Thursday, May 8, 2014

Building a Garden Daybed

Our completed daybed, and our cat's favorite new sitting space.
After clearing out a dense bamboo stand on the south side of our yard, we had to decide what to do with the 5 ft x 10 ft area that removing the stand opened up. I wanted additional seating and space for container plants, but didn't want to spend a ton of money. I found this idea for a bench on Pinterest made from cinderblocks and 4x4s and thought it looked like a great idea that we could put together in a weekend.

Before building our bench, I went in search of the perfect bench cushion. I wanted to pick the cushion out first so I could be sure to size the bench correctly and to make sure what should be a quick weekend project didn't get dragged out or left half done. I fairly quickly realized that cushions are either 1) flimsy and ugly, or 2) way more expensive than I was looking for. I decided to use an old futon we had, the kind that starts as a twin-sized mattress and folds into thirds. This meant we weren't really building a bench anymore, but a daybed. 

The "frame" had to be big enough for a standard twin mattress, or 38 inches wide and 75 inches long. This actually ended up fitting perfectly with the cinderblock ends being 5 block openings, or 40 inches, deep and the boards being 8 feet, or 96 inches, long-- long enough for 75 inches between the blocks, 8 inches on either side to run through the cinderblocks, and a few inches sticking out on each end. 

We made a few other changes from the version in Lena's blog. First of all, our bed has a cinderblock wall behind it. This is simply an upward continuation of the underground wall we built to keep the bamboo from spreading back over from our neighbor's yard, but we filled the openings in the blocks on top with potting soil and planted seeds for vining flowers that we're hoping will eventually cover the screen.

Our bed frame is 3 rows tall. In order to get 5 openings we did 2 full sized and 1 half sized blocks on each row, alternating the position of the half block to improve stability. In total we used 12 full sized blocks and 6 half blocks for the two sides. For the mattress base, we used 2x4s instead of 4x4s so the mattress would sit a little lower and because 2x4s were quite a bit cheaper and still strong enough to easily support the mattress and multiple sitting people. We turned the cinderblocks so the solid sides faced out on the lower rows to reduce the number of spider hideouts and make it easier to paint. The wide block sides provide plenty of places for potted plants as well as drinks.

I think the best idea we had was the mattress cover. We don't get a ton of rain here on the California central coast but we often get thick fog and light mist, and we needed to protect the mattress from moisture. I bought a mattress cover off of Amazon that zipped up to fully enclose the whole thing. It is designed for people with serious allergies and is both dustproof and waterproof, and has held up extremely well to our moderate climate. We do bring the mattress if it actually rains, but it stays outside 90% of the time. It's draped in an old, fairly sturdy tapestry which helps hide a great storage area underneath.

As soon as the bed was done, I realized it was one of the best parts of our yard. It's very comfortable, and I've definitely dozed off in the perfect partial shade that covers it during the afternoon. It's my favorite place to work on my laptop at home. The cat absolutely loves having a soft place to sleep that is still outside. Overall, it's a great, quick project, and I hope you like it!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Garden Party Decor Ideas

I put on a bridal shower for my sister last weekend. It was a garden party, so I incorporated as many plants and natural elements as I could. While I was too busy running around to take any pictures at the actual event, I snapped a few of my favorite elements afterwards.

I used river rocks as tags for each of the dishes at the buffet table. The names are written with a white paint pen, which dried well. It was easy to write on the flatter rocks, but some (like the cheesecake one pictured here) were more textured and harder to work with.

It is possible to clean and reuse the stones with nail polish remover or paint thinner. I will probably end up using and reusing the same batch of rocks at future parties or events, adjusting the dish names as needed.

I also planted several herbs in old Trader Joe's coffee tins to use as a part of the centerpieces. I used a 5/8 inch drill bit to drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of each tin. The plastic lid fits tightly around the bottom of the tin to protect the table from any excess water or soil, though it should generally be kept loose or off so the plant does not become waterlogged.

Lastly, I gave away seed packets as party favors (apologies for the poor picture quality). I picked out several varieties of brightly colored flowers, wrote the bride and groom's names on a burlap tag, and tied a twine bow around the whole thing. I think ribbon may work better, but I didn't have any handy. The guests all loved them and enjoyed seeing what varieties their friends got as well.

All of these items were fairly inexpensive. I was able to save up coffee tins, and had scrounged river rocks from previous projects. The seed packets were less than $2 each. Together with a few other items, they created a great "garden party" atmosphere and the whole event was a huge success!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Getting Rid of Bamboo Without Pesticides

Bamboo is often used as a hedge or ornamental plant. Unfortunately, it spreads very quickly and through even the most inhospitable areas. It can crowd out other plants and take over an entire yard if left unchecked. When we moved into our current house, one side of the back yard was completely taken over by a 4 foot deep bamboo hedge that extended several more feet into the neighbor's yard, and an additional patch covered the back fence. We've removed it all, and have been completely bamboo free for a year now.

If you are planting bamboo, plant it only in a large container and never directly in the ground where it can spread freely. If you already have bamboo in your yard and want to get rid of it, you have a lot of work ahead of you.

Option 1: Cut, Clear, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

This is how most people deal with bamboo. Simply cut it to the ground (probably using a machete) and enjoy the space until it starts to grow back and you have to repeat the process. Bamboo grows very quickly from roots that spread easily through even the rockiest soil, so it won't be long before you have to clear it again and you may find it in new areas. This method is much less work during each individual clearing effort, but you will constantly have to deal with new sprouts.

Option 2: Cut, Dig, Fortify, Done

To permanently remove bamboo, you must dig ALL of it out by the root. The only other option is to pour a STRONG pesticide onto the cut stalk, and I hate the idea of bringing anything like that into my garden. First, cut all stems to the ground. Second, dig up all of the roots. If it is especially dense you will need to use a pickaxe to break up the huge chunks before finishing with a shovel. Follow every single root to its tip and make sure it all gets pulled out. Do not leave any dug up roots in the area even in pieces or they will reestablish themselves; take all pieces off site if possible. If you are able to clear the entire stand and remove all roots, then you should be done. Dig through the soil, especially around the edges, to make sure nothing is left over and enjoy your new yard space.

If your bamboo is like ours and crosses into your neighbor's yard where you cannot remove it, you will need to fortify your space so it does not spread back and reinfest. Because bamboo spreads by the root, this fortification must be done underground. Dig a trench along the edge of the cleared area at least 1 foot deep. Build an underground wall out of impermeable materials-- we used cinderblocks in one area and square brick paving stones in another and both have been successful. 

 The wall must have no gaps for roots to push through. Carefully bury the wall, making sure you do not move any pieces in the process and leave a hole. Pack the dirt down tightly and celebrate a completely bamboo free yard!