Succulent ‘Seat Cushion’: Hypertufa DIY Planter

I have to say that hypertufa ‘seat cushions’ are my all time favourite DIY upcycle project for the garden! You may recall the chair we upcycled for our back garden and turned into a planter, but the hypertufa planter in that project was store bought. When we stumbled upon a discarded chair at the side of the road last week, hubs and I couldn’t wait to try making our own hypertufa planter from scratch for the first time!

At first glance, we both thought the chair was cast iron, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a plastic imitation. Hubs and I loaded it into the car; luckily we grabbed it before anyone else did!


Since the middle of the seat was cracked, it was perfect for our purpose.


Once we got our newest find home hubs punched out the rest of the middle of the seat.


We measured the circumference of the circle to determine the size of the bowls we would need to act as a mold for the hypertufa:


We found a variety of metal bowls at value village.

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The two larger ones were going to be just right for the mold.

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Below, I’ve documented our first attempt ever at making hypertufa so you can learn from our trial and error! Making hypertufa is a fairly easy DIY, however it’s a long process to perfect it. It could take anywhere from four to six weeks due to the curing time needed and the time it takes to leech out the lime contained in the portland cement so it’s a safe container to house plants. Since we started ours on the July 1st weekend, it won’t be ready to plant until August – which is nearing the end of our growing season! If you make your hypertufa in the fall instead, you can let the weather work its magic and naturally leech the planter over the winter. It will be ready for plants at the start of the next season and you won’t loose out on growing time.

To create the hypertufa bowl, you will need:

  1. Mixing pails (we used two, but you can get away with only one)
  2. Water
  3. Peat moss
  4. Perlite
  5. Portland cement
  6. Plastic cup or container to measure all four ingredients (1 part of each)
  7. Paint stick to mix
  8. Rubber mallet
  9. Gloves
  10. Sheet of plastic
  11. Cooking spray (acts as a release agent)
  12. Colorant (optional – if you want to color your mix). We wanted the bowl to blend in with the chair so we added in a black liquid colorant.

We don’t mind storing bags of the three main ingredients (peat, cement and perlite) because we’ll likely make more hypertufa. However, because you’ll need only a bit of each item, if this is your first project, beg and borrow a few cups of each ingredient from family or friends who might have some extra to spare. We were able to get some peat moss from my MIL so only had to buy the portland cement and perlite.

Find a sheltered spot to work in – out of direct sunlight and wind – to keep your hypertufa from drying out too fast. We worked in the garage and laid down a sheet of plastic onto the floor in case we had any spills. Here you can see the bag of peat moss. We sifted through to remove any large pieces of debris we didn’t want in our final mix.

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Peat Moss

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Perlite and Portland Cement

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Cement colorant and cooking spray

Don some gloves and spray the inside of the larger bowl and the outside of the smaller bowl with the cooking spray (make sure you get the rim too).

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Set the bowls aside.

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You’ll need to measure out one part of each ingredient. Note that we measured out one part water and put it into the first plastic mixing pail, but it probably makes more sense to add the water into the dry ingredients so you can control the consistency better! Next time we make hypertufa, we’ll mix all the dry ingredients first and add the water into the same pail.

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In the second pail we mixed all the dry ingredients together thoroughly: one part each of portland cement, perlite and peat moss. If you didn’t previously sift through your peat moss, you might want to remove some of the larger chunks of debris now to make a smoother mix.

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Once the dry ingredients were mixed, we poured them into the bucket of water and mixed thoroughly but as I said earlier you can add the water directly into the dry ingredients instead. That way, you can control the amount of water you add. Depending on moisture and humidity, you may have to add a little more or less water to get the right consistency.

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We forgot to add our liquid colourant to the water before adding the dry ingredients so ended up adding it in after. If your colourant is dry to begin with, however, add it into the dry ingredients instead.

Our mixture was the consistency of dry cottage cheese. I’ve seen wetter, more pourable mixtures on other sites, but my preference was to leave it just hydrated enough to pack.

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Pack the wet mixture into the bowl and distribute evenly. I tried to keep the thickness to about an inch.

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Insert the second bowl on top and centre it. Continue to add mixture between the two bowls until the mixture is level at the top. Tap the sides with the rubber mallet to release air bubbles.

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You’ll need to weight down the top bowl while it’s drying so it stays centred. We happened to have gravel, but you could add rocks, sand or anything heavy that will ensure it all stays put.

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Lowes has a great video you can watch that will show you all the steps I’ve described above.  They also have some great suggestions for adding texture to the planter that we’d love to try next time.

First Stage of Curing

How long a hypertufa project takes to dry will depend on the size and thickness of your project, the humidity and the temperature. It will probably take anywhere from 2 – 4 days for the first cure. Just like every project hubs and I try for the first time, it’s all about experimenting and learning from your mistakes to gain expertise.

We placed the whole thing into a plastic shopping bag, sealed it tight and left it to cure for 24 hours on a level surface. You could use a black garbage bag, or plastic wrap, but make sure the plastic is tightly sealed to retain moisture and help it dry slowly.

After 24 hours, removed the inner bowl, then wrapped it back up again in the plastic and set aside for another 24 hours.

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On the second day, we conducted a fingernail test to see if we could scratch off any of the surface. If you can, seal it up and wait another 12 – 36 hours. If you can’t then release the outer mold carefully; it’s still really fragile!

Since the project is still damp, you might want to wear gloves when you handle it.

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As you can see above, we had to tap around the outside of the bowl to help it release. It was stubborn though, so hubs resorted to running a straight blade around the inside of the rim to loosen it.

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That did the trick, however we had it perched on top of an overturned bucket and it slipped and fell to the ground! In retrospect it would have been better to release it right on the ground so it didn’t have far to fall. Luckily it remained in one piece!

Here it is unmolded; we couldn’t wait to test the fit in the chair itself and we were happy with the results!

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Once unmolded, you’ll be wrapping the hypertufa back up in plastic again but you’ll have a decision to make on how you want to cure it.

Second Stage of Curing

This stage lasts about three – four weeks; the longer and more slowly it can cure in a moist environment, the stronger it will be in the end. You can cure your project either in direct sunlight or in a shaded area; either one will work but a cooler environment will take longer to cure. If in a shaded area, open the bag every once in a while and mist the surface to keep it moist then reseal the bag.

If you can place the hypertufa where it will receive direct sunlight you won’t have to mist it periodically. Our back patio faces south, so we left it there on top of a bench. Because the bag is sealed, it creates a humid environment. The heat will cause a lot of moisture to be released from the cement, which condenses on the inside of the sealed black plastic bag. This creates a water supply that will help keep your object properly hydrated while it’s curing.

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Just When You Think You’re Done!

After a month or so of curing, you’d think you’d be done, but you’re not! The portland cement contains lime that can be alkaline to plants so it should be leached out – either through a process of soaking it over the course of 3 days or by leaving it out in the elements to leach naturally before it’s planted (that’s where making your planter in the fall has its advantages).

To leach the hypertufa of lime, soak it in a container of water. Change the water each day for 3 days, then it will be safe for plants. If your project is too big, you can hose it down a few times a day for five days.

If you prefer to let nature take its course, leave the planter outside for one or two months.

Don’t forget to drill some drainage holes into the bottom of the hypertufa planter. We used a 3/8″ bit. You can further finesse it by sanding any rough edges smooth, but we left ours ‘rustic’ because the succulents will eventually hide the edges.

They say that patience is a virtue, but in the interest of time, and since our hypertufa planter won’t be completely cured until the end of the planting season, I’ll leave you with a reveal shot of our roadside chair find as it looks with the existing succulents from our back garden – through the magic of Photoshop:

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Depending on the size of your container, when you plant your hypertufa you can probably get away with five to eight succulents as they will spread and grow in with time. I try to leave about an inch of spacing between each one.  If you’re the instant gratification type, you can pack them in, but I like to give the plants an opportunity to get bigger and reproduce on their own.

