Saturday, May 30, 2009

Garden Accessories (part 2)

Every garden consists of many elements: bed plantings (of varying heights); focal points (to tie plantings into a cohesive whole (or lack thereof), balance between elements (including ground level and sky level); color (monochrome, riot of color, or lack of color); contrasts between adjacent plants or the individual plant elements (seed heads, petals, petioles, blades etc.); and contrasts between related elements and/or the other hardscaping (structures, ornaments, etc.); and add in movement, taste and odor for good measure.

Garden accessories should "fit into" an overall garden plan. Remember to keep balance, repetition and interest in mind as you consider accessories.

Sometimes, garden "rules" are suggested by the "garden experts". One example is: place your largest shrubs and plants at the rear of a bed and place the smallest at the front. Unconventional wisdom sometimes breaks those rules. It's your choice.

There are other times when the “rules” should be adhered to or your project may appear amateurish. I'm no “expert” but I understand proportions. Ornamentation and garden accessories should fit the scale of the garden. That is why I recommend taking photographs of items you're interested in purchasing to ensure they are not out of scale with the rest of your garden.

It doesn't make sense to plant a large palm or big-leaf banana tree alongside miniature plants--the miniatures will get "lost" in the overall picture. The same idea applies to the ornaments you select. Unless, there is a clear demarcation (such as a garden “room” where you're displaying like-sized gigantic [or miniature] items) keep your accessories in proportion with the rest of the garden.


Trellis (1- by 2-inch lath) to support a row of Scarlet Runner Beans.

I've made several trellises. They are an easy project. Draw your design, then staple the appropriately sized lath pieces together and fasten the completed article to a post (fence, wall, or whatever). Your imagination is the only limiting factor. I've used threllises to support Scarlet Runner Beans and a Honeysuckle vine. I'll build one to support my clematis (if it ever recovers from being eaten by slugs). For a wisteria, use much heavier materials because that trellis will (eventually) support a much greater weight.


I used the same lath spacing that I used for the garden tower to create these garden tables. Each top consists of one 5 1/2-inch wide 5-foot-long fence board cut into three equal lengths.

This table shows cross-bracing--necessary if someone is inclined to sit on it.

This is a table without its top.

This is a completed table (on the front porch).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Garden materials selection

I ain't got a barrel,
I can't go a travellin'...honey,
With nothin' to do,
I'll stick with you,
Side by side.

Remember that song?
I can't verify those are the precise words to the song because I couldn't find it on the Internet (oh my!). It's an oldie though, maybe from the thirties or forties? No matter. I'm not going to hum a few bars.

Because I don't have a barrel of money, I shop carefully, watch newspaper ads, and sometimes attend auctions.

I learned a lot from my Mom and Dad--especially about creative uses for common materials. Dad made wood toy axles by threading the ends of brass welding rod when any kind of steel was scarce during WW2. He also made wooden hinges using nails for the pivots. Mom painted old pickling crockery and used it for outdoor "waste baskets". My brother and I used old drapery rods (the tubular variety) for our blow guns and we cut flat felt scraps into tiny circles and inserted 6-penny nails in the center to make darts (very effective and accurate up to twenty feet or so).

Indirectly, my parents taught me to find creative uses for things that may otherwise be discarded. Hence, I don't throw out much (to the chagrin of my wife, but that's another story). So...what's that got to do with gardening?

When it comes to selecting materials to enhance my garden, I look around. I ask: Does the item I want for my garden have to be made from wood, or concrete, or whatever? I'll also consider the unusual.

I discovered a couple of pallets of 1- by 2-inch wood stock in 12- to 18-foot lengths at a building materials auction. No one else bid on them, so I got them cheap. When others have very little imagination, they pass up deals on GREAT stuff. It took four trips with our 3/4-ton Suburban fully loaded to bring that great pile of wood home. I have it stored and covered in three piles. It is a "lifetime" supply of material. My wife is dubious that I'll use it all, but I time.

A portion of my "lifetime supply" of 1- by 2-inch stock (this one is four feet high).

I've found uses for other stuff, too.

