Tag Archives: Landscaping

Covering it all up, and a dad joke

Well hello there…glossing right over my long absence from keeping you updated on our progress, I have progress to share with you in spades. Or shovels actually – square front, because they’re the best for this job so I’m told.


The last I clued you in on what we’ve been up to in the backyard, was when we transplanted the plum tree from it’s corner of the odd little triangle of deck, and up into the more deserving and lofty place of the biggest planter we could heft down the stairs and across the backyard.

I’m pleased to say it survived, and I had high hopes when we got to enjoy a good spring bloom, but sadly there were only a small handful of meagre plum offerings. Uprooting an old tree definitely interferes with it’s nervous system. Hopefully next summer it’ll be feeling more up to production tempo again.

Pretty ain’t it?


But not so pretty… the weeds growing in every nook and cranny of the patchwork of old and new concrete, and ugly stained timber decking.

What to do….? Clearly laying ready lawn over top is not a good idea.

While we didn’t hate the concrete part, the odd triangle of deck in the back right corner really didn’t fit in with my vision of a comfortable, cosy, and relaxing back yard. What I really wanted to do was turn the concrete into crazy paving, and then cover up the deck. But apparently this was not achievable without seriously annoying the neighbours with a concrete saw for weekends on end, and the result unpredictable at best but leaning heavily towards disaster.

Would you believe we even contemplated ripping out the decking and filling the void with concrete so at least we’d be back to one simple surface? But that would have brought all sorts of retaining nightmares and probably have involved talking to the council. Not ideal.

So. “Cover it all up!” was the cry. White pebbles was the answer.

Until we saw the price. And realised that to do it properly we’d need to first invest in what the kids have deemed “honeycomb”.

“Honeycomb” is otherwise known as Natural Paving. There are various versions of it, and I forget quite why we chose this in the end, although most were priced pretty comparably, and do the same job. Which is to provide stability for a large area of pebbles. It holds them in place, and makes them easier to walk on. An added bonus is that it makes it hard for kids to dig around in them and throw bucket loads over the back fence and generally create havoc after you’ve gone to great lengths to rake it all out nice and smooth and level. Yep we’ll have some of that.

At $32 a sheet, and needing a total of 31 sheets, it got us almost to $1000 in one transaction. Scary stuff. But at least it was straightforward.

Pebbles was not so much. First there was giving up the dream of white pebbles, because that was looking like a few too many digits after the dollar sign. But mainly because once I got beyond that by telling myself they’d only be hard to keep looking good anyway, I couldn’t for the life of me make comparisons between pebbles and prices and suppliers thereafter. I was good at maths before I divided my brain in half twice by producing two offspring (leaving me with a quarter of my original… just enough to work that one out) but trying to compare these pebbles priced at so much per m3 with these different but supposedly the same pebbles at so much per tonne… way too much.

So what is one to do but go by looks then..?!


Exhibit A: 4 different pebble samples from 3 different suppliers

I liked the look of the “Hoki Poki Small” from Daltons, and within days a truck dumped a 1.5m3 mountain in front of the garage door.


But meanwhile… we laid all the “honeycomb” and congratulated ourselves on moving one step further so efficiently (it was super quick to lay), only to spend the next few days wondering if perhaps we needed some kind of drainage underneath…



A wash down of my pebble samples left water sitting in the matting, with nowhere to drain to, and a quick phone call to Natural Paving confirmed that yes it was absolutely necessary to have at least 50mm of drainage metal underneath. The webbed material on the underside of the honeycomb is more for weed control. Nevermind that we’d edged off the entire yard allowing only for the thickness of the matting plus 10-15mm for pebbles on top of that. We didn’t have 50mm. At least not without copious frustration.

Andre’s day time job came in handy once again as he sussed out more advanced drainage materials than GAP 20, eventually coming across some kind of geotextile called “bidim” from Geofabrics. It has hydraulic properties which makes it ideal for use for drainage and filtration applications. Oh really? And how thick is it did you say? Oh about 2mm. Give or take 1mm!!

Laying it meant taking up the honeycomb row by row and replacing it over the top as we unrolled the bidim, so we didn’t mix up our jigsaw and get ourselves in a complete pickle.



