Monday, August 15, 2016


We have had a few landscaping projects percolating and we finally decided to get quotes to have:

(1)  Our back patio leveled
(2)  Replace river rock with flagstone pavers along the driveway
(3)  Remove dead shrubs from front yard and replace with garden wall and hostas

Needless to say, the first quote was well beyond our budget.  The next landscaper we contacted was a no-call, no-show.  At that point, I decided to start on the work myself.  Rather than a one day job, it will be a one month job with some fits and starts.

Leveling Back Patio

About 40 square feet of flagstone was settling and sloping towards the house.  I pulled a few pieces up and was surprised to find that a mix of paver base, sand, and just clay were under the various pieces.  It was no wonder it was settling.  I figured I needed about 40 square feet x 3 inches of Paver Base (Red Breeze) to bring the flagstone up.  As I don't have a truck, I laid a tarp ($15) down in the back of my SUV and headed out to Pioneer Sand.

At Pioneer Sand, I was informed that Red Breeze was $38.95/ton and asked how much I wanted.  As I had no idea, I just filled a good size pile into the back of the SUV.  Upon exiting, I learned that I had shoveded 400# in and that it would be $8.  I was pretty pleased and tipped the guy that was helping me load another $5.  I started in one corner, added the Red Breeze and finished with a quarter to half inch of sand.  The process consists of putting down the Red Breeze, tamping it down, checking level and then adding enough sand so that the flagstone does not rock.  I was able to level about 16 square feet, started another section and ran out of sand.  4 hours of work, $23 material.  Cumulative 4 hours of work, $23 material.

The next day, I again loaded up Red Breeze.  This time I did not have help so it was $7 for 360# which was more than enough to raise up the remaining flagstone.  I also bought 3 50# bags of sand from Home Depot for $4/bag.  I set the remaining stones kind of similar to the first 4 and was pretty happy with the effort.  They are about 1 inch above the original flagstone.  In my mind, I guess, I am expecting them to settle a bit.  Also, I wanted to be high so that water would run down and away from the house.  We will see how this plays out.  3 hours of work, $19 material.

Total Flagstone Leveling:  7 hours of work, $42 material, $0 tools.


...and Dirt Pile Removed

Adding Pavers along Driveway

The pictures don't do justice to how bad this really looks.  They are lots of weeds constantly coming through, the river rock is thin in a lot of places and the steel strip just seems like a split open foot waiting to happen.  So I started digging.

This was pretty tedious.  I spent about 5 hours clearing out the salvageable river rock and then digging out the rest.  Most of it went pretty smoothly except for a giant lump of concrete.  I borrowed a digger from my neighbor and was able to break it up.  My goal was to get down about 6 inches so that I could lay down 3-4 inches of Red Breeze, 1-2 inches of sand and 1 inch thick 12 x 12 flagstone pavers.  5 hours of work, $0 material, but I will have to buy another tarp, because I took all my dirt and put it on the original tarp in the back yard.  Cumulative 12 hours of work, $42 material.

Next step will be to pick up another 400# of Red Breeze and 25 pavers and start installing them.  Depending on how it goes, I will dig out the right side of the driveway and repeat the process.

I was convinced to use 3/4 Road Base under my pavers and that was only $29.95 per ton.  I picked up 400# of that, wet it with the hose, tamped it down really well and then laid down 1 inch of sand and started the pavers.  These were $8.50 each and incredibly frustrating to set down flush to the driveway as the driveway slabs have settled and the edge is not vertical.  I got about 5 pavers down before running out of sand.  I picked up another 400# of sand from Home Depot and broke for the night.  I also learned that Pioneer Sand does not want my dug out clay.  They recommended scheduling a time with Western Landfill.  I could also get a dumpster or distribute my yard Shawshank style.  5 hours work, $267 material.  Cumulative 17 hours of work and $309 material.

Starting the next morning, I got going on the pavers again and laid quite a few.  The work in progress seems pretty good by my inexperienced eye.  I might have to get some of the neighbors to supervise my work.

I put in about 6 hours of work during the week and then knocked the rest out the following weekend.

Half done, just need to add polymeric sand

What a fine looking dirt pile I have

More digging

Right Side Complete

Left Side Complete

I still need to deal with my dirt piles

The pavers are finished.  At the end of the project, I shoveled out about 2 yards of dirt, installed 800# of Road Base, 1000# of sand and 60 12x12 pavers.  This was a brutal project that entailed 20 hours of my labor and 3 hours of help from the neighbors with digging and cutting some of the corner pieces of flagstone.  Materials came to $735.  I am also the proud owner of another $200 of tools including an angle grinder.  I didn't need to buy anything.  I could have borrowed a pick ax and I ended up getting the wrong blade for the angle grinder, but these tools will come in handy down the road and I like getting a couple of new toys with major projects.

Total Driveway Pavers:  27 hours of work, $735 material, $200 tools.

Dead Shrubs


In Process

Looking a little bare

All of the Windsor brick is in place

Just need to put in French drain and plants

This project will not start for a few weeks.  In mid September, I plan on starting by digging out the third shrub, removing the river rock and digging out the base for the garden wall.  I will have to account for drainage.  I will also have to select material.  It is a toss-up between AB Lite Allen Block and 4"-8" Colorado Red Stripstone.  Both material have advantages and disadvantages.  I am guessing this is another 20 hour project and roughly $750 worth of material.  That does not include the cost of the new foliage and haul away of dirt piles, steel edging, etc.  

Update August 29th - About 4 hours of digging and prying and 2 shrubs have been removed.  I started laying down Windsor Red Retaining Wall Bricks (Home Depot, $1.85 each).  I was able to get most of the first row down in an hour and threw a couple of extra bricks up to see if the height felt right.  On a second estimate, I may be out of this project for $200 worth of retaining wall brick and 10 hours of labor.  I may wait until Spring to plant the foliage which could be another $200.  I still need to deal with the shrub/dirt disposal.

Update September 12 - Another 6 hours to finish raising the bed, buy and plant foliage from O'Tooles, clean up dirt pile, return tools and extra materials, and move rock to the back yard.  I broke the wheel barrow I borrowed, so  I need to replace that.  Overall, I am pretty happy with the work.

Given as it is shady, I planted 2 Stained Glass Hostas and 1 Hydrangea.  I also bought 22 tulip bulbs and planted those to hopefully add a splash of life in the Spring.

New plants

Hopefully I have Tulips in Spring

Total Garden Wall:  16 hours of work, $309 material, $0 tools.

At roughly $50/hour for hard labor, the original estimate is starting to feel pretty much spot on.  While the job did get done, it probably would have been better to hire out the work.  I still have some landscaping material to dispose of.  Also I need to take care of those plants to make sure they live.  Finally I need to replace my neighbor's wheel barrow.

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