DIY Dry Laid Flagstone And Mulch Pathway

This project has been on my to do list since 2008 when we had our patio expanded.  We have a very small walkway next to the patio that leads to our AC unit.  It is too narrow to mow, especially once we planted a border of Wax Myrtle trees along our fence to create a natural screen. And the grass either grows like crazy because it is shady or doesn’t grow at all because it is shady.

Last spring, we took the first step by moving all extra flagstone from our patio into this small corridor and roughly laying it out how we’d like it to be placed.  There the stone remained slowly killing the grass underneath because I was much too preoccupied with my newest role as Mom. In assessing the damage to the lawn this spring, it appeared that most of the grass had died. This may be the first and last time I rejoice over this. It did, after all, save me the pain and back breaking work of sod removal.

Here is the correct procedure for dry laying a stone pathway:

1) Choose the area for your pathway and paint it out.

2) Depending on where the pathway runs, you might want to consider trenching out the borders and filling with several inches of crushed stone.

3) Prepare the area by removing any sod and debris and loosening the top several inches of soil. Rake and level the area, adding more topsoil if needed.

4) Depending on the potential for drainage issues, some may recommend that you create a french drain. My neighbors did this for their stone pathway by digging a trench and placing a perforated PVC pipe in it. The trench is lined with weed cloth and filled with gravel.

5) Next, you need to add a base layer. Several inches of sand or gravel will prevent weeds from invading your path and provide a stable base to prevent settling over time. It helps to dampen the base layer with water before you rake and level it.

6) Now, you lay the flagstones like a puzzle piece, carefully testing each rock to make sure it’s level and does not move or rock.

7) Finally, fill the gaps with your choice of  filler medium- decomposed granite, pea gravel, sand, mulch, etc.

8) Brush any extra filler off your stones and you have yourself a completed pathway.

For more details on the above, see this tutorial on the DIY Network.

Here is what I did. I was hoping to make this a quick, inexpensive project, so I omitted a few steps. Drainage is something I am normally very concerned with, but I had observed this area practically sod-free for a complete year.  Even during the rainy season (this is the season when it actually does rain), no water pooled in this area.  I decided that it was unlikely to be an issue and did not lay a French drain. I hope I do not end up on the losing end of this gamble. I prepared the area by removing the remaining sod, raking up all the leaves and debris and leveling the area by adding several inches of topsoil using the leftover landscaper’s mix from our topdressing project.

Next I laid down weed cloth that was leftover from a previous landscaping project.  I did not have enough to cover the whole area, which is unfortunate. But I know I am going to have a problem with grass sneaking in under the fence no matter what, so I am going to have to control that with hand picking the grass in that area. I laid the flagstone down directly on the weed cloth and settled each one into place.

I planned for a base/initial filler layer of decomposed granite, but did not buy nearly enough bags of this medium. I ended up having to supplement with more landscaper’s mix to make sure each stone was stable and level. Because I do not have a thick, stable base layer, my pathway may settle over time and I may have to make modifications to it at some point. It is very likely that I will have to add more decomposed granite or gravel in the fall once my mulch starts decomposing. But I created a very informal pathway more for aesthetics and to eliminate an area to mow. It is not an area that will be regularly walked. In fact, it is a pathway to nowhere unless you like looking at the AC unit.

Finally, I added several inches of mulch to complete the pathway. No more mowing! Now let’s hope my pathway remains problem free.

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Look What The Easter Bunny Made

As I mentioned in my last post, my parents visited us over Easter and people visiting often puts me on a home improvement kick. One of the things I added to my lengthy to do list was hand-made Easter decorations.  I tend to be very picky about decorating for holidays. My style is classic, minimalist, Martha Stewart.

I started scouring the web and found many great ideas. You can see my favorites on my Pinterest Easter Decor board found here. I did not have time to do it all, so I had to prioritize. I decided I needed an easy Easter wreath, a centerpiece, napkin rings and some garland.

I started with the wreath. My inspiration wreath came from Crafty Sisters and is a grapevine wreath wrapped with moss and covered with spray painted plastic eggs, bird nests, bugs, flowers and birds. Beautiful!