Add a good base of soil into the bottom of the hypertufa before adding the succulents so the roots have something to grow into. The succulents should also sit above the rim of the pot so the leaves can’t rot in the soil.

I love it when succulents drape over the edge of the container and the arrangement has an assortment of different heights as shown here in the post I wrote on creative planter ideas for the garden:

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However I’ve always liked the look of having them mounded at relatively the same low height  – it just looks more lush and cushion-like to me……….

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As compared to this arrangement with staggered heights which hides more of the chair detail:

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For all our planters, the majority of succulents are hardy so they will last over our harsh winters. A properly cured and leeched hypertufa can withstand harsh winter temperatures without cracking. We’ve left our store bought hypertufa out during the winter for many years without fail, however we also sometimes store it in the garage until spring and bring it back out. Either way, the succulents seem to be happy.

If you love embellishing your garden, I hope you’ll try this project; please pin and share on Facebook!

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For other inspiring gardening posts, check out the following:

Add Some ‘Zen’ to Your Back Garden with a Water Feature

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Create a Small Water Feature to Add Curb Appeal!

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Building Trellises and Privacy Screens

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How does your garden grow?

Backyard Oasis Transformation_FINAL

Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 1): Dry Creek Bed

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Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 2): Rock Garden

C_Rock Garden

Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see upcoming DIY projects – both in and around the home.

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Add Some ‘Zen’ to Your Back Garden with a Water Feature

If you read my previous post on how to create a small water feature to add curb appeal to your front garden, you’ll know that we were just warming up for our next pond! That little pond in the front was just a practice run for this bigger one we built in our backyard:

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Although the mechanics of building this one was similar to the front pond – i.e. we used a drop in liner – it was a lot more tricky because it was integrated into a travertine patio we were installing at the same time. The finished patio had to precisely end at the beginning of the pond so we could incorporate an accent border of stone around the perimeter.

I’m showing you two versions of this pond: one with a bowl that acts as a centre piece (Plan ‘A) and a second simplified version without the bowl (Plan ‘B’).


To start, we bought a pre-formed rigid liner – 4 feet x 6 feet and 2 feet deep.

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Hubs dug out the hole to the exact width and length of the liner. To calculate the finished depth, we had to consider the finished height of our travertine patio. The lip of the liner had to finish even with the underside of the travertine border to both support the stone and hide the liner.

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Hubs built the wooden structure you see below to fit into the hole for the liner so we could lay in our underbase – about 18″ of High Performance Bedding (HPB) – while we worked on the patio.

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We built a retaining wall of sorts around the pond to take the frost line into consideration and hold back the HPB aggregate from falling into the pond once the liner was installed. We built the height of the retaining wall even with the HPB so the travertine border could float over the top of it.

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In the view below, you can see that there are actually three layers of cement block that mesh together to form the retaining wall.  This ensured that the patio would be less likely to shift during the winter and  also gave a solid support to the edge of the liner.  If you are not incorporating your pond into a patio – or don’t live in a cold climate – this extra step of building a retaining wall won’t be necessary.

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As you can see in the picture below, we also installed metal edging between where we ended the travertine patio and started the retaining wall. Beyond the metal edging is where I installed the accent colour of travertine around the pond to tie in with the patio (which you’ll see later).

That’s as far as we got during our first season of construction. Hubs re-inserted the wooden frame back into the hole, because winter was soon approaching, so he could install the pond liner in the spring and finish it all up then. He sealed it up with a plywood cover to prevent snow/water from getting into the prepared hole over the winter.

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In the spring, Hubs removed the wooden frame so he could continue with the liner installation.

To prepare to install the liner, make sure the bottom of the hole is dry (if not pump out any standing water) then add sand to the bottom and tamp it down.  A good bed of sand helps nestle the liner into the ground and keep it level. Keep adding sand until the liner stays steady without any rocking motion.

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Continue to put the liner back in and check for level as you build up the sand. Making sure the pond is level is the most important step because water won’t stay securely inside the liner, where it belongs, if it’s tilted at all.

Once you’re satisfied with the fit, pop the liner in and start to fill it with water from a garden hose and continue to make sure the liner is sitting level as it fills. If you notice any puckers in the liner, you’ll need to backfill with some of the dirt you removed to fill any air pockets if there are any (you can also use some sand). The liner needs to be a fairly tight fit so it doesn’t buckle under the pressure of the water.

When the liner is filled about halfway with water, backfill around all the edges with dirt or sand. We used a plastic hand trowel to direct it around all sides. A deep dustpan works well for this purpose too — place it away from the gap between the side wall and the liner (under the lip), then brush the backfill into the gap to fill up the sides and secure it all around the edges.

For more about liner options and installation, here’s an excellent video to watch.

Once the pond was filled up, I was then able to complete the travertine accent stone all around the edges. I leveled each piece as I went, adding in HPB aggregate underneath as needed. As you can see below, the accent stone extends over the edge of the liner by about an inch in the front. I was happy to see that our measurements worked out perfectly!

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As I came around the edges of the pond and back, to finish it off, I added in metal edging (held in with spikes) all along the edge of the stones to keep them in place.

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Here’s how the accent border looked once I was finished; a nice blank slate for finishing touches!

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It was time for hubs to turn his attention to hooking up the electrical and then the pump and water feature. Here’s the electrical service to the pond Hubs installed before he finished the final connections.

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He designed this cedar cover to hide the ugly utilitarian look of the plastic pole and electrical box. The cover is both attractive and functional:  even though the electrical box is waterproof, it doesn’t hurt to shelter it from the rain!

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Over time the grasses we planted in back of the pond grew so large, and the cedar shelter greyed, which blended it into the background of the fence.  You can barely notice it anymore – but it was a nice touch up until everything around it matured!

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Plan ‘A’

For the water feature itself, we purchased a concrete bowl, a pump and fountain. We used a powerful AquaSurge high efficiency pump to achieve the water fountain height that makes this version such a centrepiece for the pond!

We drilled a hole into the bottom of the bowl so we could install the water fountain through the middle:

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To house the pump and raise the bowl out of the water in the pond, Hubs designed a cedar casing that the bowl could sit on:

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To start, hubs built a box that was connected with angle brackets and screws on the inside corners. He drilled a hole in the top right through the centre (big enough to fit the pipe for the fountain).  On the outside of the casing he L-brackets to all four vertical sides – for a very good reason that will be revealed below.  All the metal was stainless steel so it wouldn’t rust in the water; the cedar is also durable under water.

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He cut a piece of travertine (left over from our patio) to the same size as the top of the box and also drilled a hole through the centre.  The travertine has two purposes: to weigh the box down in the water and to add a decorative element that coordinates with our patio. The wooden circle you see in the picture was an extra piece hubs cut in case he needed to raise the height of the bowl further out of the pond, however he didn’t end up needing it so it wasn’t used.

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The reason for the L-brackets? To install filters!

Hubs wanted an extra measure of water filtration. As you can see here, the L-brackets hold the filter cloth to the front and back of the box. The filter cloth just slips in and out of the channel. Shown below is the back of the box.

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Hubs turned the box around to face the front and added the piece of travertine onto the top. He then inserted the pump into the bottom of the box and connected the tubing from the pump through the hole in the top of both the box and travertine.

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Before adding the bowl, hubs cut a circular piece of rubber gasket (a bit smaller than the circumference of the bottom of the bowl) and placed it around the tubing so the bowl would be cushioned where it sits on top of the travertine.

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He placed the second piece of filter cloth over the front opening and then dropped the box into the middle of the pond, leaving the electrical cord out of the water to one side.  Hubs was able to straddle the sides of the pond to lower the bowl onto the box until it was sitting on top of the travertine. As the bowl is HEAVY, this is an awkward way to do it so I’d suggest adding a strong piece of plywood across the pond and even getting two people to help lower the bowl onto the box.