When a tree fell on our house, I chain-sawed some of the trunk into 2 to 6-inch thick rounds for use as "stepping stones" alongside our pond.

Chain-sawn wood rounds used as "stepping stones" around the pond.

I had an excess of rock (left over from my pond-building project) and used some of these leftovers for additional pathways.

Leftover rock is a new pathway from arbor to (as-yet unbuilt) "secret" garden.

My shed is 90% recycled materials.

Interior view of garden mini-shed.

Other ways of saving on materials include: dividing roots, saving seeds, "layering" plants, and propagating hardwood and softwood cuttings to build up my supply of plants.

Mother Nature also provides. Birds (and squirrels) contribute seeds around my yard and under trees (mostly these are undesirable plants, but there have been pleasant surprises). I usually will let things grow until I recognize them to be good or bad plants for my yard before pulling/transplanting them.

Cutting propagation planting tray. Close to the kitchen door.

Saving money is actually fun. Especially in the current economic climate.

It doesn't mean I won't spend money. I do invest in quality concrete and metal post holders and long-lasting pressure-treated wood I also use long-lasting cedar where appropriate.

Because I like the "natural" look of things, I don't use plastic for anything except planting trays or planting pots. I recycle (triple-rinsed) 1-gallon milk containers because I like the ease of carrying several at a time (I leave the handles on and poke holes with an ice pick into the bottoms for drainage). Yeah, they're ugly, but free.

Free 1-gallon containers for starting seeds and cuttings.

I'm even planning a sculpture (or wall plaque?) using old lawn mower parts. I'll call it "yard" art. It will reside in my side garden (so as not to embarrass my honey when she shows off the yard).

Planning each project is important so as not to waste materials. Before I head to The Home Depot, I see what materials I have on hand. If I need 6-foot boards, I don't buy 8-footers and trim off two feet. I'll buy 12-footers instead and cut them in half. No waste, that way, and it's more economical, too.

I realize that this article will be appreciated by like-minded persons. The rest of you can think I'm NUTS. That's okay, it takes all kinds to make a world.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Accessory Projects (part 1)

As a 13-year-old, I was an amateur magician. I couldn't afford ANY of the tricks at the magic shop. Instead of purchasing those, I checked out every library book I could find on magic tricks and hand-built my illusions.

I once constructed a "magic" wooden box (with a little help and all the materials supplied by my Dad). With this special box I made things disappear and reappear (using lights, glass and a mirror). It worked well. But for all the work involved in its construction, my audience was impressed for...maybe...five seconds. I loved showing off that box but HAD to move on to the next trick. What made that "magic" box so special to me was my feeling of accomplishment after building, adjusting, and readjusting until the illusion worked just like the book said it would.

Writing this blog about garden/landscape projects is a lot like presenting my early magic shows. As a landscape magician, I may impress the blogosphere for a few seconds. What impresses an audience today, may not last until tomorrow. What appears simple, often isn't. However, if any project triggers wonder or inspires a reader's mind to try new garden possibilities, there is great reward in that.

How much research and pondering goes into a project before construction begins? How much additional time, money and effort are expended before the final product appears? A lot. But that's unimportant. I'd enjoy the fruits of my labor, and the construction process anyway. The bonus is in sharing them with others.

Today, I'm going to talk about a few simple garden accessories I've made. I think that what makes some items 'work' in my garden are: the particular spot I've chosen (the locus); what draws the eye (the focus); the seeming coordination with nearby garden elements (flow); the element of surprise (or contrast); and the multiplicity of the senses involved (sight, sound, color, and odor). Add in our dog and cat, visiting birds and squirrels (and racoons at night), fluttering and buzzing insects, and fish in the pond--all unpredictable elements, and our yard exhibits still another dimension: movement.

This garden is for people. It offers opportunities to gather, to relax, even to explore and discover.

My hope is that all the elements work together to make the garden a memorable place.


After looking at various gardening books, I decided a tower might be an appropriate focal in a corner of the garden.

I used what was available (my "lifetime" supply of 1 by 2 stock). I drew a simple sketch and played with proportions and spacings. My tower would be four-sided, so I cut and laid out the pieces for one side on a piece of plywood (form shown below).

