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diy landscaping projects weekend

weekend project: living wall

August 22, 2013

Hi friends!  Finally the reveal you’ve been waiting for:  our living wall!  I’m so happy that it’s done, looking so lush with lots of pretty plants, and, did I mention that it’s done?  Yeah!

What do you think?  I think I am in love with it.

Let me back up a bit to give you the details of how we built this, in case you’re interested in constructing your own.  To start, I wanted to create a wall that would not damage our rather precious and not terribly robust Eichler siding.  This meant not having plants, soil, and moisture right up against the siding.

After some research, I chose to go with the Woolly Pockets since they have an impermeable membrane built into the pocket so moisture is contained.  The pockets are designed to mount directly to a wall, using wall anchors or screws.  However, I didn’t want to put a million holes in our siding and have the weight of the pockets supported by the siding and wall anchors only.  I needed something more sturdy that mounted to the wall studs.  My solution was to design a backing board that would mount to the studs, onto which we would then attach rows of Wally Threes.

Here’s how it came together:

TADA!  When I think back, it was almost that simple.  Before things got serious, I used painter’s tape to convince myself of where exactly I wanted the wall to go:

Basic materials included plywood (we used 5-ply, 3/4″ thick), 2×4 redwood lumber (nice dry stuff), and a whole lotta wood screws.  The wall was to be 68″ wide by 78″ tall, to accommodate six Wally Three pockets.

Given the size of plywood at the store, this meant we had two half-panels which we assembled to make the full backing board.  The back was framed using the 2x4s, to give ample space between our siding and the board, and to accommodate a French cleat which was instrumental in getting the board up and attached to the wall studs.

That cleat was magical, I tell you.  And I may be in love with my table saw (Ryobi BT3000, which I bought second-hand!) as a result. The alternative to using the cleat would have been for one person (myself or my husband) to be holding up a giant piece of plywood whilst the other scrambled to drive screws through to hang it.  Painful and totally not fun, I’m sure.

With the cleat, we just attached half of the cleat (pointy edge up) to the wall, driving 3″ screws through into our studs.  We cut the other half of the cleat (pointy edge down) in half, and the two halves went along the tops of the plywood panels.  Lift, hang, and behold!

To make things extra-secure, we did attach a 2×4 in the middle of the space behind the wall, and drove 2″ screws through the plywood along the cleat and the 2×4.  That thing is not going anywhere.

After mounting the backing board, attaching pockets, and running irrigation, we planted.  And planted and planted and planted.  I believe I visited no fewer than four nurseries in the past week, because I really wanted a wall that I loved.  And when I said that I wanted ALL of the plants, I was not joking!

And so, I ended up using the following to fill the wall, mostly from Flora Grubb and my local Summerwinds:

  • Bromeliads (Vriesea Gigantea Nova and Tessellata)
  • Ferns (foxtail and Sprengeri)
  • Stonecrop (‘Bronze Carpet’)
  • Foxtail agave (Agave attentuata)
  • Euphorbia (‘Dean’s Hybrid’)
  • Echeveria (Hens and chicks)
  • Senecio mandratiscae
  • Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa M. ‘All Gold’)
  • Yucca rostrata
  • Tiny mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis ewaldiana)
I realize these will not all co-exist happily until the end of time, and the wall will evolve.  We’ll see if the bromeliads are OK with this location or not, as I’ve never dealt with them before.  It turns out that to water them you need to fill up their cups, so we may rig a tiny sprinkler above them in addition to the drip irrigation.  And anything that’s not completely happy can be relocated to other parts of our yard.

Now, I just need some sort of seating from which I can enjoy the wall.  Hanging chair or Acapulco?

(This is not in any way a sponsored post.  And you can find my earlier post about planning this project right here.)

All photos by Karolina Buchner

diy projects weekend

weekend project: beam repair part 2 (we did it!)

July 23, 2013

As I write this, Winston is laying beside me, (I think) exhausted from the weekend’s work.  He worked very hard supervising everything, as pictured here in our front yard.  We’ve been busy!

If you recall about a month ago, I posted about the horror of dry rot which we discovered had destroyed part of a beam on the front of our house.  As a refresher, here’s what it looked like:

It still gives me the heebie geebies.

I’m happy to report that this weekend, we finally restored everything back to its original state.  Hopefully, much better than its original state.