Once the bowl was seated, he then hooked up the fountain to the tubing inside the bowl. It looks like the bowl is floating on top of the travertine!

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Hubs plugged the cord into the electrical post (seen at the back of the pond on the right side) to test out the pump and set the height of the flow. Once the pond was up and running we finished off the landscape and plantings around it (like the grasses and day lily you see behind the pond).

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Each fall, we dissassemble the bowl and take the pump/box into the garage for the winter. In the spring we bring it back out again and re-connect the pump.

When the risk of frost has passed, we load the pond up with tropical pond plants!

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It’s nice to introduce some flowering plants into the pond as part of the focal point of our backyard!

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I had fun accentuating around the pond with decor items – like the yoga frogs and starfish. I also faux finished the mirror/shelf combination that you see on the fence. It adds some sparkle and depth to our small space – and also another surface for display!

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The height of the water in the fountain is fully adjustable; we generally have it higher when we have guests visiting but keep it lower when it’s just us enjoying the back.

With the addition of a canopy umbrella, we can relax in our zen-like outdoor space in rain or shine 🙂

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(Plan ‘B’) – Simplified Version

Because of the physical effort it takes to install the bowl each spring, the pond project described above won’t be for everyone! As a matter of fact, when Hubs doesn’t want to lug out the heavy bowl we revert to Plan ‘B’!

This spring, we swapped the bowl out for a much simpler, and lighter, water fountain that we can easily drop into the pond. It’s not nearly as showy a focal point, but it will be just as lovely once we add additional pond plants and bring out the rest of the decor. This is a great alternative if you don’t want to go to the effort – and expense – of building the box/filter system from scratch for the bowl.

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This fountain is run by a much cheaper pump and instead of the cedar box, hubs used a milk crate that he weighed down with two stainless steel pipes.

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He attached them onto the bottom of opposite sides with black plastic cable ties:

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He also used the plastic ties to secure the pump to the top of the milk crate. The milk crate is necessary in this instance because the pond is 2 feet deep and the fountain head needs to be raised out of the water. You’ll need to work out how high your crate needs to be depending on the depth of the liner you install.

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Here you can see the how the pump is attached with the cable ties from the underside of the crate:

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If you’re interested in installing a pond in your own garden, but want to start out with a smaller project first, like we did, check out my post on how to create a small water feature:

Create a Small Water Feature

I also show you some creative planter ideas to finish off a backyard space:

Planter Ideas

Stay calm and relax on this summer!  If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

For those of you facing winter weather and wanting to bring the outdoors in, check out my indoor water feature. Although I used a paint can, you can substitute anything, like a watering can, to craft this fun project and make it your own!

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At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ if you’re interested in seeing other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 1): Dry Creek Bed

When we finished installing a patio in our backyard, we were left with a lonely patch of grass in the back corner. It didn’t really make sense to get out a lawn mower every week to mow such a small area; not to mention how awkward it would be to maneuver it past our patio set! More importantly, not using electricity to cut the grass – or water to keep it green – was the sustainable way to go!

Our solution was to install a dry creek bed and rock garden to replace the grass (you’ll see how to build the rock garden in Part 2).  There’s nothing more rewarding than putting some sweat equity into building a sustainable garden when the outcome is this gorgeous!

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Here’s how the back corner looked before we started; to get a sense of the area we had to work with, I’ve included an overhead shot of the garden.


Here’s a complete overview of the landscaping plan:

Landscape Plan

The first order of business was digging an enormous hole to plant a Blue Danube pom pom juniper at the south end of the dry creek bed:

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By the time hubs dug this hole, we no longer had our clean fill bin to dump the soil, so he used some left over landscaping bags and filled them up. He placed the bags at the front of our house and the neighbours scooped them all up – waste not want not!

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Is China really at the other end of this hole?

Once the juniper was planted, we used a garden hose to help us outline the shape of the dry creek bed so we could dig out the grass.  We sloped the sides and dug out a shallow bottom so we wouldn’t have to fill it with too many stones. It was all hands on deck, so we didn’t get pictures of digging out the dry creek bed!

We added landscape cloth along the bottom and up the sides to prevent weeds from growing. We extended the landscape cloth a few feet over the edges so we could run it under some larger boulders we planned to place around the bed. In areas we weren’t planning on putting any boulders along the sides, we simply folded the landscape cloth under and staked it into the sides of the dry creek bed to prevent it from shifting.

When the landscape cloth was secured, we filled the dry creek bed with a colourful variety of smooth river rock.

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We then went shopping for flagstone to place around the perimeter of the dry creek bed so we’d have some stepping stones to walk around.  We handpicked the pieces at the stone yard that we thought would fit best. When shopping for flagstone, take along a sketch of your plan to help you visualize the space!

We also purchased some larger decorative boulders for the rock garden (which you’ll see how to build in Part 2) and a few extra boulders to sporadically place around the sides of the dry creek bed. When we got the stones home, we were excited to do a dry lay on-site to see how we did with our selection!

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Here you can see where the landscape cloth extends over the edge of the dry creek bed and is held down by some of the flagstone pieces. We had wanted to use this ‘landing pad’ as a base to level one side of a wooden bridge that was going to span across the dry creek bed – but we never got around to building that (you’ll see an inspiration shot further ahead)!  We were going to fill in the gaps with some pea gravel, but instead we filled them in with dirt so we could plant moss in between and around the stones (as you’ll also see further ahead).


We took our time with the dry lay of the stepping stones and boulders to make sure they were beautiful as well as functional!

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Once we were happy  with the placement, we dug around each stone with an edging tool and removed the grass as well as a few inches of topsoil. The goal was to inset the stones slightly below the surface to keep them in place and prevent shifting during colder weather.

Next, it was time to get down to fine the tuning details and be one with the earth!  I literally sat myself down in the dry creek bed and pushed all the river rock out and over the edge of the landscape cloth to hide it.


I kept a container of extra river rock (that hubs kept refilling for me) in case I needed to add more. I worked my way around the entire perimeter: it was a slow process but it really transformed the dry creek bed from a hole in the ground to something that looks like it’s been there for ages!


Where the dry creek bed ends, we found the PERFECT statue to accent the pom pom juniper. We trailed the river rock from the dry creek bed around the ornamental juniper and in front of the statue ending it beside a pond we installed when we constructed our patio.

The statue represents a tragedy and comedy mask; a great reminder of all the hard work  –  with all its setbacks and humourous moments – that we put into building the garden from the ground up!

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Dry creek bed wrapping around our ‘Comedy/Tragedy’ statuary with Blue Danube Pom Pom Juniper in the background

Once all the fine details were taken care of in the dry creek bed, we planted moss around the flagstones so it would grow in to fill the gaps between them. Around some of the boulders on the perimeter of the dry creek bed, we planted miniature day lillies (so they wouldn’t grow too tall) and some drought resistant (aka low maintenance) ground cover.

Remember the ‘landing pad’ of flagstones I showed you earlier?  Here’s the before and after of how that area filled in with moss. Isn’t it pretty?

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This is an inspiration shot of now I envisioned using the flagstone to support a bridge on either side of our dry creek bed. It’s the only thing I wish we had added, but it’s never too late – it’ll likely be a project we’ll attempt down the road.

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To finish the area around the dry creek bed, we covered a narrow pathway between it and the fence in mulch to keep the mud and weeds at bay.

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The moss gets billowy and full as it slowly spreads into the gaps

Here’s how the moss, ground cover and day lillies (in bloom) filled in over a few seasons of growth.  The dry creek bed looks seamless once the plants around it are fully grown; everything just drapes over and softens all the edges!

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The south east corner of our backyard went from this lonely patch of grass:

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… to this lush section of our surburban oasis.  For the time and effort we expended up front, it’s certainly a big payoff in the end. It’s far more interesting to look at than a patch of grass – and requires very little maintenance to maintain it! The only care it needs is a seasonal trimming of the ornamental juniper to maintain the round shape of the pom poms.