Plywood pattern with spacings for tower rungs.

To make two opposing sides identical, I tacked spacers to the plywood and laid out the opposing side to match the first. Then, I changed the position of the rungs, keeping the legs in the same position so that the rungs on the two adjacent sides would not interfere during assembly. A cross-brace at the top and bottom will stabilize the structure, though aren't absolutely necessary unless you're transporting it on top of your car or something. (No, I didn't mean it to sound like you mount the thing to your car roof; I meant if you're building it at one place and want to move some distance to another.) To top it off, I cut a 5-foot cedar fence board into three even pieces and stapled them to the top.

Completed tower in a corner of the garden.


Hanging Planter (bottom view)

Hanging Planter (side view)

Another "easy" project if you have access to a 45 degree saw box (or chop saw). Make all your pieces of equal length and put a staple into each corner of 8 frames. Assemble the frames alternating 45 degrees as shown and add another four staples to each to stack them. a couple of strips on the bottom keeps the pots from falling through. I used "dog" chain to hold them, plus cup hooks (found in the kitchen department of major stores) to attach to the chain (see detail).


More tricks using lattice. I used a 7 by 11 spacing to match the grape arbor and kept this spacing for other projects. The little lattice "fence" by the grape arbor keeps our dog from stepping between the winter-flowering daphne and knocking leaves off. These are year-old plants and doggie shot-cuts was having a deleterious effect upon the plants.

New Doggie Deterent fence.

The longer lattice "fence" (shown below) helps keeps the basketball in the adjacent sport court out of this tiny side plot.

Step 1: dig post holes and place posts

Step 2: lay up latticed pieces and staple together

Step 3: level lattice frame at the top and screw the lattice frame to the posts

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Need to hide something? Screen it.

When I built a small shed I had to find a new home for our 15-foot aluminum canoe. I moved the canoe close to our back fence. The neighbors wouldn't have to look at it there.

Our canoe sat, propped off the ground on a 2 by 4 frame until summertime. Occasionally, we hauled it to a nearby lake, paddled it about, and then returned it to its home at the back fence.

Wherever I looked, the canoe and kayak "focals" were always catching my eye.

I enjoy the view from our upstairs bathroom window. Every day I check the weather outside and note any floral progress in the garden. That upended canoe was not a very attractive focal point. I had planted hostas, bleeding hearts and Spanish bluebells in front of the canoe, but that aluminum behemoth rose above the greenery.

I was just getting used to it, when the situation worsened. We acquired a BRIGHT yellow 14.5-foot kayak. Yep. The upended yellow kayak resides above the canoe.

Our kayak and canoe "living out in the open". A small fruiting cherry tree is establishing itself on the left.

From every angle, these watercraft were an eyesore.

What to do? Cover them with a blue tarp? Or a silver tarp? Or devise something permanent because these watercraft were staying a while?

Because our grape arbor looked attractive, it presented me with a design precedent.

I didn't seek wifely approval this time. I instantly knew what would look good. I hurriedly sketched my plan and made another trip to The Home Depot. I purchased two additional pressure-treated 4 by 6 posts, poured concrete footings and plumbed my two new posts. I built the screen of closely spaced 1 by 2's and (with help because of all the weight of the wood) mounted it to the front face of the posts. I could not find upper beams long enough, so I used metal splicing plates and dozens of nails to assemble beams to suit my need. The new upper beams matched those of the grape arbor in style and provide support for hanging planters.

The new screen is quite effective in disguising the watercraft.

The watercraft screen from another viewpoint.

I made a pair of wood plant carriers to match the screening and hung them with lightweight dog chains. The screen lies in near-total shade, so I plant primroses, fuschias, and impatiens in the plant carrier baskets.

I hardly notice the canoe and kayak at all these days. I'll soon plant climbing hydrangeas to train up the posts, which will help soften the architecture of the screen and, when established, will add a new vertical dimension to the existing greenery.

Rebuilding a grape arbor...or, how to spend mucho moolah...

