Saturday, July 20, 2013

Front yard planting

Wow, we make even more progress on one of our many projects!  And it has been a cool and breezy couple of days, perfect for planting and trimming our plants.  My foot is strong enough to walk on, so we got started going through the plants we've acquired over the past year to find the ones we want to put in our front yard.  As a reminder, this is where we were in May, after we sprayed the yard with Round-up:
We paid a couple of guys to use a sod cutter and haul away the dead grass.  It was worth the 300 bucks.  Then I rototilled the yard, twice.  Raked and raked and pulled roots, and sprayed any green sprigs that poked up with Round-up.  Then we laid the front walkway, after digging a pile of dirt out and then adding base, pavers and gravel.
 Then we picked up some boulders from craigslist (our favorite place to 'shop'), and raked and raked and raked some more.  And then finally, yesterday we planted!

Yesterday, we put in the big agaves and arranged the boulders to show them off, then today we picked up the groundcover and the dwarf bottlebrush that we needed to get.  We still need two dwarf kangaroo paws (we saw them EVERYWHERE a month ago - we've been to 4 stores and none to be found right now).  We also went this morning to pick up a load of free mulch through the LB sanitation dept.  We can have it delivered for free, but we like to look through and get the best kind.  So now it looks like this:
 We added in a few annuals (some alyssum, dianthus and lobelia) for color and because it needs some thing to fill in while the groundcover grows in.  It'll get crowded later, and we can remove things.  I am not afraid to move plants around all over the place.
all the agaves I got free on craigslist.  The big blue agave americana (looks weird in this shot) is a beauty, he's huge and in great shape.  The little artichoke agaves (agave parryi) are really lovely - I have about 8-9 of those here and there.  And off to the right is the agave bovicornuta (cow horn agave) that's Dale's favorite.  I think we still have a couple of bent leaves to trim on some of these, but we went over each one and cleaned them up, trimmed the dead or cracked leaves, and they look great.
Yea, he's got one flipper off to the side that can go.  Sorry about the blurry photo. We added some Mexican feather grass here, although we are really wary of that because it can be really invasive here, so we have to really keep up on that.   So this part looks great, but meanwhile, the rest of the front.....
yea, it's still a big pile of dirt and rocks.  And a heap of roots to throw away.  Not to mention the "hell strip" - which is a mass of weeds and overgrown candy apple (dorotheanthus bellidiformis), which grows like a maniac.  I think I planted like 5 little starts here, and it's OOC.

What a mess!  I think tomorrow I'm going to pull all this up, and put it in the center section (around the base of the tree) and rescue all the succulents that are buried there.  We aren't planning on doing anything with the parking strip here for a bit, but I can at least rake the dirt smooth and get this eyesore taken care of.  I do have a nice purple fountain grass and several other agaves buried in this mess.  But for now, it's just nice to have one section of the front that looks great when we drive up!

Thursday, July 18, 2013


As if we don't have enough unfinished projects going on, we just spent a few days on a totally fun project - building a catio for our two pampered kitties.  If you don't know what a catio is, it's a screened in patio for cats.  Some people just screen in their porch or other outdoor space.  We have a little unused corner in our backyard, tucked in behind the house, and for some reason it is paved (?), and it has just been a place to collect junk, like old sprinklers and extra propane tanks.  It's right off our bedroom.

The cats love sitting in the windows in our bedroom, because they can look out over the fence and see what's going on out there.  They are high windows over our bed.  So while we were out in Las Vegas, we were sitting by the pool talking about ways to adapt this space for the cats, and so our ideas were formed, but we thought we'd build a frame, use chicken wire or other hardware cloth and fence it in.  But I was looking on Pinterest, and saw this pin:

This is a portable cat yard made out of wire storage cubes.  They look like this:

I got these at K-mart for 18.97 a box.  Each box has 23 wire panels and plenty of plastic connectors. We bought 5 boxes. Then we were to Harbor Freight and bought 600 zip ties, they were 1.50 for 100.  We also bought 6 2x2s and some shelf brackets.  

The nice thing about this is that you can set up whatever configuration you like, each panel is 14" square, and we just laid out a plan on paper, and it went together in modules.  The first part we made was the platform and the space over that, above the block wall.  From the front of the house, it looks like this:
there is a 3/4" plywood platform resting on the two sides of the block wall, and we anchored a 2 x 2 cleat on the house that the other side rests on.  It has a large square cutout so they can go below.  Right now, the entry to the cage is through the window over our bed:
 We plan to add a cat door along the baseboard of our bedroom later, but this works for now.  Below the platform is the paved part of their catio:
It's a little  hard to see in this picture, but we built a storage box at the back of the space, we can store our extra propane tanks and potting materials in there, and it serves as a platform for the cats to sleep on.  At the end here, we have a door that we can enter so we can clean, sweep, get our propane tanks, etc.  There's also one shelf on the wall on the right, we still have two more to add on the block wall to the left, and I am going to sew a cat hammock along that back wall over the storage box.  They like to roll around on the concrete.

