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Starting hardscape renovation


quaman58

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Hey all, 

We purchased our home in 2002, and started doing some landscaping within the first year or so after that. Our backyard is on a slope, which creates a nice landscaping effect, but which is much more difficult to maintain. At the time, I had a lot more time and energy than I had money, so I set about creating two horizontal pathways (razorbacks), one halfway up the hill, and one nearly at the top. On the high side of the upper one I used railroad ties that I “stabbed “ vertically in the dirt to create a bit of a planter bed on the high side. On the middle path, I did something similar, but used all the large rocks that I’ve been digging up throughout the yard. Railroad ties steps then ran up either side of the yard for access. Anyway, that was the basic layout, and it served us reasonably well for the better part of 20 years. However, over time the maintenance issues were becoming a bit difficult. Plus, it was not very easily assessable to people who did not know where to step. That became abundantly clear when we had a palm Society meeting here a couple years ago. I had this beautiful jungle growing, but I felt like people were kind of taking their life in their hands going up the hillside, especially some of the older members. (Getting there myself, ha ha.) So I started reaching out to contractors to help me make some of the features more permanent, and easy to access. That was easier said than done. The “forest“ is a pretty mature one, and as you might guess, there are roots everywhere, making digging a real problem. Some guys didn’t want to touch it, which I could understand. But I was persistent, and found a company that seem to understand my vision. The space they have to work in is very limited, and everything, I mean everything, has to be done by hand. But thus far, the owner of the company and the crew on the ground have been just exceptional. They are very aware of the value (at least to me) of some of the plants here, so have been extraordinarily careful. Anyway, they’ll probably be here for another month anyway. And I thought I would document it as I go. Thanks for looking!

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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I was stunned at how fast these guys were able to trench through all those roots. Basically two days they had trenched for both walls. We opted to use Keystone blocks, as less of a “footing“ would be required. Had we concrete walls, code would’ve dictated just a huge amount of excavation. We just didn’t have the space for it unless we wanted to lose a bunch of mature palms. 

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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This is the middle wall that had rocks supporting the soil on the high side. 

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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These guys are super creative as well about how to get soil out of there as efficiently as possible. They made dirt slides on the fly, emptying into wheelbarrels, which they were then wheelbarrow down the hill, where they had removed railroad ties. Then onto ramps, which they made, and out into the front yard for disposal. 

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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10 hours ago, quaman58 said:

This is the middle wall that had rocks supporting the soil on the high side. 

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Cool! Keep us updated. Uh, what's that beverage? 

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Zone 6b maritime climate

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I too have a sloped yard a realized that it needed terracing. Unfortunately, red clay is not as easy to dig as your soil. 

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4 hours ago, Leelanau Palms said:

Cool! Keep us updated. Uh, what's that beverage? 

I’m sure it was an IPA of some description. . Gotta stay hydrated! 😁

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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Putting in a foot of crushed aggregate for the base. 3 yards hauled up the hill in buckets. Compacted, leveled and “stepped “ where needed, as the yard also slopes right to left.

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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On 2/17/2024 at 4:06 PM, quaman58 said:

 

We purchased our home in 2002, and started doing some landscaping within the first year or so after that. Our backyard is on a slope, which creates a nice landscaping effect, but which is much more difficult to maintain. At the time, I had a lot more time and energy than I had money, so I set about creating two horizontal pathways (razorbacks), one halfway up the hill, and one nearly at the top. On the high side of the upper one I used railroad ties that I “stabbed “ vertically in the dirt to create a bit of a planter bed on the high side.

You will definitely appreciate what you are doing now Bret.  We bought our Carlsbad house in 1996, and had the lower wall terrace on our back hill slope, but nothing else.  I ended up adding a second low retainer part way up the hill and doing concrete steps to get up to a walkway 3/4's of the way up and started replanting about the time you bought your house.  The first 6 years it was a bit more primitive before we did the second tier wall.  I didn't have the challenge that you do, of having valuable palms to work around.   I was ripping out the queens in the early 2000's to replace with my new finds after we did that second retaining wall.  I guess the bottom line advice we both have to offer is always think about both the hardscape and your key plant features when working with a new garden,  then do the hardscape first.

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33.0782 North -117.305 West  at 72 feet elevation

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Block wall in the making!!

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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6 hours ago, Tracy said:

You will definitely appreciate what you are doing now Bret.  We bought our Carlsbad house in 1996, and had the lower wall terrace on our back hill slope, but nothing else.  I ended up adding a second low retainer part way up the hill and doing concrete steps to get up to a walkway 3/4's of the way up and started replanting about the time you bought your house.  The first 6 years it was a bit more primitive before we did the second tier wall.  I didn't have the challenge that you do, of having valuable palms to work around.   I was ripping out the queens in the early 2000's to replace with my new finds after we did that second retaining wall.  I guess the bottom line advice we both have to offer is always think about both the hardscape and your key plant features when working with a new garden,  then do the hardscape first.

