Okay, maybe “wall” is a bit of a stretch. It’s only one layer high after all. Perhaps a better term is ” edging “.
For my untrained hands, however, seven metres of single-level bricklaying would be more than enough of a challenge.
Goodbye rotten wood
My number one gripe with our backyard since the day we moved in was the ugly wooden garden edging. It looked cheap and nasty, it was installed unevenly and part of it had fallen over. The whole thing looked very sad and uninviting.
I had been itching to pull it out for a while. The idea of removing the eyesore was, in my mind, the number one thing that had to happen during the garden transformation. The problem was, with what should I replace it?
Both Emma and I love sandstone. That became the initial focus of our investigations into preplacement edging. However, we quickly found out that genuine sandstone comes at a cost. At over $500 for a seven metre strip (as amazing as it would have looked), we just couldn’t justify the expense.
Fake it ’till you make it
Maybe one day we will be bringing in the big bucks and $500 on some garden edging won’t seem like such a big deal. But for now, every dollar counts and we quickly turned our attention to ways in which the same effect could be realised for a fraction of the cost.
We visited several local garden and hardware stores until we found one that we were fairly happy with. It was cheap, made out of concrete and a similar colour to the sandstone we loved so much. Of course, concrete isn’t sandstone and we knew we wouldn’t be fooling anyone. But the price was right and it looked far better than the wood it was replacing. The only problem was that the blocks didn’t neatly fit the space we had, so I would have to find a way to split a reasonably thick piece of concrete.
I made the decision to get started on the project and drove to our local garden store one Friday afternoon to purchase the blocks. I talked to a very helpful sales assistant and he told me to drive through to the storage yard where I could load the blocks directly into the back of the car.
When I got there, however, I made a great (if not slightly overwhelming) discovery. The garden centre had a huge range of options that I had not previously seen. I was bamboozled by the choice and all of a sudden our chosen edging was not so attractive. I thought briefly about boldly making a different choice and surprising Emma, but then common sense took over and I settled for returning the next day to make the decision together.
It turns out the decision to not jump in and impulse-buy some bricks was a good one. We returned the next day as a family and thoroughly explored all the edging on offer. After some searching we found a very attractive concrete block with a rough face on one side and smooth faces on the rest.
While obviously not sandstone, the finish gave it a stone-like appearance. Best of all it was a fraction of the price of sandstone. It was even cheaper (and looked better) than our original choice of concrete block.
New skill mastered – bricklayer
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit again.
I think I went reasonably well. The backyard has a very gentle slope, so I had to take that into account as I laid the blocks. I tried for a very gentle and uniform angle. I didn’t quite pull it off. The blocks have a somewhat wave-like look on very close inspection, but to the casual eye I think it was a passable attempt. I managed to get most of the blocks to sit neatly next to each other, so I’m counting it a success.
I’ll probably have to redo the lot one the turf goes in anyway. Otherwise the edging will end up mostly buried after I add approximately 5cm in height through the new topsoil.
Just before we purchased the blocks, I did some quick calculations and much to my pleasure, the blocks were almost a perfect fit for my 703 cm space. Each block was 39 cm long. According to my calculator, 18.025641 blocks would be required to build the wall.
What I hadn’t counted on was the incredibly narrow margin for error that I was left with – .02 of a 39 cm block is .78 cm. Inevitably, I was going to have a problem…
You know the saying “measure twice, cut once”? Well, in my house it goes “measure three times, still f*ck it up” pic.twitter.com/DRDI6hQF5f
— dad (@blogofdad) November 11, 2017
My initial jubilation at finding an almost-perfect fit soured a little as I tried in vain to shoehorn the final block into place. It was no good, I was a good half a centimetre out.
There was only one thing left to do – grab the nearest hitty thing* and try to chip away enough of the concrete for the block to fit in its snug new home. All I had that was of any use was a small mattock. It is probably not the ideal tool for the job, but it’s certainly not the worst either.
I whacked away for what felt like an eternity. Progress was painfully slow, but I was a little buoyed by the tiny flakes that I could see flying off with every hit. It was working, the concrete was slowly being dislodged.
I was also kept somewhat amused by the occasional sparks that flew off every time the mattock struck a certain type of aggregate in the concrete. That became a little less amusing when I reminded myself that I was surrounded by dead, extremely dry grass and leaves that would probably not need much encouragement to catch alight.
Finally I had coerced enough concrete off the block. It slid into place like a finger into a well-fitted glove.
I stood back and admired my handy work. I think it’s a pretty great start to the backyard renovation. The toddler oasis was finally underway!
*I classify tools in three different ways – hitty things, turny things and cutty things. There may be other types of tools, but I don’t own them.