Let me walk you through the rest of the process here, which took us actually three weekends to complete.  It’s a long one, so grab yourself a seat.  And maybe a drink.  An iced tea would be appropriate.

Weekend 1:  Epoxy, sand, more epoxy!

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the product we used to fill in the rotten areas was a 2-part epoxy filler.  There are various products available, the most common being Bondo, which we used.  You can find this at big-box home improvement stores and auto repair shops.  Guess where it retails for less.

It’s pretty weird stuff to work with.  You have to work in batches by mixing a small amount of hardener (which comes as part of the kit) with the epoxy material, and then apply it before it sets up.  We found it lasted almost exactly 3 minutes before turning to rubber and becoming unusable.  Also:  it smells pretty toxic.  We wore gloves when working with it and were outdoors in the fresh air.

We worked building it up layer by layer:

It was necessary to sand down the bumps every layer or so, in order to more easily apply the next layer and to make sure there were no air bubbles or crannies left.   We taped a piece of hardboard to the end of the beam to help us form better edges.

Finally, after using about a container and a half of epoxy, we applied the last layer.  I tried my best cake-icing technique here:

Then, we took a sander to it, and BAM.  It looks like a beam again!

The Bondo was really quite easy to work with once we got the hang of it, and it sanded to nice, sharp edges.  One strange thing is that it has a sticky skin even after it’s fully dry, which freaked us out initially, thinking it hadn’t cured.  But, after sanding, it was fine.  I would definitely use it again for jobs like this one.

Weekend 2:  Cut new trim, nail it up, and fret about things not being square!

We considered re-using the original trim (made of redwood!) but sadly it was in rough shape and rotting in a few places too.  So, we ended up purchasing new trim at the hardware store.  We took exact measurements of the old trim and cut new pieces.  This involved chiseling out part of the back of each trim piece to accommodate the metal brace you can see on the pillar above.  Here’s to developing new wood-working skills!

We felt pretty good about making the new trim until we put it up and realized we couldn’t make the end piece line up with the trim.  AT ALL.  It turns out that nailing trim up is the most inexact method of attaching it to your house and we puzzled over this for a long time.  Also, I imagine our beam and trim weren’t perfectly straight either.  Sadly, I don’t have pictures, we were that absorbed by this conundrum.

It wasn’t until after our vacation that we solved it.

Weekend 3:  Pull trim off, re-attach, seal, prime and paint!

There was a lot of brainstorming this weekend.  On Saturday, we actually (carefully) ripped off the trim on the back of the beam.  Then we nailed the end cap to the front trim, by first partially driving nails through it, then having multiple hands hold it while hammering.

Once that was in place, we attached the back trim with a screw.  Lined it up with the end cap, and fixed it in place with a second screw.  We then nailed it and the end cap in place completely and removed the screws, applied wood putty over all the nail holes and called it a day!

On Sunday morning, we caulked all around where the beam and the trim met.  I sanded down the wood putty and then primed the whole thing:

Then painted.  This was the most exciting part:  our house was BACK!


Everything is back in place and looking great.  Though I think it just inspired us to pick at all the other beams, patch them with epoxy, and replace the siding.  Wouldn’t it be great if everything were as crisp and freshly-painted as this beam and trim?

But just for now, perhaps it’s time to pause and enjoy some fluffy, happy clouds and pat ourselves on the back.

I need to catch my breath a little, before the next project.

To see where we started, check out my post:  beam repair, part 1.

projects weekend

weekend project: beam repair part 1

June 19, 2013

dear house,
i love your beams.
i really, really do.

This weekend, Dave and I embarked on the first serious repair work we’ve ever attempted on the house:  fixing a beam affected by dry rot.

Sure those exposed beams are pretty, but they take a beating thanks to the hot California sun in the summer and torrential rain in the winter.  This beam in particular is on the more exposed side of the house without a roof overhang to protect it and it’s in a sorry state.

After noticing some chipping paint a few weeks back, Dave took a toothbrush to it and found that he was able to brush away a lot of the wood out of the beam as it disintegrated into dust.  Leaving gaping holes.

Brace yourselves.

Pretty horrific.

BUT since the beam rot doesn’t affect anything structural (it stops about a foot shy of that post, which, yes, is holding up our roof) we’ve decided to have a try at repairing this ourselves.

