Sunday, January 24, 2016

Custom metal outdoor garden beds, with a bonus babbling fountain

This post is about another of our long-term, seemingly never-ending house and yard projects, custom metal planter beds in the backyard. The difference is, this one is actually done!

There is a reason this project took so long. We put up a nice new garage in 2007, which pretty much demolished the already shameful backyard.  We did a lot of landscaping close to the house in 2008 and 2009, and then in fall and winter of  2009 we built the trellis around what will become our "outdoor room".

It's not quite there yet; it needs "flooring", which I have vowed to do this coming summer.  I really couldn't do it before now because (1) the room needed to be cleared of bricks and boards, which finally happened when we recently completed the reclaimed brick paths around the garden, and (2) the metal planter boxes had not been in.  The planter boxes and fountain were actually completed in the first half of 2014. I just never got around to blogging about them.  So here goes.

Before pictures

This is the space to the side of the garage in October 2013, just as I submitted my hand-sketched plans to a metal shop to build us some shallow planter boxes. The round rocks piled in the center of the flowers are granite cobbles that were on the property when Drew bought it. I had a co-worker drill holes in them the size of a piece of copper pipe I had been hoarding. That's the start of the fountain.

This is the space at the back of the garage where the veggie garden beds will go.

Before the ground froze, I dug down to where the bottom of the metal pieces would go.

Then I covered the space so that snow would not saturate the ground through the first couple of big snow storms while waiting for the metal guys to do their work.


It was January 16, 2014 by the time the pieces were ready and the crew could come out and attach the borders to the concrete foundation of the garage. 
Installed and nearly ready to accept plants in the spring of 2014!

The sprinkler pipe runs under the metal edge into the bed.

I back filled with pea gravel under the metal to provide some drainage.

Post-metal installation

May 2014: First garden in the new beds! Peppers did well on this south facing, elevated bed.
I don't have a great picture of the smaller of the two back side boxes, but this one shows the red rock mulch, hose reel stand, and the place for the rain barrel.

So while I had good veggies growing in the big south bed, the side yard, which I wanted to plant with ornamentals to bring us joy when we finally do get to sit in the outdoor room, needed more work.

A blank slate

 A Water Feature

Drew especially wanted a water fountain to bring the soothing sound of flowing water to our urban setting.  I was all on board because, at the time, we had some pretty loud young kids living next door, and I thought the sound would drown them out. Ha ha, get it.
Pre-positioning the fountain
I didn't really follow any specific directions to make the fountain, but I've read probably 30 step-by-step instructions in various home and garden magazines over the past 20 years, so I just combined them.  We decided not to have open water because it can harbor mosquitoes (West Nile Virus!) and I didn't want the cats drinking rotten pond water. Like I said, my co-worker drilled holes in the cobbles for me.  Next, I needed a reservoir and some way to support the very heavy stack of cobbles.
A smallish pond liner was the only thing I could find that was shallow enough and fit in the planter bed.  Then I added concrete blocks and a pump I had from a patio fountain I had made several years ago. 

Wire mesh topped by some sort of plastic coated concrete reinforcement mesh would keep out the pebbles. 

When I put it all together and plugged in the pump, I was delighted to see it worked!

Once that was in, I transplanted the bamboo from another area in the yard and added some blue mondo grass and annuals for color.


After pictures

Add the finishing touch of my favorite Mexican beach pebbles and mulch.

A poor panorama picture, but you get the big picture. 

So that was in June, 2014.  The plants are still alive and the pump still works. In the heat of summer, I have to fill the reservoir with the hose for a few minutes each time I plug in the fountain. We don't have it on unless we are in the backyard.  I have to drain the reservoir each winter, which is kind of a pain, but the sound of the fountain is lovely to hear as I work in the garden.  This space is going to be great once we get the patio built around it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Recycled brick paths

Drew and I built a brick pathway around the back garden area using bricks from the back wall of our house, salvaged (Drew would say, scavenged) during the 2010 addition. It took us over 5 years but it's done now. Here's how.

As readers know, we tore out the back brick wall of our bungalow during the 2010 remodel/addition.  You can see the gory details here, but in case you don't want to relive the horror (and it was horror), here are a few pics from that spring.