I realized our 35-year-old wobbly wooden grape arbor would not survive another year when I noticed two of its six cedar posts completely rotted off inside their metal support brackets. The tree-side posts seemed to stand higher than the rest of the posts. The brackets themselves were also well rusted.

Note the lower 1/4-inch bolt is almost rusted through in the metal post bracket shown.

The concrete beneath the arbor had cracked and been lifted by tree roots. In any struggle between concrete and tree roots─the roots win.

A portion of our backyard concrete sport court was being repaired/replaced (due to a fallen tree) at this time, so I had our contractor jack-hammer the busted arbor concrete floor and remove it as well.

I don't know which idea came first, a new shady area crushed rock pathway or replacing the arbor floor. I knew that crushed rock for the arbor floor would allow for tree root movement and stay in place.

While considering the rebuilding process, I concluded the old arbor wasn't too practical. It was only six-and-a-half feet tall and made me feel claustrophobic when I stood inside it. It's footprint was also small (just under eight feet wide and eleven feet long), barely enough to accommodate a picnic table. With the low "ceiling" I always had the impression spiders could easily drop onto my head.

I'd read that garden structures (patios, decks, pergolas, etc.) should be generous-sized because our vision of our outdoor space includes neighboring trees and sky.

My advice: BEFORE you build (or buy) something, go outside and visualize your project twice the size you drew on paper and you'll see what I mean. If you buy at the garden centers, take a picture of the item first with someone standing beside it for 'human' scale and then take the photo home and visualize that item on your property. Way too much stuff sold in the garden centers looks tiny (out-of-proportion) when placed in your landscape back home. (In my humble opinion, of course.)

The old arbor posts were cedar 4 by 4's and the horizontal cross beams that tied to the posts were cedar 2 by 4's with cedar 2 by 2's nailed onto the cross beams to support the grapevine. Nearly half of the top 2 by 2's were cracked or broken due to falling limbs over the years. Each of the six posts was crossbraced in two directions with 2 by 4's which somewhat restricted access to and from the arbor. Seven-foot integral benches were fastened between the end posts, which further restricted entry.

Sketch of the old arbor.

I decided that the original 4 by 4 posts looked too skimpy, and six of them were too many. I opted for four 4 by 6 posts and drew a to-scale sketch to determine pleasing proportions. I opted for a pair of 2- by 10-inch by 16-foot-long main beams, which allowed some overhang on each end.

The grape vine was very old and heavy (and the thick trunk appeared brittle), so I left the old arbor temporarily in place. I increased the overall footprint and placed four cardboard tubes (to hold new concrete footings and new post brackets) in their proper places. I was careful to level the tubes to each other using a long 2 by 4 and my level. After the concrete was in the tubes, I carefully set the new metal bracket post supports in the wet mix and tapered the top of each concrete footing to drain off water.

Once the concrete had cured a couple of weeks I placed the four posts and braced them as I would fence posts (I tacked a 1 by 4 to each post and to a nearby stake in two directions after checking for plumb in each direction).

Getting those long heavy 2 by 10's into place required the assistance of my daughter and a stepladder. I tacked a temporary chunk of wood near the top of each post to support the beam from below until I could get a couple huge nails pounded into each end to secure them to the posts. Before raising those beams I fancied up the ends. I started the two cuts with a portable circular saw and finished them with a handsaw.

The "fancy" end required two cuts: one from the bottom and one angled in from the end. Simple, yet effective and decorative.

To tie all the posts together, I cut two 2- by 10-inch cross-beams to fit between the long beams and nailed them to the posts on both ends. I considered adding another crossbeam in the middle (supported by joist hangars), but decided it wasn't necessary.

For wind stability, I cut a pair of 4 by 4 by 8's into eight pieces with 45 degree ends. I will refer to these as the 'angled wood supports'. See cutting pattern below.

If you decide to cut something similar, it helps if you have a 10" or larger chopsaw because these cuts can take a REALLY long time if you're doing it with a hand saw. Home Depot sells a utilitarian Ryobi 10" model for $99.