Here’s our plan of attack:
  1. Remove the decorative outer trim (the beige stripe) surrounding the beam.
  2. Strip the paint from the beam (and heck, why not strip the post supporting the beam while we’re at it!)
  3. Chip out as much of the dry rot as possible from the beam, until only stable wood remains.
  4. Treat the wood with wood hardener or ‘consolidant’ as the pros call it.  (We’re using Minwax Wood Hardener.)
  5. Patch the beam with epoxy filler.  (We’re using Bondo, which you can get at car repair shops and some hardware stores.)
  6. Sand the beam back to its usual profile.
  7. Re-apply the trim, caulk, prime, and paint!
Should be easy, right?

Before starting the work, we had a chat with a local contractor to make sure our plan wasn’t completely crazy and, of course, consulted the internet and watched endless minutes of fix-it shows and demonstrations of this and that wood repair wonder product, wherein I may have developed a soft spot for this man.

We got through steps 1 and 2 this weekend.  Mainly because we do not own many power tools, and had to lovingly hand-saw through the trim.
As a side note, after reading Karen’s post over at Destination Eichler (which you should check out!) about shou-sugi-ban, a Japanese technique for preserving wood, I was fascinated to find that the edges of the original trim had obviously been intentionally burned.

All of the 45 degree joint edges were charred black!  I wonder if this was a common practice in Eichler construction, or if it may have been particular to the builders who worked on our house.  Oh, I do love me some good house archaeology.  The intrigue!

Anyway.  Ew:

The house now has some serious ‘This Old House’ curb appeal.  I keep telling myself it gets worse before it gets better, but it’s certainly cringe-inducing to look at right now.  Stay tuned!
landscaping projects weekend

a little landscaping: horsetails + beach pebbles

May 14, 2013

Hey all!  How was your weekend?  Hope you all had a lovely Mother’s Day.  After calling my mom at midnight on Saturday (she’s nine timezones ahead of me right now), mine ended up being all about this little patch of horsetails just outside our atrium, at the front door.

After years of looking at the same sad, lonely-looking horsetails and mystery ground cover, I decided to rip the ground cover out and add more horsetails to give the original plants some company.  I’m learning that more is better in landscaping too, as in, more of the same thing.  For impact!  So this weekend, I decided to go all out and get the plants, pebbles, and landscaping fabric.  We got all fancy, yes, we did!

Learning #1:  horsetails are known by their genus Equisetum.  They’re one of those ‘living fossil’ plants.  And they run like bamboo.  I do find them popping up in the atrium, so planting more is probably fool-hardy.  We’ll see.

Learning #2:  those beach pebbles weigh a TONNE.  If you ever want to take on a project like this, make sure you have an extra set of hands to help lift the bags those suckers come in.  And you’ll need more than you think.  We used about 4 1/2 bags for this small space (maybe 2×6 feet).

It was nice to improve our curb appeal just a little.  Or maybe it’s just front-door appeal?  It’s nice to come home to either way.  It also temporarily satisfies my dream to re-do our landscaping all around the house.  I’d love to do something more angular and modern, and have been scouring the interwebs for ideas.

Sources (clockwise from top left): The Lovely Plants, Houzz, The Brick House, Japanese Trash

Raw steel, grasses, succulents, cacti, agaves, architectural pottery, pristine new pavers, and hanging chairs.  WANT.  Ugh.

A complete re-do is a long term project that I’m working on, as I’ll need a professional to do it.  Terraforming on a larger scale than this weekend is beyond my physical powers.  For now, I’ll enjoy my horsetails when I come home at the end of the day.

diy projects weekend

weekend project: staghorn fern mount

April 8, 2013

Hello all [four readers]!  You’re probably wondering what I was up to this weekend.  Dying to know!  I get it!

Before I get to the pretty below, it must be noted that the major time-suck this weekend was due to my abrupt realization that we absolutely need to power-wash our concrete patio slabs.  Which we did.  For a number of hours on Saturday.  To not entirely satisfying effect.

Our concrete is the original and it’s looking rough these days.  After a winter under a layer of algae, the concrete in the atrium is now pock-marked with black spots that refuse to be removed.  Now that I have grossed you out, let’s move on!


closeup of fern fronds


I FINALLY got around to mounting my staghorn fern.  It’s been growing like crazy, but sadly still in its original green plastic pot from the nursery.  This meant I needed to built a mount for it.  Fun times!