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The dry creek bed really added a special touch to the garden, but we didn’t stop there! I was happy to have hubs’ help through the next stage of the process too: I couldn’t have done it without my ‘partner in grime’ – as I like to refer to him! Check out part two of Low Maintenance Gardening to learn how to build a rock garden:

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At the side of our house, we found a way to protect our hostas from slugs – and we did it sustainably without the need for pesticides! Click here to read more.


We also added some privacy to our small yard by building trellises to support a variety of flowering vines and a screen for the BBQ area (behind the retaining wall).  In late summer we have a wall of green:

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Late Summer; we planted 3 Silver Lace Vines for this full lush look

By the time the Silver Lace Vine blooms in the fall, it’s magnificent! It’s important to select a wide variety of plants when planning your garden to provide bloom from early spring into late fall; just doing our part to attract bees to the garden!

Click the link for the DIY on how to build trellises and privacy screens.

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Autumn; Silver Lace in full bloom

Be sure to check out my other inspiring garden posts where I’ll show you how-to’s for an upcycled mirror and shelf to expand any small outdoor space, and;

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Creative planter ideas – where we make the most of repurposing items such as this chair and enamel pot!

Planter Ideas

Stay calm and relax on this summer!  If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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This Is How We Roll Feature


Create a Small Water Feature to Add Curb Appeal!

There’s nothing more calming than the tranquil sound of water trickling from a water feature and I can’t think of a better way to great guests to the house than having one right by the front door!

Now that Spring is here, it’s a great time to start thinking about adding some curb appeal by installing a pond. Ready made ponds are a great convenience. Here’s one we installed on one side of our front walkway. Following below is a complete tutorial with the lowdown on how we did it!

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It is a simple and straightforward task to add a ridgid liner to the garden, but there are other considerations when the liner is going to be up against the edge of a walkway (as ours was). We ran into several challenges and I’ll show you how we resolved them.

But first, if you are installing a liner anywhere else in the garden, here are the general instructions. However, if you want to install a liner that will be intersecting with a walkway (like ours did), skip down to “Walkway Challenges”.

General Installation

We started with a small kidney shaped pre-formed ridgid  liner. It was very easy to install with a few simple tools and supplies (shovel, garden hose, sand, scoop, level). We placed the liner where we wanted it and then, using a hose, we marked out the outline of the shape (you can use marking paint or sand to mark also). We carefully measured the depth needed and also the depth and placement of any shelves we would also need to dig out (we have one shelf in our pond).

We dug out a hole to the shape and depth we measured and checked to make sure it was level once the liner was placed into the hole. Then we pulled it out again and added a few inches of sand to the bottom of the hole. This will help nestle the liner into the ground and keep it level. Keep adding sand until the liner stays steady without any rocking motion. It’s a good idea to tamp the sand down over the dirt on the bottom so the liner is seated securely. Continue to put the liner back in and check for level as you build up the sand. Making sure the pond is level is the most important step because water won’t stay securely inside the liner, where it belongs, if it’s tilted at all.

Once you’re satisfied with the fit, start to fill the liner with water from a garden hose and continue to make sure the liner is sitting level as it fills. If you notice any puckers in the liner, you’ll need to backfill with some of the dirt you removed to fill any air pockets (you can also use some sand). This is especially important underneath any shelves as you don’t want the liner to buckle under the pressure of the water – the liner needs solid support, both underneath and all around the sides!

When the liner is filled about halfway with water, backfill around all the edges with sand. We used a plastic hand trowel to direct the sand where we wanted it. A deep dustpan works well for this purpose too — place it away from the gap between the side wall and the liner (under the lip), then brush the sand into the gap to fill up the sides and secure it all around the edges.

We purchased some flagstone to hide the edges and finish it off (more to come about that in the next section).

For more about liner options and installation, here’s an excellent video to watch.

Walkway  Challenges

When we first installed our liner it was with the recognition that one day we would be installing new paving stones. We actually ended up doubling our work because of that; we had to re-support the pond when we updated the walkway. This is how the walkway looked before we installed the new pavers. As you can see the liner is level and sits on top of the stone slab.

To dress is up, we bought natural flagstone and placed it all around the edges of the liner to hide it. Be sure to buy different thicknesses so you’re able to stack it up to different levels since you’ll have higher gaps in the back and side than the front where it meets up with the walkway!

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Here’s how the pond looked before we updated the walkway with new pavers. It looked quaint, but there was still lots of room for improvement; we knew we could do even better!

Notice that the flagstone around the edge looks a little skimpy? That’s because we didn’t buy enough initially. It’s sometimes hard to judge how much you’ll need until you’ve got the stone on site! Oh well, just be prepared to take another trip back to the stone yard. Between our front and back yards, we were on a first name basis with everyone at the stone yard by the time we were done!

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Edges could use a little more stone!

When we finally got around to updating the old stone on the walkway from concrete slabs to pavers (before and after shown below) we wanted to be able to easily pull the liner out of the hole so we could power wash it each Spring and then put it back, ready to fill with clean water.

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Before and after with new paving stones

Easy upkeep and maintenance is always an important factor to us. Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to remove the liner without disturbing the base underneath our pavers and having it all crumble into the pond each time we lifted it out.

My husband and I put our heads together and came up with a brilliant idea using some concrete blocks, construction adhesive and some metal edging that we had left over from installing our walkway. Once you read through the following instructions, it will all make sense!

Since our liner was already installed as outlined above, our first step was to set up string lines so we could determine the finished level of the walkway and where we needed to place concrete blocks to fall just under the lip of the liner. Then we dry fit the concrete blocks around the front edge of the pond where it was going to intersect the walkway. We needed to stack the blocks two-high in order to get the height we needed. We kept taking the liner out and putting it back in as we dry fit the stones to ensure it would sit level once the stones were in place. You might have to add some sand into the bottom of the hole at this point to make sure the liner nestles properly.

I know this looks like a mess, but stick with me here!

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String lines in place and stone dry fit under lip of liner to exact height

Once you’re happy with the arrangement, use construction adhesive (rated for outdoor use) to glue the underside of the upper blocks to the bottom layer of blocks. Gluing them together is important as you don’t want anything to shift; the top stones also act as a base for the metal rim still to come.

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Keep adding construction adhesive until all the stones have been glued into place

Keep adding construction adhesive until all the stones have been glued into place.

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Let the construction adhesive dry. Since our pond was done in two stages, it wasn’t necessary for us to add any dirt or sand around the sides, but if you are building yours from scratch, this is the time to make sure you’ve supported the bottom and sides with dirt and/or sand and leveled it as in the general instructions described above. Do this BEFORE you proceed to the final step.

Final Step

We used the metal edging as a frame of sorts: we bent it until we got the exact shape of the pond.  Temporarily tape it together to make sure that the pond can easily slip in and out of the metal frame. Make any necessary adjustments then connect the two edges in the middle by either riveting or screwing it together with a nut and bolt to hold the shape. Place the metal frame with the pond liner into the hole, then tape it down in a few spots to hold it against the concrete blocks.  Gently lift out the liner so you’re only left with the metal frame sitting on top of the concrete blocks. Glue the metal frame to the concrete blocks at each tab (removing the tape as you go).

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Metal ‘frame’ is glued down to the concrete blocks with construction adhesive

There – you’ve got a metal frame that acts as a ‘lip’ to prevent the fine stone gravel that forms the base of the walkway from falling into the pond each time it’s lifted out and replaced again (we used high performance bedding stone or HPB for short)!

If you like, you can pack a little dirt under the rest of the tabs if there are any gaps (make sure you don’t skew the level) and drive a few spikes into one or two of the them to secure the metal around the edges that aren’t glued down. This isn’t really necessary, however. You’re not trying to support the weight of the pond with the frame (that work is supposed to be done by adding and tamping sand in the bottom of the hole as described in the general instructions above). As I mentioned, the metal is simply acting as as guard between the  walkway and pond to prevent migration of the HPB into the hole.