My 10" Ryobi chopsaw. Very handy for outdoor projects. Lightweight, strong, easy-to-operate (and cheap).

A table saw or a radial arm saw works for this too, but handling 4 by 4 by 8's on a table saw can be challenging. (Should I should write an article about the tools I use when building garden structures some day?)

The dashed lines depict the 4 by 4 cutting pattern. Cutting the wood angled supports goes much faster with a 10" powered chopsaw set at a 45 degree angle.

I mounted the angled wood supports to the posts with 5-inch long 1/2-inch diameter lag screws into pre-drilled and pre-countersunk (at an angle) holes in the brackets.

TOOL TIP: If you're using a hand brace with a lead-in-screw tip on the end of the drillbit, drill the countersink FIRST, otherwise there's nothing for the lead-in screw to grab into except "air".
TOOL TIP: The countersink bit size (diameter) is determined by the outside diameter of the lag bolt washer you use.

My hand brace and countersinking drill bit with lead-in screw tip (shown on left).

I needed a helper (again) to hold the angled wood supports in place while I fastened the lag bolts with a socket wrench.

Note the angled countersink where the bolt attaches to the wooden angled support.

A pair of lag screws (with washers) were attached through the outside of each corresponding beam and into the upper portion of each angled wood support.

Two lag bolts hold the upper end of the wood angled support to the long beam. (If you look closely, you'll see my oopsie, two extra holes drilled to the right of the existing lag screws. Well...I never said I was perfect.)

I placed a couple of 2 by 4's on top and gently eased the vine up to its new location. Then I slipped additional 2 by 4's into place along the long beam while a helper continued lifting the vine (for clearance) with the aid of a long stick.

This is the arbor today. Picture was taken in early spring, the grapevine is just beginning to leaf out and Cookie, our dog, is standing in the rain. She is part Yellow Lab, but definitely not a "water dog", so go figure.

The finished arbor has been in place about a year and I expect it to last at least 30 years. I used pressure-treated lumber and galvanized hardware throughout. The bottoms of the posts should drain freely in the crushed rock.

The arbor is shown with the grapevine in full bloom last summer. That's a cherry tree in the right foreground.

I'm guestimating our rebuilt arbor cost about $500, including forms, hardware and lumber. I bought my materials during the recent housing boom. Perhaps one could build one for less today. If you do, DON'T skimp on the quality of your materials. There's a lot of labor in this project, so you'd want it to last a LONG time.

I cut up the old cedar arbor into small pieces and split it. It had never been treated or painted, so it provided lots of kindling for the firepit.

Crushed rock pathway

What do you do when you've got a backyard with trees shading parts of the lawn and the grass doesn't grow well?

I tried to re-seed those scruffy patches and was getting nowhere. I finally concluded: Why fight it?

My backyard is rectangular. A sport court takes up 1/4 of my backyard and it is in full sun. My boys still use it occasionally to play one-on-one basketball, so I'm limited to a couple of moveable plant containers on that sunny stretch of concrete.

At the opposite end of my yard, beneath a huge fir tree, is a very nice grape arbor that I just rebuilt (article on that is forthcoming). I concluded: Instead of grass, why not create a gravel path from the sport court to the arbor?

A rock path would cover bare earth and keep shoes from getting muddy. Plus a gently curving path would meditatively draw the garden visitor from one area of the yard to the other and along the way he could enjoy my garden artistry. An ingenious plan! My wife agreed (to the plan, not the genius part).

I followed gardening book examples and laid out a hose to get a general idea of how the completed path would look. At its narrowest, it is 4 feet wide. The area under the arbor is 13 by 15 feet and the pathway expands to 11 feet in the table-seating area. I wanted it large enough for two people to walk side-by-side. That also equates to less grass to mow.

I bought cedar bender board and stakes and put the pathway borders together with a sledgehammer and screwgun. I had one exposed tree root which sat 3 inches above ground, so to create a level area without stumbling over it, I gradually increased the height of the path to 4 inches in that vicinity.