With that done, I spent most of a precious childless Friday moving barrows of Hoki Poki from here to there. Blisters and splinters aside, it was a good feeling to get to this point.

0504_145748I left off with it all dumped in piles where the wheelbarrow got the better of me and tipped off my wobbly ramp, too exhausted to rake it around, and definitely not able to manhandle that half-built playhouse structure around to finish off the job.

0504-03.07Andre got it done the next day, and after a good wash down of the dusty pebbles, it was looking pretty fine!

0504_4354We over ordered by a small pile of pebbles, and these have been fun for the kids (to throw around by the bucket load) but will get bagged up and used for top ups when necessary.

0504_4358 0504_4359Besides this “cover up” we’ve been busy in the backyard for most of the summer with adding timber to the front side of the planter wall on the deck, and to the side alongside the stairs. I’ve spent a bit of time in the garden up the side, trying to get some shade loving plants established, and helping the jasmine along with a better growing frame, and a couple of extra plants. We also filled in and painted the “half wall” at the garage side of the backyard.

Busy. But these leaps of progress are so worth it!


Once you can stop and look back… and once you know there are just a couple more things left on the list. We have a playhouse to finish obviously, and then a line up of more concrete pipe planters waiting to move into position along the back fence and break the monotony of brown with some much needed green!

I’ll leave you with this:

After 5 years of fatherhood Andre is getting pretty heavily involved in the Dad-joke Club, but one of his latest (pilfered from somewhere no doubt) is actually not bad: “Did you have a good weekend or do you own your own home?”

Backyard planning: A vision for privacy and safety

We could go to Bunnings and purchased a readymade balustrade system. Or we could custom design a different style of balustrading or screening on all sides of our deck.

10 points for guessing correctly. Actually make that 0 points – it’s far too obvious.

If there is anything consistent in our renovation style, it is doing things a little differently. Not because we like to be awkward, but because we like to create a space that suits us – our family and the things we like. What is a home if not a place to be yourself?

With that little disclaimer out of the way, this is what we have planned for the screening and balustrading part of our deck. Andre did render a much more accurate and engineered illustration, but it’s been misplaced (probably in the car) so this is my 30 second reinterpretation. 1004_1510

So, starting at the left as we stand gazing out the french doors off the dining area because it’s the logical thing to do…

This is the side that faces the neighbours driveway and beyond to another neighbour, as well as being the highest point in the backyard, so we want to have a reasonably solid screen along there. My inspiration picture is below, at bottom left. A little bit of mid century style, along with an easy build, and the ability to make this a real feature with some colour (that’s a discussion for another post!) put this to the forefront of my deck design mind. We may or may not leave the top section open as we will have screen planting in behind (between the fence and this screen there is about 600mm) but we can decide when we get to that point.

Along the front edge is where it gets a bit tricky, because it’s where we need some privacy from the neighbours, but don’t want to block our sun or our view to a favourite Auckland landmark. I got an estimate for a custom cut metal screen, but at around the $2k mark it’s definitely not an option. I must have had the top right image below fermenting in my mind because I’ve settled on a planter box, with wires running to a roof frame for a climber to climb to its hearts content (until it blocks our view and we have to take the clippers to it). Greenery screenery. If you’re not getting this vision, try flipping the top right image below on its side and inserting onto the top left image. Better?

And finally on the right hand side we’re going back to retro with a wrought iron (or similar) balustrade which we keep spotting all over town, but with a narrower V to comply with modern safety standards. I have my fingers crossed Andre’s contacts can help with this one on a budget, otherwise we’ll be back to the drawing board.

It’s a real mix of shapes and texture and materials, but I can’t wait to see how it all comes together. Hopefully it marries happily ever after and doesn’t fight nasty.

1004_Deck screen and handrail

Oh! We missed some pictures above… those stairs? Just in case there isn’t enough material variety already, I have my heart set on a brick wall slash handrail for the stairs which run down the right side of the deck (looking out from the house). Below is my amazing technical drawing of how that might appear (minus any sense of scale or straightness). The stairs themselves will just be straightforward timber ones – easy peasy!

