Building a flagstone walkway and garden entrance

Building a garden walkway with flagstone-part one

I cringed when I first looked at the walkway and entrance from the driveway.  Everything else about the mountain home was perfectly lovely.  Rebuilding this part of the garden would be a challenge.  I don’t usually take “before” pictures but I thought these would be interesting.

See how they had to walk up the steps, grab the door handle and back down the steps with nowhere to set the groceries?

See how they had to walk up the steps, grab the door handle and back down the steps with nowhere to set the groceries?

Steps down from the driveway and water running toward the house

Steps down from the driveway and water running toward the house

She asked, "Could you perhaps add a few curves"?

She asked, “Could you perhaps add a few curves”?

The design request was not only to build a useable and visually pleasing entrance to the back door and down to the pool deck, but to also work everything into one of the nicest gardens I have seen in my thirty odd years of landscaping design and installation. The project also had to deal with a myriad of water issues.  I took the pictures above and then went home to sleep on it.  I tried a nap but found it insufficient.  I then slept on it for two or three nights before showing up with my measuring and drawing materials.  I knew that a drawing would be essential, and after several false starts I came up with this:

Driveway entrance from the lower end of the drawing to door at the upper end. Lots of curves and planting areas.  Brilliant?

Driveway entrance from the lower end of the drawing to door at the upper end. Lots of curves and planting areas. Brilliant?

I wanted to get rid of as many steps as possible and to build a practical landing at the back door that would allow a person to open the door without having to back up and step down.  This called for a six foot by four foot  platform landing.  To do this, we measured and built up a level base with concrete blocks.  We formed in the steps and added a flagstone veneer. The level of the walkway was also raised so that water would run toward the driveway instead of toward the house.

This makes it easier to open the door and creates a place to set the groceries.

This makes it easier to open the door and creates a place to set the groceries.

Years ago, I had made a mold for a butterfly stepping stone and given it to a friend.  A few days before starting this project, I found that the friend didn’t appreciate the gift and was keeping his garbage can on top of it so I repossessed it.  I didn’t know what to do with the stepping stone, but when I showed it to the client she asked if it could be inserted into the flagstone.  I was delighted.  Not only would the butterfly occupy a place of honor but my ego had been returned to the right level.  I really thought it came out nice.

I was happier having the butterfly here than under a trash can

I was happier having the butterfly here than under a trash can

Building with flagstone is both a skill and an art form. Installing flagstone veneer for a walkway is not quite as straightforward a job as laying tile or brick.  The installer is working with lots of variables such as shape and thickness of the block and maintaining a level without what I call “toe stumpers” (or little protrusions that catch the front end of a shoe).  The base for the project must be prepared with the thickness of the thickest stone in mind and then the stones are chosen for size and fit before being laid perfectly flat but not totally level (providing for water run off).  The first stage looks like this:

At this point a lot of careful work has been done.  Filling in the joints will tie everything together.

At this point a lot of careful work has been done. Filling in the joints will tie everything together.

When all of the flagstone surfaces have been carefully put into place and everything has been meticulously checked, we wait for the base mortar to dry.  The next step is to “pour the joints”.  This done with the use of a canvas bag that is not unlike a cake decorator bag.  It takes practice and skill to get it just right.  You will notice that the cement at this point sticks up above the surface of the rock.  This is essential for a good joint.

Pouring the joints.This takes practice, time, and care.

Pouring the joints. This takes practice, time, and care.

Waiting for the joints to dry--not too dry, not too wet.

Waiting for the joints to dry–not too dry, not too wet.

After all of the joints and crevasses have been filled and when the cement mixture has reached the perfect point of curing-not too dry and not too wet- the excess is carefully scraped off with a trowel making the entire surface smooth and walkable.  After scraping the joints, the entire surface is covered with a thin layer of sand and rubbed down with rags, taking off the excess cement and cleaning the project so that it looks like this:

Nice and smooth.  I love the random patterns in the rock.

Nice and smooth. I love the random patterns in the rock.

Mike Hutchins shows up with a dump truck load of the finest compost which he makes for me.  We will use this to fill in and to build rock gardens as we finish.  This compost is so good you can stick in pencils and grow erasers.

Magnificent!  There must be a pony in here somewhere.

Magnificent! There must be a pony in here somewhere.

As we raised the level of the walkway, we were careful to put in a drainage pipe to keep the entrance bed from filling up with water.  On any landscaping job, water is the boss.

We had the forsight to add a drain pipe at the start.  This was learned through hard experience.

