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

Tag: Hot Tub

Privacy Planting around the Hot Tub

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Since purchasing the ranch house 6 years ago, we have been planting trees in our backyard to add shade and privacy. We put five fruit trees along the back fence and two hazelnut trees along the northern fence. Last year, we installed a hot tub near the northern fence. Unfortunately, none of the trees we planted were close enough to provide any privacy.

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We considered adding a pergola over the hot tub, but crossed off the idea quickly. I enjoy looking up the night sky while hot tubbing, and did not want any structure over the hot tub. We eventually decided to plant more privacy trees around the hot tub. Although this approach will take a few years to come into effect, it only costs a fraction of a pergola, and we will be able to bring more shade and biodiversity to our backyard.

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Creating a wisteria arbor

The hot tub is only 15 feet away from our northern neighbor’s fence. Being on a slope the hot tub sits significantly higher than the neighbor’s yard. People can see us going in and out of the hot tub over the fence. So we really need to screen off the space above the fence, between the two hazelnut trees.

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There are only about 8 feet distance between the canopies of the hazelnut trees. We decided to install an arbor and grow a wisteria vine here. This will bring the foliage right up where we needed it, a fast way to block the view over the fence.

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The wisteria variety is “Amethyst Falls“. It is a fast grower, but stays relatively tame compared to other varieties. It will reach 15-20 feet tall and 8 feet wide, a perfect fit for the space between the two hazelnut trees. I found a 4 feet wide garden bench from a thrift store for the space under the new arbor. The wisteria leaves will cast some much needed shade on the bench, making it a great sitting spot in the garden.

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To offer strong support for the wisteria, we decided to build a permanent arbor made using cedar posts, instead of buying a metal trellis online. Slav and I went to our favorite fence supply store and got a couple 4″x4″s and 2″ x 6″s for the build. I picked the simplest design, and Slav built it in our garage in like 10 minutes.

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Three 50-pound bags of concrete (leftover from our 2018 fence build!) were used to secure the 4″x4″ posts in the ground. I racked away the mulch then Slav dug the holes. We had lots of experience setting posts from our horizontal fence build. Everything went so fast that I barely had chance to take pictures!

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After the concrete had dried, we took off the bracing of the arbor and planted the wisteria. This spot suddenly looked so cute!

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The picture below were taken when I stood behind the hot tub. You can see the a few feet of the space we are trying to screen off. I mounted a piece of cattle panel on the arbor so I can train the wisteria to grow up at an angle.

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Planting a weeping Alaskan cedar

While the new wisteria arbor can block the view from the neighbor’s yard, we still need to find a solution for the view for their back windows. In the summer months, one of the hazelnut trees can effectively block this view. However, during winter months, the hazelnut tree loses its leaves and no longer offers the same privacy. To create an all-season screen in front of the fence, I chose a weeping Alaskan cedar.

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I have wanted a weeping evergreen for a long time. I have considered weeping white pine and weeping colorado spruce, but they are both too big for our urban backyard especially at a spot so close to the houses and a fence. Weeping Alaskan cedar trees only grow 8-12 feet circumference when mature, but reaches 20 feet tall in our climate. It is the perfect specimen for this narrow space.

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Above is a picture of a full grown weeping alaskan cedar. I like its straight central trunk and dense, pendulous branches. Even the side branches are long, the weeping habit of the branches keeps its footprint contained. I planted the weeping cedar 5 feet away from the fence. So even when it is fully grown, the branches should barely touch the fence.

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Once full grown, this weeping cedar will not only add privacy to the hot tub, but also serve as an all-season screen between the two back patios. To save some time, I splurge for a more mature and taller tree. It was over 5 feet tall when it came to our house this Spring. Given its fast growing rate (4-6 inches per year), it should start performing in 3-4 years.

Adding an arborvitae hedge

Last fall, we added six “north pole” arborvitaes in the side yard. The spot is right next to the neighbor’s garage and a small alley, where they keep the trash cans, construction materials, and lawn equipment. Although privacy is not a big issue here, we do want to mask the old fence and the utility alley. The “north pole” arborvitae grows to 12-15 feet tall and 4 feet wide. We planted them 3 feet apart, so they can grow into a green wall when mature.

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We planted the same variety of arborvitae in our front yard in 2018. They are now over 6 feet tall and bulked up really nicely. Knowing that these trees grow fast, we purchased smaller size to save some $$$. But after one winter, these little trees already put on some decent growth.

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Planting magnolia tree and shrubs on the east side

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While building the retaining wall around the hot tub, we added a small flower bed on the east side. It is already 3-4 feet higher than the hot tub patio, so small trees/large shrubs are sufficient to screen the hot tub on this side.

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Last Fall, I planted a Jane magnolia as an anchor plant in this area.

