Fall is for Fire

Lee ArmilleiField Notes

While most of our landscapes are designed to be enjoyed during daylight hours, when autumn rolls around, we have far fewer of those hours 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

A custom wood-burning fire pit made of natural stone is perfect for fall nights!

If you’re in the preliminary stages of planning your landscape, incorporate fire from the earliest stages. Because fire pits are about attracting people to sit and stay awhile, often they are built directly into the hardscape. There are several options: build permanent, bench seating may around the fire pit, or securely place chairs on a hard surface.

Position fire pits close to the house, or make them a destination within the landscape. By placing a fire pit further from the house, it draws people out into the landscape. Strategic design obscures 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, 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 expands the usable space of your property.

If your hardscaping is already established, build a fire pit off of an existing patio or buy a pre-fabricated fire pit to add. There are many styles of fire pit to consider, whether it is portable, pre-fabricated, custom, wood-burning or gas-burning.



Simply add fire to the landscape – just place a portable fire pit onto an existing hardscape area. Portable fire pits are often less expensive than built ones, and they can be moved around the site. However, the ones that are light enough to move around are often made of cheaper materials, and need to be replaced every few years. 

Pre-Fabricated Kits

Most hardware stores these days have several selections of DIY kits 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 set in a circle and come in a variety of colors.

Custom Built

Built-in fire pits look more intentional, upscale, and refined because they are clearly planned and part of the bigger landscape. They are created from stone or cast concrete block.

Work with a professional designer and mason when planning for a custom fire pit. A designer determines how the fire pit will work within the whole landscape and makes sure it is functional for the size groups you plan to entertain. A professional mason ensures that this custom feature to your landscape is built appropriately and will last a long time.

Wood Burning

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.

Gas Burning

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. A plumber is required to run and connect the pipes. They are designed to either burn natural gas or propane and this is an aspect worth discussing with your designer.

Other ways to incorporate fire within your landscape

Although there are many ways to incorporate a fire pit into the landscape, some people 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.