We had the forsight to add a drain pipe at the start. This was learned through hard experience.

Field stone is placed around the edge for a raised garden bed.  I felt like the field stone would give an added juxtaposition of color and texture.  I can’t wait to see it planted.

A fieldstone flower bed border will add a juxtaposition of color and texture.

A fieldstone flower bed border will add a juxtaposition of color and texture.

The client was excited as her planting areas started taking shape and she felt comfortable pointing out little details that she would like to see as the field stone was installed.  I always enjoy such input as the job progresses because it provides for more thought, more comments, and therefore for more creativity.  It makes for a happy working environment and this helps us to end up with a happy garden.  I like a happy garden.

She observes, "a curve is more difficult than a straight line, but well worth the effort".

She observes, “a curve is more difficult than a straight line, but well worth the effort”.

John the plant man’s blog will have the rest of the story next week.  Of course, it may only be a part of the rest of the story.  Next week we will install shelves by the back door for potted plants. Then we will build rock terraces and fill the area from the walk to the landing, installing irrigation as we go..

It will never be finished, though.  A good garden is never finished.  Stay in touch.

To view part two of this article click here

Turn your friends on to this site.  Leave your comments and questions.  I am always looking for a new topic to write about.

You may see the adventures of Johntheplantman in the book Requiem for a Redneck by John P. Schulz (Illustrated by my son, J.R. Schulz) at

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

You may also wish to read the reviews on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Funny, philosophical, and poignant.

Funny, philosophical, and poignant.

Advertisements

A February 20 walk through a north Georgia garden

A February 20 walk through a north Georgia garden

A February 20 walk through the garden.  I was working on a rock project for a lady who is one of the best plant people ever.  It was the first really beautiful day after a rather difficult winter and I went for a walk through the mountain garden to check out what was happening.  I thought back on one week before when I had seen violas poking through the snow.

The plant that first struck my fancy was a rather large Edgeworthia with its white flower buds beginning to make their fragrant yellow flowers.  I hadn’t seen one of these quite as large as this one.

The beautiful fragrant edgeworthia

The beautiful fragrant edgeworthia

An impressionistic view of the edgeworthia bloom and the blue, blue sky

An impressionistic view of the edgeworthia bloom and the blue, blue sky

I walked up on a birdbath hiding in a wooded alcove.  The oak leaf hydrangea flowers had been left for the winter.  I could envision the coming summer’s blooms hanging over the bird bath with lots of birds enjoying the water.

A visual treat hidden in wooded seclusion

A visual treat hidden in wooded seclusion

I had noticed the daffodils forming flower buds at the bottom of the mountain and found some on top of the mountain that were about a week behind.  I can’t wait to see the daffodils which, to me, are the true herald of spring.

daffodils in bud at the bottom of the mountain

daffodils in bud at the bottom of the mountain

Daffodils on the mountain.  Altitude makes a difference.

Daffodils on the mountain. Altitude makes a difference.

The aptly named Lenten roses were starting to show off as they do this time of year.  These were nestled in several open places and delighted me with their gift of brightness

I love the Lenten rose.  It offers hardiness, shade tolerance, and it offers early, long lasting color

I love the Lenten rose. It offers hardiness, shade tolerance, and it offers early, long lasting color

Around and back behind the Lenten roses, the Autumn ferns were changing from their winter bronze to a beautiful lush green.

Ferns offer a lush green floor in shaded borders

Ferns offer a lush green floor in shaded borders

I had to pause periodically to do a little supervision on the walk way installation, but the progress and the curved design made me even happier.  I can’t wait to see what she plants in the new garden around the flagstone creation

Work was progressing well for the back door landing

Work was progressing well for the back door landing

This will be quite the garden entrance.  Beds will be installed on all sides

This will be quite the garden entrance. Beds will be installed on all sides

Back to my walk to find that Columbine leaves were starting to push their way up with an array of new green leaves, preparing the way for intense, interesting flowers.

The columbine preparing for an April or May showing of color

The columbine preparing for an April or May showing of color

Iris have started their new growth for the year.  I like iris even without the flowers because they offer such nice vertical lines in the garden.  Verticals are hard to come by.

Iris give nice verticals and beautiful flowers as a bonus

Iris give nice verticals and beautiful flowers as a bonus

I spent a good bit of time studying the interesting hydrangea buds.  Sometimes they get over- anxious and come out too soon.  The late frost will damage them.  These buds looked right on time to me.

The hydrangea buds look to be right on time.

