Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Tag: Garden Page 1 of 5

Home Stay + Building a New Terrace Garden

When landscaping our property I like a methodical approach. Starting with removing the dead and unwanted, followed by hardscaping and planting trees and big shrubs. The hardscape and structural planting form the fundamental elements of the landscape, directing the choices on small shrub and perennials. I manage to hold off on ground covers and bulbs, waiting for the trees to cast shade and the perennials to fill in. It is surely a long process, several years before one area to complete. But it allows ideas to emerge and taste to develop, resulting the best garden possible.

This approach worked wonderfully in creating our front yard garden, which we added in 2018. After deciding to turn the weedy part of the front lawn into mulched garden bed, we removed the turf, amended the soil, and built a retaining wall system for erosion control. We then added a dry creek and installed drip irrigation to manage water. As of planting, we started with an arborvitae hedge, some evergreen, and tall shrubs and screening bushes, before packing the space with hardy perennials. The once weedy and difficult area has shaped up to one of the most beautiful gardens in our neighborhood, and brought so much joy to us and our neighborhood.

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The shed surrounding before

This Spring, I decided to apply the same approach to another problematic area on our property – around our garden shed.

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The shed is located at the northeast corner of our land. The structure itself is in superior condition thanks to our renovation in 2017.

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But the area around the shed is not so hot. With the shed being a few feet away from the side and the back fence, the space behind the shed is a perfect catch-all space:

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Our compost bins have been here for two years. Without much sun they have been rather slow to produce.

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This corner is the only spot we could not see from the house. Inevitably, stuff got dropped off here, temporarily, then become part of the permanent exhibition…

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Firewood, tree stumps, shrub trimmings, they are used as ramp for squirrels to get over the fence.

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Moreover, the lawn space around the shed was… terrible. The steep slope= soil erosion = patchy lawn space = weeds.

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An overhaul is so needed yet so intimidating. Being the furthest from the house it is easy for me to look away. But this Spring, I won’t anymore. I cannot think of a better time to transform this space. A better time to admit challenges, to rip out of what does not work, and to rebuild from ground up. Transformation is scary work, especially when you have to shake the root. But it is the only right thing to do. So, let us!

Decluttering around the shed

The first order of business is always getting rid of what does not belong. The compost bins had been moved to the veggie garden. So what’s left to address is the big pile of firewood, big stumps, and tree trimmings.

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Trimmings were chipped into mulch, tree stumps were used up (you will see it later), and firewood were neatly stacked. It is amazing how tidy this space became with just a couple hours of work.

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I always liked the spot. Maybe it is the leaves slowly decaying on the ground, maybe is the summer shade thanks to the trees above. It has a woodland feel.

Here is the space before the cleanup:

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And after.

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Defining the boundary of future garden

With a clean slate I was much more inspired. Ideas started flowing and you could almost see steam coming off my ears. I had plans before, but they were no longer cool enough. Now I want a patio, and retaining wall, and a terrace garden. Go big or go home, right?

I will explain. Allow me to lay down some plastic (for killing weeds) first.

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Terrace garden is the best way to address sloped land, and I like the look. It cuts big slopes into small and flat garden beds, which are much easier to plan and manage. It also gives structure, variation, and transition space to a big open space. With appropriate screening planters, a terrace garden can be used to create “rooms” so not everything can be seen with one glance.

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For the area around the shed, I think it makes sense to have three tiers – the highest tier being the existing perennial garden (to the left), the lowermost being a patio space (where the black plastic was, leveled with the shed), and a heavily planted “bank” in between.

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I like to use a flexible hose to trace the boundary. It takes any guess work out of equation, and makes it easy to visualize the future flower beds from different angles and distance. In this case, I left it on the ground for days so I can watch it from every windows from the house.

Once I am happy with the shape of the flower garden, I cut out the new edge along the hose:

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Then reinforced it with metal edging. These edging were lining up the raspberry patch before. I just pushed them out to align with the new edge of the lawn.

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All the three tiers will be behind the metal edging. I went with a gentle curve rather than a straight edge.

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Creating a patio space around the shed

The next step was to define the boundaries between each of the three tiers. I started with the lowermost tier, namely the patio area, by leveling the soil here with the shed foundation.

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The excess soil was flipped to the future second tier – the “bank” if you will. Can you believe how much soil was removed from this small space?

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This space will be finished as a stone patio, which requires gravel base, pavers, and joint sand to say the least. For now, I simply laid down some 6-mil poly for weed control, and used the tree stumps from the tree removal last year to act as a temporary retaining wall. One stone, two birds. I am not mad about it!