All that’s left is to fill up the rest of the walkway with the HPB base and cover up the concrete blocks to just below the lip of the metal (below you can only see evidence of the blocks in the hole itself).

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HPB covers up all the ‘hidden’ support

Our final step was to  screed the HPB to the final level and install the new pavers.

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Pavers going in

Here’s how the pond looks now: all dressed up, complete with pond plants and turtle spitter. We bought a variety of different thicknesses of flagstone and REALLY beefed it up all the around the edges since our first attempt. Isn’t it MUCH better than it was?!

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Completed water feature and walkway

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To finish off the vignette, I built this trellis.

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In the fall, leaves and dirt make will their way into the pond, but we’re not so fussed about it because we know that we can lift it out in the Spring and hose it down! We simply put away the pump and then add a wooden board over the top of the pond to keep the snow at bay.

Here is how the pond looks over the course of winter (we didn’t have snow when I took this shot!).

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Board covers pond to keep out snow

With a little innovation on our part, the liner has been a breeze to pull out in the Spring, clean up and then reinstall – ready to shine as the star of our small front garden 🙂

To keep mosquitoes at bay (they can’t breed in flowing water), make sure you run a spitter and pump to  recirculate the water. You’ll need  a source of electricity close to the pond (our main source was in the garage on the other side of the wall) and a weatherproof box that’s rated to be near water. Consult or hire a licensed electrician to ensure it’s all up to code.

We haven’t had any problems with algae growth in our little pond as it’s fairly shaded throughout the day; however if yours is exposed to a lot of sun, barley straw works wonders against algae.

By the way, the walkway was the very first paver project that I had ever attempted (and I installed every block myself)!

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Installing the pavers

It was my ‘practice run’ for the travertine pavers we did in the backyard (here’s how that project looked in progress). To see how we landscaped our entire back yard, click here.

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Once the front walkway was complete, we advanced to something on a larger scale in the back!

I have one more pond project coming up in a future post, so stay tuned. Here’s a sneak peek at the water feature I’ll be featuring that we built in the backyard.

Are you ready to attempt a water feature in your own garden?

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Water feature in back garden

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather


Spring Forward – Building Trellises and Privacy Screens

Daylight savings time is only a few days away. With Spring on the horizon, I find myself thinking about outdoor projects! When you live in a suburban neighbourhood, where the houses are packed in like sardines, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of privacy.

If you build a trellis this spring, you could have a lush green look – and more privacy – by summer!

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When we decided to landscape our front and back yards we searched high and low for perfectly sized privacy screens and trellises – to no avail. The solution? Build our own!

Like I always advise when doing something you’ve never attempted, start small first! Get all your frustration – I mean trial and error of course – out on something that’s manageable in terms of time, effort, money and scale. THEN, you can reach for the sky and go BIG!

The original trellis that came with the house was skimpy and undersized.

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Measure the space

The new trellis is taller and wider; our clematis is much happier to have space to spread!

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Build trellis to the size you want

Doing it yourself has many advantages: you can design whatever your heart desires, build it to the size you want, in the wood you want and pick your own finishes!

For our projects, we went with straight up cedar for its beauty and durability in the great outdoors. We had several areas we felt could use a screen or trellis.

As you can see below, our first trellis projects was by the little pond near our front door. When we finished building our new trellis, this is what the entry to our house looked like when the clematis was just starting to grow:

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The clematis took it it’s new support system right away and has flourished ever since! We still have to ‘train’ it in the spring once it starts to sprout up, but other than that, it’s on its own. Here’s what it looks like in late spring:

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And here it is when the clematis is in full bloom in the summer:

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Another problem area was right by our front door; we had a less than pleasant view of our neighbour’s garbage bins – ugh.

That view went from this…

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Front entry was an eyesore

To this once the trellis was in place:

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View of the ugly garbage cans is camouflaged; once vines are fully grown the view is nicely hidden

This is how it looks when the vines start to take hold in early summer:

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Cedar planter box holds vines that get planted annually

My husband built a planter box that we placed on the porch in back of the trellis so the vines can grow through the lattice and also be viewed from the street (to see more creative planter ideas, click this link).

Before long, the trellis is covered.

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In the winter, we store our ‘summer’ trellis in the garage on hooks…..

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… so we can swap it out for another screen that’s fitted out with outdoor fabric in the centre so it completely blocks our view – and acts as a wind screen too!

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Trellis gets swapped out for privacy screen in winter

We used L-brackets to support the screen by our front door; we purchased galvanized metal and then spray painted it a dark grey to protect it even more from the elements (metal will eventually rust and have to be replaced, but painting it will slow down the damage from the harsh elements of the weather!). Here’s a better look at the L-bracket supporting the screen at the bottom:

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Once we got our feet wet with a few smaller projects, we were ready for the big time – the big Kahuna of all trellises.

After we finished landscaping our backyard, we wanted a HUGE trellis on which to grow vines that would provide us with a sense of privacy and coziness in the back. As you can see from this overview of the lot, we back on to many yards and privacy is at a premium!

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Our requirements? The trellis had to be extremely large to give us privacy and be able to support a fast-growing vine.

Our trellis was built to about 10 feet wide and 8 feet long and perfectly supports and frames our Silver Lace Vine. Not only does it look gorgeous when the vines are fully grown in the summer (when you can’t even see the trellis), but it gives us something interesting to look at in the spring too.

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Trellis overlooking dry creek bed

How did we plan and build something like this, you may be wondering? You might be surprised to learn that the design was drawn in powerpoint:

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I started off by turning on the ruler view. Since I knew I wanted an approximate 10 foot by 8 foot size, I decided that every 1” on the ruler was going to be equal to a foot. I drew dotted lines at one inch intervals – both vertically and horizontally – for my ‘graph paper’ grid.

I used to love playing with TinkerToys when I was a kid, so playing with a bunch of ‘sticks’ – albeit in powerpoint – was right up my alley.

I created long rectangular shapes and first put a ‘frame’ in place for the perimeter of the trellis. From there, I continued to draw rectangular shapes, duplicate them where needed and put them into place.

You might find it easier to sketch something out on paper first, but I just went for it right in powerpoint. I played around with cleaning up some of the lines. For instance, where the four crosses sit in the squares, I sent the crosses to the back to so each cross looked like it was cut to fit into the corners.

Once we had our plan, we developed a cutting plan and we went shopping for cedar. We bought thicker planks and ripped them all down the width of the ‘sticks’ so we could start cutting to size and building.

The Setup

Since the screen was so big and we needed a flat surface to arrange and build on, we put a sheet of plastic down in the garage so we could build away from the elements.

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First two ‘practice’ trellises can be seen in the background

We kept the construction simple. We used a pin nailer with dabs of PL construction adhesive (which we had on-hand) to secure everything together. For the X’s, we mitred the ends so they would fit nicely into the square shapes and then glued and pinned them in on all sides. You’ll need to decide which pieces you want to lay ‘in front’ and which pieces can fall to the back because it’s just a matter of deciding how you want it to look. By laying it all out on the floor first you can finalize the order of how you want to put it all together. Some sections we built like ladders, and longer pieces ended up bridging the width of the whole screen to make it more secure. My best advice would be to continue to learn through trial and error (building on what you learned on your smaller practice piece).

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Assemble frame and larger ‘ladders’ first. Then fill in between with some pieces in front and others behind the frame

Securing it to the fence

We could have gone two routes with a trellis this size – attach the whole thing to large posts by digging out holes and securing it in the ground with concrete (like a fence post) or have it ‘floating’ on the fence and propped up on top of a few rectangular stones. We went with the latter choice.

We placed the three large stones in the garden bed. Then we attached some u-shaped struts to the back of the trellis in several places. The struts we used were deep enough that we could easily get a screw into the middle of the bracket and permanently fasten it to the fence.

