A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Hardscaping the Yard, Part 1

To make good on my goals for 2012, back in late March/early April I started calling various concrete contractors to get quotes on removing the sidewalk that stretched the length of the house to our alley. It was the first step in transforming our yard according to the plan that our landscape designer created for us and we really couldn’t do anything until that was removed.

I called 5 or 6 contractors thinking that maybe only one or two would return my call once they heard that we only wanted to demo and remove the sidewalk. Surprisingly everyone called back and most came by the house to give an accurate quote (two of them were also compelled to tell me how long they had been sober which I found rather curious).

Since we were only doing demo, we ended up going with the cheapest quote and since it was still early in the season, he was also available a few days later. I thought it was going to be a day-long project, but no, with about 5-6 guys they were done within a couple hours.

They also squared off the two sides of the flagstone patio for us with their concrete saw so that we could edge the patio with brick pavers per our landscaping plan (you can see the saw cut in the photo at right). We’ll use the extra pieces you see on the left side of the photo to expand the patio to the south and square it off at that end.

While I would have loved to hire someone do our installation, after pricing materials there was no way we could afford materials + labor, so we were in for some digging. And more digging. I became obsessed with digging. Both Pete and I would wake up with tingling hands from all the digging (luckily that has subsided so I don’t think we’ll have long-term carpal tunnel problems). We needed to dig about 6-8 inches deep for the gravel patio and the bluestone path that leads to the front of the house from our flagstone patio.

We also needed to remove the limestone path that we originally installed to delineate our property from our neighbor’s — it was an okay idea in theory, but it really didn’t work. We were able to relocate most of that to a dead space next to our garage and use the rest as a base for the gravel patio. A large mound grew near our raised vegetable garden as we dumped more and more dirt. We also had to relocate plants that I wanted to save, so other dirt mounds became a temporary transplant garden. We cut down one of the two sumacs we planted next to the patio, another good idea in theory for a natural screen, but the reality was that it sent suckers everywhere and we were constantly pulling up little sumac shoots, sometimes 10 or more feet away from the main tree. We constantly came across sumac roots everywhere we dug along with a few bricks, a concrete mound near the front of the house that was buried under the sidewalk, a couple bones (the previous PO was a butcher), and lots of plate glass. We speculate that the glass was included in landfill when these houses were built — Morton Grove used to have a number of nursery businesses and there were greenhouses less than a block away from us as late as the 1970s. Alas, no buried treasure.

The raised vegetable bed became a dumping ground for discarded plant material and tree branches, and the parkway along the street was the only spot available for the base gravel, sand and pea gravel we had delivered from the nursery. Needless to say the entire property has been affected in some way, but it’s definitely, finally taking shape.

Back to the digging, though. Here is the path for the bluestone. The original limestone path is on the left, still intact while we used it as a wheelbarrow path for moving materials around the yard.

And here is the gravel patio area dug out. I wanted a casual spot for a fire pit and our Adirondack chairs that was separate from the dining area on the flagstone patio. This also ties the flagstone patio much better with the rest of the yard as you’ll see later.

You can also see the raised planter we built for grasses based on what we saw on a trip to Milwaukee. We’re almost through with that and just need to install the finishing ledge/topper (I have no idea what the correct term for that is!).

Next in our yard makeover: gravel base, brick pavers and bluestone installation!

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