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Leveling the second tier

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Now you can finally see the look of the patio. Do you like it? The perennial bed on the left houses lots of herbs. Once the mulched area behind the perennial bed gets incorporated to the second tier, I can walk around the perennial garden and harvest the herbs with ease. The bare soil between the mulch path and the black plastic-covered patio will also become the second tier. It will be heavily planted with trees and tall shrubs to screen off the future patio.

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Here is how the space look now. The boundary between perennial garden and the 2nd tier will be created as soon as I could get my hands on materials for a retaining wall.

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Can you see how tall the retaining wall would be around the patio? It needs to be 24 inches tall so I can mulch the second tier. I also plan to incorporate some kind of bench seating into retaining wall, likely with snowboards again.

Adding lighting to the garden shed

With momentum I tidied the shed: from head to toe. Here are my two walls of gardening tools:

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The left side houses storage shelves.

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And I have a handy small storage next to the door for strings and rulers:

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Our shed does not have windows, so it was pretty dark when the door is closed. I finally got around to add a shed light. And it was such an upgrade!

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We did not run power to the shed. So I picked a solar-powered light with a string on/off to conserve power. The solar panel was mounted outside of the shed door.

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I threaded the cable under the roof and secured it on a truss:

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So!

Here is the progress shot for the shed terrace garden! I like this layered look a lot better. Cannot wait to build the retaining walls, set the patio, and plant up the bank. As I mentioned at the beginning, I usually finish the hardscape before planting. But with the pandemic, things might go with the order of which can be shipped to my door first…

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Have you been doing any hardscaping at home? Do share!

Home Stay + Patio Planter Build

My personal life has always been driven by getting rid of stuff. I was Marie Kondo loooong before I even knew her existence. This Spring the urge of purging came stronger than ever, probably because I am stuck home with a husband and two messy dogs. But I am also cheap, led by my Chinese heritage. So I refuse to throw away anything that I can juice value out of. Balancing between saving things that can be used to create and getting stuff out of the house is the delicate dance I perform.

All this is to say that please imagine the extraordinary joy and relief I had when I turned leftover lumber from our horizontal fence build into a set of planter/seating combo for our patio. We used exclusively 1″x 6″ planks for our fence. But we did purchase fifty pieces of 1″ x 4″ planks for creating a decorative pattern, an idea was nixed quickly. Since returning these planks cost a restocking fee, my Chinese side decided to keep all the lumber in the garden shed for “future use”. Then my Kondo side blamed myself for the next 16 months every time I walked into the shed and saw this giant pile of wood.

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But not anymore. They are now my new planter/seating for our patio and for strawberries we will immensely enjoy over the summer months. Allow me to brag to you how I executed this perfect plan intersecting home organization, building projects, and garden planning. And feel free to admire along the way.

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A light bulb went off (on, actually…English is weird) moment

I’ve been wanting a planter/trellis combo on the north end of our patio. Our northern neighbor’s house sits lower than ours. Even though there is a 6′ fence between our properties, our patio is completely exposed to their eyes.

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We did plant some privacy trees along the fence but it will take years for them to grow into a sizable hedge. We need something to stop neighbor’s curious eyes now and for all four seasons. After some research, I decided on this design of planter box with tall climbing trellis.

Planter Boxes with Climbing Trellis

It offers not only privacy, but also function for growing herbs and flowers near the kitchen. I also like how the simple look of this planter box echoes our horizontal fence. Lastly, it is easy to build with the 1″ x 4″ cedar planks I intended to use up.

The cedar I had on hand could build more than one planter. For the second one, I landed on a bench planter design. This planter will be facing our backyard, where we do not need tall trellis for privacy. Rather, we need more seating that can be utilized from both side. Compared to having individual chairs on the patio, integrated seating reduces visual clutter while offering seating for multiple guests when needed.

One big advance of DIY is personalization. Slav has some snowboards than he could ride. But just like me, he has a hard time to throw them away. I planned to use one of them to create an unique seating bench – a good way to incorporate things that reflect our interests and taste into this build.

Cut list: the Basic Design and Dimension of the Planter

The first step was to decide the dimension of the planter. The picture below shows the northeast corner of the patio, where the two planters will be placed. The trellis planter will be set on the short edge, to the right in the picture, whereas the long side of the patio will be boxed in with the bench planter. Our patio is 6″~8″ above the soil at this corner, so I decided the planters should be 32″ tall, with 24″ above the patio when placed next to it.

