How to Plant up an area with grown cover shrubs

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Merveille Sanguine'
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Merveille Sanguine’

The secret to making a low maintenance garden border is to start off with no perennial weeds, after that the maintenance is no worse than a lawn in the first couple of years and far less thereafter. When creating a border most people make the mistake of making it too narrow, a 300mm (1 foot) deep border will just not work. If that’s all you can manage your better off with climbers or wall shrubs. 1.5 to 2 metres (5ft to 6ft 6inches) is the sort of depth you should be aiming for, not all gardens may be able to accommodate this but the closer you can stretch to this the better. In a very small garden you may do better having one deep border at the bottom of the garden and climbers and wall shrubs on the other walls.

Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)
Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)

Once you’ve chosen your area you need to remove any perennial weeds before you start to plant. Removing them once the plants are in and growing is far harder and the reason many peoples’ borders fail to work. Weeds like couch (Elymus repens ), ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) have a spreading root which can quickly grows through the root ball of newly planted shrubs making the weeds extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to get rid of. Where the area is an established lawn these weeds will have not been able to become established because of the regular mowing. Here the grass can be stripped off but some weeds will be left behind such as dandelions (Taraxacum species) with their deep tap-root. The most reliable way is to kill off all the vegetation with a glyphosate weed killer (sold as Roundup, Gallup and other brand names). Leave the weeds to die down, this

Elymus repens (Couch grass).
Elymus repens (Couch grass).

can take a week or two and then turn the ground over with a garden fork, removing any roots and large stones. If the border is edged by a lawn, tidy up the edge to form a clean line and spread 25 to 50 mm (1 or 2 inches) of organic matter and use a garden fork to combine it into the soil. If the soil is very sticky with clay, mix some sharp grit (about 1 to 4mm) to open the soil up making it better draining, easier to work and with more air in it.

The source of the organic matter is not important so long as it’s free from contamination and weeds, your choice can be bases on price and availability. Well-rotted garden compost is ideal but few gardens have a large supply of it, peat was the traditional alternative and although it is a good soil improver these days its environmental cost makes it undesirable. Many councils now sell recycled waste as compost and these are normally well made, just don’t pay a premium for an “organic” label it does make the compost any better; just allows the seller to claim a higher price! If you live in a rural area you may be able to get farm yard manure and if rotted down this is very good, but in practice farms don’t want to leave the manure heaped up for a year or two to rot down so if you are going to use it you may have to except you must leave it to rot down before you can use it or the rotting straw can soak up any available nitrogen.

Photinia 'Red Robin'
Photinia ‘Red Robin’

You are now ready to plant the border. Choose shrubs which have a good dense canopy of leaves in summer so they smother any weeds before they can become established. Being evergreen is not important in this context as weeds germinate doing spring and summer, but some will provide some interest during the winter. Try not to focus on what’s in flower at the time as you want as long a period of interest as possible and bear in mind foliage lasts a lot longer than flowers. When walking around the nursery or garden centre make use of the labels and staff, if they’re not helpful go somewhere else! A good supplier will take pride in their stock and gave a good knowledge of it. Deciding how far apart the plants should be is tricky and it can be very difficult to visualise how big a plant will be in a few years’ time. The tendency is to over plant, especially in small areas so have a look at the label and ask if in doubt. Also bear in mind a 1.8 metre (6 foot) high plant is generally going to end up as wide as it is high.

Skimmia japonica 'Bowles's Dwarf'
Skimmia japonica ‘Bowles’s Dwarf’

Once you made your choice and paid for them pack them in your car carefully, DO NOT have them sticking out of sunroofs and windows, they will travel perfectly well laid on their sides; even if some end up gently laid on top of one another. When home get them out of the car as soon as possible, stand them in a sheltered corner and water them well. Like this, so long as they are keep watered they will be fine for up to a week if you run out of time.

Planting can be done on any frost free dry day and start by setting out your plants in their intended positions. Now is the time to make any last-minute adjustments to the arrangement before planting.

Viburnum davidii
Viburnum davidii

To plant use a garden spade to dig a hole larger than the plant pot, remove the pot, place the plant in the hole and firm the soil back around the root ball with your heel, making sure the top of the compost is level with the border soil. To remove the pot grasp the plant where it emerges from the compost and give the rim of the pot a firm tap with the palm of the hand. After all the plants are in rake over the surface to tidy up and water the plants really well, in part to settle the soil in around the root ball.

Give the borders a quick check over once a week for any weeds emerging, and remove them; most weeks there will be nothing to do and the next spring feed them with a general fertilizer.

How to build a sleeper raised bed

As well as retaining walls timber sleepers can be used to create raised beds. A great variety of shapes can be created using these, but the shape of the sleepers only really work well with shapes based on right-angles. This though still provides great scope by interlocking  the basic squares and rectangles,  and varying the height of different sections.

Materials:

  • New railway sleepers
  • 200mm/8 inch Timberloc screws or similar
  • Granular sub-base
  • Battery drill/driver
  • Circular saw with at least a 65mm/2½ inches max. depth of cut
  • Sledge hammer
  • Topsoil

Method:

 

  1. Mark out the outside edge of the raised bed
  2. Dig out the strip of ground the sleepers are going to sit on, making it 50mm/2 inches wider than the sleepers.

    The base dug out for the sleepers.
    The base dug out for the sleepers.
  3. Level the base of the trench with a minimum of 50mm/2 inches of granular sub-base and tamp it down with the head of the sledge hammer.