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We attached it this manner so we could remove it at some point in the future if we ever wanted to. Now that the garden below the trellis is all grown in with various ground cover, you can’t even see the stone it’s sitting on. And you don’t notice the brackets either – especially when the vines have matured in the summer.

Here are some pictures of how our Silver Lace has evolved over time. It makes a fantastic lush green privacy screen.

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Green and lush in the Summer!

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Silver Lace Vine in full bloom in the fall months – still looks fab!

Our next project was building a privacy screen for my husband so he wouldn’t be staring into our neighbour’s yard between the gaps in the fence every time he barbecued. We used the same principles to build the privacy screen as we did for the winter screen by our front door, except we used bamboo instead of fabric on the majority of it. We built our frame, then staple gunned a roll of bamboo onto the middle section of the frame and used fabric in the top section. This particular screen slips in between the fence and the retaining wall and is supported by ‘L’ brackets at the top of the fence.


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Because the BBQ screen is smaller than the trellis (and our Canadian winters can be brutal!), we remove it every winter and store it on hooks on a wall in our garage. It keeps the fabric, bamboo and wood from aging faster than they normally would outside.


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X & O trellises

Another fabric screen we built was one for my mother-in-law to cover up the fencing around her deck. As you can see in the shot below, the fence is quite open. She has a corner lot and the screen provides a barrier from the traffic and passersby:


Here’s how it looks now with the privacy screens in place:

In this particular instance, we used magnets to secure the screen to the structure. By attaching wooden knobs as handles, it’s easy for my MIL to install and remove since there’s no screws to deal with!

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to inspire you to think about trellises and privacy screens as your next DIY project … now go build one for yourself and let me know how you get on by leaving me a comment!

If you’re interested in more garden ideas and inspiration, check out some of our other posts:

And don’t forget to spring forward for daylight saving time on Sunday, March 13th!


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If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow our blog here (link in the footer) or on Bloglovin’ (link below) to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

UPDATE Jan 2017: There’s now a new category under the Birdz of a Feather family: Birdz of a Feather ~ Craft Rehab where you’ll find creative and sustainable craft ideas. Be sure to check it out and follow us there too!

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Like the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?, there’s more to landscaping a backyard than meets the eye. The ‘silver bells’ and ‘cockle shells’ referred to in the rhyme were colloquialisms for instruments of torture. In a lot of ways, landscaping is much the same way—full of torture! So I’m officially calling this DIY project ‘the Mother (Nature) of All Projects’.

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I’ve never personally crossed paths with another handy woman crazy enough to build and landscape her own backyard. I used to be able to bench press patio stones with the best of them, but not now. I will likely never, ever again undertake such a strenuous project. NEVER. But then again….. maybe landscaping is like giving birth. You might swear you’ll never do it again, but then you soon forget the pain; especially as you see your creation grow and take shape.

Now, I have to preface my DIY story by letting you know that I didn’t do it all myself, but I did do more than my fair share. I needed my ‘partner in grime’ – my husband – to do some of the heavy lifting (and some of the heavy thinking—but I’ll get to that later).

My motivation for doing hardcore DIY projects is a little different than my husband’s. I had a bad experience at a young age with a contractor who ripped off my hard earned money. I swore that I would never hire anyone again, and have DIY’d just about everything ever since. My husband’s motivation, on the other hand, is that he’s cheap. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s a lot of satisfaction, and financial gain to be had, in improving your investment by feathering your own nest – and learning new skills along the way.

I guess you could call it a labour of love since we quite literally started right before our marriage and started right back up again the day after our honeymoom.  Our backyard project took a year and a half from start to finish (if you don’t count the ‘do-over’ explained at the end). The amount of time might seem excessive when a contractor could whip in and have it done in a few weeks, but a contractor would not have added all the special touches we managed to achieve.

We divided the work into four phases:

  1. Plan/dig/ compact base;
  2. Set pavers, fill in with polymeric sand, plant garden and install rock garden;
  3. Set up the pond; and
  4. Install dry creek bed/ flagstone/moss and build and install trellises so we could grow silver lace vine to bring privacy to our suburban lot).

By breaking the work into manageable sections, we were able to get it done at our own pace, and, I think, at a reasonable price (the budget came in at around $25K for everything).

If you’re not comfortable with landscape design, your local nursery often has designers on staff that will help you draw up a plan and also advise you on the plantings. The fee for this service would probably be around $60 – $120, depending on the time involved, but check with your local nursery.

Important: Before you break any ground, call your utility companies to mark the phone and gas lines so you don’t accidentally dig into these services!

My best advice when attempting a landscape project is to start small (or at least smaller, in our case!). As neither of us had ever installed a patio before, we decided to do our front walkway first – to practice and get all our mistakes out of the way before starting the backyard! Here’s a glimpse of that project, which I’ll detail in an upcoming post on landscaping the front walkway and installing a water feature:

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Practicing on a smaller project first, before taking on the mother (nature) of all landscape projects in the backyard!

Phase One

(Plan, dig, compact base)

Right before we were married, I had planned the design so literally right after we returned from our honeymoon, we broke ground.The goal was to dig the patio and pond, and get the initial base in place by the fall. Our idea was to let nature takes its course over the winter to help compact the base for us. It seems to have worked because nothing has heaved in the near-decade since it’s been completed.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of laying out a design on computer. Since our travertine had multiple different sizes of stone and an established pattern, I wanted to be sure I laid every stone in the correct order. Back then I didn’t have any fancy graphic programs, so I scanned a picture of the drawing, imported it into powerpoint and completed the paver layout there. I don’t know why, but somehow it managed to work it out to scale.

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Hardscape plan and landscape plantings

We really lucked out on the hardscape material. After seeing real travertine marble on display at the stone yard while shopping for the front patio, I fell in love with it… but not the price. My husband let his fingers do the walking and called the manufacturer to see if by any chance they were open to the public and we might be able to get a better price. Our timing couldn’t have been better!  The manufacturer was moving its entire facility and, since stone is expensive to move, they were selling off their inventory at incredible prices. We jumped right on it (even though we weren’t quite ready to start the backyard project quite yet), and placed our order.

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Travertine display at the stone yard

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Delivery Day

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Stages of prep work (clockwise from left): site grading and grass removal, digging the pond and pouring retaining wall, initial base of HPB stone in place to overwinter

Back in the day, we didn’t have a laser level so my husband used an ancient method – a water level – to establish our grade.

To start, measure out from the house where you will be digging for the patio and place some flags or markers at each corner of your project. If your patio is a rectangle, you’ll only need four flags, but we had a lot of jogs in our plan (plus a pond) to account for. Pound wooden stakes into the ground about 2 feet away from each ground flag. Tie some nylon string onto the first stake and stretch it to the one.

For the rest of the steps, I would suggest you watch this excellent video from This Old House. The video demonstrates three different methods for establishing a grade. We wanted our patio to slope slightly away from the house for water drainage so we laid out perfectly level lines, as they did in the video, and then we re-adjusted our lines 1/4″ lower for each foot out from the house to get the gentle slope we wanted.

One thing to keep in mind when you dig out the area for the patio is that you have to excavate BEYOND the size of the patio. For instance, if your patio is 10′ x 20′ you need to add at least 6″ onto each side (ideally, the area should extend past the pavers a distance that’s equal to the depth of the base material or 10′ + 6″ + 6″ by 20′ + 6″ + 6″ = 11 x 21). Of course, if one end of your patio butts up against the house as ours did, you wouldn’t need to add onto that end.

The picture below illustrates the extra width around the perimeter of our patio. When the base material extends beyond the perimeter of the patio, this stabilizes the edge and will allow you to install your edge restraints.

Once the patio is complete, all you need to do is back fill with some dirt and plant grass seed – or put in strips of sod to fill in the gap if you want it to grow in faster (be sure to water thoroughly until grass is established).

