Dreaming of spring: flowers, fences and fun

Today seemed like the perfect day to write a blog post about plans for the backyard.  After living in a condo for many years our new home brought with it dreams of summer barbecues, lilac bushes, shading trees, tall glasses of lemonade and cool green grass.  Our reality is that there is still a lot of work to do to finish the house and get our new certificate of occupancy.  Still, a family can dream…

Our backyard today.

Our backyard today.

Although we moved into our house months ago, we are still working on the punch list with the contractor.  Unfortunately, the GC put us on the back burner, then the weather turned cold and what with the constant rain and freezing temperatures, we could not finish the back deck.  Thankfully, the railings and stairs were completed and only the stone deck surface needs to be installed.

In the fall we met with landscape designer, Dan Silverstein, whose services we “won” at our daughter’s school auction last winter.  He came out to see our yard and we discussed ideas for the space.  He took some measurements and we showed him some photos of backyards we liked.  Below is the yard before construction on the house.  We hacked down that tree closest to the building but need to remove the stump in the spring.

Back Yard Shot From Roof

Back Yard Shot From Roof

When looking at outdoor areas we tended to like clean modern spaces but we (I) definitely want an area with some wild flowers and an English garden feel.  We already know the design of fence we want but are worried about how much sun it will block out.

The inspiration photos:

fence

The narrow slats and wider spacing at the top allow for more light to get through.

flowers

We are going to have to use plantings that work well in shade and half sun, especially if we put wooden fence up.

We are going to have to use plantings that work well in shade and half sun, especially if we put wooden fence up.

And this one is a little on the dreaming side but not impossible (no TV just pool or hot/cold tub). hot tub

Our designer came back with a plan that we liked.  We were open to completely re-arranging the space but decided that our budget was not so we are planning to keep the basic bones but clean it up.

backyard plan

As weary urban dwellers, we definitely wanted to keep some grass.  In the long area with the plantings, we hope we have enough sunlight to have a small kitchen garden and some flowers.  In the back, we will probably go with bushes for privacy and to greenify things back there.  These plans are a good start and we liked the way Dan blended modern with natural elements like gravel around the tree and green plantings in the brick walkway.  When spring finally starts to bloom we will fine tune the plans and hopefully, if the rest of the house is done (remember we still have that rental unit to fix up), we will get to start on it.

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Patio Dig

Midway (of which I have no recollection) through our project we were told that we would need to have our back patio area dug down to meet the new back foundation of the house.  Why this wasn’t discovered before we sent our project out to bid and before our budget was determined is one of the many mysteries of the renovation bidding process.  At a time when you are overwhelmed with details someone might say, ”hey, you will probably need to dig down here” but it gets lost in all the other minutiae that you are trying to decide.  So thousands of dollars that we don’t really have later, we hired Design Tech (who did our front windows) since we did not feel inclined to use our contractor.

Preparation

In order to lay the concrete slightly sloping away from our building they needed to dig down about 4-6 inches.  You don’t want your patio to be level or slope towards the building because in heavy rain or snow moisture will get in.  Since there is no access to our backyard it meant having to remove bags of dirt by going through the house.  Sigh.  We felt a little better when we saw that they covered the floors and walls in plastic.  We had to vacate our bedroom and move our bed, clothing and toiletries that we would need into the living room.  The projected duration was estimated at two weeks.  Our original contractor informed us they would not be back until it was done (mainly because I think they were ticked off that we did not hire them for it).  We didn’t need any more commotion in the house anyway.

plastic

Considerations

One of the problems with pouring concrete is getting the color even throughout the entire slab. We couldn’t get a mixer through the house or a pump truck so we chose blue stone tiles set in concrete, and anyway the tiles looked nicer.  This stone is fairly expensive but it is good quality and we wanted to do the patio once and not have to worry about it.

Before doing this type of work you may want consider your plan for the backyard and any potential fencing.  Now is the time to put in fence posts because you can set them permanently in the concrete making your life easier later when you install a new fence.  We knew that ultimately we wanted a wooden fence so we chose to install 6 basic 10′ long pressure treated posts and then later we could decide what style and height we wanted it to be.

You will also need to consider drainage. We selected a trench drain which runs nearly the length of our patio and ties into our building’s waste line.

Process

There were four stages to the project:  digging out and removing the dirt, tying in the drain, pouring the concrete and then laying the blue stone tiles and grouting.  Here is the pictorial progression:

Before

Before

before

before

removing existing slab

removing existing slab

mid-dig

mid-dig

drain installation

trench drain installation

laying down blue stone

laying down blue stone

patio finished

Finished!

Afterwards

The project ended up taking almost three weeks to complete because of some minor issues but we are happy with the results.  Because we had to dig down, the rest of the yard is now 6 inches higher than the patio so my wonderful husband started work on a timber retaining wall so the dirt wouldn’t seep onto the patio and clog the drain.