Category Archives: Hardscaping

Creating Some Curb Appeal

Christmas has come early this year, and Santa delivered the goods on a flatbed.

Our local garden center is close to giving away inventory as it switches to a new computer system, so last week we picked out four Centennial Girl hollies and three Green Velvet boxwoods. Hours before the truck came, we upped the order to a fifth holly.

Our plan for the front yard continues to evolve to some degree, but we’ve been set on a few basic elements. In the spring we’ll be demoing the concrete walk and installing pavers of some type in a wide curve that broadens at the end as it flows to the driveway. The front yard is massive and has next to no design element, so we’re focusing on creating a massive semi-circle bed against the front of the house. Although those plantings are largely dependent on the walk coming up, cutting down the holly this spring freed up a small area for planting now, and fall is my favorite time to plan since it gives roots a season to get established without need for frequent watering. Well, with boxwoods being sold for a song, even Chris couldn’t resist the urge to get his hands dirty.

We finally settled on the Green Velvet – which the tag assured us would keep a mounding shape at a top height of about 3 feet someday – because I liked the softer feel of its leaves compared to other boxwoods and Chris liked the smell. He assures me this is a crucial factor in his love of boxwoods (the great debate over whether boxwoods do in fact have a fragrance is an entirely different post).  My vision is to have a background of tidy boxwoods against the house foundation, with a front border of low-trimmed dwarf boxwoods, leaving an inner explosion of more naturally shaped color. I’m leaving a Drift Rose on either side of the walkway, but am researching my options for inserting additional color into this boxwood frame.

My first consideration was a burgundy barberry, but I’ve found the only non-invasive options in my state will reach closer to 5 feet and up, and I’m really shooting for low maintenance in the pruning department. I’m now looking at Midnight Wine weigela, which is a low grower with some brilliant purple foliage.

Then of course there are the five hollies. We selected Centennial Girl because it should reach around 8 feet high and 3-4 feet wide, retaining a compact pyramidal shape. Chris has been scared off by the massive Nellie Stevens and gangly American Hollies growing all over the property, so I’ve been researching comparatively low growers that would still screen the backyard.

The goal for me was to create a screen between the street and backyard, and these hollies certainly achieve that. But a new element snuck into our design plans after Halloween. That’s our annual “drag the fire pit out to the front” and “why don’t we do this more often” event. We’ve been trying to agree on a location for an in-ground fire pit for years, but when Chris suggested a small patio and fire pit in the front, everything clicked. We shared a vision of the neighbors joining us for hot chocolate, or watching the kids on their bikes in the cul-de-sac as we snuggle by the fire. Not to mention it expands the hardscaping, thereby lowering plant maintenance and further integrating the walkway paver elements into the entire yard. Today’s challenge then is positioning the hollies for a patio we can’t yet afford but are determined to install someday.


Checking Items Off the List

I’m one of those people who likes to put at the top of my lists “make list” so I have something immediately to check off. I love lists, and certainly there have been plenty on this site. But it’s not enough to simply make a list – you have to put it to use.

As a result, after turning up my 2015 to-do list from this past March I realized there are a few items yet untouched. I thought recapping it here might help motivate me to check off one more project before my most critical growing – that of baby number 2 due this fall – saps all of my remaining energy.

So without further ado, how did we do?

  1. Plant all six veggie beds – Success!
  2. Fertilize the lawn (finally) – Well….. not so much
  3. Cut down the front holly – Alas, yes
  4. Plant the boxwoods in front of the house and extend the front bed – If you count the pokeberries it’s sort of planted. I guess that’s a no.
  5. Edge the garden near the veggies with stone – Stone has been purchased, so step one is down
  6. Plant at least one shrub in the corner near the baby’s swing – Nope
  7. Complete my rain barrel making project (more on that as soon as my galvanized drum cover arrives in the mail) – Oh I’ll check this off before fall is officially here or die trying (which is possible since Chris keeps saying I shouldn’t lean inside the thing to inhale the fumes when I silicone the gaps in my assembly)!
  8. Build the long veggie bed (would love to plant it but am trying to rein in my enthusiasm before my garden partner rips out his hair on one project to many) – Yes!

3.5 out of 8’s not bad?

The Finished Wall

The wall has turned out beautifully. After construction was finished,I went through and stained both sides of the untreated wood, hoping to provide a little added protection from weathering.

Next, Chis drilled an upward-angled hole in the bottom slat every five feet and inserted a small length of copper tubing to promote drainage. Inside, we filled the bottom foot all the way across with gravel for the same purpose. Finally, we added a lining of landscape fabric to keep too much dirt from filling in that gravel, while still allowing the water through.