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DO NOT skip the step of installing edge restraints around the exterior edges of your patio or it will shift over time and your hard work will be a waste (again, it’s not needed up against the  house). We chose metal edging and installed at least four spikes for every 6 foot length.

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Install a minimum of 4 spikes every 6 feet

As a base material we used a stone called HPB (High Performance Bedding). I have to say that HPB was a dream to work with; it can be ordered through some local nurseries or a stone yard.

HPB does double duty by replacing the bedding layer and the base layer of material with only one material (vs. sand and stone) under pavers. HPB is also a real convenience to use because only one huge pile of material gets delivered to the site instead of two!

Before you have it delivered, but sure to put down tarps on your driveway and along the edge of the grass to keep it contained (you can drape it back over the stone afterwards and weigh it down to keep the tarp from killing your grass). If you don’t prepare your area this way you’ll be picking stone out of your grass for years to come.

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HPB delivery day – make sure to tarp the grass too!

HPB provides excellent drainage and because of the size of the chip (3/8″) it is 97% compacted without any compaction, however I would still recommend compacting it.  Don’t be tempted to dump all the HBP onto the ground and compact the stone only once – it won’t work.

Using a rented compacter, compact the ground first, then also compact after you apply each 4 inch layer of HPB.

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Compacted, graded and ready for HPB

There isn’t a rule of thumb when it comes to the depth of the base material. We used way more HPB than would normally be recommended – which might be overkill, but we didn’t want anything to heave during the freeze and thaw of our Canadian winters. You should ask for advice from your local dealer; Unilock also has a great technical guide that you can read for further information on how to determine how much material for your base (amongst other great information): Unilock Technical Guide

When removing large areas of grass, rent a dumpster that’s specifically made for compost material (as opposed to renovation waste) as it will be cheaper. If you can rent one that opens at the side for easy access, your back will appreciate it; its amazing how quickly the pile builds up! Removing grass is dirty dusty work; here you can see I’m wearing goggles, mask and gloves.

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Forget the diamonds. A wheelbarrow is a girl’s best friend (when it comes to landscaping)!

Don’t forget to trench out for electrical if you’re installing a pond with a pump. When it comes to electrical, be familiar with your local building codes – or better yet, hire a licensed electrician to complete this aspect of the project.

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Electrical wiring is protected in tubing before it’s buried in the trench

When you are doing your own landscaping, and are novices like us, you need to keep a flexible attitude because you’ll likely run into several challenges. We ran into two obstacles:

Our first challenge came after realizing that the side of our house, where the patio was extending fully to the fence, had a drop off to our neighbour’s lot line. It’s very common in suburban areas, where houses are tightly packed together, to have a subtle valley between each house to direct rain water away.This discovery meant we had to find a solution to contain the HPB base and prevent it from falling out from underneath the pavers.

We ended up having to build a retaining wall against the fence that we didn’t plan for. Since we were building a step under our sliding patio doors, we had to construct the retaining wall first. Back again we went to the stone yard to get the proper retaining wall system! Retaining  blocks have ledges that stack together, so you really can’t stack them wrong!

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When the landscaping odds are stacked up against you, you’re going to have to stack a retaining wall – or two!

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In the end, the retaining wall was a nice addition; it frames the privacy screens we built beautifully!

Our second challenge came after discovering that the entry into our backyard would also need a retaining wall of sorts too. I didn’t want a different stone there however; I wanted the travertine to be the first thing you see as your step into the backyard. Since necessity is the mother of invention, I designed a semi-circular step. It entailed making a concrete form and pouring cement so there was a permanent structure to float the patio over. We ended up mixing all the cement ourselves in one of those ‘rolling’ buckets, similar to the one pictured below. By the seventh bag, I was exhausted. If we had to do it all over again, I would plan ahead and look into the cost of getting a truck to deliver a pre-mixed batch so we could pour it all at once.

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Once the cement was poured and cured, I applied stone to the face of the inner curve with adhesive made especially for marble (other adhesives may stain and show through natural travertine). Then we were able to lay the patio stones over the top cut them to size.


Fast forward: when we finally laid the travertine up to the step, we lined it up against the edge, transferred the curve of the step with pencil to the underneath of each stone – adding on a 1″ overhang – and then cut them all on a wet saw.

Be sure NOT to cement the edges down: I know this from experience.  If there is no flexibility at the point where the pavers meet the top of the poured cement retaining wall, these stones could crack and/or heave. The best option is to adding some flexible caulking under the edge of each tile (where it meets up with the rim of the wall) to hold them down and prevent them from gradually shifting forward over the edge. If the pavers do happen to ease forward over the years, you can reapply some caulk and stick them back down.

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Our two extra challenges were a lot more work than we bargained for. However, when it comes to landscaping, as novices, you just have to go with the flow!

Phase two:

(Top up the base, grade away from the house for water drainage, set paving stones and fill in with polymeric sand, shop again – for plant material and pond accessories, install rock garden and plant garden).

After nature took its course and compacted our initial layer of HPB stone, we topped it up in the Spring and did our final tamping and grading.

You’ll need some long metal pipes to do your screeding and final levelling; as you can see here we used aluminum. Lay the metal pipes on either side of the area you’re levelling and set them to the finished height of the string you set up. Make sure you have a straight edge that’s long enough to span the two pipes and then set it on top of the pipes and drag it along, steadily levelling off the top of the stone.

After the first pull through the stone, check with your straight edge to make sure you don’t have any gaps underneath. If you find gaps, throw a little more stone in that spot and then re-screed until everything is perfectly level. When you’re happy with it, carefully pull out the screed rails and fill in the indentations with more HPB and pat it down level (I did this as I laid the patio stones because my reach into the field only went so far!).

This video demonstrates how to screed (they are using sand instead of HPB, but the technique is the same).

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I started laying my stone right in front of the step and retaining wall. I kept a small bucket of HBP with a plastic scoop by my side so I could fill in where the screed was. I also had a small level so I could ensure that everything was still flat before placing the stones.

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Filling in the screed indentations and doing one last check to make sure everything is level

Once all the pavers are laid, wash them down and let them thoroughly dry before applying polymeric sand. Polymeric sand should be swept into the spaces and lightly misted to allow it to set. It’s a great product; it will repel ants and prevent weeds from growing between your beautiful pavers. Check out this Unilock video to learn more about polymeric sand  – and no, I don’t have an affiliation with the company 🙂

Some words of caution when using polymeric sand with travertine pavers: our pavers happened to be ‘unfilled’ and in their natural state… meaning that any natural imperfections, pits and holes on the surface were not filled in. We personally love the rustic look of them, but when you add polymeric sand, keep in mind that it will settle in these crevices and may become noticeable.

There are two common sense solutions to this dilemma: buy filled travertine pavers instead or make sure the colour of your polymeric sand is as close match to your travertine pavers as possible.

Now, don’t laugh too hard but I went the extra mile and came up with a third solution to this problem – a solution that actually sucks! Yes, that’s right, that’s me vacuuming …. the patio! I pulled out my wet/dry vac and sucked all the noticeable sand out of the crevices of the travertine BEFORE I misted them with water so I wouldn’t get what I affectionately call ‘sand boogers’ on the surface of my pavers. #vacuumingsandboogers

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This job really sucks!

Once the patio and garden was done, we completed a rock garden to fill in the left corner of the yard.

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Ginko tree waiting to be planted in its new home

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Final landscaped view of back corner (rock garden in the background)

By the way, in case you’re thinking we must have had a rugged vehicle of some kind all lined up and ready to transport our MANY MANY rock purchases home with us, below is the actual car we used to schlep every piece of rock and flagstone home. It’s literally being held together by duct tape!

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The trusty old beater used for lugging stone home

Now for the exciting part: buying the plants and installing all the ‘softscape’. This is the part I LOVE – seeing it all come together.

