Over the last two years or so, John and I have really buckled down and focused our energy on the exterior of our home. We’ve updated the side entry to make it look and feel more inviting, removed lots of overgrown plants and shrubs to simplify the look of things, built a platform deck, added a new metal shed, and planted a line of evergreen trees for (eventual) privacy. As you may have recently heard, we also decided to invest in a new fence for our back yard, which is now complete! You can see a small peek of it in the photo above.
The most recent outdoor project that we tackled, though, was the revitalization of the side garden just beside our sunroom. To be quite honest, this walled garden bed has been the very last thing on our minds while working on exterior projects because we never, ever see it. As I said, it’s off the side of our sunroom (which is just being used as a storage room), and since we always keep the curtains closed in that space, we never saw the garden or thought about it.
But this year we decided it was time to give it some attention. Even though it’s not something we ever get to enjoy because of where it’s located against the house, it is something that our neighbor’s technically could be enjoying. One window of their house and their side door is about 15 feet away from this side garden, and it was time to take responsibility for the messy bed of plants so that our sweet neighbors didn’t have to look at it anymore. The photos below offer a view of the state of the garden before we finally decided to make it over.
To be fair, that one pulled-back area just left of center was done right before we emptied the garden (we wanted to test the strength of the vines), but those photos above give you a pretty good look at the very bad state of things. We had let the periwinkle vines completely overtake the garden bed, including the irises that we inherited from the previous homeowners, and they had even started to break through the brick, as you can see above. The periwinkle also had crept around the front of the house, and was started to grow into the sunroom under the door. It was a mess. I’m not proud of it.
So, earlier this spring, we started talking about actually doing something about it. The plan John and I eventually came up with was to remove everything from the garden bed, dig up as many of the periwinkle roots as we could, repair the broken brick, and plant new evergreen bushes.
If you remember waaaaaaay back when, we had created our own mini version of a zen garden in our backyard. We love how that garden turned out, especially the really simplified plants, and the combination of larger boulders alongside smaller landscaping rocks. Our favorite types of landscapes tend to be Japanese-inspired, so we wanted to carry that simplicity through to our updated side garden. I’m personally really drawn to evergreens that maintain their color and shape all year long, and they have, so far, done really well in our yard. So, we decided to stick with that type of plant this go-around, too.
As I explained, the first step was, of course, to get rid of the existing plants, so that’s exactly what we did. Or, rather, that’s what John and my mom did one day while I was busy working at the pottery studio. They managed to tear everything out in just a couple of hours, and then we got our first good look at the state of the garden bed.
The good news is that we found out the soil was super rich and vibrant, so we didn’t need to add to or replace any of it. The bad news is that we got a much better view of the crumbling, grimy brick. The majority of it was actually in pretty decent shape, but the two ends definitely needed to be rebuilt, and we also realized that the entire thing was going to need a really good pressure wash.
John took care of the washing the same day the plants were removed, and I spent a long time digging deep into the soil to pull out as many of the old remaining periwinkle roots as I could. Even though we were left with just a bunch of raw dirt and a partially crumbling brick wall, the difference between that morning and then the afternoon was striking. I’m sure our neighbors were already breathing a sigh of relief!
Another week went by, and then my dad came over to help with the brick repair. This is something I had never done, so we definitely needed his help. Thankfully (and as always), he managed to pull it off beautifully. The front corner of the brick bed really just needed a simple repair. We used mortar to reattach a few of the bricks that had come loose, and used a bit of extra mortar to fill in the exposed holes in the brick for a more finished look. You can see that repair more clearly above and in the very first photo of this post.
Now for the back corner. The entire back end of the wall had come loose from the front facade of the garden bed, and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. To do that, Dad grabbed an extra piece of slate from our yard, and placed that level on the ground beneath where the end of the brick wall would sit. This provided a new foundation for the brick to sit on, and would help ensure a stronger bond for the long haul. Before, there had been no foundation to speak of. After setting that in place, he used more mixed mortar to create two layers of bricks on top of the slate.
We let that sit overnight to give the mortar time to set because the next day we had plans to set the big upper half of the brick wall on top. If we had lifted and set that top half on the foundation he had created, the fresh mortar would have squeezed right out the sides and been useless. By letting everything set up overnight, the new foundation was strong enough to handle the behemoth of that top hunk of brick wall.
Speaking of that behemoth, let me explain…One thing dad kept reiterating to me throughout this part of the project is that you shouldn’t mess with a section of brick wall that’s still intact. You can see the top part of the original brick wall laying sideways on the grass in the photo above.
Even though it wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world, the original existing mortar was still strong, and the bricks were all carefully aligned to match right up with the front part of our garden bed wall. If we had chipped the bricks apart to start all the way over, it would have (a) been a waste of time since the bricks were already set together and stuck, and (b) we probably never would have been able to replicate the exact spacing of the bricks to match up with the parts of the wall that were still together.
Long story long, we were very careful to keep that hunk of bricks together. We let the new foundation set overnight, and then we returned the next morning to put a fresh layer of mixed mortar all along the top of the foundation, and then we both lifted the top half and set it right on our new foundation. Happily, it matched up beautifully with the rest of the garden bed wall.
One other quick tip if you need to do something similar is that you need to include spacers between your top brick hunk and the new foundation below. This will help reduce the risk of your fresh mortar squeezing out the sides, which would ruin your connection. We just pushed a handful of evenly sized pebble stones from our yard into the fresh mortar before setting the upper portion of wall on top.
This new section of the repaired brick was given another 24 hours to set, and then John and I came back in to plant our new evergreens. We chose two different kinds of juniper, both of which are photographed below so you can get the info on them. The very last step was to add some mulch on top of the exposed soil to create that perfectly sleek and finished look we were going for.
There are still a few things we need to do to perfect the wall, like clean up some of the residual mortar chunks and maybe try pressure washing those areas to make them look as bright as the rest of the wall. We also plan to reseed the now-exposed area around the front of the house where we pulled up the overgrown vines, but all of that can wait for another day. For now, we are making it a point to walk around the side of the house just to admire our new little evergreen garden. Here are a handful of updated photos to show you how it’s looking these days.
That before/after graphic blows me away, and to think we managed to get it all done with just about a week’s worth of work. I don’t think my neighbors know this blog exists, but in the off chance that they ever read this, I’m so sorry we waited as long as we did to tackle this project for you! I’m glad it’s done, and we promise to maintain it from here on out.