    The sub-base foundation for the base of the planter.
    The sub-base foundation for the base of the planter.
  4. Lay the bottom course of sleepers in place, leaving a 25mm/1 inch drainage gap between the ends.

    The first whole sleepers laid to form the bottom course.
    The first whole sleepers laid to form the bottom course.
  5. Level this course by adjusting the sub-base under them and knocking them down with the sledge hammer.

    The first course of the planter with the cut sleepers fitted in.
    The first course of the planter with the cut sleepers fitted in.
  6. Lay the next course on top of first making sure to overlap the joints and butting the ends up close together.

    The second course of sleepers.
    The second course of sleepers.
  7. Secure the two courses together with the Timberloc screws, making sure all the pieces are screwed together.
  8. Lay the next course on top, screw down and repeat until the desired height is reached.

    The first four courses of sleepers.
    The first four courses of sleepers.
  9. Fill with topsoil.

    The completed raised bed filled with topsoil.
    The completed raised bed filled with topsoil.

How to fix trellis to a wall

Fixing trellis onto a wall.
Fixing trellis onto a wall.

Trellis is a very effective way of training climbers against a wall and can either be bought or made from scratch. Fixing it to the wall though can present problems but with a little care result can be both durable and effective.

Equipment:

  • Drill driver
  • Heavy duty SDS masonry drill and bit
  • Plastic wall plugs
  • Wood-screws
  • Spirit level
  • Claw hammer

Method:

  1. Choose a wood-screw about 50 mm thicker than the trellis, more if the wall is rendered, and some plastic wall plugs recommended for the size of the wood-screws.
  2. Fit the masonry drill with a bit the recommended size for the wall plugs, you may want to hire a drill in (a 4 Kg drill which takes SDS drill bits will be sufficiently large).
  3. Position the trellis where you plan to have it and drill through the trellis into the wall. Chose a place half way across the trellis and near the top. Always aim for the centre of a brick or stone, avoid mortar joints.
  4. Move the trellis and tap a wall plug into the drilled hole. Put the trellis back and thread a wood-screw through the hole you drilled in the trellis and into the wall plug. Tap the screw head to start it off and drive it almost home with the drill driver. Check the trellis is level and vertical, the first screw will support it, and tighten the screw until it is flush with the trellis surface.
  5. Drill a second hole through the trellis vertically below the first and near the bottom; checking the trellis is still level and vertical. Push a plug into the hole, there is no need to move the trellis, and use a wood-screw and hammer to drive the plug into the wall until you feel the screw bite into the plug. Tighten the screw with the drill driver.
  6. Carry on repeating the process in part 5 above so that the trellis is screwed to the wall every 600 to 900 mm, checking the trellis is firmly attached to the wall.

How to make trellis

All of the pieces of the trellis in place and showing some of the screws which hold it together.
All of the pieces of the trellis in place and showing some of the screws which hold it together.

Trellis can be purchased ready made from garden centres and DIY stores but it is in a limited range of sizes, you only have one spacing for the lathes and it is often quite light weight. A far better way is to make it yourself from pressure treated timber and you can chose any sizes and the spacing of the lathes. Closer together for more screening or to provide a wind break they can be spaced to give you the 50% optimal permeability.

Materials:

  • 50 mm x 25 mm Tannalised softwood (tile lathe)
  • Wood saw
  • Battery drill/driver
  • 40mm x 3.5 mm countersunk woodscrews
  • Tape measure
  • Set square or combination square

Method:

  1. Decide on the overall height and width of the trellis panel.
  2. Enter the dimensions into the table below.
  3. Adjust the the spacing of the lathes to get the spacing you would like. For a wind break a trellis density of about 50% is idea.
  4. Cut the length shown at the bottom of the table.
  5. If you plan to stain the trellis do it now before you assemble it.
  6. First vertical pieces of the trellis.
    First vertical pieces of the trellis.

    Take two of the pieces which are to be the vertical parts of the trellis on a level surface the width of the trellis apart.

  7. First horizontal pieces added to the trellis.
    First horizontal pieces added to the trellis.

    Connect the ends with two of the horizontal, fixing them with width a wood screw.

  8. Trellis showing the first intermediate verticals being added.
    Trellis showing the first intermediate verticals being added.
    Trellis with all the vertical pieces in place.
    Trellis with all the vertical pieces in place.

    Arrange the remaining vertical pieces under the horizontal pieces attached in part 7 above.

  9. The spacer piece used to set the gap between the pieces of wood.
    The spacer piece used to set the gap between the pieces of wood.

    Cut a piece of wood the length of the distance between the vertical pieces and use it to space them. Adjust if necessary and secure to the top and bottom pieces by screwing through them into the ends of the vertical pieces.

  10. The trellis showing the first horizontal pieces in place with screws.
    The trellis showing the first horizontal pieces in place with screws.
    All of the pieces of the trellis in place and showing some of the screws which hold it together.
    All of the pieces of the trellis in place and showing some of the screws which hold it together.

    Arrange the horizontal pieces between the top and bottom pieces, spacing them with a piece of wood as in part 8 above and secure them at ever intersection.

The different parts of the trellis which relate to the form for working out the spacing and quantities.
The different parts of the trellis which relate to the form for working out the spacing and quantities.

Vertical Lathe Spacing

Overall width of the trellis (a): mm

Width of vertical lathes (b): mm

Number of vertical lathes (c):

Gap between the vertical lathe (d):
mm

Horizontal Lathe Spacing

Overall Height of the trellis (e): mm

Width of horizontal lathes (f): mm

Number of horizontal lathes (g):

Gap between the horizontal lathe (h):
mm

Trellis density:
% (The higher the density the less you will see though the trellis.)