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Busy as a bee

Phase three:

(Set up the pond)

After everything else was done, my husband took over to figure out all the mechanics of the pump for the pond.

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We found a concrete bowl, and the plan was to  drill a hole in the bottom and insert a fountain in the centre of the bowl. But because he wasn’t sure about the capacity, he bought two pumps so he could test them both out; one after the other. One hose was mounted in the pond and the other one was set up to recirculate water from outside of the pond—precariously balanced on top of our brand new green bin and weighed down by a patio stone. Upcyling at its worst …and a big mistake, as it turned out!

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The ‘makeshift’ pump

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Closeup of the makeshift pump – don’t do this at home!

One fateful day, when we were out until almost dusk, hubby left the pump with the makeshift hose running outside the pond. Some rascal of an animal knocked over the stone securing the hose to the green bin and ALL the water in the pond drained out and seeped underneath, which floated the liner like the Titanic! It was an ‘Ay Carumba’ moment of gargantuan proportion. By the time we came home, our liner was pointing up to the sky and all the plants were figuratively screaming to be rescued (sadly, even the floating plants were landlocked).

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Disaster struck

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Oh well, it’s water under the bridge…er, I mean the liner

We worked like mad to lift everything out and drain the water before it was pitch dark. But right in the middle of our panic, my father and sister dropped by for a visit. Talk about bad timing. But—take it from me—if you ever want to get rid of uninvited guests, threaten to put them to work. And then grab a tool—any tool—like you mean it! Works like a charm 🙂

See the complete how-to for the pond here.

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Next season after the ‘do over’

Once the rock garden was done, we were at the end of our first season of hard work in the backyard and had to stop to get ready for fall and winter. A LONG LONG LONG LONG LONG INTERMISSION GETS INSERTED RIGHT HERE :)…….The next spring, we re-dug the pond, fit the liner back in and my husband, bless his heart, set the pump up safe and secure and permanently attached INSIDE the pond!

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We finally turned our attention to installing a dry creek bed and replacing the one patch of grass we had left in the yard:

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Lonely patch of grass

We couldn’t really be too upset about the do-over situation when the yard had come so far. Afterall, our pond started out as a dead twig growing out of the ground and ended up as part of a tranquil spot to relax.

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From bare and sparse (to put it nicely)……

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Lonely patch of grass

Phase four:

(Install dry creek bed/ flagstone/moss and build and install trellises)

We decided it would be silly to have a tiny patch of grass left in our garden because it would be too awkward to maneuver a lawn mower through the backyard to mow it. We dug out a flowing shape for the dry creek bed, added in landscape cloth (which we staked into the side to prevent it from shifting) and then filled the dry creek bed with a colourful variety of smooth river rock

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We then went shopping for even MORE stone – this time flagstone – and handpicked the pieces we thought would fit best. Then we did a dry lay before we dug around each one (digging around each one with an edging tool and removing a few inches of topsoil so we could inset them slightly into the ground to keep them in place and prevent shifting).

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We also found the most PERFECT statue to watch over our newly fixed pond. Given the aforementioned pond disaster the previous fall, how fitting is it that we should find a tragedy and comedy mask statue???  It’s like it was meant to be!

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Dry creek bed wrapping around our ‘Comedy/Tragedy’ statuary with Blue Danube Pom Pom Juniper in the background

After the stepping stones were in place we planted moss around them so it would grow in to fill the gaps between the flagstones. We added a few larger stones on the perimeter of the dry creek bed and planted day lillies and some drought resistant (aka low maintenance) ground cover.

We left a narrow pathway between the dry creed bed and the fence that wrapped around the rock garden and ended at the pond; it got covered in mulch to keep the mud and weeds at bay until the moss filled in.

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The moss gets billowy and full as it slowly spreads into the gaps

Our final project was to build trellises to support some vines and a privacy screen for the BBQ area (behind the retaining wall). Click the link for the DIY on how to build trellises and privacy screens.

Early spring

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Late Summer; we planted 3 Silver Lace Vines for this full lush look

By the time fall rolls around the Silver Lace Vine blooms; it’s magnificent!

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Autumn; Silver Lace in full bloom

The garden facinates me as it changes with the seasons. It even looks good in the rain.Be sure to check out our other inspiring garden posts where we show you how to build trellises and privacy screens, a coordinated mirror and shelf to expand any small outdoor space and some creative planter ideas (as shown below)

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After a summer shower

Phew – I’m almost as exhausted writing about the ‘Mother (Nature) of All Projects’ as I was actually doing all the work! So the final word goes to…..


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We’re too cool for this garden!!

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Mirror Mirror on the Fence

If you live in a teeny tiny house on a teeny tiny suburban lot like us, you’ve got to use every trick in the book to make your spaces feel more expansive than they really are. What better way to do that than with mirror? Mirror isn’t just for indoor spaces; it can be a piece de resistance in the great outdoors too.

This faux finish DIY mirror and shelf idea did just the trick for our little garden.

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On one of my Goodwill ventures about 20 years ago, I came across an elaborate (aka gaudy) mirror in a dated brown stain. Not having an immediate purpose for it, I bought it and added it to all my other ‘priceless’ junk finds in my parent’s basement. I forgot about it until about six years ago when I came across a gold plastic hall shelf in my sister’s garage; I remember it hanging in her mother in law’s hallway topped with a piece of white marble. Suddenly the light bulb went on: if I paired it with the mirror and treated both pieces to the same faux finish, I’d have a great little vignette in the garden. My sister was only too happy to part with the shelf.

I picked up some $1 paints at the dollar store (in rust, brown and cream tones) and some glaze at the paint store and set to work. I painted a base coat of the rust color and let it dry. Then I mixed up the remaining two paints with some glaze (to make them transluscent) and applied them randomly with a rag. By the time they were done, they were still looking pretty dull though, so I dug through my crafting stash and found some silver leaf to glam it up. After applying the special glue and letting it dry until just tacky, I rubbed on the silver leaf. It brought all the detail to life! To seal it for the outdoors, I used a water based spray varnish and sprayed on about 5 thin coats (letting it dry between coats). Don’t forget to seal the back of the shelf and mirror too. For the mirror, it’s best to lift the glass right out and seal every inch of the frame!

Looking at the two pieces, you wouldn’t know that they weren’t meant to be together.

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Before we added the mirror near the corner of the fence, the backyard looked like this:

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With the mirror and shelf added onto the fence, there was a big improvement! However the corner still needed something more.

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To round out the vignette, the following year we found discarded pieces of metal in the garbage and used them to form a garden trellis in the corner. We first gave it a fresh coat of white paint:

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Once both the mirror and trellis were in place, it gave the clematis plenty of structure to cling onto – and provided a beautiful burst of colour! Now that corner of the garden is another focal point we can enjoy.

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The mirror and shelf in the garden

The ‘laciness’ of the mirror provides the perfect foundation for the clematis grow through.

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Silver leaf add’s some ‘bling’ but the flowers add a real splash of colour!

When mounting heavy pieces like these to the fence, make sure they’re secure and can’t go anywhere—especially with the mirror. You don’t want it blowing off in the wind and smashing to smithereens amongst the flowers. That would just bring you seven years of bad luck — and a poor substitute for mulch!

I recommend using a heavy-duty interlocking ‘French cleat’ hanger made of either wood or metal (like the one pictured below). One side is attached onto the back of the piece and the connecting piece goes on the fence. To mount, they just slip together and lock into place.


Metal cleat for hanging heavy objects

The marble shelf is impervious to the weather and can be accessorized with a plant or even a yoga frog for a zen effect.

And along the lines of peace and tranquility, the mirror has one added bonus: it’s positioned exactly were we can see uninvited visitors reflected in it as they open up the gate—giving us just enough time to hide 🙂

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For more inspiring ideas on gardening and decor, visit these links:  landscaping a garden and building trellises and privacy screens.

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