Thanks for the encouragement, Tracy, I know what you mean.. would’ve been much easier for me to do it prior to the landscaping!

Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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What a massive undertaking! Good on you for forging ahead despite the obvious difficulty. The results in the post above are quite impressive and very attractive. Great visual tutorial of the value of doing the hardscape work BEFORE planting. Also applies to any necessary irrigation..

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Kim Cyr

Between the beach and the bays, Point Loma, San Diego, California USA
and on a 300 year-old lava flow, Pahoa, Hawaii, 1/4 mile from the 2018 flow
All characters  in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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wow this is so awesome bret.  i have been following your posts for about 15 years and always admired your specimen palms.  thank you for documenting.  

quick question, i see those keystone blocks being laid with a base layer and some rebar sticking out of the base layer .... does the rebar in some places continue up to the top of the top plate of the wall ... im just trying to see how the wall is being tied in vertically to keep it stable and not jut forward from the shear force of the upper terrace.  

in any case, very cool hardscape.  alas, when we all purchased our home, we had not the funds or the knowledge to see the grandeur of our ultimate vision. (at least for me)  😁

 

man ... look at them roots!!!  very established garden to say the least.  :)  

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My Santa Clarita Oasis

"delectare et movere"

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Yay Bret!! Love to see this, but I have the same question Tin does. Is there something to tie into the hill horizontally?

 

Seeing this makes me smile that someday I will do hardscape here...

 

Zone 10a at best after 2007 AND 2013, on SW facing hill, 1 1/2 miles from coast in Oceanside, CA. 30-98 degrees, and 45-80deg. about 95% of the time.

"The great workman of nature is time."   ,  "Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience."

-George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon-

I do some experiments and learning in my garden with palms so you don't have to experience the pain! Look at my old threads to find various observations and tips!

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Great to see the progress. Very educational. The jungle is quite impressive too.

Is this a Jubaea on the left?

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Woodville, FL

zone 8b

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Thanks for all the kind comments! I am pretty excited about finally being able to do this. Obviously, we’re starting at the top of the slope and working our way down. I’ll keep documenting as we go.
 

Kim,

I think someone posted the question a couple months ago on the forum, “what should be the first thing I should do while planning a garden?” That was an easy one to answer! 😁

Tin, 

good question about the Keystone blocks. It’s pretty interesting, the instructions call for a certain amount of compacted aggregate, and then the main blocks set dry on top of one another, with only the pins holding them into place. The caps themselves are glued on. This particular type of block is only good up to about 3 feet or so above the soil line. I actually asked the installers, “what keeps the whole wall from pitching forward overtime?“  Their response “weight”. And they aren’t kidding. For some reason I figured these blocks probably had the same weight as say a cinderblock might. But each one of these full-size blocks has to weigh at least 40 pounds. They are amazingly heavy. The guys spent two of the five days on this wall simply carrying individual blocks up the hill. Crazy. For what it’s worth, we will also be pouring concrete walkways at the base of each wall. So I certainly don’t see them going anywhere, at least in my lifetime.
 

Bill,

Yeah, this was a long time in the making. Once the hardscape is done, I really want to have somebody go through my entire irrigation, which I’ve never been terribly happy about. And then somebody that knows lighting. 

Lucas,

Good eye!! Funny story here. Up until about five years ago there were large pine trees growing on the opposite side of the fence in my neighbors yard. They sucked nearly all the water away and shaded anything I attempted to plant there and dropped acidic pine needles everywhere. Most everything I planted there languished, with the exception of a seed grown Jubea and a Livistona mariae. About six years ago the pine trees came out and anything that was hanging on in that little strip just exploded in growth. I had every intention of moving that Jubea before they got the wall built, but they got ahead of me. But it still has to come out. It’s base is about as big around as my leg is now. But I’ve heard they move okay, so now I’m just trying to figure out where I have space to put it elsewhere. But it can’t stay there obviously.

Thanks for looking, all!

 

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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7 hours ago, tinman10101 said:

wow this is so awesome bret.  i have been following your posts for about 15 years and always admired your specimen palms.  thank you for documenting.  

quick question, i see those keystone blocks being laid with a base layer and some rebar sticking out of the base layer .... does the rebar in some places continue up to the top of the top plate of the wall ... im just trying to see how the wall is being tied in vertically to keep it stable and not jut forward from the shear force of the upper terrace.  

in any case, very cool hardscape.  alas, when we all purchased our home, we had not the funds or the knowledge to see the grandeur of our ultimate vision. (at least for me)  😁

 

man ... look at them roots!!!  very established garden to say the least.  :)  

Sorry, I meant to add that you’re not looking at rebar there. What you’re looking at are metal stakes that simply are holding the plum line in that area. No rebar at all used..