From there, we built a little tunnel to the second part of the catio:

Persephone likes to chew on grass, so I am going to add some more in this section.  This is the short tunnel to the second part of the cage.

This is the part that I think they'll really like - it's a view to the entire backyard, all the birds, plants and watching us while we work!  They like this a lot.  I had to move a big patch of cannas from this section, so there's no grass growing right now, but it will soon enough.  This part has stakes holding it to the ground so Miss Persephone won't pry it up.  She's sneaky like that.

 It's connected to the block walls by way of a 2 x 2 framework that's anchored to the block wall, and then attached with cable connectors like this:

The panels themselves are connected with the plastic connectors, and then zip ties added for security.  Each connection looks like this:
The back sides of the connectors are facing out, so that the smooth side is inwards.  Also, all the zip ties have the nubs facing out, so there's no scratchy parts on the cat's side.  To be honest, we almost could not use the plastic connectors, just using the zip ties really pulled the panels tight.  In some parts (beside the door, the tunnel) we didn't use the plastic connectors, just connected the panels with zip ties and they are just fine.

We also painted the 2 x 2s with either leftover house paint (tan) or leftover patio furniture paint (black), depending on what it was connected to.

We spent about $125 dollars on this, which wasn't much, and some things we had already (plywood, scrap lumber, screws, paint).  So far, the cats are loving it.  Just a few minutes ago, Persephone ran into the living room to check to see that we were still here, then turn around and ran back outside!  It was so funny!  Mercury runs up to the window and meows at us, then goes back out.  I think he's a little excited about it, too. 

We have about 10 panels left - we would like to continue making a tunnel going back to the back corner of the yard, so maybe in the future, we'll extend their special space!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Front walk done

We returned the broken pavers and have the replacement put in place, and the walkway looks great with all the gravel added:
Several of our neighbors have stopped by to admire it.  I think what they're really admiring is progress, since it's just been a big dirt pile for the last month.  But we'll take it.  I went through and raked the dirt in this small area, along with most of the rest of the yard, removing all the clumps and rocks, and it is ready to plant.  I was really excited, I thought yesterday was going to be a big planting day, but then this happened on the way to exchange the pavers:

Stupid bad ankle! I was getting into the car, twisted my ankle, fell and broke my toe.  Sheesh!  It's going to take a few days until I can use a shovel so I can get some of my big agaves dug up and put in this area.    We did get some boulders yesterday, however - here's one group:

I think I have to move these forward, but I have to give my foot a little time to repair before I can do that.  In the meantime, we have gotten some more plants, which are temporarily in our "holding area" in the backyard:
The large green agave in the center, the firesticks, the assorted succulents here, they'll all go in that smaller bed.  We also picked up a couple of large plants for the other half of the yard, these we paid for but they were on sale so we went ahead and got them -- a giant bird of paradise for 58 dollars:

And a red banana for 35 dollars:

This one we put in a pot, and haven't decided if it's going to stay in the back or move the pot into the front yard.

We also responded to a craigslist free listing for two sago palms.  We've wanted some of these, but they are really expensive. We had to go dig these up, there are two of the, the trunks are around 2' high, with fronts about 6', so they would have cost us a couple hundred each.  They are looking a little weary from the transplant, but I think they'll be fine.  The inner row of fronds are nice healthy green.  We may put these in the front, depending on how full the yard looks once we get it going.  They are extremely slow growing, so they'll stay about this size for a long time.

So, I was hoping there would be somewhat of a reveal today, with all kinds of plants put in place, but it looks like it'll be in a week or so. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Well, I'm a slacker about posting anyway.  I have been doing things, just been very bad about recording them.  But after a long day of working on the yard, I am going to update my project status first.

First, the labyrinth.  It's mostly done, although after getting the path laid and the plants in, I have decided it would look awesome to have a nice hedge around it, so I'll be looking for a deal on some boxwoods in the near future.  But for now, this one can be considered 90% complete.

 So, the last time I posted about this, I'd just started by marking out the path.  Then I went through and tamped down the walk path.  Above you can see how the compacted dirt path looks with the soft, turned soil for the borders all fluffy and nice.
 Then we got a load of decomposed granite.  I wanted the path to stay unpaved, but it'll get weeds and it'll get muddy, so a load of DG as everyone out here calls it, was just what we needed.  I spread that out, then compacted that, too.  Unfortunately, now I can't walk on it barefoot, because the DG isn't soft.  Boo.  I might have to put some sand on top of that.  Anyway, we also planted and then mulched the plants, and then put some starter food on it.  This picture about was from about 3 weeks ago, by the end of summer, I think most of the plants will have grown and merged together to create a living border.  At least that's the plan.  And again, I think a nice little hedge around it would look really cool.  I was hoping to find a cool fountain for the middle, but I'm trying to do this really super cheap, so I am just lurking around craigslist free hoping to snap one up.  Missed one the other day, but I'm persistent!