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I also decided on this dimension because the 2″x 4″s we would use for vertical support for the planters are 96″ long. So there will be no waste when I cut them to three 32″ pieces. In addition, the 32″ height happens to accommodate nine of the 1″ x 4″ boards when arranged horizontally with minimal gaps in between. It is a fairly polished look I like.

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To minimize the scraps with 6′ long planks, I decided to make the width 2′ (24″) for both planters. In this way each dog ear plank will produce three side pieces without any waste.

Planter 1: Design the carcasses

With the plans in place I got to work. First I transported all 50 pieces of 1″ x 4″ x 6″ boards and some 2″ x 4″s left from the gate build to our newly organized garage. It was so nice to have plenty of room and all the right tools in place.

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I started with the planter bench and built the side panels first (32″ tall and 24″ wide).

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Next was to decided where the planter ends and where the bench starts. I like the look of square planters, so I kept the length of the planters equal with the width (24″).

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I used a couple of the full length 1″ x 4″ planks to link the two side panels together. They also kept everything straight and square. Then, I built the third side panel (furthest to the right) as the side of the snowboard bench. It does not only offer support for the snowboard, but also creates a side table on each end of the seating.

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The picture below offers a better view of the third/inner side panel. The snowboard/seating surface will be inserted into it and on both sides.

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The next step is to add planks onto the carcasses. I decided to cover the back of the planter+ table area completely, but leave the under the table area open to the patio side for additional storage.

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Above is a top view of the 2′ x 2′ planter box on one end. The pictures below show how the snowboard seating would be positioned into the inner side panel.

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Planter 1: Complete the Other End

It took a while to build the first end of the planter. But once I figured out exactly the style I wanted and the dimension, the other end was fast to build.

First the far end panel:

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Then the middle panel with half of the table top incorporated. To save the 1″ x 4″ I used only the dog ear portion and one piece of leftover 1″ x 6″ at the bottom. This panel will be mostly hidden anyway.

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Last was the inner side panel. I left out one horizontal board to accommodate the snowboard.

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After all three side panel were built, I connected them with horizontal planks:

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it is worth while to line up the screws. For any horizontal build, this step really elevates the look:

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Now we could get a good idea on what the final planter bench looks like.

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I made sure that the height of the snowboard works as seating for our patio. The table top part was not in the initial design – it was created to accommodate the curvy ends of the snowboard. But I like it now. It offers a nice separation between the soil and seating, and serves as a great spot to set drinks.

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The Second Planter Build

was a lot more straightforward as it is just a big box. We will get a already-made trellis once the stay-at-home order is over.

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The height and width of this planter remains the same, 32″ and 24″, respectively. After building the sides we have only 18 1″ x 4″ planks left, and I decided to use all of them and make the most of them too. Since taking the dog ear portion off the 6″ planks results in 70″ of straight planks, these planters are set to be 70″ long.

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Being this long it needs additional vertical support. I added another two pieces of 2″ x 4″s to link the planks from the middle. I also linked the two middle vertical supports with scraped 2″ x 4″s at the bottom, so the pressure of the soil is less likely to cause blowout in the middle of the planter.

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Out of 50 pieces of 1″ x 4″ x 6′ material I was only short for two 24″ horizontal boards – soooo impressed! I did have shorter scraps so two were jointed together on each end to create the top boards.

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With the supporting blocks they looked pretty good from the outside. I was pleased.

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Placing the Planters on the Patio

It took me two days to design/build these planters. Before sunset on Sunday, the planters were set onto the patio. They looked sharp! And I think they balanced out the visual weight of our fire pit + seating on the other side of the patio just right. I left the long boards at the bottom – they will come in handy to ensure everything is at the right level when we set the planters in place. Of course after all the snow melts. 🙂

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I am extremely pleased to have these new planters on our patio. The current plan is to move our strawberry plants, which are currently in ground, into these planters. We got beautiful and delicious strawberries from them last summer but had to fight bunnies for the fruit. But not this summer!

More importantly (to me), now the shed is empty again! Crowded by these boards our poor garden shed has become so dusty and disorganized. I can see my next project in the horizon…

How are you doing in quarantine? Are you managing to work on some fun projects? Or just enjoying life? Be good and be well, everyone!

Fall is Perfect for Gardening!

After a long summer dry spell, we welcomed Autumn rain with open arms. The water from the sky arrived just in time – with night temperature hovering about 40, it is almost time to blow dry the drip lines in the garden.

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Fall is the perfect time to garden – who is with me on this? There is much less weeding and much more flowers, and the sun is not nearly intense. Honestly, I am taking the Fall garden tasks very causally and spent most of my “gardening” time sipping coffee, petting dogs, and watching graceful grasses dancing in cool breeze. It is LUXURY.