And before I go, just one last thing. We’re framing in a “roof” to our outdoor room (flash term for the humble deck) which at this point will just be posts up each corner and then rafters (term?) along the three open sides. It’s still up for debate whether these will be timber, or steel as per top right, above.


All this talk of multiple materials and styles and textures and shapes and heights and patterns is making me a little nervous. Will it look amazing??! I’m counting on it!

If you missed the last backyard planning posts with full layouts, they’re here and here.

Patio Progress

Hope you’ve all had a fabulous Christmas and New Year break. I’m lucky enough to have Andre home this week… poor guy has a list far longer than this week but he’s doing his best!

I thought I’d do my fair share and get started on cleaning up the corner of the front yard where we’re planning a quiet little patio setting.

Before: On the left side of the front door you can see a small raised garden, with a few little shrubs and a large-ish succulent at the end.

During: Trimming the magnolia tree by the front fence – excuse the mess. The little shrubs are gone but the succulent has grown.0109

Progress: It looks messy but it was worth the back ache. A couple of weeks back we found that the garden (much like the back lawn that was) sat on a concrete slab. All good. That’ll save us a few concrete pavers. Although my first idea was a sweet little recycled brick patio… In the spirit of a positive 2013 I’m happy with pavers – they’ll look right at home next to the existing concrete, and be oh so much easier to lay.

Once I manage to haul that giant mass of succulence up onto the trailer and empty the last barrow load of dirt I’ll get to digging up a 600ish wide strip of grass and get it all smooth and level. Further progress will also involve a waterblaster, some paint to touch up that apricot, laying the pavers, some moss planting between the pavers and a whole lotta pots and plants!

I mentioned the patio furniture back in the fence post (oooh!) and there’s a story behind this little table and chairs set… I’m great at not so subtle hints when it comes to birthday and Christmas presents, and this Christmas was no different. I spotted these in a Warehouse sale catalogue marked down to $139 and emailed Andre with “Christmas Hint” in the subject line and left it up to him to choose “Red or white?” – because I also like a bit of surprise! Expecting him to come back with “well what do you think, red or white?” I was a bit concerned to not get any response, so when I saw them marked down further a week later to $89 I rushed off to get them myself. I called Andre outside when I got home and said “Merry Christmas to me!”…. “Oh.” The look on his face said it all.

The good thing is he also got the white, so we’re totally in sync there. Plus he managed to take his back and get a full refund so we’re up $50!

More positive 2013: Removing this garden is helping our house to breathe. If you peer closely you’ll see a couple of vents that were previously clogged with dirt – just behind the table leg, and to the left of the green pot? This corner of the house gets the least sun and the worst condensation. Hopefully a bit more fresh and flowing air underneath will keep it healthier!

Fencing ourselves in

You got a little hint a week ago of what’s been happening here on the renovation front most recently. And it’s quite literally “on the renovation front” – our front yard has had a fence makeover. It is still in progress but I’m loving it and can’t wait to share…

So, we’ve lived two years here (more than!) with an old wire fence which was perfectly adequate for keeping small children in, but offered no privacy or peace of mind for mama to let the kids play out front without me (now that Master W is just getting to that stage).



I just got this in time before the gate came down… then missed all following demo progress – sorry!


The stack of blocks standing just inside the gate there is our attempt at visualising a concrete block gate post… it’s not quite a scale model.

If you’ll allow me to use a few more words I’ll just explain our fence planning process? Thanks…

The foundation of our wire fence is a little wee concrete block wall, complete with a few cracks and mostly wonky capping blocks. Rather than demolishing this, we decided to work with it because we like to try and keep things simple (and less expensive). So once the fence and gate were taken down and the fence posts cut off at the level of the blocks, the capping blocks were removed and some steel angle (if that’s what it’s called?) was concreted into the hollows of the blocks (scroll to bottom picture, or just wait until you get there). Blocks were also laid to make gate posts, which you’ll also have to scroll down for as I got no progress shots on those either. Then new capping blocks were laid on top of the wall, and fence posts bolted to the steel angle. Which brings us to here:


By the way, that sprouty stump there is where I got the sticks for my Christmas tree, which I did put back together and so far it hasn’t used up any more lives.