The back wall of the house in June 2010 after the contractor lopped off the back shed area. The green bricks on the right were part of a double layer brick wall that would later become the pathways, although I didn't know that was the purpose at the time.

The bricks coming down.

 No wall remains.

The bricks were technically available for reuse in June of 2010, however, we were a little busy with that other project for about a year.  It continues still, but nevertheless, important yard projects need to be done.  Fast forward to June of 2014, after moving the piles of bricks from the pergola to the narrow breezeway between the vinyl fence and the garage back to the pergola again, I finally started to clean the bricks of mortar so they could be reused for the pathway around the vegetable garden.

This was my cleaning station.  I can't believe there isn't a beer bottle in this picture. I drank a lot of beer while sitting there, chiseling mortar off the bricks, listening to podcasts on my headphones.

Piles of clean bricks. I probably spent about 40 hours cleaning bricks. 

Once I had enough bricks to get me going, and I had the pathways all graded out the way I wanted them (no small feat!) I started laying bricks. August 14, 2014 was an exciting project day.

8/14/14 The first flight of bricks that I laid. I leveled the soil under the paths, then leveled and tamped 1-2 inches of sand, then pounded stakes in to anchor the plastic edging, before laying an alternating pattern of bricks. I used screws for spacers.

8/20/2014. Coming along.

11/30/2014. I laid about 20 to 25 feet of pathway before winter last year, making it almost to the compost bins so we would have a walkway to tread upon to take out the compost.

Things picked up again last spring. Drew got involved in the project once he found out power tools were involved.  We had a system where I would lay out the pattern and mark the bricks that needed to be cut, and he would do the dirty work cutting them with a masonry blade on the circular saw.  

Spring and summer 2015's work.  The corners were tricky, but Drew helped by doing most of the cutting and schlepping bricks.

By late summer, the easy straight run next to the vinyl fence was done and I came to another tricky part. I had to build a "retaining wall" under the ally fence to keep the bricks in the yard plus figure out how to leave open the escape route the cats like to use to get to the ally.

10/16/2015. Here come the bricks from the left. What a mess.

10/16/2015 Looking out from the yard.

10/17/2015. A good day's work.  The escape route for the cats is in the foreground and the gate to the alley is to the upper right.

Close up of the escape dugout for the cats.  They like to run wild back in the alley, and it would be difficult for them to get over the 6-foot vinyl fence, so I terraced the bricks just enough that they can squeeze through on their bellies.

Looking down from the top of the fence to the very large and extremely heavy rock Drew dug in to the alley as a "landing pad" for the cats to slither onto from the escape dugout.

11/17/2015. A few more days of bricklaying got me to this point.

But is was after this that I realized I didn't have enough bricks from the remodel to finish the project.  So, in true Lucy fashion, I ripped up the mini patio I had laid for the garbage cans back in Fall 2011, 

which had been my "permanent" solution to the temporary flagstone mini patio I created in 2008.

So now I had enough reused bricks to reuse again, but then another difficult area, which included 1) turning a corner and joining the path back to where I started, 2) widening to extend to the pergola exit, and 3) adding a rock under the downspout.

The final push.

I carried on, racing against shorter and shorter days while doing a lot of field work for work, until finally on Nov 22, with Drew's help, we finished.
11/22/2015: ALL DONE!  It was so cold our fingers were numb and mine were cracked and bleeding from a long weekend of brick work, but a big storm was in the near forecast so we hammered it out until 7 PM on a Sunday night.
What a feeling of accomplishment!  This project, which I started planning and pondering in 2010 to "save money" and use a recycled product instead of buying new, took me countless hours and put a serious tight spot in my hamstring that I still feel today.  But I really love the character the paths give to the garden, and they make it so easy to get my wheel barrel and garden implements around the main bed.  Here are a couple of "after" pictures.

And we finished none too soon, for the snow came with a vengeance in the next few weeks.

But what about the poor transient trash cans?  Well, I rounded up some rectangular concrete pavers we had in the yard from various other projects (in my pack rat midden), bought some new red ones, and voila! An even, level checkerboard mini patio for the trash cans.  I hope this is their last resting spot. 


