Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Adding a decorative retaining step

When we bought our house, the edging around the patio looked like this (pictured). The patio itself is made of concrete and is in good condition, but the paths leading off the patio on the right, left and centre all featured sunken, uneven pavers overgrown with weeds and grass.

Right side pathway leading from the patio - before
Our local ITM (timber suppliers) sold macrocarpa sleepers 2.1m (6.9 feet) long for $28 each, so we bought seven of these and asked them to cut one into quarters and one into halfs. They do the cuts and delivery for free, so that made it much easier for us since sleepers are very heavy. Macrocarpa is an orange colour but after exposure to the sun it turns grey. In the photo some are grey and some are orange, but they'll all turn to grey with time.

We also bought 25 timber stakes (50x50mm) and a packet of 100mm nails (4 inches). From another local supplier we found 20L bags of white shells for only $10 each so we got three of these. The shells look yellowish when they are wet in the bags, but they're actually a beautiful white when they're dry. We live 6kms from a beach, so we liked the idea of using shells in our landscaping and it works well with our sandy soil type. We bought eight pavers to go in the step area that we're creating to frame the view from the patio to the lawn, and the shells will be place surrounding the pavers.

We dug out the edges of the lawn around the patio and began laying down our macrocarpa sleepers. I wanted it to look professional so I measured everything carefully with a tape measure to make sure that the sleepers were all placed at the same height (as measured from the patio) and I used a spirit level. We dug out deeper holes to place the stakes, and once positioned, we used the 100mm nails to secure the stakes to the sleepers to prevent the soil from pushing the sleepers forward over time. The stakes are buried deeper than the sleeper so that they won't be seen once the soil has been replaced. We also used one nail to secure each sleeper together (nailed through the top at a 45 degree angle).
We've placed the pavers down roughly in the step area just to see how it looks. Because we live near the beach, our soil is very sandy. This makes it easy to lay pavers since sand is ideal as a bedding medium for pavers.

The area on the front right of the patio already had an overgrown garden that had tall, unhealthy looking yuccas blocking the view from the patio to the lawn. The master bedroom has floor length windows that look out on that garden so we wanted it to look good. We dug everything out of the area and kept the blue grasses and blue/silver flaxes for replanting after we had placed our retaining sleepers. I want to plant dry tolerant purple lavender plants and white ground cover roses in that area. In the photo I've only planted a few lavenders because I plan to take cuttings to propagate the rest of them (to save money).

The lawn area on the left side of the patio had three overgrown trees planted there. We kept the tallest one since it provides shade for the house. We created a symmetrical garden bed to match the one on the right, but we've used bark chips here and purchased a lemon (Yen Ben) to go in this area. We've also planted one red rose under the shade of the tree, so we'll probably buy a few more red roses and citrus trees, then frame the area with lavender like the right side. The floor length windows in the living room look out to this garden bed, so we thought red roses and lavender would be nice to look at.

I used some of the timber stakes to place between the pavers to create even spacing as we positioned the pavers onto the sand. We also used the tape measure and level to make sure each was the same height and sitting flat. The pavers are quite thick (about 5cm or 2 inches) so their heavy weight means they won't move around much. Once positioned evenly, we added about 2.5cm (one inch) of sand and pressed this down before tipping the shells into the gaps. We only ended up using 1.5 bags of shells, so we still had plenty left over for other projects.

We back-filled the soil back against our retaining step and then walked on it to compress it. We then added grass seed to the soil.

I tied string around our outdoor chairs and placed them there to stop our dog walking on the lawn seed.

 Here is the finished result after allowing two weeks for the grass seeds to grow:
Our greyhound always likes to pose when I'm taking photos, so here's another without the greyhound obscuring the view of the step:
In the future we might stain the sleepers a nicer colour, but for now we're quite happy with the sunbleached timber look so we'll stick with that (since its cheaper to just leave it). I'll post more photos in the future when the lavender plants have fully grown.

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