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

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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!


Completing the Shed Patio


Have you had a project that you just could not bring yourself to complete? A task that is fairly straightforward, but something about it just makes you not want to work on it? To me, this task is the shed patio.


I curved out this patio space in the Spring of 2020, when the pandemic just started and we were all stuck at home. The tearing-out process was easy, but we could not get our hands on any materials needed to build it back up.


During the next year or so, we were able to gather the stones and pavers needed for this project. But we did not get into building right away. We kept our attention inside for the guest bathroom and the kitchen, and finished all the interior renovation just before the summer of 2022.



When the cooler weather of Fall rolled around, it was finally time to tackle the shed patio! Slav was in for some serious dirt work, and I really wanted to get the surrounding garden beds finished.


From the picture above you can see the terrace garden I created back in 2020. We have since planted an apple tree here, then filled the space around it with whatever we had on hand – mostly irises and russian sages. I had no idea about how I wanted in this garden to look, just did not want it to be bare.


Except the apple tree, every plant here is either a freebie or a divide. But they seemed to be thriving here and filled the garden bed quickly.


To finish the patio we first needed to remove more soil to create the correct depth for the pavers. We also wanted to build a retaining wall to hold back the soil and mulch in the terrace above, which would work and look a lot better than the wood stumps. Lastly, we needed to lay the flagstone pavers!


These tasks are very physical, so Slav became the muscle in this project. He started by scrapping soil off the patio surface. We had black plastic covering the soil for over two years, so the ground was fairly moist and surprisingly easy to dig.


The soil removed was dumped at a low spot in our yard, behind the drive gate and where we parked the trailer:


This spot was already low when we moved in, and it settled a lot more because of the weight of the heavy trailer. As you can see, the dogs did not help – they like to dig big holes under the trailer and sleep in dirt.


This spot needed more soil and we saw it as a perfect opportunity to get rid of the soil removed from the patio surface.


The pups were not thrilled with us taking their “sandbox” away. They silently judged us from the comfort of the shade and soft lawn.


We compacted the spot down after all the earth work and I cannot believe that this small area swallowed such much! But it was perfect – solid, level, and just below the concrete sidewalk.


While Slav was scraping the patio base, I worked on adding a flower bed between the patio and the lawn. The lawn at this corner is always patchy and hard to maintain. Therefore, we decided to extend the existing flower bed further into the lawn, and completely wrap around the shed patio.


Except this corner. We wanted a smooth transition from the lawn grass to the flagstone patio, instead of a step down. So we could easily move wheelbarrow and lawn mower in and out of the shed.


As usual, I spray-painted the shape of the new flower bed, then moved the metal edging to create the new boundary.


I liked the idea of this new flower bed. Once flowers started to grow this bed would mask the flagstones from the lawn, bringing some softness between the two flat surfaces. It also defines the patio entry point better – as soon as I put the metal edging down, we naturally walked around it and onto the future path, including the dogs!


After I established the boundary of the new flower bed, Slav was able to flip soil directly into it to fill the beds. We also laid the first row of the retaining wall blocks to make sure we liked how everything looked together.


To finish the flower bed off I mulched it with wood chips and lined the metal edging with tree stumps and branches. I prefer the look of organic borders. Once the grass grow up in summer, you will not see the metal edging at all.


Here is another look of the lawn-patio transition. We were able to tuck the drip tubing for the fruit trees behind the retaining wall and between the lawn and flagstone:


After creating a gentle slope away from the shed, Slav buried the phone line (not in use) and compacted the soil in this area. We kept the other end of the patio open as well so we can walk onto the mulched area and around the shed easily.


At this point, I started loving it. Our little garden shed was so lovable, and with the new patio it would be super cute! We would be working on the retaining wall next, so stay tuned!


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