The last step has been the most difficult: filling the 2×20 foot bed with dirt. I’ve been taking a couple wheelbarrow loads here and there from our compost pile in the front, but have emptied about as much as I can without disturbing what has suddenly turned into an unexpected pumpkin patch (my favorite type of surprise).

I’m aiming to finish the bed up shortly so that I can transplant my remaining sweet potato vines, letting them drift beautifully over the edges of the wall, as well as a host of trailing herbs ready to go wild.


Our garden “room,”


Future plans call for decorating this side with a collage of colorful tealight holders.


The next step will be to add a small storage bench on this side of the garden wall.


When looking off the porch, it’s a delight to have one corner of the yard that seems almost “finished.”

How to Build a 20-Foot Veggie Wall

At the end of last year, I had finally built the last two raised veggie beds for my vegetable garden, and they sat empty, unfinished and uneven for the rest of the winter, the pale thorn in my side. So the first warm day of March found us all outside, adding landscaping fabric and mesh to the bottom of the beds to keep out rodents, leveling the sod so the beds would sit evenly and adding a couple of coats of stain to protect against further weathering.

SONY DSCWith that all easily accomplished in an afternoon, I was a bit surprised that Chris agreed to immediately tackle the one remaining raised bed we had discussed.

There are two reasons I figure he jumped all in to this project:

  1. It’s using the last of the wood from our homemade dance floor from four years ago.
  2. Chris can’t resist a good wall.

I can’t remember who first suggested it, but we had fallen in love with the idea of sectioning off the vegetable garden from the rest of the yard with a tall raised bed that would act essentially as a wall, creating a vegetable “room.” Gardeners far more experienced than I will tell you that the best gardens entice you to move forward to discover what’s just around the bend. In my mind each corner of the yard will someday offer its own secret room, a sectioned off area where visitors will find a private world with its own scented secrets.

The wall in question measures 20 feet long by 2 feet wide and roughly 30 inches tall. The plan was to use 4×4 lumber for the corners and vertical supports, but we didn’t want to use pressure-treated wood, with chemicals that could potentially leach into the soil and roots. That pushed us to 2×4 kiln-treated wood that Chris considered fastening into 4×4 bundles, but then we had to be concerned with rot and replacement. Ultimately he found 4- and 8-foot-long metal L-shaped pieces at Lowe’s that were corrosion-resistant and could be easily driven into the ground, the perfect solution.


With a sledgehammer and a level, we placed the longer Ls in each corner, then Chris fastened a series of the shorter pieces together to create Ts, and we place four of those in the middle for supports at 5-foot intervals. Chris strung a line level to ensure the tops of his posts were all even, since we’re working on a small grade.

While Chris leveled, I stained the wood we had on hand. Once it had dried, we began cutting wood to size.

By the end of the night, we had two boards up, and a narrow trench dug fairly deep where the ground is higher so that we can slip the next boards in level. Once the bottom row goes in, it should be fairly simple to build up from there.

How to Build a Raised Vegetable Bed

Cure for the Common Cold

It’s spring as far as I’m concerned and nothing, not even a head-cold and the occasional bout of axis-tipping dizziness, is going to keep me from enjoying it.

The signs have been everywhere that spring is here:

  • This week warmed up to the 60s!
  • The thick, sludgy snow by the mailbox has finally melted!
  • The first yellow crocus was joined within minutes by four of its siblings!
  • My seeds have arrived!

Did I forget to mention the seeds? Funny, I’ve started the blog about the exotic allure of online seed-buying at least three times over the years, and then always talk myself out of hitting the buy button. Not this year! I picked out exactly the cucumbers and peas I wanted, threw in a fun packet of Burpee’s hybrid corn and decided to try my hand at sweet potatoes (why not?) as well.

At any rate, given this clear cut case for spring, yesterday Chris and I finished the last two raised veggie beds: he added the wire and landscape fabric to keep all variety of pests at bay and I slapped on a coat of stain to slow the effects of the weather. By the end of painting, I’d more or less forgotten I was sick.

It’s been cheering to be accomplishing so much so early in the season, so I think I’m ready to put out another to-do list, a little challenge to myself to keep moving. So without further ado, the 2015 To-Dos:

  1. Plant all six veggie beds
  2. Fertilize the lawn (finally)
  3. Cut down the front holly (sob – much more on that later)
  4. Plant the boxwoods in front of the house and extend the front bed
  5. Edge the garden near the veggies with stone
  6. Plant at least one shrub in the corner near the baby’s swing
  7. Complete my rain barrel making project (more on that as soon as my galvanized drum cover arrives in the mail)
  8. Build the long veggie bed (would love to plant it but am trying to rein in my enthusiasm before my garden partner rips out his hair on one project to many)

That’s not so bad, right? I didn’t say one word about building the baby a hobbit house for her birthday or putting in an entire dry creek bed! See, I know my limits!