Cutting list:

  • vertical lathes
    mm long
  • horizontal lathes
    mm long

 

How to choose paving materials for your garden

Block paving detail at Blois France
Block paving detail at Blois France

With the vast range of possible paving materials, it can feel a bit daunting when you first start looking at paving materials. To try to reduce the selection down to a more manageable size, it is well to consider the practicalities imposed on you by what you are planning to use the paving for. You can then check how much of each type you are hoping to use, compare the costs of using different materials and if need adjust your plans.

Though there is considerable overlap; the uses for paving in a garden can be divided into four main categories: drives, patios, paths and utility areas.

Drives

When choosing a material for a drive the first consideration must be what will
happily withstand having a car regularly driven over it and parked on it. The second consideration, is that for many people it will be the first thing visitors see of their home though quiet a lot of the time most of it may be hidden under a car. How suitable a paving material for a drive will also be effected by how it is laid. No material if the base under it is too soft will support a car but materials like domestic 35mm paving flags, which would not normally support a car, may if laid onto concrete. Once you have eliminated the impractical options the choice comes down to cost and personal preference. Please note if you paving an area of your front garden planning permission may be needed.

Patios

Flags and cobble path at Robin Hoods Bay
Flags and cobble path at Robin Hoods Bay

Whereas a drive is something you park a car on, a patio can be a major feature of a garden and so your budget should try to reflect that. The important thing is that it forms an attractive feature and not a slab of paving. So break up the area by mixing different sizes of flags and/or using a mix of materials. You often see paving broken up with planting pockets; this is rarely successful with the plants getting stood on and heels and chair legs dropping down the planting pockets.

Paths

The idea of a garden path is as old as the garden itself, but a path has to have a purpose. And that will influence the materials used. If the path for instance, is going to be in a vegetable garden, where you are stepping on and off the path onto the bare soil you are going to have problems if you use gravel. Every time to step from one to the other soil and gravel will be transferred from one to the other; ending up with a muddy path you can’t clean. On the other hand, an informal path winding along the edge a border it is going to be difficult to achieve with square and rectangular flags and runs the risk of looking messy if its full of cut bits of flags.

Utility areas

Most gardens have some area dedicated to the necessary but unattractive bits of a garden where things such as the shed live. Here the importance has to be the functionality of the material. Something that is cheap, durable and easy to clean. A smooth flag is a lot easier to sweep clean than a riven one and a plain concrete slab, though unattractive, leaves few gaps for weeds to grow through.

Paving materials

Brick path detail
Brick path detail

The trick when designing your paving is to make it blend into the surrounds while adding to them. To do this you are free to use every trick in the book. You can use materials which contrast with their surrounding or complement them but care should be taken when trying to match materials as a bad match will be the worst scenario. Nor should you restrict yourself to just one material as mixing in an additional material is a very good way to break up areas of paving and differentiation between different areas. Just don’t overdo it!

Below I’ve put together a table of most of the paving/drive materials currently available, the list though is not exhaustive. The cost column is really only to give a very broad indication of the relative expense involved in using different ones The exact cost would depend on many factors including site conditions and how much if any of the work was undertaken on a DIY basis.

Paving Materials 

MATERIAL COST ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES
Bark Low Low cost
Flexible
Soft
Water permeable
Can look very effective in informal areas
Tends to spread about
Needs edging
Gravel Low Low cost
Flexible
Comes in a very wide variety of colours and shapes
Water permeable
Tends to move about
Needs edging
If too soft it will quickly disintegrate
Only suitable for level areas
Plain concrete flags Low to medium Low cost
Readily available
Provides a smooth surface
Does not need pointing
Good under sheds and for utility areas
Visually unattractive

Very heavy

Coloured concrete flags Low to medium Low Cost
Readily available
Provides a smooth surface
Do not need pointing
Visually unattractive
Very heavy
Colours fade – particularly reds
Budget riven flags Low to medium Low cost
More attractive than plain flags
Do not need pointing
Not as attractive as the more expense flags
Limited range of colours and sizes
Poor finish
Limited range of patterns
Premium riven flags Medium Very wide range to choose from
Large range of flags shapes and sizes
Can be as expensive as imported flags
Care needed to ensure they are laid with the correct fall
Limited life
Imported stone flags Medium Almost limitless life
Very hard wearing
Cost is equivalent to/or less than premium man-made flags
Needs a diamond blade to cut them
Brittle so hard to work
Block paving Medium to high Very wide range of colours and patterns
Very hard wearing
Small size makes them very flexible
Must be securely edged
Red ones fade
Large areas can look like a car park even if it’s not
Cannot be cleaned by pressure washing
The surface must be 600mm above the water table
Stone setts High Hard to very hard wearing
Small size makes them very flexible
Difficult to lay
Need a very solid base
Expensive
Need to be pointed
New sandstone flags High Almost limitless life
Natural product
Very attractive
Heavy
Expensive
Requires skill to be laid well
Reclaimed sandstone flags Very high Almost limitless life
Laid well are very attractive
Particularly prone to becoming slippery
Very heavy
Very expensive
Require skill to lay them well
Mosaics High to very high Can look very attractive
Unusual
Requires a lot of skill
Sandstone crazy paving Medium Flexible
A cost effective alternative to sandstone flags
Needs skill to lay it well
Can be hard to source
Tarmac High Makes an excellent hard-wearing surface
Smooth
Flexible
Comes in a range of colours
Requires specialist skills to lay
Only practical if sufficiently large area
Must have a secure edging
Limited range of colours
Not very attractive
Cobble paving High Can look very good in the correct setting Hard to source good worn cobbles
Very uneven surface
Prone to being slippery
Requires a lot of skill to lay it well
Decking Medium Can be laid in a range of patterns
Comes in a range of finishes
Very good for levelling sloping sites
Flexible
Prone to being slippery
Limited life
Requires more maintenance
Needs to be lifted off the ground
Any decking surface over 300mm above the ground level requires permission from your local authority
Concrete slab Medium Smooth
Can be textured
Laid well it is very durable
Capable of supporting heavy loads
Very good for utility areas
Requires skill to lay
Large areas require good access
Difficult to make good if it is damaged
Large areas will crack if movement joints are built in
Pattern impressed concrete Medium Visually much better than plain concrete
Can be laid in a range of patterns and colours
It is only a surface treatment so prone to surface damage
Very difficult to make good if damaged
The colour will wear away where car wheels repeatedly run over it
Large areas will crack if movement joints are built in
Brick High Small units allow flexible designs
Small their small sizes make them good for small areas
Bricks must be carefully chosen because of the risk of frost damage
Skill required to lay
Reinforced grass Medium Provides a visually “soft” appearance
Water permeable
Only really suitable for car parking or intensely used footpaths

How to take over an established garden

Over grown garden near Scotch Corner
Over grown garden near Scotch Corner

Most people when they buy a new house find they are taking over an existing garden and this will present certain challenges; you have, after all, bought their house not their tastes. It is therefore inevitable not everything in the garden you are going to like and/or want. It is reasonable to assume on first moving in that the garden will not be your most pressing concern, so we need to start by prioritising. The first thing to consider is what is the time of year, mid-winter little is happening in the garden but in the height of summer any lawn will be growing fast so you are going to need to cut it once a week and if there is a pond it needs to be kept topped up and any filter maintained. The rest of the garden should survive all right with the exception of any plants in a greenhouse. If its summer and you’re pushed for time the easiest thing to do is to take them out of the greenhouse, up them with any other plants in pots and keep them watered.

The next stage is to have a really good look around your new garden; you should have plenty of opportunities to do this while escaping the paint fumes. What do you like, dislike or simply don’t understand. Look where gets the sun and when, are you over looked and to what extent; most gardens will be overlooked by some bedroom windows but in practice people spend little time looking out of their bedroom windows – so they are not as much of a problem as a kitchen or sitting room window. While you’re at it consider which plants you like and how much space large plants are occupying, but don’t be too quick to condemn; that large bush could be there to hide an eyesore.

One of the problems with plants is that you are not really aware of them growing; they kind of do it sneakily behind you back, so you just don’t notice how big they are getting. This is where the new home owner’s fresh pair of eyes comes as a big advantage. Have a good dig, metaphorically speaking, in the back of borders; you could be surprised what you find. If nothing else, you may well find a lot of underused space. While you’re at it take a good look at the trees in the garden because if these need attention now is the time to do it.

Are the trees appropriate for the garden? Are they going to, or have they got, too big for the garden? If you have large mature trees in the garden do they need a professional to look them over to check they are safe? If the trees need any major work it will both create a lot of upheaval and dramatically change the garden so it’s best to get it done as soon as is practical. Beware there are many very good professional arboriculturist (tree surgeons) but sadly there are also a lot of butchers out there. So check they have a proper formal training, carry appropriate insurance, get more than one written quotation and remember if a price sounds too cheap, and tree work isn’t, be suspicious! One common tree problem is people buy Christmas trees with the roots on and then come the New Year can’t bring them to throw away a living tree they’ve spent the holidays keeping alive. Then comes the problem of what to do with it, so it gets planted in a corner of the garden. This all sounds nice and remarkably quite a few of these Christmas leftovers survive, looking quite nice tucked in the border. The problem is the type of trees sold as Christmas trees are the type that grow quickly into big trees, which makes sense if you’re trying to produce trees that are sellable at the best price. You can probably see where this is going, they sit quietly at the back of the border growing! These are not a good choice for a domestic garden. People get attached to trees. So you soon end up with what is in effect a large and growing arboreal pet in the garden. I’m afraid the only realistic solution is to remove it before it gets any more of a problem, or more expensive to remove.

Having got a rough idea of what you’ve inherited sit down with a pencil and plenty of paper, draw on the boundaries and the house, and anything you want to keep. Don’t worry about being too accurate, just get your thoughts down on and try different ideas out. There may well be a number of things you decide you would like to keep, some of them it may turn out are not practical to keep, and others you just don’t like. Don’t be afraid to change your mind; paper’s cheap, so try out different ideas.

While trying out ideas a few things to consider are:

  • Do you need space for parking?
  • What storage are you going to need?
  • Do you want to grow fruit or vegetables?
    • They need space and a sunny position.
    • They take time.
  • Are you going to sit out?
    • Ideally a patio should be a minimum of 5 metres by 4 metres if you are going to put a table and chairs on it.
    • It needs a sunny position.
    • If not near the house it needs good access between the two.
  • People rarely allow sufficient depth for borders – if space is limited wall shrubs and climbers may be a better option.
  • Many large shrubs will come away if cut hard back.
  • Have you the space and time for lawn?
  • Do you want a greenhouse?

 

Start with the things you feel are most important and place them, letting the other things fall in around them. You will undoubtedly have to compromise so it’s better to do so about the less important things.

Don’ be afraid to play about with ideas and take your time to decide what you want to keep, what has to go and what just need cutting back. Once you feel happy with your ideas be bold and start taking out what you don’t want. Once you start you will most likely make new discoveries and your plans will have to be adapted, but you will end up with YOUR garden.

How to build a free-standing timber pergola

Garden Pergola.
Garden Pergola.

Equipment:

  • 100 mm by 100 mm notched posts (4 inches by 4 inches)
  • 150 mm by 50 mm sawn and preservative treated timber (6 inches by 2 inches)
  • 100 mm by 50 mm sawn and preservative treated timber (4 inches by 2 inches)
  • String lines
  • Timber pegs or steel pins
  • 10 mm dowel or M10 coach bolts
  • A pair of sawhorses or similar to rest the post on
  • Handsaw
  • Carpenter’s or combination square
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
  • Drill
  • Large wood bit (about 20 mm or ¾ inches)
  • Sharp wood chisel and a hammer
  • Concrete or post mix
  • Tile lathe or scrap timber for bracing
  • Large square
  • Spade
  • Assorted nails
  • Spirit level

Summary:

  1. Check the site is level.
  2. Set up a parallel pair of lines the width of the pergola apart.
  3. Set up a line at 90° to these to mark the start of the pergola.
  4. Dig a pair of post holes where the lines cross.
  5. Prepare the post with a notch to take the top.
  6. Place the post in the first hole so that it is vertical and is next to the lines where they cross.
  7. Brace the post in place.
  8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 for the second post.
  9. Measure along the parallel lines to the place for the second pair of posts.
  10. Dig the post holes and repeat steps 5 to 8.
  11. Cut the first 2 horizontal beams to length and put them in the post notches.
  12. Secure the horizontals with 2 dowels or coach bolts through the posts.
  13. Fix the rafters above each pair of posts
  14. Re-check!
  15. Concrete the posts in place.
  16. Prepare your next pair of horizontals.
  17. Use them to check the place for the next pair of post holes and dig them.
  18. Set up the posts and horizontals and connect them with a rafter.
  19. Check the horizontals and rafters are level and the posts vertical.
  20. Concrete the posts in place.
  21. Repeat for the length of the pergola.
  22. Once you reach the end go back and put any intermediate posts and rafters in and check all the fixings are secure.

 

  1. Check the site is level.

It is very easy to be fooled into thinking an area is level when you look at it, but once you start building the pergola if the ground slopes you will soon find out and you can quickly find yourself in trouble. Carefully check using a level of some sort, a spirit level and a straight bit of wood will do, and then you can make allowance in your design. If needs be you can incorporate a step or steps into the top of the pergola. The important thing is to make sure that any part of the pergola you are going to walk over has sufficient head room. As a rule, you need 7.1 metres the surface you are walking on and the bottom of whatever you are walking under. Less and you will be fighting the urge to duck as you walk. Also work out how you are going to space out the post, sawn timber comes standard lengths and careful planning at this stage can prevent a lot of wastage.

  1. Set up a parallel pair of lines the width of the pergola apart.
The lines set out to mark the inside edge of the pergola posts.
The lines set out to mark the inside edge of the pergola posts.

Decide how wide you what the inside of the pergola to be, remember if you are going to grow plants up the sides they are quickly going to encroach into the space inside the pergola. Also consider how wide it needs to be to feel comfortable as you walk down inside. Once you are happy with the width, set out two lines that mark the inside edges of the pergola and walk down it to check the width works and that the position is what you want.

  1. Set up a line at 90° to these to mark the start of the pergola.
The cross line marking the outer edge of the first two posts and so the start of the pergola.
The cross line marking the outer edge of the first two posts and so the start of the pergola.

Chose where you are going to start the pergola and set up a line across the first two lines. Check this is at 90° to the first two with a large square and double check the first two lines are parallel.

  1. Dig a pair of post holes where the lines cross.
The holes dug for the first two pergola posts.
The holes dug for the first two pergola posts.

The two points the lines cross mark the inside corner of the first two posts. Dig holes for each of the posts making sure the posts will sit next to the lines but not pushing them out of line. The holes need to be at least 600 mm deep but no wider than necessary. You will need to pull the lines a little to the side while you dig the holes otherwise you will end up snapping the line. Just make sure to check the lines are still taught once you’ve finish digging the holes.

  1. Prepare the post with a notch to take the top.

Prepare the first two posts by making notches in their tops as shown in the post “How to notch the top of a post to take a 150 mm horizontal beam” .

  1. Place the post in the first hole so that it is vertical and is next to the lines where they cross.
The first pergola post placed in situ.
The first pergola post placed in situ.

The post must be vertical and next to but not actually touching the two lines so that they do not push the line out of line. Make sure the notches on the top of the post line up along the length of the pergola to take the horizontals. Also the post needs to be set so the bottom of the notch is same height as you want the underside of the horizontals to be. To make this easier fix a piece of scrap wood across the post at the ground level to support it. This stage is probably the hardest but if you don’t get it dead right you will never get the pergola right. So take your time and draft in any extra help you can.

  1. Brace the post in place.
The first pergola post braced.
The first pergola post braced.

Once you are happy brace the post in place with so bits of scrap wood. Make sure the post can’t move when you start placing the concrete around it. Once you start concreting in the post in if it moves you are going to have to take everything apart and dig the concrete back out as you will not be able to push it back in line.

