How to Maintain your Paver Paths and Patios

I’ve seen a lot of brick paver hardscaping that is full of weeds, or sunken in patches, or worn and stained. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way of managing your brick pavers?

The wrong way is just not doing anything. We live in a fallen world, friends, and NOTHING is maintenance-free. Your bathroom needs cleaning, your grass needs cutting, your kids need discipline, and your pavers need maintaining.

How to Maintain your Paver Paths and Patios

Here’s a great youtube video on maintaining your pavers, thanks to the Brick Paver Doctor. Here’s another, courtesy of the manufacturer, Sakrete.

So– how to:

1. Power wash the path/patio. Get rid of dirt, moss/mildew, and weeds.

2. Sweep up the debris–the power washing makes quite a mess!

3. Fill the joints with polymeric sand. Polymeric sand creates a firm but flexible bond between the pavers, and deters weeds.

4. Repeat every two or three years.

Now that I’ve seen a solution to the inevitable weeds in the paver joints problem, I feel a lot better about designing with bricks and smaller pavers.

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Pocket Gardens, or How to Garden in Even the Tiniest Outdoor Space

It could be a Juliet balcony, an urban front yard, the narrow space between houses, a boulevard you’d like to take under your wing, or any other tiny spot. You want it to be beautiful and functional. You already know how to make a nice container, but you also know there’s lots more you could do if only you knew what that was.

A Few Suggestions:

1. If you’re going to sit and relax in your Tiny Outdoor Space, make it feel like a sitting, relaxing room. You can provide a sense of intimacy by planting walls and ceiling. A large shrub–such as smokebush (Cotinus coryggia) or lilac (Syringa sp)– or small tree–maybe a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Atropupurem’ for example) or Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'–can serve as overhead screening, giving a “sense of ceiling” without it actually enclosing the space. A pergola, with or without climbers, can do the same. Lattice covered with clematis or passion flower or honeysuckle (just make sure you’re OK with the power of the scent) can be your walls. Maybe not all four walls…

Finally, there are lots of weather-tolerant rugs out there. (Some concrete patios really need to be covered.) Voila, an outdoor room!

2. Repetition.

The smaller the space, the more you need to control the number and variety of your plants. Sticking to one colour palette or even one plant can deliver up a dramatic statement.

3. Planting beds, or patio?

I’m a real plant person. I just can’t have enough– propagating, dividing, even buying if I can’t resist. So I’ve tended to think a “garden” with mostly hard surfaces just doesn’t qualify as a “garden”. OK, I’m changing my mind. Beautiful stone hardscaping, even concrete or gravel or hardwood, interspersed with small spaces for planting, can be just the thing to highlight a bed of sedum or creeping thyme, Red-baron-Imperata-cylindrica-SADNICA_slika_XL_3062736Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica) glowing in late afternoon sun, or a weeping Spruce (Picea abies ‘Pendula’) or Hinoki Cypress.

4. The Narrow Side Yard

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Not mine, but this is the idea.

I currently have a 4 ft wide space between the house to the west and a fence to the east. It’s in almost full shade, covered in river rock, a haven for weeds, deciduous ferns and generic foxglove, and is completely wasted space. Alternating small planting beds (3-4′ long and less than 2′ deep) will break up the “bowling alley” look, and placing pavers or flagstones in among the river rock improves the practicality of the space.What has always been a chore could become a more convenient and attractive route along the east of the house.

5. And Finally…

…The Balcony. Make it comfy. If the chairs are uncomfortable chances are you’ll just look at them instead of sitting in them. Make it walkable–don’t put so many things at floor level that you have to look where you’re placing your feet all the time. Much as I love container gardens, too many is just too many. Frame the view.

You wouldn't want to obscure this view for the sake of privacy

You wouldn’t want to obscure this view for the sake of privacy!

You’ll have to choose how to balance between privacy and view, but choosing tall-ish items (bamboo or small tree) on either side of the best part of the view will highlight it more than leaving it fully open, while still giving a little privacy. Have a surface for your coffee cup. It doesn’t have to be a table, and remember that circles take up more space than squares or rectangles.

There are SO MANY possibilities for that small space that you don’t know what to do with. If none of the above ignites the creative in you, why not post a picture here and see what our readers (or I) can offer.

As always, post comments, questions, Pin, or Like on Facebook. And play with that Tiny Outdoor Space. One great thing about a Tiny Outdoor Space–it costs a lot less to experiment!

As Promised, Creating Your Herb Container Garden

There’s no shortage of Youtube videos on creating your container Herb Garden, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Here’s one that covers all the essentials–Susan Doherty on six minute style.

So I’ll just make a few comments both on what Susan Doherty said, and what she didn’t say:

Pots:

The bigger the better. I’ve said this quite a few times now, but for a bunch of reasons I usually go too small when it comes to containers, and I’d like to save you the headache of failure. I’m not very big or strong and so I’d rather not have to move a 100 kg (filled with wet potting mix) container; I’m cheap so I’d rather not pay for a large (beautiful ceramic) container; I don’t have much space, so I’m not sure where to put a large heavy beautiful container. All bad reasons for going small. In fact there are not many good reasons for going small.

Using strawberry pots is often recommended for herbs, but there are a few problems with them, which of course I’ll explain:

http://gardenwithpassion.com/tower-herb-garden/

Cute as anything “herb tower”, but…

As you can see in the picture, each of the side pockets houses one plant. Which means that each of these plants has a very small, terracotta (read “dries out quickly”) pot. So keeping these outside plants adequately hydrated is a little tricky. And when you water from the top, the water tends to pour out the pockets rather than going all the way to the bottom. There are ways of preventing this–for example, using pvc pipes with lots of holes drilled–but IMHO the advantages aren’t worth the work. Choosing ceramic instead of terracotta is a little better for the first problem, but none at all for the second.