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The magnolia tree lost all its leaves in winter, but this Spring, it leafed out beautifully, and produced the most beautiful flower in May.

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This magnolia tree will grow up to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. I will be training its branches to go over the hot tub which should be magical during the flower season. In the middle of the bed, I planted a pieris mountain fire. I first saw this plant in a display garden in Nashville, TN and immediately fell in love. The new growth on this plant is intense red, which gives it such an unique and striking appearance. It should reach 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, a perfect second tier next to the 15 feet tall magnolia tree.

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The very end of the bed is too small for perennials, so I seeded three cosmos to add some color. I really like the pink and purple cosmos next to the bright red leaves on the pieris mountain fire. I think this spot can be used for pink annuals every year.

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Adding weeping redbud trees on the east and south side

The last two trees we added for the hot tub are weeping redbud trees, a variety called “lavender twist“. The first one was planted on the east side of the hot tub, close to the shed patio. Although far away from the hot tub itself, it sits right between the east side house and the hot tub. Once the leaves fill in, it will create a 10′ x 10′ waterfall-like dense foliage to block the view from the east side.

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Here is how the redbud tree looks from 10 feet back, through the herb garden. It should look really good in a couple years!

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The second weeping redbud tree were planted in the patio garden bed, on the south side of the hot tub.

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Same as the other weeping redbud, it is already at a decent height and once the leaves are filled in, this tree will screen the view from our southern neighbor. The shrub behind the red bud is a snowball bush viburnum. It will eventually grow into a 6–10 ft tall and wide multi-stem shrub, adding another layer of greenery on the south side.

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A quick view of the new garden beds

Walking around the hot tub area, I cannot believe how different our backyard looks compared to last Fall. Although half empty, the new garden beds flew nicely and the anchor plants looked so lovely.

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Remember the side yard I planted last Fall? All the bareroot hostas sprouted this spring. There are also six lady ferns. Although they are all super small this Spring, I think they will cover the entire side yard in just a few years.

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There is still lots of space to fill, and I am excited to plant more perennials! I would love to add more pink and purple colors to this area, such as gaura, purple cone flowers, lavender, alliums, and maybe some smooth hydrangeas. Now we have the bones of the garden established, the rest is more of play than work to me. We have done so much but there is still so much to do – but this is what makes gardening fun. Do you agree?

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Life with a Hot Tub

Last year Slav gifted me a hot tub. It was not fancy by any means – just an inflatable tub that only fits both of us. But it was very affordable and perfect for me to try. Now six months has passed, I am surprised how much I enjoyed it. Hot tubbing relaxes not only my muscle but also my mind. And I loved the part of being outside and taking in the fresh air.

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When we first got the hot tub, we set it up on the back patio, close to the outdoor faucet and electrical box. But our back patio sits high up and is well lit by the light from the kitchen. So I always felt a lack of privacy when hot tubbing at night. Last Fall, as we were hardscaping around the garden shed, we decided to build a spot for the hot tub as well. The goal was to move it farther away from the house, and to where it could sit lower in the yard.

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Building an in-hill patio for the hot tub

The spot we picked was on the northern slope of the yard. This space was part of the former raspberry patch we removed last Fall. After incorporating the upper half of the old patch into the nearby flower beds, we were left with this 7′ x 15′ strip of land near the fence:

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This spot is a lot lower than the house and back patio and therefore provides more privacy. After removing the raspberry bushes, the area in front of the two hazelnut trees was just enough for our 6′ x 6′ hot tub. I mapped out where the hot tub would be with some tree stumps, and Slav came in and dug out all the raspberry roots.

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From the picture below you can see the slope of the yard. To create a flat spot, Slav decided to dig into the slope and create an in-hill patio that sits a lot lower than the house itself. I am not gonna lie. It was a lot of earth-moving. And Slav did all of it with his two hands and a shovel!

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You can also see the edge of the flower bed lined up with tree stumps. We decided to keep a 4′ wide walking path between the hot tub patio and this flower bed. The tree stumps were placed directly onto the slope and raised the planting area quite a bit higher. So Slav could simply flip the soil directly into this new planting area as he dug. It saved lots of back-breaking effort of transferring the soil somewhere else.

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I must have forgotten to take a picture after Slav dug out the in-hill patio, but you can get an idea on how much soil he removed from the picture below!

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Building the retaining wall

To make sure the in-hill patio is stable and safe we needed a retaining wall. We decided to construct the wall directly on the hardpan soil, just like how we did it for the front yard retaining wall and the one around the shed patio. Slav started by scraping some soil off the edge of the patio space, so he could set the first row of blocks lower than the patio level.

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The first row of the retaining wall blocks are always the most critical. They are the foundation of the entire structure and have to sit perfectly level on well-compacted soil. They also need to run straight. Slav used a straight 2″ x 4″ as his guide, and a hand soil tamper with several levels to make sure each block was pefectly lined up with its neighbors.

