My backyard transformation seems to have a life of its own. It grows in fits and spurts. I seem to be drawn from one project to another, inspired by things Donna and I have seen in our travels, or just a new inspiration suggested by the shape of the terrain, or the flow of water, or an improvement on a previous creation. I’ve long since learned not to be overly planful or controlling of the process. It’s much more energizing to just go with the flow and watch the yard grow organically.
There is no way to chronicle the evolution of the yard in a linear fashion. A more useful approach is a pictorial journal organized by meaningful groupings such as sections of the yard or significant features such as the deck and the water system. With this in mind, I created a Web Journal (using iPhoto on my iPad). I update it periodically and publish it to iCloud. You can view it at any time to see the latest changes. Click on this link, or copy it into your browser:
I’ve included a few sample pictures in the slideshow below. Enjoy!
Donna has been talking about a hammock for years. Finally, a location suggested itself – underneath the olive tree. the olive tree would supply one sturdy anchor, and I could erect a pole about 13′ away to anchor the other end of the hammock. Using that area would require clearing out all the junk stored there, as well as leveling the steep slope. So, I set about removing all the bags of rocks, compost, and plant pots. Then got to work on installing rock cages as retaining walls to provide support for a level area under the hammock. Once the cages were in place, I dug out the rocks, brought in some fill dirt, and leveled the area. I decided to run drip lines into the area and plant dymondia and irish moss as ground covers.
Erecting the pole turned out to be a bit of a challenge. I started with a previously used pole that had a big ball of concrete at the bottom. It seemed like the concrete would make a nice heavy anchor. I dug a large hole, set the pole, and added a bunch of concrete on top. After letting it set for 24 hours, I was eager to try it out. So, I hung the hammock, and set on it. Imagine my surprise when the pole tilted about 30 degrees, the hammock sagged, and my rear end nearly touched the ground. Not quite what I had in mind. So, I got out my sledge hammer and removed all the concrete from the pole. Then I burried at stack of planter pots in the large hole as space holders and packed the dirt around it. I used a tamper every few inches to make sure the dirt was firmly packed around the planter pots. When the dirt was in place, I removed the planter pots to reveal a narrow deep hole. The rest was easy. I inserted the pole and poured in concrete. When the concrete was set, the pole was firmly anchored. Success! That pole is not going anywhere.
We paid a couple of visits to swings ‘n things in Seaport Village and selected a rope hammock with spreader bars. We also decided to get a hanging chair to hang upslope on the other side of the olive tree.
The hammock and chair are great additions to our yard – colorful, great conversation pieces, and extremely comfortable.
We returned from a trip to the bay area with a “volunteer” wisteria plant from our friends Rich and Jamie. Then, we won a couple of kiwi vines from a raffle during a seminar on fruit trees at Brother Steve’s school. So, we needed to build or obtain a structure to support these vines. Then, I chanced upon an small archway at an estate sale. It would make a nice entryway to a pergola. Looking around the yard, Donna and I decided to locate the vines and support structure on the East side of the house, following our curvy pathway.
Although many pergolas are made with wood, I decided to go with metal. It doesn’t rot like wood, and proper paint and sealing would minimize the chances of rust. I had quite a few 2′ by 8′ very sturdy art grids that would make a perfect platform for hanging vines. To support them, I went with 10′ galvanized EMT metal poles sunk 2′ into concrete. I also used some pvc connectors and large pvc pipe for lateral support.
Since the pathway curves, I overlapped the grids at slight angles so that the 30′ long pergola followed the pathway in a polygonal fashion. The resulting structure is strong and sexy. Now, it is just a matter of encouraging the growth of the vines up the poles and keeping them trimmed as they fill in on top of the grids.
I’ve been looking around as I visit various gardens, somewhat envious of their plant ID signs. Question is, how do you create signs that will do your garden proud, not break the bank, and last a good long time. There is always the cheap plastic signs from the 99¢ store, but the writing fades pretty rapidly in the weather, even with a “permanent” marker.
Looking around for possible posts, I found both pvc pipe and EMT metal pipe left over from other projects as well as some unlabeled brown paint that was left over from the previous owner. Those items fit my budget perfectly – free. The pvc is easy to cut on a diagonal, but rigid only in short lengths; whereas the EMT is very sturdy in longer lengths. I decided to join the two together to make custom sign heights. Using a hand file, I could form the pvc pipe to fit snugly inside the 3/4″ EMT pipe, and using a rasp drill bit, I could core out the pvc to fit snugly over the 1/2″ EMT pipe.
Now for the sign part. My Sister-in-law, Lora, has been printing images on metal for my art business for quite some time, and her prices are very reasonable. She uses a dye sublimation process, so the image is chemically fused to the metal. It is not guaranteed to hold up forever in the direct sunlight, but I bought some Krylon UV protecting spray to give the signs the best chance for survival in the wild. I figured it is definitely worth a shot.