Build Your Own Tomato Cages

As I mentioned in my last post, watching my tomatoes grow has been like watching a cute little lizard morph into Godzilla. They’ve been ripping up their bamboo stakes and flinging them back at me while growling for more water and sunlight.

Honestly, the tomato cages available from garden centers today are super cute. The traditional wire cages now come in fun colors, and I was sorely tempted to go funky and fun. But instead I decided to keep things simple and continue with my woodsy natural theme — and finally put to use some more Pinterest-inspired ideas.

Here’s how this all came together.

tomato with trellis

For one cage, I used:

  • 4 1x1x boards, cut to 4-foot lengths
  • 10 3/8-inch dowels, 18 inches long
  • drill press with 3/8-inch drill bit
  • clamp
  • wood glue
  • mallet
  • 1 1/2-inch-long screw

I wound up using the miter saw to cut my boards and dowels to the length I wanted, and I put a 45 degree angle at the end of each 1×1 to make it a little easier to shove in the ground.

On each board I measured and put marks at 3, 17 and 31 inches. Then I rotated the board 90 degrees to the next side and put marks at 10 and 24 inches.

To get a straight hole, I used the drill press. After clamping my board in place, I sank holes all the way through the board at each mark.

drill and saw

Once everything had been cut to size and drilled, I began assembling essentially two separate ladders. I dabbed a bit of wood glue onto the end of the first dowel, using a paper towel to evenly apply it to the end, then I placed it into the first hole. The mallet came in handy for sinking the dowels in flush through the board. I proceeded to do that with the remaining two for that side. Next, I dabbed wood glue onto the end of each of those three dowels and set a second board onto those three ends, again using the mallet to make sure everything was flush.

That gave me one “ladder,” so I repeated the process again with the two other boards and three more dowels.


With my first ladder lying flat on the ground, I went through the glue-and-stick dowel process for the four holes now facing up. Then I simply added more glue and mated the second ladder onto the ends of those four dowels. Voila:

assembled cage

For my garden, I liked the natural wood look, since it matches what’s already out there. But I had toyed with the idea of using copper instead of wood dowels, or even using the fabulous copper metallic spraypaint that Rustoleum offers just on the dowels for a bit of fun. I also think 1-foot-long dowels might have worked, or even longer dowels but having them stick out several inches to create a trellis for plants outside of the box, so there’s definitely room to adapt this easy design.

Almost as soon as I had my cage in place and had stepped back to admire it, the monster plant toppled it. I simply don’t have enough dirt just yet to hold either of these things upright. So ultimately I wound up sinking a screw through one leg of the cage and into my raised bed, just enough to keep it upright. I didn’t want to go crazy with attachments as I figure next year I’ll rotate crops to keep from depleting the soil of nutrients.

A Rose in the Veggies

So there you have it! A simple yet distinctive way to keep your tomato plants growing upright.

How to Build a Raised Vegetable Bed: Part I

Raised gardens seem to be all the rage these days. It’s no wonder. Aside from the ergonomic benefits (depending on how high you raise it), you’ve got a nice border to keep out weeds. And there are so many stylish things you can do with the bed itself, as well as your placement of your beds and pathways running through them.

I decided on raised beds because I didn’t know what else to do with my dance floor. My then-fiance had built a dance floor for our wedding out of 2×6 boards, each about 16 feet in length. I decided this year that the third year anniversary must be the wood (or maybe tomato?) anniversary.

The framing has taken maybe a half hour per bed. We decided four-foot square boxes would be the optimal size, so that by sitting on the corner of one bed you could reach entirely across it … although we also factored in the convenience factor of knowing each board would become one veggie bed. Chris used the skill saw to turn each board into four 4-foot sections.

Pilot HolesNext, I measured a line across one end of each board about an inch down from the end. Using that as a guide, I used the drill press to put three holes within that guide. Once I had four boards pre-drilled, I squared them up with the help of a 90-degree clamp, placing the pre-drilled holes flush against the end of the next board.

I used the cordless drill to drill through my pilot holes then sank in the screws. By this point most of the boards have warped, so I can’t say this is timeless construction, but since they’re not pressure-treated either, I’m just shooting to keep them around for a couple years. With that limit in mind, I opted not to lay 2x4s on top as a seating ledge, because I have other ways in mind to jazz up the look of this simple frame.

Vegetable Bed Construction

Chicken Wire and Weed ControlSince we have voles building a subterranean metropolis beneath our backyard, Chris stapled a chicken wire screen to the bottom of each box. Beneath the wire he added a layer of landscaping fabric to keep out any weeds.

We’re four boxes in, two more to go. Once they’re complete, I’m going to add a coat of stain to match the fence and deck. Then, at long last, comes the most important step: filling the beds.

Raised Vegetable Beds