A week or so ago I picked up a scrap of plywood from the hardware store and decided to sacrifice one of our tomato stakes for this project.  After some sawing and drilling, I had a simple mounting board assembled.  Last weekend I picked up a fancy package of sphagnum moss at Paxton Gate (we happened to be in the city, and everything at Paxton Gate is so delightfully weird that I couldn’t resist.)  I later found that a very similar sphagnum moss is available at our local Ace (which I love!) for about half the price.

To mount the fern onto the board, I followed Apartment Therapy’s how-to but was not entirely convinced about having fishing line and a few nails supporting the fern.  After packing the moss and wrapping it with fishing line, I grabbed a square of burlap and stapled a skirt on this guy, to add more support.  It even has a little fringe.  Hey, maybe this fern likes skirts.  And fringes.  Don’t judge.

burlap cloth over fern roots

It’s looking much more dignified than it was in its plastic pot, sitting on my bathroom floor, occasionally being kicked over, and spilling its dirt.  Oh!  
I’m happy with how it turned out, even with the extra burlap.  And the fern looks happy too.  Awww.
diy hobby room lighting projects weekend

weekend project: sconces in the hobby room

March 27, 2013
wood paneled room

I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this room for just about 2 years now.  It is starting to come together and I’m pretty excited.  You can check out the previous incarnations of my plans for it here and here, … oh and here!

I love the mahogany walls.  But they make this, hands down, the gloomiest room in the house.  Those walls = love + gloom.  SIGH.

To try and bring the 2+ years of over-thinking to a close, I did seek professional help whilst attending AB Chao’s Dewit Design Camp last year.  AB very helpfully suggested sconces on either side of the sofa.  And since this is going to be a man-cave no matter what, we decided it had at least be a very well-lit man-cave.  I’ve been hunting and scheming ever since.

My first attempt back in January involved George Nelson Bubble lamps since I wanted maximum un-gloominess.  They were pricey and very, very pretty but they were just… not…. right.  Not enough light and weirdly too large for the room.

I think I knew all along.  What I really wanted to try were silver-tipped bulbs in super-simple sconces.  Like these from The Brick House.  Or perhaps a bit more sleek and modern, like the Artemide Teti in black, which turns out to be really hard to find.

I was worried that the sconces might just light up part of the walls, which absorb all light like giant, mahogany sponges.  However, with DWR refund now in hand, I figured I could do this for much less than the Bubbles, and make them custom.  Custom = so much more fun!

light fixture on wall

Cute, right?

They may be wee, but they are bright.  And I am quite happy with how they turned out.  They fit in really well with the aesthetic of the room.

light fixture off and on

Here are the goods required:

supplies to make the lamp
(Clockwise: cloth-covered cord, silver-tip bulb, offset plug, on-cord switch, back
 plate, ceramic lightholder. Maybe $50 total. I think the bulb was the priciest thing here, at $8.)

The offset plugs are great for plugging in behind the sofa, allowing us to push the sofa up against the wall without worrying about cords getting mashed, as they do.

offset plug detail

Of course, we triple-tested everything we wired using the multi-meter that Dave got for Christmas.  Because we are NERDS.

metal plate attached to wall

I drilled through the lip of the metal back plate (the hole is visible at the bottom).  With a regular drill, which required some patience/foolhardiness.  I kept it as just a hole rather than a notch in the edge of the plate, for reasons I can’t quite explain.  A notch would have made assembly SO much easier (no threading of cord through the hole).

Also, gloss spray paint on ceramic looks surprisingly OK:

ceramic socket attached to metal plate

Basic how-to:
  1. Paint.  I used spray primer and then with gloss black spray paint.
  2. Drill holes in the metal back plates to accommodate cord.
  3. Mount back plates to wall.  We used a laser level to make sure they lined up.
  4. Wire and assemble!*

I found most of my materials at the local hardware store and ordered some cloth-covered cord from Grand Brass.  The silver-tipped bulbs are from 1000 Bulbs.

*Disclaimer: I am not an electrician so assemble at your own risk. The ceramic lightholders are meant to be mounted on top of electrical boxes. I can report no electrical fires so far.

As a fun bonus, in the process of putting up the lights, I mocked up my whole vision for the wall using masking tape.  You really don’t need to see a picture of that since it was quite hastily done and very lopsided.  Trust me.  Upshot:  Now I know that I want a 4×5’ piece of art.  That should be both affordable and really easy to find, right?

While I ponder that, please enjoy this gratuitous shot of Winston appreciating the room, post-lamp-installation:

small dog on sofa

All photos by Karolina Buchner