I had all the right ambition, but too little time, so I decided to create the 5-10 minute version. First, I purchased a grapevine wreath at Hobby Lobby along with some pastel speckled egg ornaments meant for an Easter tree. This step was more costly than painting plastic eggs but less time consuming. Hobby Lobby had all easter supplies on sale 40% off so score 1 for me. The egg ornaments have a ribbon for hanging them, so I simply snipped that in the middle and tied the eggs to my grapevine wreath. This took no more than 5 minutes, and I decided to leave the loose ends of the ribbon hanging as I liked the look.  My wreath was still looking pretty bare after this step.  I had meant to wrap the wreath in moss first, but had forgotten it at the store, so decided to fill in some of the bare spots with ribbon instead. I made faux bows by making the bow form first and using a smaller piece of ribbon to secure them at the center. I superglued these all over the wreath.

Here is my finished wreath.  I am well aware that it is still a lot bare (especially in comparison to the fabulous Crafty Sisters wreath), but I am considering it a work in progress. There is still plenty of room to cover it in moss or wrap ribbon around the grapevine form. We’ll see what I’m in the mood for next year. But, overall, I was pleased to churn out a decent wreath so quickly.

Sadly, this was the only project I managed to finish before my Mom arrived.  Lucky for her, that meant she got to be involved in my next project- birds nest napkin rings! I saw this idea on Scissors & Spatulas.  The blogger is also a fan of Hobby Lobby and made her creation using mini grapevine wreaths, mini speckled eggs on a stick and little birds nests.

I hate to sound like someone who is always looking for shortcuts, but I thought it might be easier to omit the grapevine wreaths and use the same wire-end ribbon I used for my wreath to make the napkin rings. First, Mom and I removed the mini eggs from their sticks and glued them to the nests. Mom was quickly banned from this step in the assembly line due to her messy superglue technique. Then, we cut ribbon to the right length to wrap around the napkins and used velcro as the opening mechanism. We glued the wreaths onto the ribbon and voila- very simple but elegant napkin rings.  The only step I skipped (and need to go back to) is burning the ends of the ribbon so they will not unravel in the future.

Next came my centerpieces. I have a large glass apothecary jar which is usually filled with faux pears and switched out with christmas bulbs or what not to change it up for different occasions.  I purchased some moss and filled the bottom of the apothecary jar and then carefully laid inexpensive speckled eggs from Hobby Lobby in the moss. This took 4 minutes at most, and I was very pleased with the results.

I saw this next centerpiece idea on Mommy Savers and was determined to make it work. They inserted a small glass vase into a larger square vase and filled the bottom of the large vase with glass beads. Then they placed blue bunny peeps around the edges of the square vase, filled the round vase with water and freshly cut daisies and had themselves a very nice looking centerpiece.

My version did not turn out as nice but not for a lack of trying. First off, I had a very difficult time finding blue bunny peeps and wanted that color to match my dining room. I originally bought the bird peeps but they were too bulky to insert between the containers. Had to settle on 1 package of blue bunnies and 1 package of lilac bunnies. Then, I could not see myself buying daisies just for them to wilt and have to throw them away in a few days. So I decided why not buy a daisy to plant at Home Depot.  But the 4″ starter pots were looking a little sad so I settled on these yellow flowers instead. As my flowers were in an ugly Home Depot plastic pot, I had to cover the edges with ribbon. I also found it more difficult than one would think to insert the peeps without destroying them. But here is my result. Not a bad effort.  It kind of grew on me over time.

My finished dining room table looked like this:

Finally, on Easter evening, I was scrambling to finish my Easter garland. I finished the piece for over my fireplace and have good intentions to finish a piece to hang in the dining room next Easter. My inspiration came from The Crafting Chicks and they used die cuts of bunnies, eggs and chicks.

 This would have been great, but I don’t have a Silhouette machine so I managed to find templates for the bunny and egg online and ended up drawing the chick myself. These I attached using ribbons only to find that my bunnies were top heavy. A penny fixed this and I added some decorative ribbon. And all my projects were officially done!