There followed a couple of nights of hammering, hammering, hammering to get all the fence palings on. Next thing, I stick my head out the window to tell Master W it’s bedtime and Andre is just hammering on the last one! Bedtime got delayed while we all did a happy dance around the front yard… or I did at least.


One of our first planting missions was the little hedge you see here outside the fence. Along the side by the neighbour’s drive, and just around the corner at the front is a well established hedge, and we wanted to extend that right across the front. It’s doing just fine but is just not growing fast enough to give us the privacy and security we need now, so up goes the fence and the hedge will just grow right on up to cover it eventually. The very next night after the palings were done the string came out to mark a line to cut right along the top and get it nice and level.


The string sits a smidgeon above the top of the gate post here because we decided to add just another few centimetres of privacy, figuring we can always cut it down later if it’s too much. So that capping block perched crookedly on top there has now been straightened out and cemented in place.


A few skillsaw minutes later we have a perfectly trim looking fence, and a few more handsaws later the posts are flush. Mmm mmm!


Good to see Andre has his safety jandals on.

There’s more to this story, which is why I haven’t left you with any great after pictures of a lush front lawn with a pretty patio off to the side.

But we do have half a gate frame welded up, some patio furniture waiting patiently by the hedge and some outdoor kids things on the way (Santa is bringing them). I have no idea what colour we will paint the fence yet. Andre keeps asking but my head space is limited to Christmas planning this week. We also plan to dig up the concrete turning bay in front of the house so we can increase the lawn (seeing as it is our only grass area) and plant some kind of border pretties along the inside of the fence. And the postie really wants a new letterbox mounted on the fence.

It’ll come… right now I’m just enjoying the fence. It makes our front yard feel like ours now – we don’t have to share it with everyone who walks past. Last night we even had an alfresco dinner just sitting on the lawn (mainly because we were filthy from a mud flats walk and I wasn’t letting any of that get past the bath – it was takeaway dinner outside and then straight into the bathroom!).


Polka dots and a whole lot of dirt

When we bought the house (right about two years ago we signed up… wow!) the back lawn looked stunning – lush and green and ready for a wee game of soccer.

Just a few months later, it looked like this:

Clearly, before the house was sold they laid ready-lawn. Ready it was but not for long. A sodden mess all winter, it very quickly dried to a bare patch of hard dirt as soon as the sun came out.

It didn’t take much to find out why:

That lush green lawn was planted right over the top of concrete. Not much leeway for growth here!

Just after we put up the clothes line out the back, we dug up a section of the dirt and weeds so I didn’t have to get my gummies (wellies) on everytime I ventured to the clothesline, and at the weekend I decided to just get stuck in and dig up the rest of the sorry mess. The first lot we dumped in the slowly progressing side garden, but the weeds are growing rampant, and because we want to use that as a vege garden, we figured we may as well just dump this and get in some “good” dirt.

So this is what I started with on Saturday morning:

My method was just to cut in some slices and then scoop them right up into the wheelbarrow:

Ahah! The polka dots! This photo was specially taken so you can see my fancy new gumboots! It’s been a long time since I had my own pair of gumboots (the last ones were pink with crocodiles on them) so I’m quite excited about these ones. Nearly as excited as our toddler who is also sporting a shiny new pair since he’s well grown out of last years.

After 5 minutes it started to drizzle and Miss E didn’t like that (she was watching and giving encouragement from the comfort of her bouncer) so I only got this far before I had to head inside to do some rocking to sleep:

After another 10 minute round (sleeps don’t last long unfortunately) I got up to here:

What should have taken half an hour in total ended up taking a whole lot longer, so thankfully Andre pitched in after lunch and finished it off. There is now a nasty concrete patch where once (briefly) there was a lovely lawn, but we have plans (oh yes, we have plans!) and in the meantime, it will be very pleasant to not have a soggy mud pit this winter, and already it is the preferred spot for tricycle riding and mountain climbing (the pile of dirt we left in the corner is just made for a two year old boy isn’t it?).

If you’re wondering why the pile of dirt is there rather than on a trailer ready to be dumped far away from here, it’s because the trailer is a semi-permanent park for a pile of builders mix which is destined for the s-l-o-w-l-y progressing side garden.

See, s-l-o-w-l-y: