Home Improvement Lawn and Garden

The Bungalow gets Grass: Part 5, adding a block flower bed

Sqaush and Robear before doing any work. Doesn't Squash just looked thrilled? It's almost like the anticipation is wounding her.

Part of adding curb appeal to the front of the house is putting in a flower bed.  I’ve wanted to ever since we moved in, but other things kept coming up.  Now with the weeds gone and the sprinklers in place it’s time to get a little bit of lovely color out front.  Part 4 notes that this project couldn’t have been done without reliable Robear who came over to help and brought all of April’s children.  So many hands made prep work, and moving all those block, a lot easier than doing it myself.

Here’s the step by step of how putting in the block flowerbed in front of the Bungalow has gone.

Step #1:

Before any of this could happen I did some research online and perused the aisle of Lowe’s, my preferred home improvement store, to look at materials.  When I knew what I wanted I then moved sprinklers for the “grass area”, and measured and marked things off. Then I had to clear out any “debris” in the way.  This happened to be a large cement chunk that was left over from when the driveway was poured and a chainlink fence surrounded the front yard.  (Yes, chainlink fence around the front yard…ghetto!)

Now when I considered the project I figured that I’d just “work around” the cement stump.  It was practically level until we dug down, and I figured it was stable so I’d just work with it.  But Robear had a different idea.  She was convinced that the project wouldn’t be a success unless the offending stump was removed so she grabbed the mattock and started swinging.  Buddy was totally impressed with her and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s not that often that you see a grandma swinging an ax!”

It reminded me that Robear is a grandmother, and despite the fact that she is so spry, I took the point and the ax and finished breaking the stump free.  Then Robear, Buddy, and I took turns digging it out and trying to wiggle it free.

Phew.  Finally we were ready.

Step #2: The trenches

With help from Robear, the first thing we did was dig a trench.  When laying a wall, a patio, a path and using block, brick, or stone the first thing one must do is dig a trench.  It’s important to create a strong foundation, especially if your structure is going “up”. This step is also important for laying a level foundation because it secures the first row.  Because I only anticipated a 2 – 2 1/2 foot wall we only dug down about six or so inches.

Step #3: Sand

I claimed this sand for Spain.

Then we split open several bags and filled the trenches with a few inches of sand.

The sand should then be tamped down and then “screed-ed” off to make it level and firm.  This is the base for the blocks.  If it is level then the blocks will be easier to make level.  Once the sand is tamped and level its time to add the block.

Step #4: Blocks

These particular block are called Olde Manor Wall by Oldcastle.  They are a 12″ concrete block made to look like old stones and they are heavy.  Consider getting help when moving these.  If you can, see if you can subject some sturdy six-year-old to haul them from the truck to the site of install.

Or not.  But do consider getting help to move them about, especially if you’re like me and forget to plan where to start and then have to re-start after getting half a row in.

Speaking of starting, where to place the first block is up to you.  You can start on an end and hope things turn out.  You can measure, divide and and then cut block so that they end up where you want them, or you can just throw things in and hope for the best.  I suggest making a plan and doing the math so that the ends are even with full block allowing the corners more stability.  This may mean that you have some smaller pieces spread throughout the wall.  That’s okay, just make sure to stagger the seams of the block and everything should be sturdy.

Once you’ve determined the spacing and location, then you can start putting in the block.  It goes something like this:

Place block, check for level.  Using a mallet, so you don’t break the block, knock down the high points.  If it’s too low use the handle of the mallet to push sand under the block.  Check for level again.

It’s important to have a long level to check that everything is running level from block to block.  It also helps to have a small level to check that the blocks are level front to back.  And don’t forget to make sure everything is lined up in front.  You can use a string line for rows, but I’m not that precise.  We just used the long level.

Step 5: Cutting Block

If the length of the wall isn’t perfect, as in, it doesn’t measure perfectly for the block, then a cut will have to be made.  You can do this any number of ways.  You can rent a saw from the local hardware store.  You can buy a masonry blade for your own circular saw, or you can get a chisel.  I tried to get a blade for my circular saw because that sounded the easiest and cheapest: $4-6.  But knowing how pathetic my baby circular saw is I also picked up a chisel just in case.  (You’ll need a small heavy sledge hammer too if you go this route.) Sure enough, when I got home I found that my baby saw was too small, burned by the baby again!

No matter.  I checked out some videos of chiseling and splitting block on YouTube, because its a handy-girl’s best friend, and then I felt ready.

This guy splits a block in one rotation, how hard can it be? (For me it proved a little longer.)

To split a block first put on some safety classes and gloves. When the block is chiseled it sends shrapnel of stone all over and can cut your hands and eyes. Okay, now measure where you need the cut.  Mark a line all the way around at that point.  I just used the edge of the chisel to “draw” a quick line.  Then set the chisel on that line, and using a small, heavy, sledge hammer, tap the chisel all the way around the block, scoring it. With the score in place you can then continue to rotate the block and chisel the scored line until it breaks.  (If you happen to be weak sauce, like me, this goes faster with help.)

When the block is split, fit it into the amazing creation that is your wall and continue the process.

Step 6: Glue

To add stability and tie everything together I proceeded up from my base by adding landscape adhesive (which looks like grey caulk but is specifically designed for masonry and landscaping) and the next course of block.  Up, up, up.  I found it best to work in small patches, a little glue, add block, check for level and plumb.  Repeat.

When figuring out where to place the shorter block it helps to dry fit first and then glue.  And where ever possible convince your family to help you.  Get your Robear, or Apey, or Nieces and Nephews to help.

April came over on Monday and helped me get the last two courses up.  Now I need to weed, and could it be, time to get sod?

–Cath

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