Side Work, Part I: Making the Bed

The east side of my home was a neglected area that used to lead to nowhere. 

Before I had an additional gate installed, this side of the house was only accessible from the back yard. Once you traveled down the corridor to reach the front of the house next to bedroom 2, you were blocked by a fence with no gate, and forced to return the way you came. Silliness -- especially with the front patio right there!

My plan in landscaping this 60-foot stretch was to create 360 degree access around the entire house. The series of sliders on my home invite the outdoors in, so creating a fully accessible plan felt like a natural choice. A narrow bed of cacti and some evenly spaced pavers would be just the thing, but first, there were some preparations to be made.  

Down to Earth

Coarse, shredded hardwood mulch ran the entire stretch of the yard. Although ground cover was in place, weeds and little saplings had found their way through over time. I began the excavation by digging up weeds, shoveling and disposing of the mulch, then removing the degraded ground cover. 

The next step was tilling. In 100+ degree heat, this was no picnic, but by using a well-made hand tiller, I was able to knock out this portion within a couple of hours. Dampening the soil a bit first helped, too.

In the process of tearing things up, I unearthed a massive, abandoned plastic drain pipe. After all, what's an excavation without at least one surprise?! The pipe had been completely collapsed, buried and rendered useless for who knows how long. I thought it was never going to end as I continued to fish it out of the muddy soil, but eventually reached its termination about half way into the back yard.

Once the ground was loosened up and cleared of debris, I raked the soil into a smooth even layer. Excess dirt was transferred to other beds in the yard, which will be tackled in a future project. I then tamped the dirt flat and sprayed Round-Up to better control the return of any weeds or trees in the near future.

Frame, Flora, Fabric

A series of pressure-treated redwood 2x4s were laid the length of the house. Redwood ground stakes were hammered in every 3 feet, then attached with wood screws to the 2x4s to ensure the bed frame stays in place. The boards were spray painted matte black to match the new fence and nearby privacy screen

At last, the fun of placing plants! I chose the clean uniform look of barrel cacti -- 19 of them to be exact -- and spaced them about 2' apart. I opted to keep them in their plastic pots to maintain their smaller profile. To my elation, a posthole digger was the exact diameter of the pots, which made digging holes a cinch. I trimmed off the top 1" of turquoise plastic with a utility knife to keep the pots from being visible once planted. 

Heavy duty weed blocking fabric was laid in the newly framed bed, and secured with ground cover pins every couple of feet. I cut an X shape slit over each pot hole and dropped the cacti into place.

Finishing Touches

Before covering the landscaping fabric, I took the opportunity to run individual drip lines to each plant. While barrel cacti don't require much water to survive, I didn't want to have to worry about hosing them down in the future.

The last step for the beds was to fill the frame with rocks. I used Quikrete's platinum mist to repeat what I had used for the front divider screen. The colors in this rock work really well with my scheme as they carry varying tones of gray and white with just a hint of rust to pick up on the orange accents. The contrast of the light rock is striking against the black fence and border, and the neutral tones really make the vibrant cacti colors pop.

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There's more to come in part II of this project, so stay tuned. The focus will be on pavers, planters, paint and probably perspiration...ultimately tying the entire side yard together!