Monday, October 10, 2016

Emerald Drive Landscape Project

In August my wife Susan and I started another landscape project at our "new" digs - new to us but otherwise old. You might remember we re-did the landscaping at our other house a year or so before we sold it in May. You can read about that project here. The new home was built in 1956 and the plants in the front of the home were almost that old. It was a rental we've owned for about 9 years before we decided to move into it ourselves. The existing plants were mostly Chinese Holleys, Aucuba, and Ligustrums, all of which had long outlived their appeal and their place in the front of our home.

Left side of Landscape Plan

Right side of Landscape Plan

Before we could do anything we needed a plan. Zac Davis, our landscaper, created a plan for us that would work well with the style of the home, a standard brick ranch. With the plan in hand I set forth removing the old plants and root balls. The hollys came out with ease thanks to a rope and my truck bumper. The Ligustrums were a different story. They did not want to go. I cut the tops off, axed and mauled the roots, saturated the soil with water and eventually they were gone too.

Work to remove a Ligustrum root ball
Unfortunately, in my zeal to remove the limbs I slid a 3" Ligustrum branch along the bed of my truck and right through the back window. I spent the next half a day and $400 at the glass place getting a new window. Low Price Auto Glass was the cheapest place to get a new window on my side of town. Be forewarned though that the waiting room smells like cats - a lot!

Busted truck window - Duh!

Low Price Auto Glass in Conley, Georgia
With my window replaced and all the old plants out of the way I commenced to preparing the soil. I raked off the old pine straw and put my tiller to work. I tilled in some top soil and removed the smaller roots as they wound up around my tiller's tines. There were a lot of roots. Hanging onto my front tine tiller was a workout too. I eventually got it done though. I leveled the soil and removed the occasional stone and brick fragment. I even found a cat collar as I tilled.

Cat collar found while tilling

Planning beds tilled
With the soil prepared, Susan, Luke and I met Zac at Wilson's Nursery to pick out our new plants. They were having their Fall sale so we think we got some awesome plants for a great price. We worked it out so that Zac would drop them off at our house and, when we were ready, he'd help place the plants in the beds per the plan.

Zac and Susan selecting plants

Luke at the nursery

Some of our plants delivered

Placing the plants

More plant placement
Susan and I divided the project into two parts, left and right. We pretty much completed the easier left side before attempting to tackle the right side. I wanted the right side of the planting bed to have some type of retaining wall. We bought most of the the supplies we needed for the wall at American Stone. We had them delivered and placed as close as possible to the project area.

Hardscape supplies and a massive root ball from one of the Ligustrums

The hole left after removing a large root ball

The hill that the wall will help tame
Since the west side of the yard slopes from the front and back yard to the basement door I wanted a hardscape that would eliminate any drainage issues and dress it up a bit. I ordered 180 blocks, 30 caps, 3 yards of gravel, and a pallet of medium side stones. Doing all the work by hand I dug a trench in the hard dry (we're in a drought) Georgia clay that mimicked the design Zac had illustrated in our plan. Starting at the lowest point I filled the trench with about 4" to 6" of gravel. I used a 10" tamper to manually beat the gravel down and level. I used a torpedo level to level each block on the first course. This is the hardest part. Each block has to be precisely placed or the blocks may settle unevenly or have some movement. To ensure each block was place solidly on the gravel I beat the top of the block into the gravel until I was satisfied that it was placed correctly. I started with a full block against the house. The second course was started by moving the first full block one-half of a block over to tie the courses together. I cut the cut a block in half later to fill the space. As I wrapped around the end of my planting bed I used another one-half block to re-establish the proper layout. A misalignment occurs because each course is smaller in circumference. The half block compensates for that. My wall had a maximum of 4 courses on the front wall and 5 courses on the back wall, not including the cap.

The back part of the front wall

The gravel bed and blocks in place

Partly done with the first wall
To cut the block I used a skill saw with a masonry blade. I was only able to etch each side about 2 inches but it was enough for me to break the two pieces in half by standing on one side of the block and hammering down on the other half with the tamper tool.

In addition to laying down a bed of gravel I put gravel behind the blocks and filled the cells. This is to allow for adequate drainage since I left a gutter downspout to drain inside the planting bed. I used the dirt from the slopes I wanted to remove to fill the void behind the wall.

The front wall shown from the backyard

The back side of the front wall
The front wall is missing a few cap blocks and the lighting timer is temporarily hanging on the fence. These are two items still on my punch list.

The backyard wall not included in the plan
With the wall in place and the plants in the ground I placed some of the stones between the plants. After the beds were done I focused my attention on putting some grass on the bare soil I had created where the slopes once were. I bought a pallet of centipede grass at Super Sod at the Forest Park Farmers Market. I also used a 4" solid metal border for a portion of the planting bed where I didn't use blocks.

The left side from planting bed completed

The right side front planting bed completed

Metal border meeting block wall cap


Varigated Gardenia
I elected not to connect the gutter downspouts to a corrugated plastic drain pipe as I'd seen done with some retaining walls.

Upright Yew

Dwarf Loropetalum

Standard Natchez Crape Myrtle

Homestead Verbena

Lemon Lime Abelia

Bordeaux Holly

Rose of Sharon

Silver Dragon Liriope 

Plum Spreading Yew



Creeping Jenny

Flirt Nandina

Radicans Gardenia
I installed a Malibu landscape lighting kit for the previous project. I wasn't completely happy with that kit. The connectors were crap and the fixtures weren't sealed. I elected to install a Volt lighting system that I found on-line for this project. I ordered the VOLT® Brass Lifetime LED Landscape Lighting Kit | (6) Path Kit. I assembled the fixtures and placed the lights where I wanted them. To get the low voltage cable under the sidewalk I dug a hole on both sides of the sidewalk and used the rubber mallet to force a 4' 6" piece of 3/4" PVC under the concrete. I advanced the PVC in stages moving it about 6" through the moist soil before removing it from the hole and extricating the plug of clay from the pipe. It probably took me 2 hours to dig the holes and beat the pipe the 4' I needed to get the other side of the walkway. After I installed the pipe I wired up the lights. In addition to the 6 path lights that came with the kit I ordered and installed 2 up lights to illuminate the front of the house.

Path light

Up light

Left side planting bed after dark

Right side planting bed after dark
Tools List: Leather Gloves, Safety Glasses, Digging Shovel, Flat Shovel, Tamper Tool ($36), Maul, Axe, Tiller, Manual Lawn Edger, Wheelbarrow, Rubber Mallet, Skill Saw, Masonry Blade ($4), Extension Cord, Bow Rake, Leaf Rake, Truck with Trailer Hitch, Rope and Towing Strap, 4' Level, 2' level, Torpedo Level, Hand Truck to move larger stones, and a Drain Spade for digging in those narrow spaces. I included the cost of the 2 items I didn't already own.
Total: $40

Lighting Tool List: Wire Cutters, Knife, Phillips Screwdriver, Small slotted Screwdriver

Hardscape Items: 180 Blocks ($5.23 each), 30 Block Caps ($4.92 each - I still need about 15 more), 1 Pallet of Stones - 0.97 tons ($194). 3 Yards of #57 Gravel ($28 per yard), and $115 for delivery.
Total: $1575.21

Other Items: 20 or so Bags of additional Gravel (About $4 per bag = $80), 1 Pallet of Centipede Grass ($195), 3 Pickup Truckloads of Top Soil (About $35 each = $105), 3 Pickup Truckloads of Mulch (About $35 each = $105), 4 pieces of 4" wide by 8' long Metal Border ($10 each = $40), and 4 - 16" square patio stones ($5 each = $20).
Total: $545

Plants List: The plan cost us $100. It included the following plants: Silver Dragon Liriope (16), Rose of Sharon (1), Lemon Lime Abelia (3), Standard Natchez Crape Myrtle (1), Variegated Gardenia (6), Plum Spreading Yew (10), Upright Yew (2), Flirt Nandina (3), Hydrangea (1), Creeping Jenny (12), Bordeaux Holly (2), Radicans Gardenia (2), Flirt Nandina (2), Anise (1), Bordouve Holly (3), Homestead Verbena (9), and Dwarf Loropetalum (5). There was an add additional $100 fee for delivery and plant placement.
Total: $1115 .

The landscape lighting kit cost $547.58 and the 2 additional lights cost $128.84 with a 12 pack of connectors and 2 4-watt LED bulbs. Both amounts include shipping which was not free. I already had some extra low voltage wire from the previous project so I didn't need to buy more.
Total: $676.42

The total cost for the project was $3,951.63 and many days of hard and heavy work.

Before (Photo taken in February of 2015)


After dark
Tip: Put a tarp down if you plan to put the gravel on your lawn or in a pine island like I did. I did have a tarp in place but the pile of gravel spilled onto my lawn which made getting the gravel up difficult. If you put the gravel on a driveway you won't need a tarp.

Things Left To Do List: I still need to order and install 17 more block caps, cut the block caps where needed and use adhesive to stick them to the block, install an electrical outlet with a weatherproof cover for the lighting timer, buy some concrete anchors and permanently mount the timer, and remove some other tree stumps unrelated to this project.

The remnants of a large stump from a tree removed long before Susan and I bought he home

Another even larger stump in the process of being burnt up
All told this project cost about $4000 with about $300 in additional cost still to come. That doesn't include the $400 for my truck window. The project took about 2 months to complete. Susan and I did all the work ourselves. I think we did a pretty good job.

I have to mention the massive quantities of Gatorade and ice water I drank during this project and the never ending baskets of dirty sweaty clothes I cycled through each day. There were some days when the temperature was in the 90-degree plus range which made staying hydrated especially difficult. One should also expect to smash a few fingers along the ways so be sure to wear some good gloves.

Forest Park Autumn 5K Run/Walk

Even with all these chores I still had time to run a local 5K race and take home a trophy. I ran the Forest Park GA Autumn 5K race on Saturday, September 22nd with my buddy Jim Macie. It was my first race this year. I placed 2nd overall and first in my age-group. It was a small race!

Me almost finished

Unfortunately, I didn't start my Garmin watch properly so the data from the race was not collected. I manually entered the course and my results for posterity.

The course length was slight more than 5K.

My buddy Jim almost to the finish line

On Stage receiving my trophy with the Chick-fil-a cow

Jim won a door prize - $5 off at Dick's Sporting Goods
The next outdoor project will be to tackle the backyard and my next race might be in preparation for another Ironman attempt in 2017.

Thanks for reading.