  1. Repeat steps 5 to 7 for the second post.
The second pergola post braced in place.
The second pergola post braced in place.

Set up the other one of the first pair of posts and keep checking all the time to make sure the posts are vertical in both directions, the correct height and the correct distance apart. The pergola’s success will depend on how well you do this part as the rest of it builds off these posts.

  1. Measure along the parallel lines to the place for the second pair of posts.

Take care to avoid confusing the internal gap between posts and the spacing between the centres of the posts. Make sure you are on the same side of the line as the first posts.

  1. Dig the post holes and repeat steps 5 to 8.
The second pair of post holes dug.
The second pair of post holes dug.

Now dig the post holes, being careful not to damage the lines, and repeat the steps from 5 to 8 inclusive.

The second pair of pergola posts braced in place.
The second pair of pergola posts braced in place.
  1. Cut the first 2 horizontal beams to length and put them in the post notches.
The first pair of horizontals in place.
The first pair of horizontals in place.

The length horizontal should be the distance between the centres of the posts, half the width of the post plus any overhang, say 300 to 400 mm.

  1. Secure the horizontals with 2 dowels or coach bolts through the posts.

Place the horizontals in the notches so the ends are at the centre of the second pair of posts and secure them with two 10 mm bolts or dowels. Secure the horizontals to the first posts with another pair of bolts/dowels.

  1. Fix the rafters above each pair of posts
Pergola with the first two rafters in place ready for the posts to be concreted in place.
Pergola with the first two rafters in place ready for the posts to be concreted in place.

Fix a rafter cross each pair of posts using a 150 mm nail or landscaping screw. If using a nail pre-drill a hole for the nail through the rafter. This helps to keep the nail straight and makes it easier to drive in. This braces the two rows of posts. Make sure the posts are perfectly vertical before fixing the rafters. Typically, the rafters will over hang the outside of the posts by 300 or 400 mm.

  1. Re-check!

Go back and check everything that should be vertical is and anything that should be horizontal is. If it isn’t; do something about it! If you start with everything plumb and square is straight forward to keep it right, if you start out wrong you will NEVER get it right. Small errors can be corrected by adjusting the horizontals and rafters but if all else fails you may have to take a post down and redo it. This may seem drastic, but the alternative is it looking a mess for years to come.

  1. Concrete the posts in place.
Pergola with the first four posts concreted in place.
Pergola with the first four posts concreted in place.

Once you’re absolutely sure that everything is correct, this is no time for near enough, concrete in the first four posts. Don’t just chuck the concrete in! 40 or 50 kg of wet concrete landing on the side of a post, regardless of how well the post is braced, will move the post out of line. Place it a shovel full at a time around the post, checking as you go, and packing it round the post with a piece scrap wood or similar. The concrete can be mixed in the conventional way or one of the bagged post mix can be used. The former is cheaper but you need to leave it over night to develop sufficient strength, the latter is a lot easier to use and quicker as the concrete will have developed sufficient strength in minutes.

  1. Prepare your next pair of horizontals.

You should be able to get a horizontal to span two pair of posts so the length should be twice the distance between centres two posts.

  1. Use them to check the place for the next pair of post holes and dig them.

You can now use these to measure out the position of the next posts and dig the holes for them.

  1. Set up the posts and horizontals and connect them with a rafter.

Assemble this pair of posts, horizontals and rafters which will help to make sure everything is correctly braced and spaced.

  1. Check the horizontals and rafters are level and the posts vertical.

Make sure everything is horizontal, vertical, square and correctly spaced. If you don’t keep everything right you will end up in trouble.

  1. Concrete the posts in place.

    Pergola with the next pair of posts and horizontals in place.
    Pergola with the next pair of posts and horizontals in place.

Once you’re happy everything is correct carefully concrete in these post like the ones before.

  1. Repeat for the length of the pergola.
The full length of the pergola.
The full length of the pergola.

Now you just keep repeating the steps 16 to 20 until you reach the end of the pergola. Just keep checking that you’re keeping everything horizontal, vertical, square and correctly spaced. It’s a good idea to keep going back and checking what you’ve already done and take you time, don’t rush it.

  1. Once you reach the end go back and put any intermediate posts and rafters in and check all the fixings are secure.
The pergola with all the posts in place.
The pergola with all the posts in place.

Once you’ve got the basic structure up you can go back and fill in any intermediate posts and rafters and check all the fixings are secure.

The pergola with all the wood work in place.
The pergola with all the wood work in place.

How to notch the top of a post to take a 150mm horizontal beam

Equipment:

  • 100mm by 100mm post (4 inches by 4 inches)
  • A pair of sawhorses or similar to rest the post on
  • Handsaw
  • Carpenter’s or combination square
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
  • Drill
  • Large wood bit (about 20mm or ¾ inches)
  • Sharp wood chisel and a hammer

Summary:

  1. Place the post on a stable surface raised off the ground.
  2. Mark a line 150mm down from the end of the post on opposite sides.
  3. Find the centre of one of the marked sides and measure 25 mm out from this.
  4. Mark a line from this point between the end of the post end and the first line.
  5. Repeat 25 mm from the centre the other way.
  6. Complete this over the end of the post and down to the horizontal line at the opposite sides of the post.
  7. With the hand saw cut diagonally from the top corner down to the first line and the bottom of the post end.
  8. Turn the post over and complete the cuts down to the first lines.
  9. Mark a line half the diameter of the drill bit parallel to the first cut.
  10. Drill a row of over lapping holes along this line between the saw cuts.
  11. Complete the holes from the other side.
  12. Remove the waste wood to form a flat base.
  13. Cut the post to the desired length.

 

  1. Place the post on a stable surface raised off the ground.

Pergola-post_1To work safely and well you need the post on a stable and strong support at a comfortable height to work at. If you don’t have any sawhorses most DIY stores sell foldable ones. You may also find it helpful to clamp the post to the sawhorses to make it more stable.

  1. Mark a line 150 mm down from the end of the post on opposite sides.

Pergola-post_2If you are using a 150 mm by 50 mm horizontal beam the bottom of the beam is going to be 150 mm down from the top of the post, this distance can be adjusted for different sized beams. When marking the posts bear in mind you are using sawn timber and so it probably will not be perfectly square and you may have to adjust your lines accordingly.

  1. Find the centre of one of the marked sides and measure 25 mm out from this.

Though sold as 100 mm by 100 mm the posts will not be exactly this so measure carefully where the centre of the post is or you will end up with the notch off centre.

 

  1. Mark a line from this point between the end of the post end and the first line.

Pergola-post-top-markedThis is going to be one the side of the notch so the line joins the first line with the end of the post.

  1. Repeat 25 mm from the centre the other way.

This forms the other side of the notch.

  1. Complete this over the end of the post and down to the horizontal line at the opposite sides of the post.

This marks out the shape of the notch in the top of the post. Be very careful are the sides of the post and the top of the post will probably not be perfectly square.

  1. With the hand saw cut diagonally from the top corner down to the first line and the bottom of the post end.

Pergola-post-with-sawWhen you start to cut the post start on the inside edge of the line. The saw cut has a width, be it only a few millimetres so you what the outside edge of the cut to follow the line. Take your time and only cut as far as you can see otherwise you have no idea where the saw is going and if it’s following the correct line.

  1. Turn the post over and complete the cuts down to the first lines.

Once you have cut down the two line on one side turn the post over and complete the cuts down to the first mark you made in part 2 above. The cuts you made in part 7 above will guide the sawn blade on the underside you now cannot see.

  1. Mark a line half the diameter of the drill bit parallel to the first cut.

This line will give you a guide so that when you drill into the post you will not end up cutting below the bottom of the notch.

  1. Drill a row of over lapping holes along this line between the saw cuts.

Pergola-post_holes_startedMake sure your drill holes fit between the cut lines for the sides of the notch, you are aiming to cut through the piece of waste wood between the sides of the notch to remove it. Be very careful to keep the drill bit square to the post and only go about halfway through the post.

  1. Complete the holes from the other side.

Pergola-post_holes_completeTurn the post over and repeat the above two steps but this time drill though so that the hole on both side join up.

  1. Remove the waste wood to form a flat base.

Pergola-post_waste-_removedThe wood above the drill holes should come away easily with any splitting and the bottom of the notch can be tied up with a sharp chisel. Make sure the bottom of the notch does not rise up, if it’s a little low than the outer edges it will not be seen.Pergola-post_complete

  1. Cut the post to the desired length.

Finally check the height of the post, including the part in the ground and cut it to length. This is best done last as if the worst does happen and the notch goes wrong you should still be able to turn the post around and have a second attempt.

How to clean mortar stains off paving

This involves using a concentrated acid from a builder’s merchant and so all the manufacture’s safety advice must be carefully followed.

Equipment:

  • Brick acid
  • Hose pipe
  • Cheap plastic watering can with a rose
  • Stiff broom
  • Wellington boots
  • Safety equipment (read and follow the safety recommendations that come with the brick acid).

Summary:

 

  1. Check the paving is suitable and read the safety instructions carefully.
  2. Get all the equipment ready and put on the safety equipment.
  3. Wet the paving with a hose pipe.
  4. Pour the cleaner over the paving.
  5. Scrub the paving with the stiff broom.
  6. Rinse the paving with lots of clean water.
  7. Repeat if necessary.

 

  1. Check the paving is suitable and read the safety instructions carefully.

Brick acid is not suitable for all paving so read the manufacture’s information for both the paving and the acid. If necessary, try using it on an area that doesn’t matter to check its suitability prior to starting.

  1. Get all the equipment ready and put on the safety equipment.

Get all the equipment together before you start and get yourself ready before you start. You don’t what to have acid everywhere only to discover the hose doesn’t work or you forgot your wellies and you have two very wet feet.

  1. Wet the paving with a hose pipe.

Wet all you paving with clean water from a hose pipe. You may feel you are watering the cleaner down but it works much better if you apply the acid to wet paving. This is to stop the acid soaking into the paving rather than spread the dissolving the mortar stains.

  1. Pour the cleaner over the paving.

Spread the brick acid over the paving, a cheap plastic watering can with a rose is as good a way as any. Do not use a metal one and the acid will attack it and keep it just for jobs like this.

  1. Scrub the paving with the stiff broom.

Scrub the paving with a stiff broom. The small bristle ones they sometime sell as deck brushes are ideal, but back sure they have a shaft and it is securely attached. You may find some larger lumps of mortar need a tap from a hammer and chisel as you go.

  1. Rinse the paving with lots of clean water.

When you feel the acid has worked rinse the paving with lots of clean water from a hose. This will stop the acid and cleaned the surface so you can see how clean it is.

  1. Repeat if necessary.

Once you have cleaned the paving down you will probably see a few persistent stains and you can now re-treat these areas with the acid in the same way. If you have done the first treatment properly it is though very unlikely that you will have to re-treat the whole areas a second time.

