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

Category: Hardscaping Page 1 of 8

Land Development | Hardscape | Fencing

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.


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.


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:


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.


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


The finished retaining wall

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


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


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


The path coming from the house:


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.


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.


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.


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


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!


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:


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


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!


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.


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.


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.



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.


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:



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!

The Shed Patio: Laying the Flagstones

Last Fall Slav and I worked on lots of hardscaping, including paving a small patio next to our garden shed:


Behind the flowers hid this patio space. It is pretty spacious, with an entrance from the lawn space in the front, and an exit to the mulched area behind the shed.


From the get go, I wanted to use flagstones for this patio. I like the rough surface and the aged look of flagstones, and I also think that the earthy color of flagstones would pair well with the retaining wall blocks we used here. We sourced our stones second-hand, from another yard in the metro Denver. The owners of that property wanted to rip off their patio to create a lawn, whereas we decided to do the reverse.


The patio we took apart had been there since the 1950’s. It was directly laid on the hardpan clay without any gravel base, and it was SOILD. We too have hardpan in our yard, and Slav had compacted the soil well. So we decided to lay the flagstones exactly the same way as where they came from – directly onto the clay soil.


We started from the far corner of the patio and slowly paved our way forward. You can see the gentle flare Slav created at the end of the retaining wall here. It looks so natural and so pretty!


From the picture below you can appreciate the thickness of the flagstones – the old building materials are so beefy! The previous owner of the patio said he could drive his truck onto the patio without any movement underneath.


We started paving the patio when the leaves started falling, and did not finish until the first snow… The stones were so heavy that I could not move most of them, so this part was all Slav’s effort. All I did was pointing – “this one, goes there!”


As first timers we had a hard time piecing the stones together. But slowly and surely, we came to this:


The thickness of the pavers varies, so the surface was not level. But there was no tripping hazard at this moment. We decided to level it next Spring, after the pavers naturally settle from all the snow and freeze/thaw cycles.


Here is how the entrance from the lawn to the patio looked. The pavels are so heavy that we do not think that we needed any edging to hold them back. The black tubing along the stones is the drip tubing for watering the fruit trees. We were able to neatly tuck it behind the retaining wall and bury it next to the pavers.


This is how the exit of the patio looked like. It goes out onto the mulched area along the northern fence.


We have not filled the gaps between the flagstones yet. Originally, I was gonna fill the gaps with compost and plant some ground covers. But for the longevity of the patio, we probably should use stone dust. It will also be used to level the stones from underneath.


We almost ran out of the pavers! I honestly thought we would have so many pieces leftover, that I would pave a path behind the shed…But in the end, we were left with only a couple big pieces, and the rest were all trimmings:


When Slav worked hard on laying the stones, I continued to re-shape the flower beds around the patio. I enlarged this end of the flower bed to better match the curve of the retaining wall. I might add an anchor plant, such as a small evergreen or some kind of small trees, to frame this exit next Spring.


Right after we laid the last paver it snowed in Denver. We have been living with snow on the ground for a couple months, and these flagstone pavers still felt very stable. Interestingly, the snow on this patio melts much quicker than that on other concrete patios/walkways, which kept the patio dry and pleasant to be on. I think this patio might be a good spot for starting seedlings next Spring!


To complete this patio build, the only task left is to fill the gaps and level the pavers with stone dust. We will be tackling this step next Spring after the ground thaws. We will also overseed the lawn leading to the patio, and refresh the mulch around the shed – this little corner will look so tidy and buttoned up next season!


So! How do you like our new shed patio? I love it! Although we are a looong way to the Spring time (our last frost date is 5/15), I could not help but picturing a small bistro set and warm tea among colorful blooms. What do you think?


The Shed Patio Retaining Wall Build

Last week we finished leveling the shed patio. And this weekend, we turned this huge pile of blocks:


into this handsome retaining wall!



We have built a retaining wall before, for our front yard flower bed. With hardpan just a few inches below the ground, we did not put down a gravel base. After four years the front yard retaining wall still stood up perfectly straight. So we decided to not bother with the base here either. Slav dug a small trench along the patio border, and we directly sank the first row of blocks into the earth. We made sure that the blocks were all leveled with each other, and made sure that we both liked the curve.


After completing the first row of blocks, it was quick to stack the rest up. We did it row by row, and stopped every a few blocks to make sure everything was still level. After finishing each row, we backfilled the void behind the blocks with dirt, and tapped it tight against the blocks. With the built-in lip on the blocks, they should not tip forward, and having a solid backfill ensured that the blocks would not move backwards.


For most part of this retaining wall, we used six rows of blocks, with the bottom row almost buried and not seen from the photos. It looked pretty tall from the bare ground of the patio, but we knew that the flagstone pavers would add a couple inches, to make the retaining wall at the right height to sit on.


After completing the retaining wall, I was able to finally plant the new flower beds! Planting was the reward I gave myself after the heavy lifting. 🙂 More excitingly, I was able to “shop my own garden” by dividing and transplanting plants from other part of the yard. Being a natural extension of the patio garden I planted in 2020, this new flower bed was filled with mostly the same plants – peony plants, russian sages, and irises. This is the first year I had big and mature enough plants to divide and transplant, after four years of gardening in our yards. So it felt really good to do it!


After transplanting I mulched the new flower bed with leaves and branches gathered from the Fall cleaning. This is also the first Fall that we had enough clippings to mulch our own garden beds, without needing to purchase mulch. This is a big step towards self sustaining gardening. It truly felt like an accomplishment. 🙂


Here is the view of new garden bed as one walks to the shed. What you can not see from the photo, is a swale running down in the middle of the bed under the wood chip mulch. Our clay soil has a hard time retaining water. So I always try to create berms and swales on slopes.


I love how this new flower bed came out. I like the shape of the bed, how tidy it looked with mulch, and how well it defined the entrance to the patio. The irises and Russian sage will fill in next Spring and add height to this soft border, making the patio a little “room” by itself.


The lawn near the construction site looked a bit bare for now. We will reseed the grass here in Spring and this spot will look awesome next summer!


We worked on the retaining wall when the leaves started turning into their Fall colors. The blue sky and cool air made the strenuous work bearable, and we loved the look of the new retaining wall. Next step: pave the patio!


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