The hydrangea buds look to be right on time.

The climbing hydrangea is showing healthy growth buds and will continue its journey up the rock chimney blooming extravagantly in the coming summer.

I wonder how long it takes to grow a climbing hydrangea like this?

Walking around a corner I noticed a little clump of crocus nestled in the rock.  A good sight to end my nature walk.  I will have to go back as the season progresses to enjoy the developing beauty of this wonderful garden.  Thank you, Marion.  I enjoyed it.

The crocus tells us that spring is on its way

The crocus tells us that spring is on its way

It was truly a wonderful day on the mountain.

You can read of the adventures of johntheplantman in the award winning book Requiem for a Redneck.  Find it at Amazon, ebook or printed

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

The hilarious, sensitive, award winning "Requiem for a Redneck"

The hilarious, sensitive, award winning “Requiem for a Redneck”

You can read the reviews on Amazon here:http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Zen and the art of crape myrtle pruning

Zen and the art of crape myrtle pruning.

Of all the questions I am asked about landscaping and gardening, I think most frequently asked is about how to prune crape myrtles.  While thinking about the complex answer to this question, I have come up with the idea that we should talk about “shaping” the plant instead of “pruning” or “cutting back”.  Learning to grow a plant is one thing, shaping it is an art form.

A 40 ft. tall uncut crape makes nice shade but few blooms

A 40 ft. tall uncut crape makes nice shade but few blooms

I guess that the first part of the answer is that a crape myrtle will grow just fine without any pruning at all.  It may turn out to be a large bush or it may turn out to be a tall tree.  In the deep south, these plants are commonly grown as shade trees.  They will become rather large if left untouched—and if that’s what you want, leave it alone.  If you want a heavy blooming, well shaped accent tree for your yard, then the following information may be helpful.

You may wish to review the basics of pruning at another one of my articles which explains what happens to the plant when it is pruned. “The simple basics of pruning-pruning as an art form”.  Also keep in mind that crape myrtles bloom on new growth and that the bloom seems to be regulated by heat. This means that the more new growth shoots there are on the plant when it gets hot, the more flowers you will have.

The most commonly desired shape is that of several trunks (multitrunk) with no growth to a certain height and topped off with a canopy.  Let’s look at how this is accomplished.  Here is a group of plants that haven’t been worked on in a couple of years.

These crape myrtles need a bit of shaping to finish the 4 dimensional "picture"

These crape myrtles need a bit of shaping to finish the 4 dimensional “picture”

To begin, study the plant carefully. Look at the bottom of the tree and take out any undesired vertical trunks.  Common practice calls for the tree to have three or five trunks.  It also works, as shown here, to have quite a few main trunks, but of about the same size.

remove any unwanted vertical trunks

remove any unwanted vertical trunks

After taking out any undesired vertical trunks, look at the top of the tree.  Choose a desirable height and cut the tops of the plants so that 6 or 10 inches of wood is sticking up above a fork.

Pruning the tops also makes the trunks stronger.  Pruning above the "forks" offers more new growth and therefore more blooms.

Pruning the tops also makes the trunks stronger. Pruning above the “forks” offers more new growth and therefore more blooms.

This gives the plant much more opportunity to put out new shoots and new shoots are where the blooms come from.  The little balls that you see in the picture below are old seed pods which should all be trimmed also.

The tops are pruned correctly and the other seed pods should be removed.

The tops are pruned correctly and the other seed pods should be removed.

After taking out the undesired trunks and pruning the tops, look at the remaining trunks and remove all of the small side shoots.  This can be done by cutting or breaking them off.  Breaking them off seems to work best, but cutting will be necessary on the larger stems.  Try to cut as close to the tree trunk as possible.

Taking off the side growth makes the trunk stronger and maintains the "tree" image

Taking off the side growth makes the trunk stronger and maintains the “tree” image

In the large nurseries where the plants are produced for market, the side growth is removed several times a year by what is called “field stripping”.  This is done by wearing heavy gloves, gripping the trunk, and sliding the hand down over the trunks to break off any undesired growth.

"Feild stripping" should be performed to remove side growth periodically through the growing season.

“Feild stripping” should be performed to remove side growth periodically through the growing season.

If you have come anywhere close to following these instructions you will have a beautiful plant with lots of blooms for the spring and summer. Whenyou get through, your project should look like this:

All ready for the summer season.

Around the first of March, apply a general fertilizer with a high middle number (10-15-10 for example.  I plan to write an article on reading a bag of fertilizer shortly).

