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Monday, January 26, 2015

Cheap Frills # 6: Garden Wall in Four Hours

Have you ever had an idea that was months or years in the making? I sure have. Let me share the story of the wall I’ve been working on for a few days. It’s outside our house and I am thrilled with how it turned out. A few days ago I finally set the ball rolling on something that seems to have been in the works for ages. Last year I bought some cement blocks from my local home improvement store. I thought I was going to build a semi-circular wall around a tree in our front yard, and paint it cheerful colors. Well, the tree had other ideas. Those pesky roots were bumpy and unpredictable and I lost interest when it took a lot of effort to try to make the blocks level. Fast forward til this year. I decided that I could build a semi-circular wall in another spot. I wish I’d done this ages ago but sometimes these ideas need to ferment a while. A long, long while.

Here are the before and after photos:


Landscapers might say that I’ve created a focal point in this wedge of land. The wall separates the space into a lower and an upper area, which is visually interesting. The paint adds color and fun. The wall makes the space more personal, because the owner designed and created it according to her own taste and style.

What I’d say is this: I love my new wall. It ROCKS! Color? Yes. More interesting than before? Yes! Cheerful? Yes!

This project turned out to be very inexpensive, as I already had the plants, cement blocks, paint and brushes. For something like this I use an inexpensive paint brush made with horse hair (not nylon) because the rough texture of the cement block will chew up the bristles.

If you didn’t have supplies, you’d have to buy or find them (sometimes the very supplies you need are available and even free on Craigslist). The 15” concrete blocks are roughly $1 each where I live. I didn’t use mortar between them because if I change my mind and want to reconfigure them, it will be easy to remove them. They are not holding dirt in—just providing an accent to the mini garden. The acrylic paint I chose is from the craft supply store and is inexpensive (69 cents for 2 ounces), as are the brushes (99 cents each). The paint I used isn't made specifically for outdoor use so it may fade with time. But that's okay. I don't need this wall to be there for another 100 years. (If you did want something that would resist fade you could have your paint store mix up colors that are designed for outdoor use and have a bit of shine to them, to fight fade.) I used 9 blocks and two half blocks. Your wall might be smaller or bigger than that but using these blocks is a very affordable way to add some fun to your yard.
This photo shows how I used paint colors in the same family. My dominant color is medium blue with darker blues, purples and aquas added for accents. This gives the wall some more interest but the colors are harmonious and work as a whole:
I won’t do a tutorial in a step-by-step fashion but here are some tips:abc

·         Figure out the length of the wall you want. Figure out how many blocks you will need. Place your center block first, so that the wall looks centered. (This applies if you have a very short wall—mine is less than 6’ long. With a longer wall you don’t need to worry about this as much.)

·         Try to get each layer of cement blocks level. I used a two-foot level. My wall is not 100% level but it’s close. Hey, I’m not building a bridge. It’ll be okay…

·         If you hate your paint choice half way through, as I did, fear not. Just keep going. The blue I chose looked really intense once I’d painted most of the blocks. But I added some lighter tones and darker tones and just kept going. (If you finish and really, really hate it, just try another paint color. It’s cheap and dries fast.)

·         Once your wall has been painted, add plants in front of it, behind it, inside the blocks on the top level, and on top of the wall. This makes the wall look like it is part of the scene rather than an intruder in it. This helped a lot with my mixed feelings about the colors.

This wall took four hours to make. That seemed like a very reasonable amount of time, especially because I was really happy with the result. I feel pretty silly for not doing this sooner. Those cement blocks sat out front (in a semi-organized half-square around the tree)—for almost six months. Perhaps longer! They didn’t look great but I just didn’t know what to do with them. I wish I’d figured out earlier how I wanted to use them. But I suppose life is not always a linear process. My life isn’t! It has twists and turns and dead ends and sloppy figure eights. But I’m delighted with my wall and so I’ll just focus on that. Do you have any home improvement projects that you can tackle this weekend? It’s a great feeling to do it yourself. Go for it!

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