Outdoor Entertaining

by M. Diane McCormick

The grass is mowed. The flowers are blooming. The food is ready for the grill.

Uh-oh. Here come the guests, and your yard is a blank slate. How will you entertain them for the next three hours?

Come to the Caribbean-inspired home of Tim and LeAnn Langletz for lessons in thinking outside the box-shaped yard. Find a variety of entertainment options, all in a typical, New Cumberland-area backyard.

Tim Langletz is a landscaper and frequent entertainer whose own yard showcases the outdoor-living possibilities inherent in every home. Create spots where guests congregate in small clusters or big groups, add cooking and serving options, combine natural and man-made materials with ease.

Finally, add your personal touches of whimsy – palm trees, anyone? – and you have the perfect recipe for summer days and nights that will linger in memory.

Welcome to the Caribbean

Palm trees sway. Lights change from blue to pink, to red. Shady spots beckon, or sunny, whichever you prefer. It’s like taking a trip to the laid-back Caribbean without leaving Central Pennsylvania.

“We love the Caribbean,” says Langletz, president of PA Landscape Group. “We love the whole warm-air, cool-breeze feel. Since we can’t always be down there, we decided to create what we could in our backyard, so we could enjoy it all the time.”

And, yes, we said palm trees. They cost a couple of hundred dollars each, and they have to be planted yearly, just like any annual, but the Langletz palm trees make a statement. Don’t settle for the ordinary, they say. Dream up your own ideas, and make them happen.

If man-made and natural products work together, go ahead and mix. Here, the hearth in the pavilion is natural, while pillars and fireplace stone are man-made.

“You don’t have to do one or the other,” says Langletz. “It’s easy to do both.”

The mix of materials in the pavilion ties seamlessly to the pondless waterfall, which incorporates natural stone in an easy-care feature that blends with the scenery and doesn’t have to come from a box.

If your budget doesn’t allow a one-time transformation, think long-term. Consider what you want in the next few years, and phase in the changes. Even if a sound or lighting system isn’t in this year’s budget, the conduits can be installed and groundwork laid for future installation, saving money and preventing costly backtracking when the time comes.

“What do you ultimately want for the future?” asks Langletz. “If you want to be unique, and you have a tight budget, just do it in stages.”


The whole point of outdoor living, whether on a quiet night with family or hosting a graduation party, is relaxing. Find your spot and strike up a chat while enjoying the breeze.

“You have nooks where people can sit with their family and their friends and have a conversation, and for the people who want to be more social, the bar area gets crowded,” says Langletz. “That may be where you have 20 people conversing, whereas down in the pavilion, you have six or eight. You give them the best of both worlds.”

In recent years, Langletz added the pavilion so the family could eat dinner outdoors, rainy day or not. It replaced a putting green – remember, it’s your yard, so do what you want – and was erected by Amish builders using a prefab kit, at one-quarter the price of a custom-made pavilion.

The pavilion’s focal point is the convenient gas-fired, wood-burning fireplace. The wood provides the ambiance of crackling logs and enticing aroma. The gas offers all those benefits without the wait of building a traditional fire.

Choosing a fireplace or fire pit depends on the budget – a fireplace can cost twice as much, or more – and how the feature will be used, says Langletz. Fire pits can be rounded or squared, like the rectangular, wood-burning fire pit with bench seating at the PA Landscape Group showcase. Even there, some of the stones built into the bench backs are angled, adding interest within the lines of the piece.

Lightweight furniture can be rearranged to suit the occasion. In the pavilion, one group of guests can gather around the table while another faces the fireplace. Then, if the table conversation turns into, say, an irresistible dissection of last night’s Game of Thrones, the fireside folks can turn their chairs and join in.

Beyond the pavilion, guests can find intimate nooks along the rear fence. One table features a built-in fire pit for easy marshmallow roasting or warming hands on a cool night.

That same, sizeable table can be moved to make room for the band brought in to entertain guests for the Langletzes’ annual summer bash. That’s when 60 or 70 friends, neighbors and family members escape to this Caribbean-themed paradise. Later in the summer, an annual open house takes the Caribbean theme even farther, with food trucks parked out front to serve shaved ice and Caribbean treats.