So, I sent her the images. She printed and cut the signs, and they were back in my shop within days.
In case you are interested in trying this, contact:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Their base prices are $1.75 for 3.5″ x 2″, $4.75 for 10″ x 2.5″, and $12.50 for 8″ x 10″ You can contact Smart Charms at (623) 536-6960 discuss pricing or custom sizes.
While the signs were in production, I cut the pvc to 6″ lengths, cut a diagonal on one end, then fashioned the other end to fit either the large or small EMT pipes. I cut the EMT pipes to different lengths. Then I painted all the pipes.
Once the cut signs arrived, I glued the diagonal cut end of the 6″ pvc pipes to the signs and let them dry over night. to install, I pounded the EMT pipe into the soil until it was secure, then installed the pvc/sign into it. One last touch up of the paint. The final step was to spray each sign with Krylon UV resistant clear spray. The results are in the slide show below.
I’m picking up pond liner today from a generous donor. This piece will be large enough to cover my 9′ x 2′ earth pond to a depth of 4′. That’s a lot of liner. I need to get it in place before the rains start. Otherwise, I’ll be digging under water.
So the excavation under the deck began.
I tossed the dirt down the slope, but carefully harvested the rocks in buckets and sand bags. These rocks would be used to fill the gabion cages to make the retaining walls.
Once there was room, I installed the first cage. I filled it with rocks, then used two or three 3/8″ or 1/2″ rebar to anchor the cages into the soil. As I stacked the cages on top of each other, the rebar was inserted in the rocks to provide stability between the cages. Notice the rebar sticking up out of the cages. For cages placed side by side, I ran rebar horizontally between them as well. I also tied the cages together with the galvanized wire.
The builder had installed an irrigation system to water the front lawn, shrubbery around the house, front tree, and the myoporum on the eastern slope. It was centered on the front (Southern) and eastern side of the house. It was primarily a sprinkler system with some drip lines. The system was controlled by a timer in the garage, with eight stations, some of which were unused.
My goals in extending the system were to
The valves were located in a covered box just East of the house. I determined to extend the water line and the electric wires from there to the newly created area under the deck. There, I could place additional valves to control irrigation in the areas I planned to develop. I devised a manifold with four valves.
I installed it underneath the deck, anchored to the rebar extending from the gabion cages.
The first thing I tackled in the yard was excavating under the deck. Looking back, it may not have been a logical choice, but it is what called to me at the time. I had the idea of clearing out the slope to make a workroom and storage room under the deck. Yes, a man cave, if you will.
This is what it looked like before excavation.
Mostly, a lot of dirt. So, I need to figure out a way to build retaining walls to hold up the remaining dirt, and most importantly, hold up the several pylons that support the deck. I attended a class at RCP on building a retaining wall.
Their plan involved some very expensive interlocking retaining wall block, with 6″ of gravel just inside the retaining wall through which water could drain, as well as a ditch with a drain pipe to direct that water elsewhere. Yikes! a lot of work and a lot of money. So, I decided to look for another solution. Then, a friend mentioned how cities and industry use gabion boxes filled with rocks as retaining walls. Here is an example.
This seemed like a viable possibility, since my property is an old river bed, and there are plenty of rocks available in the soil. All I had to do was dig them out and put them in gabion cages.
So, where do you obtain the gabions? I checked online for sources, but it seemed like they were only for large industrial uses, with minimum order size 5,000 units or more. Not a good solution for someone looking to do things on a minimal budget. I check at Home Depot for a material that I could use to make my own cages. I found this.
Rolls of welded wire, 14 gauge, with openings 2″ x 4″. Stronger than chicken wire. I figured out how to fold it to make my own cages, and used 16 guage galvanized wire to provide cross support and tie cages together. More on making cages in another post. Here is my first model of gabion cage one foot deep, one foot tall, and about three feet wide.
I used weed retardant material to line the first cages, but after a while, I decided that wasn’t necessary if you used large enough rocks.
One huge advantage of building retaining walls out of rocks and wire is that water can flow right through the cages and down the slope. The water doesn’t build up on the inside as with traditional retaining wall blocks. So, you don’t need to provide the 6″ layer of gravel or the drain pipe at the bottom.
We got lucky in 2010. Found a house in a well-established rural La Mesa neighborhood. The house was only 5 years old and in pristine condition. Very spacious. The yard was just the opposite. It was one-quarter of an acre, but mostly unusable because of a very steep slope, full of weeds. Nothing pristine about it.
I saw that as an opportunity to transform the landscape into something usable and enjoyable. That was the beginning of my fascination with the landscape. Some would call it an addiction. I’ll share the evolution of the yard in this blog, and you can decide if it is an addiction or a healthy hobby.