The entire pathway, including the area under the grape arbor is approximately 2000 square feet. I made some rough calculations and allowing for an average layer of two inches of crushed rock, I ordered 3 yards. It wasn't enough. (Math has never been my strong suit.) A second load of 3 yards did the trick. I have a bucketful left over.

There wasn't much grass to remove, but for "insurance" I did lay down a layer of ground cover cloth to prevent most weeds from poking through.

That was last year.

The path begins in photo below:

Path entry from concrete sport court (foreground left). Ferns on either side, a red rhodie and spanish bluebells in right and center. Large fir tree with trilliums at its base in upper left.

I noticed weedlings growing in the crushed rock this spring, but they are easy to pull out. They may even die by themselves because there's no soil for them. (I did rescue half a dozen fir seedlings which were doing well in the rock without much competition.)

Rescued gravel-grown evergreens. They will be transplanted to our forest property in another year or so.

The pathway opens up again and ends inside the grape arbor.

Path terminus at grape arbor. Rhodie in upper left with bleeding heart below it. Notice the narrow ribbon of 2- to 4-inch rock on left of pathway. That strip transitions the flowering border to the pathway.

Grass borders most of the path on the east side except at the start of the path.

The only thing I have to do maintenance-wise is to rake it (heavy-duty garden rake) twice a year to cover the ever-present falling fir needles from existing trees.

Moving six yards of 5/8" crushed rock is real work, but easily accomplished if you hire willing teen-age boys. It took two 18-year-olds 1 1/2 hours apiece using shovels on the pile in my front driveway and transporting it about 100 feet in a wheelbarrow. They dumped each load where I pointed and I spread it by sweeping it around with my shoes while standing. The heavy wheelbarrow weight is murder on grass so I had them take the long way around (running it on the concrete sport court). No extra work at all for me.

I widened the path in one area between a Spruce, a fir tree and the lawn to make a shady table-with-seating area.

Seating area where pathway widens. The white plastic table will be replaced by a glass-topped one this summer.

One thing I hadn't counted on: our dog used to use a portion of the area to do her business and now she does it on the crushed rock pathway. She's a creature of habit, I guess. But I do need to correct that behavior before company comes over.

Creature of habit that needs behavior modification. Potted plants form one corner of the arbor.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A small home-made storage shed

Everyone who owns a home needs additional storage space, right?

Maybe not? But I did.

I wanted to store 10 new green stackable plastic lawn chairs but I had too much stuff already in my garage. With crowded narrow aisleways, it was a hassle to get to anything in my garage. I needed a permanent place for seasonal items so I designed and built a storage shed.

Where to place the shed was my first consideration. Since I already had great plans for the rest of the yard, I decided that the new shed could be placed under an existing deck. The shed would displace a canoe that I'd have to find another spot for, but under the deck was underutilized space.

I usually start projects with existing materials to save money. I had some leftover scrap wood (from rebuilding the back deck and from a downstairs remodelling project). I also had a supply of 2 by 6's (free for the hauling) that had been used as concrete forms--these I used for the floor joists and flooring. I set the flooring on six bricks so the wood would stay high and dry during inclement weather.

Floor framed and back wall in place. (Note: the floor is resting on six bricks to keep the framing dry.)

I spent $50 on my 6- by 8-foot shed. The priciest part was the roofing. Since the shed was to be located beneath the deck, I opted for clear corrugated vinyl panels in 12-foot lengths ($16 each at The Home Depot). These I cut in half by reversing the blade in my portable power saw and running it across the panels (supported top and bottom with 2 by 4's). Friction sawing is the easiest way to cut through plastics. It leaves a smooth cut and there is minimal chance of fracturing/chipping the panels. (Just remember to put the blade back in correctly or you'll burn wood with it next time you use it.)

I laid out the walls on the sport court and had my son help me lift them onto the floor platform. Most of the walls were made from recycled 2 by 4's and recycled interior plywood. I did use a pair of 2 by 6's for the long window header, but 2 by 4's in this circumstance would have been plenty (there is virtually no load on the roof). Since I planned to paint the outside, it didn't matter these materials weren't new.

In-process framing. Always use a framing square!