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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5 minutes ago, quaman58 said:

Sorry, I meant to add that you’re not looking at rebar there. What you’re looking at are metal stakes that simply are holding the plum line in that area. No rebar at all used..

Wow Bret.  So just based on the shear weight of the blocks is what is stabilizing the vertical stress forces of the wall.  That sounds pretty cool and doesn't even look like they use mortar.  

I would think they would use some tiebacks for shoring but was just curious.  Possibly because the vertical height of your wall is at threshold for this type of brick.  Thank you for the reply.  

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My Santa Clarita Oasis

"delectare et movere"

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That came out very nicely. I’m sure it will make your jungle much more accessible. Harry

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey Bret, looks fantastic! You’re probably so glad to finally have the project finished and how terrific it turned out. 

I had no idea how mature your garden was, (although I should have deduced as much), and how large some of the specimens are. Catching glimpses from the photos added to the hardscape impact. 

Now, grab a comfy chair, pop a top, and enjoy.

Tim

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Tim

Hilo, Hawaii

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Thanks Tim! Still got a ways to go yet. Got both pathways formed and just waiting for decent weather to pour. Then it’s on to stairs, and, and… Guess I’m not retiring any time soon. :) 

 

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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Years ago I hauled up some blue granite rocks that we had gotten in another part of the county and used them for steps up a fairly steep last bit of grade. They’re so dang heavy that I decided to keep that little short walkway using them. Now we’re just trying to figure out a good transition between them and the concrete at the upper and lower landing areas. Thanks again for looking, more to come!

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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Looks great Bret, big time job. Can't wait to have a cold one on the new pathways!

Randy

 

Beaumont, Ca. In the wind tunnel between Riverside and Palm Springs.

USDA 9B , Sunset Zone 18, Elevation 2438'

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Thanks Randall, looking forward to it!

Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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Thanks for taking the time to post these updates and pictures. Really cool stuff and it’s looking incredible. 

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On 3/3/2024 at 2:21 PM, quaman58 said:

Years ago I hauled up some blue granite rocks that we had gotten in another part of the county and used them for steps up a fairly steep last bit of grade. They’re so dang heavy that I decided to keep that little short walkway using them. Now we’re just trying to figure out a good transition between them and the concrete at the upper and lower landing areas. Thanks again for looking, more to come!

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perhaps if you can find more in smaller pieces (or flagstone in similar colors), i would see if you can lay them into the poured concrete and dissipate to smaller and more spread out pieces as it move away from the steps.  kinda hard to visualize but similar to laying flagstone or rock into concrete at the base of the steps and then let is blend out with smaller more scattered pieces as it moves away.  just a suggestion.  of course a mock up would be necessary before actually taking that step.  

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My Santa Clarita Oasis

"delectare et movere"

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  • 4 weeks later...

Happy Easter, everyone. Definitely been a little bit of a slowdown in progress, particularly with all the weather that we’ve had here lately. But in order not to get too far behind, here’s the progress we’ve made in the last three weeks or so. Both the middle and upper horizontal paths have been poured. The idea once we get everything taken care of is to have them stained, or “antiqued“ a bit. The ideas to get all the hard scape, including rocks, the wall, the path somewhere in a “familial” color palette has to not distract from the jungle look.
 

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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We found a stamping pattern that we really liked. We have fossil seashells and things like that throughout all the rocks in the backyard, so I thought this would be pretty cool.

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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@quaman58 The hardscaping that is done at this point looks incredible!  Nice work and keep going!

Lakeland, FL

USDA Zone 1990: 9a  2012: 9b  2023: 10a | Sunset Zone: 26 | Record Low: 20F/-6.67C (Jan. 1985, Dec.1962) | Record Low USDA Zone: 9a

30-Year Avg. Low: 30F | 30-year Min: 24F

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We originally had Railwood tie steps, going up either side side of the yard to reach the upper area. They’re just about forming one side and have the basic layout of the other side, ready to go. Hopefully we can figure out the transitions to the lower portion of the yard and get things poured as early as this week. Fingers crossed. Thanks again for looking!

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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3 minutes ago, kinzyjr said:

@quaman58 The hardscaping that is done at this point looks incredible!  Nice work and keep going!

Thanks Kinzy! Too late to back out now, ha ha

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Bret

 

Coastal canyon area of San Diego

 

"In the shadow of the Cross"

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Looks great Bret, can't wait to see it all finished!

Randy

 

Beaumont, Ca. In the wind tunnel between Riverside and Palm Springs.

USDA 9B , Sunset Zone 18, Elevation 2438'

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Wow Bret. Those steps are gonna be killer. We all anticipate the final results of this massive undertaking. 

My Santa Clarita Oasis

"delectare et movere"

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