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.
The shed surrounding before
This Spring, I decided to apply the same approach to another problematic area on our property – around our garden shed.
The shed is located at the northeast corner of our land. The structure itself is in superior condition thanks to our renovation in 2017.
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:
Our compost bins have been here for two years. Without much sun they have been rather slow to produce.
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…
Firewood, tree stumps, shrub trimmings, they are used as ramp for squirrels to get over the fence.
Moreover, the lawn space around the shed was… terrible. The steep slope= soil erosion = patchy lawn space = weeds.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
All the three tiers will be behind the metal edging. I went with a gentle curve rather than a straight edge.
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.
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?
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!
Leveling the second tier
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.
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.
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:
The left side houses storage shelves.
And I have a handy small storage next to the door for strings and rulers:
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!
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.
I threaded the cable under the roof and secured it on a truss:
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…
Have you been doing any hardscaping at home? Do share!
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