John P. Schulz has written a book that contains the adventures of johntheplantman it is offered as an ebook Here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

Independent Publisher's book award, "Best fiction-South"-2009

Independent Publisher’s book award, “Best fiction-South”-2009

Or you can read all the hype and reviews on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

What to use for an early spring garden

05 Feb 2010 4 Comments

Planting an Early Spring Garden.

I had been wondering about the right time to plant for early spring at the Boys and Girls club’s vegetable garden.  That was when I ran across my friend Farrell the painter.  Farrell is one of those careful craftsmen who can do things like paint trim without masking tape or a drop cloth and end up with a perfect job.  I have always respected true craftsmen.

mmmmmmm.  English peas

mmmmmmm. English peas

I guess I’m a craftsman of sorts, also.  I spend a lot of time keeping up a few gardens for people who ask for attention to detail and for an overall distinctive look in their landscapes.  At any rate, I have been fortunate to meet a number of people up here in north Georgia who take pride in their work and who do outstanding work.  Farrell is one of them.

A lot of these people (especially those around my age of 64) seem to have a common background that I don’t share—they grew up in the country and on farms during the 1950’s and the early 60’s.  They moved to town when making a living in the country became rather difficult if not impossible.  Now, they make a living with trades that have been passed down for generations—painting, carpentry, electrical, earth moving, and the like.  Their common bonds are that they are caring and meticulous, patient, proud of their work, and that they grew up in the country.

A wonderful meal coming on--carrots and beets

A wonderful meal coming on–carrots and beets

Farrell was painting the garage at the estate where I was pruning the English boxwood.  He took a break, got his sandwich and a cup of coffee and walked down to where I was working.

Farrell said, “hey, John.  You were telling me about the importance of lime on my garden and I’ve been watching it and now I have moss just like you said I would.  How about telling me what to use and how much?  Is it too late to lime the garden?

I explained that it was not too late to lime the garden if he used pelleted lime instead of the white powdered lime (which is better but slower) and we talked about how lime is important.  Then I asked him what his early spring plans were for his garden.

Farrell thought about it for a moment and then started out, “well”, he said, “There comes a week around the end of February when it gets nice and dry and you kin work the garden.  That’s when I get ready and plant”.

I pushed him for details.  Farrell started talking about his gardening and I said, “Hold it right there, Farrell, while I go get my notebook”

ready for a spinach and radish salad?

ready for a spinach and radish salad?

When I got back, Farrell started up again.

The best early crop is English peas The English peas come in two kinds, bush and climbing.  The bush peas are a kinda new development and I think you get better results from the climbing kind.  It’s easy if you drive up two fence posts and run a piece of dogwire in between.  You can plant the seeds and they will come up as soon as the weather is right.  They won’t freeze, neither.

“And then there’s carrots.  If you got some loose ground, and plant them early, you’ll get a bunch of carrots.

“And you can plant seeds for radishes and lettuce and beets.  Man, there ain’t nothing like fresh beets from the garden and I love a radish sandwich—you slice the radishes and put them on toasted light bread with a little mayonnaise.

You can harvest your own taters

You can harvest your own taters

“And then the first of March you can plant potato slips.  You can get these at the feed store most of the time.  Then you wait about a week and you can plant cabbage plants.  These will grow quick.

“One of my favorites is spinach.  Spinach don’t like heat too much but you can plant the seeds and have a nice stand for early spring.  Mmmmm.  I cain’t wait to get me a spinach and radish salad.

I asked Farrell where he got his seeds and he told me that he had always gotten good service from Park Seeds but that there were a few other catalogues.  He said that he remembered both his father and his grandfather sitting up on cold January nights going through the ‘seed books’.

So, now I have the list for the Boys and Girls club garden and you know what?  I think I’ll try it myself.

You must remember that Farrell lives in north Georgia and that you will want to modify your planting dates to fit your own location.

If you want to read more from johntheplantman, check out Requiem for a Redneck. It is available as an ebook on Amazon at

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

Or, you may enjoy reading the reviews on Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Requiem for a Redneck

A most entertaining book

Blog Stats

  • 339,450 hits

Archives

Now available as an ebook at Amazon–read it on your Kindle

Requiem for a Redneck--A novel by John P. Schulz

Check out more adventures of John the plant man in this hilarious yet sensitive award winning novel

Grown Man Now

Billy Schulz, Grown Man Now

My favorite blog by Dr. Jane Schulz and Billy

February 2010
M T W T F S S
« Jan   Mar »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
%d bloggers like this: