Jan 022012
After sheet mulching - beauty and bounty

by Avis Licht

After sheet mulching - beauty and bounty

It’s possible to have a backyard that is both productive and good looking

Winter is a good time to think about designing, changing or tweaking your garden.

Instead of being knee deep in garden projects, you can sit back and take the time to consider changes to your garden. Your changes can be big or small, but make sure they fit into the grand scheme.

Curving path on steep hill

Using plants and curving path for hillside erosion control

Your parameters will be:

1. Your site: Whatever you do has to work within the givens of your site. These include your climate, soil, sun/shade, slope, existing plantings that you won’t change, buildings and hardscape: paths, stairs, retaining walls, driveways and fences.

Welcoming entry

A well laid, flagstone path, sturdy yet still informal

2. Your finances: New landscaping can be exceedingly  expensive or fantastically frugal – it depends on how much of the work you do yourself, and whether you use new, used or recycled materials.

Redwood Picket Gate

Gate and Arbor from recycled materials

3. Your desires: What you need and what you want may not always coincide, but at least you can consider them and prioritize them. Not everything needs to be done at once.  Have a plan, then build it over time as you can afford it.

4. The sustainability factor: So hold on here, I have a couple of different definitions of sustainable. Hear me out. On a personal level, your garden is only as sustainable as you can take care of it.  If it takes more work than you can keep up with, then it is NOT sustainable on a personal level.  If it takes more money than you can afford, that too is not sustainable. If you put in plants that require more water than you have available both from nature or from finances, that won’t work either. Your personal input has to coincide with what you can afford on an ongoing basis.

On a more global level, sustainability is about the energy and materials you use to build, maintain and grow your garden. Whether it means reusing the wood from your old fence to build a new one, or using permeable pavers instead of concrete for patios and paths, every time you make a decision on what you will use in your yard, be sure to consider the larger impacts.

Brick step with Wood Edge

Using recycled materials we built a brick step

These bricks were taken from an old job and used by me at my own home.  You don’t have to give up on beauty when you reuse or recycle materials.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about specific designs for edible landscapes for small yards.


Nov 102011
Recycled Brick and wood go together well

Recycled brick steps with wood edge on a wood deck


When adding new structures to your garden such as steps, paths, trellises and gates be sure to consider using recycled materials. 

For the steps above I used bricks that someone else didn’t want anymore and that I had been storing for some “future” project.

We did a small remodel  in the living room, putting in sliding doors. This then required some steps down to the existing deck.  My first thought was to use the same wood as the deck.   But  I had the bricks and we needed something right away.We laid the bricks in front of the door on the wood deck.  They looked good, but posed two problems.  Though bricks are heavy, they tended to slip a little and were not entirely safe.  The second problem was bricks on wood held in moisture and would rot the deck.

brick step in process

Wood framing and metal shelf keep the steps dry and in place

Solutions to these problems were straight forward. We built a wood frame around the bricks with 2 x 4 Redwood and laid an old wire shelf underneath for drainage.  The wire shelf had just enough height to keep the bricks off the wood, but not so much as to change the height of the steps.

The final decision on the steps was an aesthetic one.  How many different materials can you use in one area and have it look unified? Using recycled materials is great, but throwing whatever you have at a project won’t work if it doesn’t look good.

Keep your design simple and it can look very elegant. Look around with an open mind and you might surprise yourself with what materials are available.

Mixed media works for me - Brick and Wood

Brick steps with wood edging look good on a wood deck

Tomorrow I’ll show you how I used someone’s throw away fence pickets to build a gate and a railing.

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