DSCN1016

It’s difficult to gauge scale here, but at about 16″ tall and 18″ in diameter, this would be ideal for any combination of herbs.

Watering:

Your big container won’t need watering all that often. Even in the heat of summer, a lot of potting mix will hold a lot of water, and your herbs are not big water guzzlers. (Other container-happy plants ARE big water guzzlers, so this won’t apply to them.) Expect to water once a week, but check more often than that: push a chopstick into the soil about 2-3″, and if it comes out still pretty dry–not much soil sticking to the chopstick–it’s time to water.

When you do water, make sure you see water escaping the bottom through the excellent drainage holes you drilled before you started. Did you drill excellent drainage holes? Did you check your pot to see how many and how big the drainage holes were? All you want is safe drainage–you don’t want stagnant water. I love this picture from Winsford Walled Garden.

The tiny pot has four LARGE holes, the MUCH bigger pots has a lot of TINY holes. Take a drill and make those small ones much larger.

The tiny pot has four LARGE holes, the MUCH bigger pots has a lot of TINY holes. Take a drill and make those small ones much larger. For ceramic pots use a “spear-point” drill bit or a “core” drill bit.

And incidentally, you don’t want to do what was always recommended (and unfortunately still is), that is to put broken crock (clay pots) or pebbles in the bottom of your container to “aid drainage”. For I can’t remember what  scientific reason (and Google is stubbornly resisting me here), water wants to stay in its comfort-zone rather than going somewhere else. So your styrofoam peanuts or gravel or broken pots or crushed pop cans or plastic milk jugs, or what ever you’ve put at the bottom of your pot for whatever reason, is going to HINDER drainage, not AID it. The water will stay in the soil, not drain into space, so your pot will get actually waterlogged instead of draining freely, and your plants won’t like it much.

Where Is It?

In most cases, your container garden will be positioned with an unequal amount of sun front and back. The plants on one side of the pot will get more sun than the plants on the back. Not a problem! Tall things at the “back”, short things at the “front”. Or more shade tolerant at the back, less shade-tolerant at the front. Or put the pot on a lazy susan and rotate every few days. That’s my own preference, because it also lets me move the container whenever I want. You can buy container lazy susans, (pardon the unintentional plug for Home Depot), but they’re not very durable, and the wheels are a bit small. I made one myself years ago with 2×4’s that is still working just fine, and the key element was large castors.

Now besides what plants get how much sun, the other question here is, Is it on a balcony? Will your neighbours be upset if your draining container is pouring down onto their balcony? You’ll want to have a nice big saucer to collect all that draining-out water. Some will (reasonably) recommend that you not let your pot sit in water for more than an hour, but emptying that saucer from underneath a 100kg pot is easier said than done. So yes, water until you see drainage out the bottom, but only as much as will fill your nice big saucer. And don’t worry too much about standing water, you won’t likely see mosquitos breeding there, and the roots of your plants are nowhere near the water level, so they’re not going to rot.

One Last Really Important Thing…

…Make sure your plants are all well hydrated before they go into the large container. Remember water not wanting to leave its comfort zone? If you water the newly planted container, but the individual plants’ soil is dry, the new water will not want to invade the plants’ dry zone, and it will take some long period of time (maybe days?) for the dry zone to wick up water from the wet zone, meanwhile the plant is panting for water and may not survive the ordeal.

So it’s not rocket science. And whether you get it all right first time round or not, never worry, just enjoy the process. Next year you can do things a little different.

Comments? Questions? Leave a reply, share to your preferred social media site… And stay tuned for the next post. You may want to click on the “Follow” button.

Fragrance in the Garden

I’m sitting here in the living room doing some computer work, and intermittently something distracts me. I’ve just realized it’s fragrance!

I went outside an hour ago just to get some air, and was drawn into the garden by the scent of the Daphne odora, across from the front steps. Beside the front steps is Skimmia japonica, and it was actually the Skimmia that attracted me. So I cut off a few stems and put them in a vase here a few feet away from where I’m working. And carried on working.

Every few minutes I’d raise my head–obviously distracted by something, but not really thinking of it–then go back to work. Until I realized I was subconsciously noticing the beautiful scent of the Skimmia.

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Just a few branches cut from Skimmia leaving the shrub looking untouched.

What and Where to Plant

You can’t overestimate the value of fragrance in either the garden or the house. (Admittedly, you have to be careful about fragrance in the house. Hyacinths out in the flower border will be delightful; in the house might make your eyes weep!)

The key to fragrance in the garden is to plant your sweet-smelling flowers and shrubs where they will be brushed against, or otherwise appreciated close enough to actually smell them.

For example, if you plant creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum , not Thymus vulgaris, which despite the vulgar name is actually the eating variety) you really want it to be underfoot. Walking on it (perfectly tolerant of walking on, but maybe not playing soccer on) will release those delicious aromatic oils. Do be careful of the bees that also love it…

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Plants and Stones blog–click to link

I have Sarcococca confusa on the other side of the front steps, and as I come in from the car, I brush past it. Sarcococca (or Sweetbox) blooms in January, and the surprise of the garden giving such extravagance in the middle of winter makes it one of the more valuable shrubs around. And perfect for coastal BC, where it’s shade loving, evergreen, and pretty much maintenance-free.

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Fragrant Sweet Box by my front door. I brush by it on the way to and from the car.

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It’s difficult to tell from the picture, but the flowers are almost invisible, yet they deliver disproportional sweet scent.

How have you incorporated fragrance in your garden? How would you like to incorporate fragrance in your garden? Leave a comment…