block.
It’s best to work with a professional designer and mason when planning for a custom fire pit because it is so permanent. A designer will help determine how the fire pit will work within the whole landscape and make sure it is functional for the size groups you plan to entertain. A professional mason will make sure that this custom feature to your landscape is built appropriately and will last a long time.
Some people love the smoky smell and the crackling sounds associated with wood burning fires. There is also something rewarding about tending a wood fire, stoking and adding wood as the fire ebbs and watching it revive.
Wood burning fire pits may be your best choice if you have a wooded lot or have easy access to firewood. And compared to gas fire pits, these fire pits tend to be less expensive up front since the infrastructure is limited to the walls and base of the fire pit.
Disadvantages to these fire pits are that the fires are more difficult to extinguish; they tend to be messier; and they require a source of firewood.
As an aside, do not harvest wood from parks and wild areas. Not only is this illegal, but transporting wood from unknown sources may inadvertently spread pests and diseases to new areas. Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is a major threat to our region, so please don’t contribute to its spread.
A gas burning fire pit can add the ambiance of a wood burning fire pit with a few differences. Gas burning fire pits…
• don’t need to be stoked
• don’t provide the smoky smell associated with burning wood
• are easy to turn on and off- usually just a switch or knob
• don’t require buying, moving, and storing wood
• have the capability to adjust the flame
Gas burning fire pits are typically more expensive up front due to the need for a plumber to run and connect the pipes.
Fire pits can be designed to burn natural gas or propane and this may be an aspect worth discussing with your designer depending on the location of the site.
Other ways to incorporate fire within your landscape
Although there are many ways to incorporate a fire pit into the landscape, some people may prefer to include the element of fire without the desire to sit around an open pit.
Chimineas, outdoor fireplaces, lanterns, or torches will also add the warmth and entertainment fire can provide.
Regardless of the way you choose to integrate fire into your landscape, it is sure to be a feature that friends and family will love to gather around.