Another thing Dale and I are doing this summer is trying to fit in some little mini-trips to places we've not yet visited.  So we took a spur of the moment trip to Las Vegas and Hoover Dam, because I had one free night from my acct.  We upgraded, and stayed at the Bellagio.   And we ended up going on the HOTTEST week of the year!

Whew! and that wasn't even the hottest temperature we experienced, it got up another degree, but my picture of that is blurry.

First, we went to Hoover Dam, and went on the tour.  We wanted to go on the deluxe longer tour, but it was booked and we would have had to have waited another 3 hours, so we just went on the shorter one through the power plant.  It was really interesting, and nice and cool inside.

I won't put all the pictures on here, but here's a cool shot:

A panorama of the Lake Mead side of the dam.  The water is down about 50 feet, which is really apparent when you visit, but not sure if you can tell in this picture.  Oh, and it was HOT!  We walked part way across the dam, but decided to drive across in our nice, air conditioned car.  We looked at all the outdoor exhibits briefly, then scurried back to the cool car. 

One of the things that I really liked was the terrazzo floor inside the power plant - they had inlaid designs that paid homage to the Native American history of the place.  This is a picture of a turbine, with a Native American influence:

 and an electrical outlet design , that looks somewhat like a rug:

We also got out and walked across the bypass bridge (the Mike O'Callahan-Pat Tillman bridge), which was crazy because we had to climb up eleventy billion stairs in the hot sun and then walk out across the burning hot sidewalk, but we did get this cool shot:

So that was worth it. 

We also saw this cool sculpture that pays homage to all the workers who completed this dam in only 5 years, 2 years ahead of schedule.  They worked 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and only got two days off a year.  But it was the Depression and they were glad to have a job.  And you know it had to be ridiculously hot like it was while we were out there, except they had no air conditioning to escape to!

This sculpture is huge, BTW, I don't have anything in it for scale, but it's really giant. 

We originally thought we'd also go to the Grand Canyon, but after realizing we were going during the biggest heat wave of the year, and there's really nothing at the Grand Canyon other than hiking, which would be completely idiotic in this heat, we decided we'd do that another time.  It's about 9 hours away. (Las Vegas is 3.5 hours from our house, and the Hoover Dam is 30 minutes from Las Vegas).  So that makes it a pretty easy trip.

Another big project we wanted to do this summer was sell (*sob*) my Karmann Ghia and buy a truck.  We've rented trucks so many times from Home Depot to do all kinds of things, and really, as cute as the Karmann Ghia was  (see! Look how cute:)
but it is not a very practical car for us right now.  And I've been taking the bus to work quite a bit, and driving it very minimally.  So it's been a bit of a luxury item, when what we could really use is a truck.  I listed it, had a bunch of people come and look at it, some really annoying people who want to low-ball bid, but finally sold it to a guy who was very happy to have a cute little car.  I think he's going to fix it up to make it more of a hot rod, but whatever! 

Then we had to go find a truck.  We looked at a bunch of really crappy ones, but got a really great deal on this 2002 Tundra.  It is in pristine condition, the guy we got it from really maintained it well, so hopefully it'll be a good deal.   And the best part is that we got the truck for $1200 less than we got for the Ghia, so we can buy a few extra things for it, and also pay for some of the yard projects.

We've already picked up a bunch of heavy stuff in it, so it's been earning its keep already.  And, like the Ghia, I will probably drive this only once or twice a week when school starts up again, as I plan on taking the bus often.  A full sized truck like this doesn't get great mileage, so it will be the vehicle we use the least.

OK, finally, what we got done today on our front yard.  In the past month, I've gotten the new walk path dug out, which was back breaking work but I've been doing it a bit at a time.  I somehow managed not to get any pictures of the dug out part, but a couple of days ago we got a free load of DG for the compacted sub-base, and this is what that looks like:
 This is during our process of spreading and compacting the decomposed granite.  EXHAUSTING, backbreaking work!  And after we got the DG compacted, we had our concrete pavers delivered.  We used 18 x 36s and 12 x 12s.  We alternated them so we had an irregular pattern.  There's a space in this first picture below, we have to re-route a sprinkler head tomorrow, and two of the large pavers arrived broken, so we have to return those and get a new one for this spot on Monday.  Tomorrow, we'll pick up another load of gravel (in our handy truck!) and fill the rest of the spaces between the pavers.  We originally thought we'd put groundcover here, but we really like the look of the little gravel, so we'll fill with gravel, and then gradually introduce the ground cover in between.

You can see the two cracked pavers above. 

We are pretty much exhausted, but we want to get this part done, it'll be a big boost for us to have part of this going!  We also can start planting the section between the path and the driveway, we have tons of plants ready to go!  We also have the drip system for that section, so that'll be the next part of our project.  And I'll try to get more pictures and posts on a regular basis!
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