Note the overhanging portion of the plywood on the frame. It will be attached to the floor framing. That is my youngest son working the pneumatic nailer. I'm prepping him for a lifetime of handyman fun.

The roof is a shed-style roof (higher in the back than in front) and I used 2 by 4's for that short span (about 63 inches) and tied them to the walls with metal hurricane anchors (right-angle metal ties) and screws. The vinyl roof covering doesn't weigh much and snow will never accumulate under the deck. If this shed were designed to be out in the elements, I'd use 2 by 6's for the rafters, just to be safe. I spaced the rafters two feet apart to allow for direct fastening of the corrugated panels and placed purlins between each rafter at each end and another one staggered in the center between rafters for additional panel fastening surfaces and held the center ones with decking screws.

Roof framing detail with clear panels in place.

Using a portable drill and decking screws really speeds the framing process.

I did leave a foot clearance between the shed roof and the bottom of the deck joists, for maintenance. However, repainting the bottom side of the deck will be a hassle in future (I'll have to cover the shed roof with a tarp to keep drips off the clear vinyl panels and probably have to use a long-handled roller).

Three walls up and braced. I filled that hole with a pick-up canopy window.

To maximize the available space inside the shed, the only door opens outward and is on one end. I also used one old pick-up truck canopy window I had for additional interior lighting. I simply framed the sides for that size of window and screwed it in place using existing window frame screw holes. I installed a screen door "removable" storm window (aluminum-framed glass) into the endwall opposite the door and held it in place with ripped-down lath strips (inside and out).

Rear window salvaged from a screen door "storm" window. Note: this is not a load-bearing wall so all framing shown was for the convenience of nailing surfaces for the outside panelling

To finish off the project, I added 1 by 4 trim around the windows and around the outside of the roof and to cover all four corners. An air-powered nailer or a screw gun make this a fast process.

Shown below is one simple door latch.

Latch to hold door closed (there is another closer to the bottom)

─I tried to leave enough clearance between the shed roof and the decking joists above it for maintenance (cleaning, painting, repairs).

I painted the shed to match the house and added a mini-shelf outside beneath the window to hold little 4" potted plants.

Shown are the window trim and the plant shelf drilled for 4" pots

I added shelving to the inside on both long walls to hold canning supplies and kindling and balls used on the sport court. The shed is full now and a convenient dry place to store our lawn furniture.

You probably won't need a permit to build a small shed like mine, but you should check with your local authorities anyway. Normally, if you can purchase a kit from the Home Depot that is 120 square feet or less and it's located at least three feet from any property line, you will be okay. You may want to check with your neighbors first if you're going to obstruct their view in any way.

I'll probably build another shed soon, because my storage needs continue to grow. I have a spot picked out for it on the shaded north side of our house. I also want to build a potting table in that same area (maybe I'll build a combination of the two? or change my mind completely?), an entry archway is also in the planning, plus a side-gate archway, and a "secret garden", and...

A backyard pond

I like 'informal' garden projects. I appreciate clipped boxwoods and yews, topiary, statuary, and symmetry, but formal gardening isn't MY style.

I'd read about ponds, but thought they were too complicated and costly. I considered including a birdbath or small fountain in a half-barrel, possibly even a tiered fountain, but never a pond.

Then a winter storm toppled a tall fir tree into my house a couple of years ago. Our homeowner’s insurance paid for repairing the roof and gutter, repainting, repairing the lifted concrete sport court, and cutting down the tree. Money was also allotted for stump removal and I chose to do that myself. Big mistake. I spent many hours digging down around that fir stump and chain-sawing through dinner-plate-sized roots and later grubbing those huge roots out of the ground. I ruined a couple of 20-inch chainsaw chains in the process because it’s impossible to remove all the dirt from tree rootsand dirt is murder on chains.

Tree roots lifted a portion of the 4-inch thick concrete sport court. Weight on the roots probably slowed the fall of the tree.
Another view from the back deck. The tree leaned into the house. It damaged the roof and gutter but the house wall held it up.

I enlisted a friend's small backhoe bucket to remove the broken concrete and the remaining 600-lb fir stump.

I displaced a lot of earth in the process.

Stump rotated in the hole. Note large roots (center, right) not yet removed.

The following summer, while the new concrete was being poured, I pondered filling the hole and planting another tree. However, more shade is not what my yard needed, and the idea for a pond began to gel.

The spot where the tree had stood was open and there were no leafy trees close bythat’s VERY important as far as pond maintenance is concerned. I made a simple drawing and showed it to my wife and read up on pond-building. I did some additional digging and smoothing to gain three feet of depth and created a three-foot-high dirt berm for the waterfall portion.

The hole left by the stump while I was still making up my mind.

I ordered two yards each of 8-inch, 2-inch, and 5/8ths-inch rock ($120 delivered to my driveway). When the rock arrived, I thought it was a bit much for my purposes. In the pictures, you’ll see larger brown rocks; those came from our vacation property.

The single largest expenditure was for the 14- by 20-foot rubber liner (about $280) and the pump was half that amount. I installed hard piping, but would use the flexible stuff if I had to do it over again. I laid carpet remnants and left-over vinyl from a kitchen remodel into the hole before placing the liner to prevent punctures.

Liner is laid into the hole and anchored in spots with rocks (sitting on carpet scraps). Pond filling with water.

I even took off my shoes as I straightened the liner. The prep work took the longest. Placing all the rocks and even building up the back rock berm went quickly. Filling the pond took a little over an hour. I estimate it holds 600 gallons of water and is approximately 10 feet across. Once the hole was ready, it took about a day to complete this project.

I didn't like the way the water flowed at first. It disappeared beneath the rocks in the flat portion of the waterfall, so I added a hypertufa trough (black, kidney-shaped item in the next photo) to direct most of the water over a smooth rock at the edge of the water. It worked well.

Hypertufa trough for bird-bathing. It stops the water from disappear-ing beneath the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall.

I added small shiny stones that I had collected in Montana to disguise the trough. The hypertufa is a blend of cement, sand, peat moss and a colorant on a piece of 1/2-inch spacing hardware cloth cut with snips and formed into the desired shape. It makes a nice bird bathing area when the water flows through it and I've seen an entire family of Robins bathing in it late last summer.

I’ve since added goldfish (28-cent “feeder” comets from a pet store) to eliminate mosquito larvae and a canna and variegated iris (from McLendon’s Hardware) to add height and a bit of green interest. The greenery dies back in winter but returns each spring. I didn’t want exotic (zone 9-10) plants that I’d have to overwinter indoors. I’ve seen baby goldfish hiding in the shallows, so I’ll add a clump of water lettuce this year to provide another place for the baby fish to hide (the fine root cluster hangs down into the water). It is a cheap plant, so I may not overwinter it.

My pond filter is simple: a $5 gray plastic storage box (40 half-inch holes drilled into the lid) from Wal-Mart, a $3 mesh laundry bag full of $4 porous red volcanic rocks (for maximum biologic surface area) inside the box and resting atop a plastic riser (modified milk crate) over the pump. Last year, my pond “bloomed” with green murky algae for a week and then cleared itself up.

I do have to skim off string algae on occasion and needles and cones from nearby firs on a bi-monthly basis (or oftener after high winds). My skimmer is a long-handled fine-mesh net ($18 at McLendon’s). All this might seem like a lot of work, but it only takes me about 20 minutes, (twice a month) for upkeep. That doesn't include the addition of water during the dog days of summer. The pump (Home Depot) is warranted for three years of continuous usage, we’ll see. It runs continuously and I haven’t really noticed an increase in my electric billprobably, in part, because we’ve switched over to cfl’s* for much of our home lighting.

Every morning I delight in the sight and sounds of my pond. The birds enjoy their baths and the goldfish have gotten used to me sitting pondside watching them. It is a pleasant place to relax and contemplate future projects. I'm thinking about adding lighting in future.

*cfl = compact fluorescent lamp

The finished pond as of last year. There will be another article on further pond improvements, including one on keeping sport court balls out of the water.
View showing the pond's backside 'wall' of boulders and gravel 'maintenance' path.