Frustrated by the sloping surfaces surrounding their deck, the clients hired my company to level out the backyard and create additional entertaining s large deck that spanned the entire yard. But the budget was limited and the existing deck was structurally solid - just in need of new decking and railing - so it made more sense to rehab the deck and add hardscape.

I designed the project in its entirety, and then broke it down into stages that could be completed separately. Last year, for the first stage, my crew rebuilt the deck, and a local company that specializes in landscape and hardscape put in a curved retaining wall to split the yard into two separate, level areas (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Adding a retaining wall allowed the backyard to be leveled to create more usable space.

The retaining wall itself was built with Celtik Wall blocks (Belgard; 877/ 235-4273, There was more to constructing it than stacking blocks, however. For any retaining wall, the excavation must be the right depth and breadth, a footing of compacted modified stone must be laid, and enough clean, crushed stone must be placed behind the wall for drainage.

Partnering with the hardscape company and its trained and experienced crew worked out well. It reduced my liability on this portion of the work, and my skilled carpenters didn't have to become hardscapers. Plus, the relationship we developed with the hardscape company has since encouraged them to send us their deck leads.

This year's stage was almost all hardscaping. I like to update the conceptual designs at each new stage to help the client visualize any revisions; in this case, we updated the initial plans for the patio with a more photo-realistic 3-D design created with Real Landscape Architect (Figure 2).

Figure 2. A realistic 3-D rendering gave the clients an accurate idea of how the completed project would look.

Each hardscape manufacturer has specific requirements for installing its patio pavers. Most call for removing the sod and excavating to allow for 6 inches to 8 inches of modified crushed stone - a blend ranging from 3/4-inch stone to stone dust - which is graded and then compacted using a plate tamper.

Figure 3. Hardscape always requires a good base of compacted crushed stone. Painted layout lines confirm the patio's shape for the hardscape contractor and the client.

Once the stone base is in, the patio perimeter is marked out to confirm the layout with the clients and the installers (Figure 3). Then the installers go to work laying the pavers. The last step is putting down fresh topsoil and grass seed around the edges of the patio and collecting the final check.

Matt Breyer owns Breyer Construction and Landscape in Reading, Pa.