We came up with a bit of a grand plan to rework the garden during the course of 2019. The original patio was quite badly laid and slabs generally looked shabby and in need of being reset. The old retaining wall was rotten and the lawn was very uneven, as well as being mainly composed of moss.
As 2020 started, I got fed up and started planning in a bit more detail, finding reasonable products, and so on, but still with no anticipation of actually doing anything about it for at least another year.
And then there was a global pandemic. All of a sudden it was apparent that we wouldn’t be going away anywhere on holiday, but I’d have to take the time off somehow. And also, we wouldn’t be spending any money on going away anywhere.
There was a period of time after the COVID lockdowns started when I did a lot of mental planning but was unable to do anything, as a result of not being able to get hold of any materials. By the middle of May that eased a little. I’d managed to get some deliveries of bulk materials like sand, walling blocks and hardcore, and DIY stores had started reopening, meaning that those “extra little bits” that a job always needs were now available again.
So enough of the potted history. Let’s talk about the plans. They were quite significant plans, reflecting the anticipation of a lot of time at home. The plans also reflected my total inability to estimate how long it takes me to get things done, especially when they are big, heavy things. But anyway, a summary of jobs we decided to attack:
- Raise the level of the standing space behind the garage – When I first had the patio done we left a step down between the patio at the side of the house and the back of the garage. The lands falls away to this side of the house. I decided to try to bring it all to the same level.
- Replace the old retaining wall of railway sleepers – 20 years of weathering had turned them into an interesting habitat for insect life that had little structural integrity.
- Remove some old planting beds that contained either no plants, or plants that were far too large.
- Remove the old pergola, which was being used to support a rather over-sized jasmine plant and which made the walk from back to side of the house feel rather claustrophobic.
- Build some raised planting beds – We’re a bit rubbish at keeping potted plants alive but we used to have some raised, brick-built beds that kept plants alive for years. More of those please.
- Improve the step into the garage – the old one was too small/ and low and the paving slabs had detached from the base
- Replace the fence between the house and the garage – a short length of fence that was the only piece I didn’t replace in the great fence-building programme of 2018.
- Replace all of the paving slabs – The old ones were cheap concrete jobs. A lot of them were damaged and they were all badly stained, plus some were not laid very well (not by me, I might add). They sloped the wrong way, resulting in water pooling against the side of the house.
- Build a path from the back of the house to the deck, so the deck can be accessed without having to cross soft, wet grass.
- Raise and flatten the lawn to remove all the bumps and unevenness.
- Split the back garden into separated areas of lawn and gravelled planting, like we used to have – using the new path from deck to act as a divider.
- Reshape the transition from the back of the house to the side, extending the planting area and replacing a step down with a gradual slope
Anyway, all of that amounts to a pretty significant amount of effort. More than enough to keep me busy during a year of no holidays, no weekends away, not much caching, no parkruns, and a distinct lack of other normal things to spend time on. And now it’s September as I’m writing this, so we’re getting to the point where there isn’t enough light in the evenings to be working outside, and as a result I’m inside typing.
So what products did I decide to use ? – Roughly as follows:
- All of the decorative bricks used in the walling are Marshalite Rustic in 300x100x65 buff – They give a pleasingly rough look and are ideal for someone who’s bricklaying skills are questionable. It proved easiest to order these directly from the manufacturer.
- For the paving slabs, I went for Natural Paving’s Classicstone in the Harvest colour(s) – It’s an Indian sandstone that comes in project packs of various sizes and colours. I ordered these through an online retailer, pavingsuperstore.co.uk.
- I couldn’t find any coping stones I liked that were the correct width, so I’ve ended up buying a few more slabs and a lot of discs for the stone cutter, and I’m making my own. The sandstone is plenty tough enough for the purpose and I found I’ve got a few offcuts available anyway from areas where whole slabs didn’t fit.
- I got all my bulk materials from BuildBase – There was no particular brand preference here – it was just a matter of them being the first people who could supply the materials once the lockdown started easing. They won the business and have continued to do so ever since. They’ve provided breeze blocks, cement, building sand, sharp sand, concrete ballast, pea gravel and hardcore.
- And then there were some random products I hadn’t thought about or realised that you needed. Paving slurry helps bond the non-absorbent slabs to the mortar. A hydrochloric acid solution removes cement dust from the surface of the slabs, and an “invisible” sealant keeps water out of the surface of the slabs (and helps keep them clean). The joints between slabs are filled with a brush-in joint filler. For the joint filler, slurry and sealant I used Natural Paving’s “Pavetuf” brand and ordered them from the same online retailer. The hydrochloric acid is available on Amazon (as are long rubber gloves, face masks and goggles – stay safe).
- For the little bit of fence that needed to be done, I used the same products from Wickes as I used two years ago. I wanted to make sure it was identical to the other fencing, and I needed so little that I could get it all in my car in a single go. I paint it with a Cuprinol One-Coat Sprayable colour called “Forest Green”
- And finally, the work generated a lot of waste, especially at the start when I was digging out old railway sleepers and smashing up random heaps of concrete. So I rented a 6 cu.yd. skip from a local supplier that I believe separates the concrete and crushes it for re-use as building aggregate. Better than sending it to landfill. The first 6 cu.yd. skip did the first wave of cack, and the second got me round to the back of the garage. A third may well be needed, but not until 2021, when I’ve finished all of the paving.