Until next easter when I see an Easter egg hunt in my future!

Green Thumb?: The Lawn Gets a Makeover

Forgive me readers. It has been 23 days since my last blog.  A lot has gone on since then. You see, my folks just made the trek from NH to TX to visit us for Easter.  If you are anything like my husband and me, then the prospect of visitors is enough to get you off the couch and out working on projects that have been on the to do list for far too long. Couple this with spring-time in Austin, and there was quite a bit to do in our little yard.

Last summer in Austin was brutal.  I swear it hit 100 degrees by March, if not April.  And we had one of the worst droughts in history.  Typically, we are in stage 1 watering restrictions of 2x/wk starting in May. This was upgraded to stage 2 watering restrictions of 1x/wk. All that stress took its toll on our garden beds and especially our lawn, which appeared to have just upped and died.  It is currently in a sad, sad state. The solution: a partial make-over.

Dress Me Up and Dress Me Down 

Topdressing is a common solution to lawn woes here in Austin. By definition, it is a procedure in which you add a very fine layer of compost or other organic material over your lawn so you can improve the soil quality without killing existing turf.  Topdressing can be performed in the fall or in the spring.  We typically de-thatch the lawn at the end of it’s growing season and topdress bare spots with Dillo dirt or other compost. Then we do a more through treatment in the spring when the grass starts to come back to life. It is also helpful to aerate your lawn every couple of years.

This year, we found that the entire middle of the back yard was bare after raking leaves and de-thatching. We have St Augustine grass, as do our neighbors.  We didn’t see much St Augustine grass filling in the bare spots, mainly weeds and bermuda grass that birds likely brought in by seed.  Clearly, this was not going to be a job where we could treat a spot here and a spot there, so we decided to call up our local landscape supply company, Daniel Stone, and order several yards of topdressing material to do the entire back, front and side yard. They recommended landscaper’s mix, which is a combination of topsoil, rice hull compost and cow manure. We ordered 3 yards, but you can determine the exact formula for your yard by multiplying length (ft) x width (ft) x depth (in) and dividing by 324 to get the amount of cubic yards you need.

Once the material is dumped in your driveway, use a wheelbarrow to make small piles all over the lawn.  This is what it looked like at our house. As you can see, we didn’t have much lawn to speak of.

Then, use a rake, leaf rake or large broom to brush the piles of soil out over the lawn. Ideally, you want the material to be 1/2 inch thick or less. Any more will suffocate your lawn.

Finally, water all the top ressing in. We used a soil activator called Terra Tonic Super Soil Activator, which is sold at Austin’s Natural Gardener to give things a jump start.  It is composed of humid acid, seaweed, compost tea, cane molasses and other good stuff.

When you’re done, your lawn should look something like this:

And a grass close-up like this:

Now we sit back and wait for the grass to come back to life. A little praying never hurts.

I Prefer a Green Dress

As the majority of our grass in the backyard did die, we had no choice but to resod in areas. Warning: this is not an instruction manual in resodding.  In fact, what you are about to see is a very unorthodox method.  The proper procedure is to get rid of the dead thatch, lay down some topsoil (our top dressing took care of this), get each piece of sod real wet and lay it down as you would bricks, making sure each piece is flush with the adjacent piece. The problem is that we needed at least 2-3 pallets of sod to get the job done.  We learned this after marching to Home Depot and loading as much sod as we could fit into Dean’s SUV. This amounted to 40 pieces, which did not even put a dent in the backyard $60 later. So, we decided we would make some cheerful cross designs in our grass in honor of Easter. We know the St Augustine to send out runners like a weed and could already see several areas where it was starting to fill back in after top dressing.  So we created little bridges and are currently watching and waiting.  We probably will have to add many more pieces of sod, but my parents’ arrival put much of the landscaping projects on hold.  This is what the lawn looked like immediately after resodding (yes, I am aware it is a bit crazy).  I am watering the sod daily and desperately praying some grass fills in and then stays alive once the heat gets dreadful and the rain ceases to be common. It is already starting to fill in some more, so things are hopeful.