By Charlie Thigpen
Photography by Beau Gustafson
My wife, Cindy, and I love to escape the hustle and bustle while sitting around our fire pit on chilly nights. It’s so relaxing, and it feels like a little getaway in our wooded backyard. The flickering flames and embers can become mesmerizing, and if you grow tired of looking at the fire, you can gaze up at winter’s bare tree limbs reaching for the twinkling stars. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors after dark.
Many of famous Danish landscape architect Jens Jensen’s landscape designs in the early and mid-1900s included stone seating walls encircling a fire pit. He called them “council rings”—or, when installed in a children’s garden, “story rings.” He said the seating circles invite people to share ideas, stories, and songs, while also sharing an experience in nature.
Outdoor Fireplaces vs. Fire Pits
There is no denying that outdoor fireplaces look great, but they’re usually expensive to build, take up lots of room, and lose most of their heat up the chimney. However, one great thing about the outdoor fireplace is the chimney captures most of the smoke, sending it high above so you won’t smell like a campfire at the end of the evening.
On the other hand, fire pits are fairly inexpensive depending on the size and material you choose. Since they are set low to the ground, they allow you to get your feet next to the flames and really feel the warmth, but smoke can be a problem, especially on nights when the wind is finicky.
You can also construct an in-ground fire pit using concrete block, stone, or brick. It just depends on the location and the amount of money you want to spend as to what works for you and your landscape.
Make sure your fire pit is positioned away from low overhanging tree limbs. Also, make sure it’s a safe distance away from your home or any wooden structures such as a deck or fencing (safe is at least 10 feet.) Fire pits should be placed on concrete, brick, stone, or gravel surfaces. Never leave fires unattended and make sure they’re extinguished before leaving them. Always watch small children around the open flames and avoid burning during drought or windy conditions.
According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, outdoor fireplaces or fire pits are the No. 1 requested landscape design feature. So like the many generations before us, gather around the warmth and light of a fire with family and friends. Don’t forget the graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate bars to make s’mores and rekindle childhood memories.