As March quickly passes by (is it seriously already the 20th?), Jim and I knew that we needed to take a detour from our master bathroom remodel to focus on some yard work. You may remember some posts about smaller projects we have done over the past year to try to increase our house’s “curb appeal,” but we still have a long way to go. The last update about the front yard involved ripping up some of the ugly bushes in the front of our home in order to prepare it for future, nicer shrubbery. Well, it is now about the right time to start adding that shrubbery since late Winter, early Spring is one of the best times to plant. Also, working outside in the summer time in VA is horrible.
Before I get into the new project we started, there is another project Jim completed back in the Fall that I never wrote a post about. It took only a few days and Jim did all of it by himself which is why I forgot to mention it earlier. We have a little front stoop that has part of the roof covering it. Part of the support of this roof is a large beam that goes from the stoop to the roof. Throughout the summer, we noticed what bad shape this beam was it. I knocked into it sweeping once and all of the molding around the bottom of it crumbled away. The beam was surrounded with a white plastic cover but it was clear that underneath it was rotted wood. Jim was concerned that if we received heavy snowfall, the beam would provide no support and the roof over the stoop would cave in so we needed to replace it. After Jim took off the covering, he was able to see how bad the rotting really was. He was able to put his fist through the wood beam and it just fell apart. The roof currently had no real support. Jim bought a strong metal base to screw into the stoop and a large, wooden beam to replace the old one. He struggled a little bit screwing in the metal base, but eventually got it. He also decided to stain the wooden beam the same color as the mailbox and the planter boxes we added in front of the house. After some finagling, Jim was able to get the new beam up and in place. It looks great now and we know it can support the weight of the roof.
Now back to the current project…
Our good friend, Kate, has a family owned and run nursery in Ashland, VA (right outside of Richmond). When we were trying to figure out what type of shrubbery we would want in the front of the house, we contacted Kate for help. She went above and beyond what we could have asked for! She had us describe what we were looking for, send her measurements and pictures, and she did the rest. She put together this amazing drawing of what we could do for the front yard, along with suggestions of what size shrubbery to start with. She was so incredibly helpful and knowledgeable! If you live in the Richmond area – go check out Colesville Nursery (www.colesvillenursery.com) if you ever need any sort of plants or planting advice. You will find really helpful, informed people, and wonderful plant options too!
I wanted to upload the drawing but I’m having issues with it – so just imagine an accurate and awesome drawing with lots of well placed shrubbery.
Here is a picture of what the front of the house looked like before we started working:
As you can see in those pictures, our front yard slopes downward from the front door to the side of the house. This would make for a very uneven plant bed if we chose to keep it this way. Instead, we decided we would build a retaining wall to keep in extra earth so we can make the plant bed even. Turns out, building retaining walls are a lot of work.
Before we could start working on the retaining wall, we needed to get rid of the white fence in front of the front stoop. Jim always hated it when I didn’t care either way about it. Once we added the new beam with the stained color though, it looked out-of-place and I was ready to get rid of it. With a few (hard) swings of the sledge-hammer, Jim got most of the fence up. We had to dig deep to get the posts of the fences out, but before we knew it – the fence was gone!
Once the fence was down, we had to measure out the flower bed. We decided to measure out 6 ft to give our future bushes room to grow. We also used a hose to help outline the area. We used shovel to dig out the outline so the bed would be clear to us. Next, we had to figure out how tall the retaining wall would be. Since the land is sloped down, the wall will be taller in the areas where the land is lower. We used stakes (and sticks once the stakes became too short), string, and string levels to get an idea of how tall the wall would be. The height of the wall determined how low we had to dig the trench for the wall. Shorter parts of the wall (1-3 stones), only require a trench that covers part of the bottom stone. You also need to put down a sand base in the trench that for shorter walls only need to be about 1 inch deep. The stones are 4 inches tall, so for the shorter parts of the wall, the trench didn’t have to be deeper than 4 inches. For taller parts of the wall (4 or more stones), we would need 4 inches of sand for the base AND the first stone needs to be completely covered by earth, which means the trench needs to be at least 8 inches deep. Due to the sloping nature of the wall, some parts needed to be even deeper to accommodate the different levels. Once everything was all measured, we started digging. It was NOT fun. Luckily, it was a beautiful day outside (yes, we actually had a few “Spring-like” days in March). It would have taken us quicker to finish the trench, if it were not for roots from a tree near the front of the house. This trees roots were covering the area our retaining wall needed to go. It took a lot of effort to cut into the roots and keep digging. After many hours of exhausting work, we got the majority of the trench done. There was about 2 ft more on the side of the house we needed to do, but we hadn’t decided about the side of the house just yet, so we held off. We were exhausted and called it a night.
The rest of the week, we worked when the weather was nice. One night, I had a birthday dinner to attend and Jim decided to work while I was out. He was adding the sand to the trench and leveling each stone. The stones needed to be level front to back and side to side. They also had to be level with each other. Needless to say, this was very difficult and time-consuming. When I came home from dinner at 9pm, Jim was in front of the house, with a flashlight, in freezing weather, still working. I could not believe it. He had finished almost the entire first row. He is just amazing.
The next opportunity we really had to work on the wall was last Friday. I had a (staff) basketball game that night (it’s ok if you are laughing thinking about me playing basketball right now), so I could only help until 6 pm. Since the first layer was down, it was much easier to add the additional layers. The first layer is level, so the stones on top will continue to be level. I piled the stones while Jim finished the last bit of the first row. We also decided to add a cap stone to the wall, so I ran to Home Depot to get the rest of the capstones. Jim continued to work a little bit past me that night and when he finished, he came to watch me embarrass myself….I mean play the game. The weather took a turn for the worse this week and we have not done much since. We still have all of our planting left to do!