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Laying the first row of the blocks took us an entire afternoon. But it was worth the time to set a solid foundation. We also took time to fine-tune the dimensions and the shape of the patio. We decided to make it bigger than planned, so we would have enough room to walk around the tub.

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We also added some soil to the patio space so the first row of the retaining wall blocks were half buried. This step should add some stability to the wall.

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Then it was time to build up! We got these retaining wall blocks second-hand so some of them were cut already. Slav took his time to select the best pieces for ends and corners. It was like a big Lego game but with heavy blocks. A good workout for both muscle and mind.

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We curved one end of the retaining wall to create a flower bed. It just made sense to keep the ground here higher based on the slope of our land.

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Before the retaining wall was constructed I had already planted the new magnolia tree. This tree will grow to 10-15 feet tall and bring pink magnolia flowers right over the hot tub.

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The blocks we used produce a pretty curve. I like it a lot.

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With a good foundation and design the rest of the building process went pretty smoothly. We back filled the soil behind the blocks as each row went in, and used a hand soil tamper to make sure there was no air pocket.

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The finished retaining wall

After a month of digging and a whole weekend of building. Here was the result:

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And here was the small flower bed next to the patio:

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Do you like it? I looooove it! This small flower bed brought such gentle feel into the hardscape. I cannot wait to pack it full with fluffy shrubs and soft flowers.

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From the picture above and below you could get an idea how much higher this small flower bed sits above the hot tub patio. Starting higher should save us a few years to grow a green screen here for privacy.

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Here was the view from the other side of the patio. The path on the right leads to the back door:

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I liked the gentle flare Slav put at the end of the wall.

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Here was the view when walking down from the house to the hot tub patio. This inner diameter is 7.5′ wide. There would be enough room for one person to walk around the 6′ square hot tub.

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Here is the view of the herb garden and the lawn from the patio space. We left a wide path around the patio and all flower beds, so we could easily push the wheelbarrow to any corner of the backyard. I liked how everything was connected with the new layout.

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The path coming from the house:

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Finishing the patio area and creating a base for the hot tub

After finishing the retaining wall, Slav leveled the patio area once again, and compacted the soil.

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Slav also compacted the soil in the area beyond the patio space, where we would get in and out of the hot tub. We are considering building another retaining wall below to keep the soil contained in this area, but that would be another project for another day.

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We did not want to put the hot tub directly on the dirt, so we decided to add some pool pads. Landscape fabric was added to keep the dirt and weeds down. These plastic pads did not only function as a leveled base for the hot tub, but also worked as an insulation layer.

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To make sure that the pool pads would not shift, Slav put down a few flagstones left over from the shed patio build.

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We then weighted down the landscape fabric with gravel. It will help to drain away any water we carry out out the hot tub. Now the patio was ready for the hot tub!

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Moving the hot tub and mulching the surrounding yard

Slav drained, cleaned, and dried the hot tub. Then we carried it to its new location:

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The hot tub sits perfectly over the pool pads, and the gravel area is just perfect for one person to move around:

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We then put down a thick layer of wood chip mulch around the new patio to cover the exposed dirt. This spot looks so tidy now!

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Originally I thought about planting right up to the retaining wall, but now, I am glad that I have left this path. It improved the traffic flow among all the flower beds. The dogs also love to come here when we are in the hot tub. They can lay down here if they want to be close. It is so sweet.

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I could not help but adding a new dwarf pine in this flower bed. The Pinus parviflora “Tanima no yuki” grows 3′ tall and 2′ wide and will cover this corner with its lovely needles in a few years.

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The hot tub now sits 4′ below the back patio, which puts us way below the fence line. I purposely did not put any landscaping lighting here. Now it feels very private to use the hot tub at night.

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The new hot tub experience!

Here it is, our new hot tub spot! It was a lot of work, but now the whole hot tubbing experience is so much better. We are now completely surrounded by trees, flowers, birds, insects, clouds, and stars. It feels like sitting in a hot spring in the wild! Being lower in the yard also adds a cozy feeling especially at night. There was one time a bunny ran right by the hot tub on the path above it, stopped at my eye level, and chilled right in front of my eyes. It was so magical.

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Another additional advantage of moving the hot tub is we now have room again on the back patio! It was packed full with a giant tub and all hot tubbing related stuff for the last six months. Now we can use the grill and have room to sit here again:

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I recently started hot tubbing in the mornings on weekend too. It was nice to relax, look around, and plan my day, which usually gets me into a more crafty and creative mind. Slav has gotten used to looking for me in the hot tub… I think it is here to stay. 🙂 If you have never used hot tub before – give it a try! It is a great way of getting out of the digital world and getting in touch with our senses. You will love it. I promise!

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