Category Archives: Landscape

A New Garden Border

If the number of recent landscaping projects in the neighborhood is any indicator, our current pandemic has been good for nurseries. We’ve been considering expanding the plantings in front with the addition of a new strip along the front sidewalk, and it seemed like a good, manageable project after the many months I’ve spent on the basement. As is often the case, I began with a quick drawing in Sketchup to get a feel for scale.

Drawing of expanded beds.
A quick drawing in Sketchup provides a sense of scale for the extended beds before any digging happens. A three-and-a-half-foot deep bed provides enough space for a row of plantings and some smaller accent planting.
Continue reading

Spring Plantings

A white rhododendron in full bloom.
An abundance of blooms takes time to establish. Don’t neglect the outside of your house as you plan improvements.

After a protracted winter, spring comes as a relief, oppressive gray skies giving way to the occasional blue with a riot of color budding on long-dormant plants. As things bloom, I think often of a comment I read on a forum post (probably on Old House Web, then a regular read) not long after moving into our house to the effect we shouldn’t neglect our yards as we remodel and restore our interiors. Time benefits our landscapes, its passage letting our plantings mature and giving us the opportunity to observe on what works and what doesn’t before we make radical changes.

Much of our attention has been spent on the interior of our home, but we’ve managed to work outdoor projects and plantings in around that interior work. Now it’s a pleasure to spend time outside under our covered patio, sipping drinks while admiring how hard work and the passage of time have improved our environment. Projects (eventually) end and some things can wait while you take time to plant or build outside, and you’ll appreciate having a mature landscape to relax in.

A Greene and Greene-inspired arbor

Option 1: beam with single step.

This design features a single step and rounded beam end.

We’ve been contemplating an arbor to provide some visual separation between our house and the neighbors (small lot sizes are not a problem unique to modern times–Early 20th century developers are sometimes as guilty of maximizing the number of lots as their spiritual descendants). We like the idea of Wisteria in the landscape, but too many horror stories about lifted houses and ruined porches have dissuaded us from growing it on the house.

Image searches for “Craftsman arbor” and “Greene & Greene arbor” provided some inspiration, and I settled in to SketchUp to model a couple of variations. Both share the same basic layout with posts on eight-foot centers and the top beams staggered provide a little visual interest. A secondary beam below the first provides another path for vines. The first alternative features a simple step down on the rounded beam end, while the second features a stepped taper on the beam end. We are leaning toward the stepped taper design. If only post-and-beam construction were as easy as modeling something in SketchUp . . .

Option 2: beam ends with double stepped tapers.

This design features a double stepped taper on the beam end, but the basics of the design remain the same as the first option.

On Newsstands Now: Fences and settles

One of the side sections. Deciding how and where to adjust the fence to meet the slope of the yard required quite a bit of head scratching.

Issue 250 of Fine Homebuilding features my article “A Privacy Fence With Appeal.”

There may come a time when having an article in print ceases to be a novelty for me, but I’m still thrilled to see my own byline, which is happening not once, but twice right now. The March/April issue of Woodworker’s Journal features my article on building the L & J. G. Stickley No. 220 Settle (see an introductory video here). The April/May issue of Fine Homebuilding includes my article on building “A Privacy Fence With Appeal.”

A Tongue-and-Groove Infill Fence

tongue and groove fence

Tongue-and-groove boards on the infill and 6 x 6 posts distinguish this fence.

The dog and I often pass this fence on our morning walks. The height and use of 6 x 6 posts make it a bit imposing, and the use of tongue-and-groove boards create a solid privacy border. The slat spacing on the lattice renders it relatively impermeable as well, an effect (if deliberate) that might have been better accomplished with a solid board or two.

The gate features an attractive reverse arch at the top trimmed with a thin strip to prevent water absorption through the board ends, an instance of form complementing function. The gate way, though, leaves something to be desired in the execution of the stacking of elements. Better (though more effort) to half-lap at least one of those layers

Garden Fountain–Construction

basalt fountain

A basalt column fountain installed in the back yard.

Conceptually, a fountain installation is not a difficult project. A waterproof basin houses a pump which recirculates water through a vessel. As is often the case, execution proved more difficult than the concept might suggest. It was easy enough to source the basalt column, and Morrison Gravel drilled it. Both Home Depot and Lowes minimal pond departments had pumps and plumbing, but a small basin and support proved more elusive. After much searching, I found a basin much like this one for a price that was too good to refuse. Following the suggestions I read in Amazon reviews, I cut ABS pipe to length to provide a support column for basalt and caulked the seam of the basin lid to seal it. I then dug a hole for the basin, set the pipe in place, covered the basin, placed the pump inside, and plumbed the column. Some decorative stone covered the basin lid, and after plugging the pump in, I had a working fountain. Continue reading

Garden Fountain–Inspiration

Noguchi's Water Stone

Isamu Noguchi’s “Water Stone” presents a series of contrasting faces.

Once of my favorite pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Isamu Noguchi’s “Water Stone.” It’s a study in contrasts, and not just the polished faces juxtaposed with rough edges of the basalt boulder. Set against a bed of pale stones, the dark rock exudes a delightful tranquility even as it disrupts the space of the gallery.

And it’s a bit of that tranquility we hope to replicate with our fountain in our own small way. Having acquired a small basalt boulder at Morrison Gravel, I’m going to see how effective an angle grinder at random orbital sander are at polishing stone . . .



shoji-inspired trellis

36 lap joints later, the trellis is finished. Its paired boards echo the fence lattice.

The hardest part about completing the trellis was managing the slope of the patio. I began construction by laying out the notches for the joinery on 5/4 x 4 cedar boards, then began cutting the notches–36 in all. I took that effort in stages, beginning with the horizontal boards. I began by defining each edge of the notch with my dozuki, then making a couple of additional cuts across the notch, then popping the waste free with a chisel and paring the joint relatively even. Cedar is easy to work by hand, so this went fairly quickly, but I was ready to try the router when it came time to notch the vertical members. Continue reading

An arbor-topped fence

arbor-topped fence

Detail from an arbor-topped fence.

My morning walk with the dog sometimes takes me through alleys in the neighborhood. These are, understandably, often utilitarian spaces–waste and recycling containers feature prominently–but a surprising number of people take care with the backs of their homes even though the won’t be seen by many. There’s a one-block stretch of well-paved alley where every garage s neatly maintained in styles to complement the houses, complete with Craftsman-appropriate lighting and numbering. On another, an espaliered tree is carefully trained to outline an unassuming side window.  Continue reading


Trellis sketch

Sketch for a trellis to complement the porch.

I am, perhaps, too enamored of shoji, but I find the potential for the arrangement of kumiko intriguing. So I immediately thought of shoji when tasked with building a trellis for the climbing hydrangea growing at one corner of our porch. I’d originally planned to reproduce the design of my fence lattice, but the 1″ width seemed a little insubstantial for the space. I changed the width to 1.5″ and echoed the double strips separated by a strip width in the fence lattice. Then it was a matter of playing with the arrangement until I found a silhouette I liked.