Eat and Drink

Langletz often gets calls from potential customers seeking an outdoor kitchen. OK, what do you want in it? What size grill? Propane or natural gas?

“How about a refrigerator, a cooler, an ice maker, a pizza oven?” Langletz says that use dictates features. This outdoor kitchen includes a wood-fired oven, refrigerator, freestanding ice maker and Lynx 36-inch grill. This grill is built to face the yard, so the grill master doesn’t miss any of the action. “I see everything,” says Langletz. “I see who’s coming and going.”

The Chicago Brick Oven wood-fired, outdoor oven makes much more than pizza. Langletz starts burning the wood about three hours beforehand, building up the oven temperature and creating charcoals that get pushed to the back when the food is ready for cooking.

What goes into this versatile cooker?

“Scallops. Shrimp. Beef. Whole chickens. Pizza. Potatoes. Vegetables,” says Langletz. Essentially, any meal you can think of.

The refrigerator holds cold beer right at the site – no trips to the garage fridge – and handily stores meat while Langletz is cooking “so I don’t keep running in and out of the house.” The ice maker means never having to buy bags of ice – a real convenience for these frequent entertainers.

The kitchen area also offers simple serving options, including a broad counter top and a built-in beverage cooler.

Swim and Play

Installing a pool is always a big decision. In this case, the Langletz family enjoys the pool all summer, with and without guests. Keeping with current trends, this is no vinyl-lined rectangle, but rather a free-form getaway evoking that Caribbean feel. The pool sides are a naturalistic pebble finish. Inlays of dolphins, starfish and flip flops glimmer through the water, enhancing the tropical feel.

The backyard-bash area is only part of the Langletz yard. Beyond the fence is a grass expanse, the perfect romping area for kids, including the Langletzes’ grandson, and grown-ups playing cornhole and washers. Beyond the fence – chosen in a bronze finish to blend in with the landscape – the yard drops almost six feet. Instead of building a hard wall, they softened the edges by sloping the grade naturally with stones and plantings.

Indulge the Senses

How many senses do you use in the typical backyard? There’s sight, of course, when flowers are bursting with color. And the smell of chicken or hamburgers cooking on the grill.

Langletz’s yard goes whole-hog, blending natural and man-made elements to engage all five senses in a delight of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.

Sight: Sightlines are carefully designed, to keep the eye within the yard and create a feeling of leaving the rest of the world behind. Walkways wind around the house and yard, and the flow of visitors can move easily among areas. “Every time you walk around the corner, you’re seeing something different, something of interest,” says Langletz. Nature’s colors are enhanced with a variable lighting system. Colors in the pool and amid the greenery can be altered to suit the season or occasion, from pink for breast-cancer awareness events, to red, white and blue for the Fourth of July.

Smell: Few scents evoke summer more than crepe myrtle. Langletz planted crepe myrtles and sweet bays in spots chosen so prevailing winds would carry their intoxicating aromas across the yard.

Sound: “You can’t get the full effect without sound,” Langletz says on a tour of the yard. With a touch of his iPhone – pool, lighting and audio systems in this space are digitally controlled – the Stevie Nicks channel comes over strategically placed speakers. And, of course, the waterfall soothes with the sound of a babbling brook.

Taste: Let’s go back to that wood-fired oven. “I can cook a 13-pound chicken in a cast-iron pot in a half hour,” says Langletz. “Fully done. Rub it with olive oil, and it cooks in its own juices. The skin comes out perfect, and it’s cooked all the way through. It’s incredible.”

Touch: Plantings deliberately evoke a range of textures, from the smooth leaves of a weeping copper beech, to the spiny, red-spiked branches of the Tom Thumb cotoneaster. A range of pavers also introduce a variety of textures. If the budget doesn’t allow custom pavers, that’s OK. Even commonly available pavers can be laid down, creating combos of texture and color that define areas like household rugs.

This article appears in the June 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine