Designing the garden – step 5: build it

After thoroughly planning the projects, it was time to get stuck in.

I had been planning all winter starting after Christmas, therefore the timing for starting project work was pretty obvious: as soon as the snow was gone and it would be warm enough to work outside. I thought I would be starting with the terraces, but although I had the decking board already in early April, first it was too cold, and then we had agreed with the neighbour to build the fence.

Once the fence was completed, I started to work on the terrace in the back. Next, I built the front-entrance terrace following the same pattern.

Before I had really started with the terrace in the back, we went on holidays to Andalusia in Southern Spain and visited many gardens, including the Alhambra  and many courtsyards in the Cordoba courtyard garden competition that is carried out there every year end of May. We picked up two new requirements for the garden from this trip: we wanted an ornamental water feature making “refreshing splashing noises” and at least some ornamental paving. We integrated both of them into the path at the side of the house, adding a large circle half-way with a water feature in the middle to the design.

waterfeature-andalucia Fountain in Alhambra gardens, Andalucia

Ornamental paving, Alhambra gardens, Andalucia

With all decking areas done, I started to use the earth removed from the decking area to level out the area for the new lawn. I marked the path and the circle area and dug up all earth from where the path would be and from the paving area. The excess earth I used to raise the beds along the path, overall we significantly raised the garden as the level lawn required hight adjustments of up to 40 cm and I had to even out the slope of the path that this height difference created.  I did not have much of a plan for this landscaping and made it up as I went. I used cheap timber boards to separate earth from areas that needed gravel for proper drainage, mainly a 30 cm wide bed of coarse gravel along the house, so that no earth would mix and spoil the draining property of the gravel. At this time we had also figured that there would be space to create a small run of a fake brook along the path and that there would be space enough for a small bridge so that the path would cross over the brook. I landscaped this and left a gap in the path where the bridge would go.

As with the terrace, I lifted all the earth until meeting the gravel layer from all to-be paved areas. Once this was completed, I ordered a lorry of gravel, that I used to create a well-draining foundation for the paving that will not raise when freezing (as earth does), filling up to create the required height. This meant to level the paving area and creating a smoothly sloping path, level at the circle area. Although all literature prescribes to get some sort of heavy roller to compact this gravel layer, I decided against it. Whilst using a wheelbarrow to move the gravel into place, I had very well condensed all gravel along the path. Also, small sinking of path and paved areas would not be so bad, as we were aiming for a natural garden with old feel to it.

With the gravel in place and distributed carefully, it was time to order the slate paving and the paving stones. We had decided on using white and dark granite in alternating rings for the ornamental circle. I also ordered stone-ash for bedding the paving on and also to be used as gap-filler between paving stones. Using water-permeable sheet, we covered the gravel and spread a 5 cm layer of stone-ash on top. The sheet prevents the gravel and stone-ash mixing, which would mean that the stone ash would eventually completely disappear into the gravel.

Starting with the paving area next to the terrace, I laid out the largest pieces of slate and added and removed smaller pieces of slate until I got a satisfying puzzle together. Then I eased the slates into the stone-ash positioning them as level as possible. Once all were in place I filled the gaps with stone-ash. Then I hosed the area down so that the stone-ash could settle. Luckily we had some torrential rains at the time that helped to settle the stone-ash even further. I then placed the edging stones of dark granite, for the step from the paving down to the lawn we had bought large granite blocks (of the like used to separate the pavement from the road). For the edges I folded a root-blocking thick fabric into U-shape underneath the edging stones, hopefully preventing grass and bedding plants to spread too eagerly. The fabric I left a bit longer than intended and I would cut it back to the required height later. I did the edging for the entire lawn, in other words, I made a large oval shape.

At this point I set out to create the vegetable patch. At that time the area was a large mount of earth. To increase the area and to get sufficient depth, I started tidying the edge of the rock and dead root balls of the large fir tree that was there at the time (it was cut down later by the council to prevent storm damage). There I found a one meter long somewhat obelisk-shaped piece of granite that had been broken of the rock-foundation by water and roots. This I pried loose and moved to the side of the path. I was able to make it stand, and there it still is, the perfect rock feature, just where we had designed one (a heap of stones was in the original design). To manage the height difference between forest and lawn, about 60 cm, I built a wall from the edge of the to-be lawn out of the granite rocks gathered during digging work. I created a small gravel foundation under the wall to prevent expanding frozen earth to tumble the stone wall down every winter. Leaving a 40 cm band of earth, I raised the wall to a second terrace. Then I encircled an area of two meters with rocks and filled it with earth – there was my vegetable patch. Initially the rock wall raised a few eyebrows as it looked rather rustic, but now it is a well-established detail in the garden.

At this point I ordered and picked up the roll-out lawn. I evened the earth, but did not roll it, as is recommended by literature. Laying the lawn and cutting the round shape of the oval against the already completed edging stones was as easy as they make it look in garden makeover programs. I must admit that, particularly due to the fact that I had levelled the lawn with recaptured earth and dug-under grass, and that I omitted rolling the site before laying the earth, has resulted in a somewhat uneven surface.

Although I had not planned this before, I envisioned the bridge over the brook as being slightly arching. Using concrete slabs as foundation, I took 1,50 m left-over beams from the decking framework and cut a soft arching shape using the electrical jigsaw. Those I screwed onto the concrete slabs and screwed a run of decking boards to them, resulting in a perfectly arching bridge. I paved and edged the path from the lawn to the bridge and from the bridge to the circle.

We picked and bought the water feature for the circle and also bought a 60 liter water reservoir. I dug a hole for the reservoir in the centre of the circle and placed the reservoir. I filled the reservoir with water and filled the surrounding gaps with gravel, using water to settling it in. I kept the lid on the reservoir to prevent animals, children and me from dropping into it.

Using sheet and stone ash underneath, I started building concentric circles around the reservoir, using an alternating colour pattern . To allow for a cable for the water feature pump, I placed a hard-plastic cable tube under the paving and left a string running through it so that I could later run a cable through it without lifting the paving (I had not decided what pump to buy at this time). I encircled the ornamental circle with edging stones and continued laying the path all the way to the road.

I also used the back granite for lining along the gravel road from the front-terrace to the path (in front of the shed and the bedding at the side of the house) and from the path to where our garden ends and the neighbours strip starts.

To take care of the height difference between my garden and the neighbour’s, resulting from my landscaping, I built 10 cm dry wall using the granite rocks that I earlier had dug up, all the way underneath the fence and up to the road.


Garden path and ornamental feature after completion