How to lay crazy paving

Finished crazy paving
Finished crazy paving

Crazy paving has fallen right out of fashion; killed first by release of the modern mottle coloured concrete riven flags by Bradstone in the early 1980’s followed by the cheap imported stone flags from the Far East more recently. That said it still has its uses, particularly where an informal path is needed or a low cost solution to matching locally sourced stone. These days the likes of builders’ merchants no longer stock stone crazy paving so you will need to contact a local sandstone quarry. Sandstone is the preferred stone as it gives a good mix of workability, durability and slip resistance; although like all stone it can easily become slippery in the in the right conditions.

Equipment:

 

  • Crazy paving
  • Subbase
  • Ballast or mixed sand and gravel
  • Yellow sand
  • Cement
  • Cement mixer
  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow, or better still 2 wheelbarrows
  • Bricklayer’s trowel
  • Pointing trowel
  • 4lb Hammer
  • Cold chisel
  • Tape measure
  • Gloves
  • String line and pins

Estimating Materials:

 

As a rough guide for every square metre of paving you will need about 100kg of ballast, 20kg of yellow sand, 14 kg of cement and 200kg of subbase. These are only approximate figures and should only be taken as a guide.

 

Summary:

 

  1. Mark out the area to be paved
  2. Dig out, removing the topsoil
  3. Set out the falls
  4. Make up to the level with subbase and compact it
  5. Set out the pieces of stone to see how they will fit
  6. Bed the stones onto concrete and point
  7. Clean up the pointing

 

  1. Mark out the area to be paved

How you chose to make the area out doesn’t really matter, you can get aerosols of paint, length of rope, sand or even a garden hose, but it will give you a change to check it’s the right size and in the right place. It’s easy at this stage to play around with the dimensions and be sure it is going to work. If is to be a path try it out, push any machinery along it to check is the right size and shape, if it’s to sit on put some chairs on it and have a sit. It’s much better to find any problems now than be left thinking if only.

  1. Dig out, removing the topsoil
Ground dug out for the paving
Ground dug out for the paving

The paving will need a solid base so remove any topsoil and if necessary dig further down so you are at least 225 mm below the finished level of the paving. If this does not take you down to firm stable ground then this depth needs to be increased, also in parts of the world where the winters are more severe that those experience in the UK again the excavation needs to be increased to prevent the ground under the paving becoming frozen and lifting the paving.

  1. Set out the falls

Due to the uneven surface of natural riven stone the paving should be laid to string lines. These lines should be set out at the level of the finish paving with one line at each side of the paving. These lines should set the fall on the paving for its surface to drain.

  1. Make up the level with subbase

Spread sufficient subbase over the area excavated in part 2 above up to bring it to within 125 mm of the level set up by the lines in part 3 above, making sure to compact the subbase well. Small areas can be compacted with a sledge hammer but for larger areas it’s worth hiring a vibrating plate. Remember, don’t try to compact more than a 150 mm thick layer at a time.

  1. Set out the pieces of stone to see how they will fit

Before you actually start laying the stones set them out in place to see how you are going to fit them together. Start with the largest pieces along the edges and fit the smaller ones in to suit, you don’t need to arrange every piece but it will help if you know how you are going to fit them together as it is rather like a giant jigsaw puzzle with no picture to go by.

  1. Bed the stones onto concrete and point
Concrete and mortar ready for the paving to be laid onto it
Concrete and mortar ready for the paving to be laid onto it

Move the stones to one side, you may wish to take a quick picture first to remind yourself, and mix some mortar using 6 parts of yellow sand to 1 part of cement and put the mixed mortar to one side. This is where a second wheel barrow comes in useful. Now mix a load of concrete using 6 parts of ballast to 1 part cement and spread it over a corner of the area you’re going to pave. Start at the far side and think carefully about out you are going to work without painting yourself into a corner. Once you have some concrete mixed and spread start placing your stones onto it. You may have to adjust the thick of the concrete as the stone will vary in their thickness; but once you are just above the level of you string lines you can tap the stone down with a rubber mallet or by placing a block of wood on them and hitting it with a heavy hammer. Once bedded into the concrete the top of the stones should be just below the surface of the lines and following the fall you created with the lines.

Crazy paving laid but not pointed
Crazy paving laid but not pointed

Once you have 2 or 3 stones down start to point between them using the mortar you mixed at the beginning, this way the pointing will get good bond with the concrete the flags are pointed on and be less likely to come loose. Continue spreading the concrete, laying the flags and pointing them as you go. You will probably find you will have to use a hammer and cold chisel to get the pieces all to fit together, particularly the smallest ones.

The reason the mortar was mixed first was because if you don’t clean out the mixer when changing from mixing from mortar to concrete you will end up with lots of bits of gravel in the mortar which courses problems. This is not a problem going the other way.

Crazy paving just pointed
Crazy paving just pointed
  1. Clean up the pointing
Crazy paving part completed
Crazy paving part completed

When first used the mortar the paving is pointed with will be very wet, so once the joints are filled with mortar leave it to firm up (“go off”) a bit and then tidy it up with a pointing trowel. How long you will have to leave it will depend o the weather and in hot summertime it could be minutes while in winter it can take until the next day.

It is quite possible there will still be some mortar stains left and these are best clean up with brick acid. Carefully read and follow the instructions that come with it but for bets result let the mortar have plenty of time to harden first. Wet the paving with a hose pipe before pouring on the acid and then scrub it with a stiff bristled broom. Once the stains are removed rinse the area thoroughly with clean water.