Helen's Garden Renovation Project

Thursday 10 January 2013

Cold weather stops play

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 1:28 pm

I have taken advantage of the not-very-wet and not-very-cold weather to lay two more stepping stones. This is the result:

Three of the four stepping stones in place

Three of the four stepping stones in place

This is quite a flattering photograph, but I am afraid that this installation will add character to the garden, rather than beauty. The slab nearest you is lower than the other two. This is deliberate, and I did it because the greenhouse base is lower than the lawn edging, so the stepping stones need to go up. I will be aiming to get the last three slabs the same height.

With experience, I have modified my technique. With the first paving slab, I mixed water into the mortar. With the second two, I used the mortar dry, acting on the theory that it would absorb water from the soil around it and harden anyway, without me having to add any water. This saves labour, and also means that it’s not so messy trying to get the foundation level. With the first and second paving slabs, I buried some assorted rubble and tamped it down with a thick wooden post. With the third, I just dug out the soil to a depth of 4 cm and jumped on it to make it flat.

I also used a different system of levelling with the third slab. I discovered that my short spirit level was pretty much exactly the same thickness as a paving slab. So I hammered in some pegs that were at the right height for the top of the slab when the short spirit level was on top. Then I laid the mortar to make it level with the pegs. Then I watered the back of the paving slab and laid it. It wasn’t at the right height so I took it up, moved the mortar about, and watered it again. After I had done this several times, there was probably quite a lot of water in the mortar.

I have discovered that it is not necessary to make the bed exactly the same size as the paving slab because once it is in position, you can shove leftover mortar underneath the edges. I have also discovered that tapping the paving slab with a mallet seems to have no effect on anything. I think maybe it is just a ritual you do so that your neighbours know you are laying paving slabs.

Tonight freezing weather is forecast, so I have put some bubble wrap over the paving slab I have just laid. And I think it is unlikely I will be able to lay the fourth slab until the cold spell is over. That’s a shame.

As a result of my work, I have concluded two things: (1) I am pretty confident that I will be able to lay the round log-style stepping stones competently enough, as they will be so easy after doing the big square ones; (2) If at all possible, I should get a professional in to lay the last six paving slabs, as they will look terrible if they are wonky.


Thursday 3 January 2013

A break in the weather

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 3:59 pm

Suddenly we got a mild day with no rain forecast, and so it was time to lay the first stepping stone. I had already dug the hole for it. I hammered in two pegs (small pieces of Leylandii branch) to mark the level of the top of the slab. Then I buried some rubble from the path that I broke up, thumped it with a piece of wood to compact it, filled in the gaps with smaller pieces of rubble and soil, then compacted it again. I put a layer of sharp sand down, and compacted that. Then I made some mortar in the ratio 4 litres of sharp sand to 1 litre of cement, and put it on top of the sand.

At this point I realised that I was going to have to make an awful lot of mortar. I read somewhere that a good depth was 5 cm of mortar, and that’s about what I put down. I made five batches using 5 litres of dry mix and it was hard work. But I did it. I used my small spirit level to make sure the mortar mix was level, and then put my paving slab down, and it did come to the right height. But it wasn’t level! I felt very aggrieved about that, given that I had thought my foundation was level. Tapping the highest bits of the slab with the mallet in the hope of making them a bit lower made very little difference, so I had to lift the slab and scoop out bits. Eventually I decided that it was good enough, and that the slab had an uneven surface so was never going to come out perfectly level anyway. I stood a few feet from it and looked at it carefully and decided that it looked perfectly all right, which is the only test that matters.

I was thinking of laying a second slab tomorrow because the weather may be all right then too, but I think I probably won’t. One reason is that my wrist and back are a bit tired from today’s exertions. Another is that I want to make sure the paving slab is set so if I stand on it, it won’t matter. But the main reason is that I want to see whether my job is good enough quality – will the slab stay put without wobbling or not?

I am pretty sure I over-engineered this stepping stone. I could do all the others the same way, but it’s a lot of labour and a lot of materials. Next time I will use more rubble and about half the amount of mortar.

There wasn’t much point in taking a picture of the stepping stone because it just looks like a stepping stone, but so that this entry can have a picture, here is an overview of the mess the garden is currently in.

Overview of the garden in January

Overview of the garden in January

The stepping stone I laid is at the extreme right of the picture, next to the green plastic pot. You will notice that there are a lot of white bags. These are the charity bags that come through my door every few weeks and they are all full of leaves. I will have to find another home for the leaves because the plastic in the bags doesn’t survive being outside for very long.