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A front garden update

Our last year’s hard work in the front yard totally paid off. Our front yard is the one the most beautiful in the neighborhood I dare to say. I intentionally stayed with a cool color palette for flowers and I do not regret it.

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The flowers above is Rocky Mountain Columbine, which is the state flower of Colorado. The grasses behind them are Blue Grama, which is the Colorado state grass.

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Besides summer flowers there are also Autumn colors. Here are the red berries, the silver brocade sage, and the blue stonecrop:

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Last fall I dropped a couple pieces of blue stonecrop next to the dry creek. Look at how lovely they are doing now! Gotta love a strong ground cover plant.

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Succulent the dry creek

Inspired by the look of stonecrop next to the dry creek, I decided to dress it up even more. Last year I got some divisions of Hens and Chicks from a neighbor; they did very well in our climate and tripled in number during just one season. So I transplanted them along the dry creek to fill all the gaps and crannies.

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I also tucked some baby ones along the retaining wall. These voids were filled with sand and the little green bundles peeking out really brings the look up a notch.

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Re-work the veggie garden

The main gardening task this Fall is to redo the vegetable garden. We started growing vegetables in our back yard in the Spring of 2018 with just 5 beds, and added three more last Spring. After two seasons trying different vegetables, I now have a pretty good understanding on what grows well in our yard, and more importantly, what we like to eat. I would like to put more effort into vegetable gardening next year, and this Fall is the perfect time to plan and prepare the beds.

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There are a few things I wanted to address here: first, after two years of farming our vegetable beds could use some rejuvenation aka compost. Second, the bark mulch we put down two seasons ago has decomposed significantly and there are quite a few places bare ground is shown.

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Lastly, the drip system here could use some reconfiguration – we’ve been slowly adding drip lines and soaker hoses as the garden grows, which results in choppy grid and inconsistent water pressure throughout the system.

So here is the steps I took to rejuvenate the veggie garden space:

1. Redefine the veggie beds and restrict the bark mulch only on the paths

We used to have bark mulch on both veggie beds and the paths in between; I have found that the coarse mulch we used does not help with seed germination especially for small seeds. I would like to use compost as mulch next year for better soil health and veggie growth. So I racked all the bark mulch onto the paths between beds.

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I took this opportunity to redefine the boundary of each bed. To space them evenly I used a landscape measuring tape, which I found very useful in all different kinds of outdoor projects. From planning large project such as patio or fence, to planting hedges, I use it all the time when I need to measure long distance.

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We also decided to remove the very first veggie bed to make driving the trailer into the back yard easier. So I moved the edging back to define the new boundary.

The first bed:

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The new boundary:

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2. Organize the drip tubing and re-run soaker hoses

We have been watering the veggie garden with soaker hoses. After spacing the beds and move the mulch, I took out all the soakers hose onto the surface, fix the leaky area and rearranged them to accommodate the new grid of the veggie beds.

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The new grid:

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3. Propagate and divide perennial crops in the vegetable garden

Fall is a great time to propagate and divide perennials. We have some strawberry plants that are sending lots of runners. I buried the runners in soil which will encourage them to grow their own roots. I also divided our chive plant and made a row with the divisions in the front of the first veggie bed. Imagine a hedge of green shoots and purple flowers in Spring? Wouldn’t it be nice?

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4. Top-dress all beds with organic compost

As the last step, I put down a thick layer of compost over the vegetable beds to give the garden a boost of energy for the next season. These compost will be worked into the soil next Spring and another layer of compost will be used as mulch after Spring planting.

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After all the reorganization and refreshing I had to plant something. So I planted garlic crop in for next year. These are all the hard neck varieties and were grown successfully in this garden last year. And now I am using my own produce as seed garlic! How exciting!

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At the mean time…

Compared to my moderate gardening effort Slav is speeding down a long list of house winterizing – sealing the windows, replacing weather stripping on exterior doors, and winterizing our vehicles. Last weekend Slav fixed the sagging fence gate fortunately just replacing the hinges, and set a pair of cane bolts to hold the gates in place.

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This is the last 2% of fence work we did not complete before the ground frozen last winter, and you know how small tasks get overlooked – it only took us a year to wrap it up!

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Oh, The teeth mark on the fence gate? That was Charlie, our black lab, who developed a deep obsession on neighbor’s front yard and has broken out a few times this summer. Hopefully these can bolts will be able to keep him in the escape artist!

We are looking forward to some friends’ visit this coming week and a much-needed relaxation in the mountains. I hope to have an update on the basement in a couple weeks. We are so close!

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