Monday, January 4, 2016

Knee Scope

The second Christmas Drew has been not working in most of our married life and what do I do but schedule arthroscopic knee surgery for the Friday before Christmas.

I'd had nagging pain whenever I exercised hard for a couple of years.  Way back in 1985-86 I tore my ACL clean out so I've been living life with no ACL, which creates a lot of instability.  I can't count the number of times I have re-injured this knee since then, most recently that big hike I did two years ago Thanksgiving.  An MRI revealed a probable tear in the medial meniscus and potentially the start of a bone spur on the front of the knee.

 Doctor Mark Scholl went in there after it on Dec 18.  Here's what he found.
The piece of tissue to the right of the metal probe is the flap of torn meniscus that had folded underneath the rest of the meniscus.  This medial half of my left knee meniscus is about 1/3 the volume of a healthy meniscus. The good news is that the femur and tibia surfaces (the top and bottom flat white surfaces in the photo) look to be in good shape, i.e. no arthritis.
The video below show the doc trying to maneuver the flap so he can cut it off. There is not sound, but you can click in the lower right of the video to make it full screen.

In this one, he has separated the nickle-sized hunk of meniscus and is pulling it out of the joint.

The bone spur turned out to not be a bone spur, but just an area of damage to the soft tissue that wouldn't heal, so he cut slits in that area to get some healthy inflammation and blood flow to it.  This video shows that area while he is articulating my knee.

Drew was not due home until late that evening so my friend Shelly retrieved me from the hospital.  I had my recovery room all set up the day before so that I could just get kicked to the curb (well, not really, Shelly escorted me into the house and made sure I had everything I needed) to recover until nursemaid Drew came home at 8 pm that night.

I felt pretty good with my kitty nursemaids by my side.
After three days I was putting weight on it but still using crutches.  I was allowed to take the bandages off.  Here are before and after surgery pics. 


3 days post-op. Not too swollen, really.
 My sisters and Mom sent me gorgeous flowers to brighten my bedside.
By the following Wednesday I was able to go to work and not use crutches.  Christmas came and went with a lot of limping, but not much pain.  Then I went to work two days the next week and Kapow! my knee swelled up like a puff ball mushroom and became really painful.  Back to crutches and laying around.  Max and Marley didn't mind that at all, especially in the warm back bedroom.

I brought some work home. I like these office mates.
So today, after nearly a week of being really careful, I was able to walk a little and went to my first PT appointment.  The PT really helped; although the knee is sore, I have a lot more movement in the joint.

I hope to have no more set backs so we can have fun in February.

Feeling pretty good. PT helps. I'm able to go around a full pedal stroke on the stationary bike.  Still limping a little. No cardio exercise but I'm able to get a decent upper body work out in at the gym.

Same as last week except that the knee feels less weird and I'm walking almost without a limp now. I can spin easily on the stationary bike and I've done yoga a couple of times.  Still being careful, but I occasionally forget I had the surgery and just do normal things.

I had a PT appointment at 5 weeks. The very best PT in the valley, Dr. Colin Bywaters (who also helped us coach high school mountain biking) gave me a good session today.  He pushed on the top of the knee to stretch the back of the knee, which helped immensely in being able to straighten almost fully. He then made me lift actual weight by doing leg extensions and curls with 30-40 pounds.  I was afraid the knee would be really sore and swell up, but it didn't. He also gave me the go ahead to do easy cardio, so in the following days I did 20 -30 minutes on the spin bike with some moderate resistance. 

I feel SO much better about the recovery now.  I am walking almost normally most of the time and my knee feels almost strong.  I can go up stairs with no problems; coming down is still odd because I'm at about 100 degrees of bend.  It is still stiff after I have been sitting in one place for a long time, but perhaps that's just the body's way of telling me to get off my butt and move. 

I think I'm gonna live.

Feeling pretty strong, but not 100%. 

Dr Bywaters said I was good to go on vacation. I have full extension and I can flex 127°. The swelling is hard for someone who doesn't know which knee was operated on to tell. Some of the quad muscles are still atrophied and it feels funny going down stairs. I do moderate cardio. I still feel that it is pretty far from being able to ride a hard effort on a real bike, but we are leaving on vacation and I'm going to walk and hike as much as I can!