Category Archives: Landscaping

Vertical gardening verdict

Just over two months ago I wrote about how we were going to try vertical gardening to bring to life an ugly fence.

Well, here is the finished product, in all it’s grassy glory:

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Looking lush.

Not bad, if you can recall we imagined it to look something like this:

Green wall

Imagining what a vertical garden might look like.

Nearly all of the plants we purchased were tubestock and they’ve grown rapidly.

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A colourful mix.

The plants in the picture above are:

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Growing grasses.

The plants in the photo above are:

I’m pretty impressed with the results. It’s turned out (so far) better than I expected. The plants make a huge difference to the feel of the outdoor area, particularly in the afternoon as the sun goes down and catches on the shiny grasses. Plus, it has the added benefit of being the only garden bed we haven’t had to wrap in chicken wire to keep the dogs out!

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Looking lush.

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Looking lush.

Vertical gardening

We’ve (or, I’ve, James is just going along for the ride) decided to try vertical gardening.

I’ve been pondering it a while now, at least a year. The problem is, it’s so darn expensive. Even a full DIY job, starting from scratch, can set you back a fair bit more than an average garden. So, when a casual trip to Flower Power had me discovering that one of the vertical garden set ups was on sale, I decided it must be a sign from the vertical garden Gods and I should immediately buy three packets. I later went back to buy two more.

So, I’m committed now. The garden is going up.

Let me start by explaining why we need a vertical garden. Because we’re on a lovely corner lot, and because the house design is the way it is, our outdoor area looks out onto our side neighbour’s house, and our side fence. Both the dining room and kitchen area look straight out onto the outdoor area, so it’s a significant vista in the house. Our main problem is that the fence is so damn ugly, I cannot stand to look at it any longer. See what I mean?

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Ugly fence.

And it will only get uglier as the fence ages and it turns grey.

I’ve been wracking my brain thinking of ways to “jazz” it up a little. Paint the fence? Some more outdoor furniture? Some pot plants? SOMETHING?

While pot plant’s aren’t a bad idea, the dogs are quite fond of knocking them over and eating the plants so that’s not going to work long term.

And so the vertical garden dream was born.

The system

The system I’ve brought is this one, from the Hills brand (the maker of the Hills Hoist clothesline). It normally retails for about $80 for a triple pack like this, but I scored mine for $50! Any saving is a good one though, cause you’re going to need more than one pack to make any kind of impact.

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Hills “I’m the expandable self-watering garden wall”.

Why do I like this vertical wall over the numerous others out there?

  • It’s less ugly. I know that the plants are supposed to grow over the top of them and you don’t end up seeing much of it but plants can take a while to establish and let’s face it, you’re going to see it at some point.
  • The pots inside are really easy to remove and plant. This also means I can pull the pots out and rearrange them if I need to.
  • It has a water reservoir, meaning I won’t be watering it every five minutes in summer and I won’t need to set up some complicated drip irrigation system. The reservoir also has a water level indicator on the outside of the unit so I can easily see when I need to refill.
  • The units connect together so if we stack two or three of the units together all of their water reservoirs line up and I only have to fill from the top one.
  • It looks pretty easy to install (for James to install).
  • When it’s on sale it’s cheaper than anything else of comparable size!
  • It has a three year warranty and it’s a brand I’ve used before and never had an issue with.
  • You can arrange it in more than one way.

Here’s what it looks like when you open the box. It’s pre-assembled and there isn’t much to do except attach it to the wall.

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Already assembled!

The plants

Picking the right kind of plant for any garden can be a bit hit and miss when you’re starting out. This vertical garden will not be any different!

I originally dreamed of a vertical herb/salad green scenario and imagined myself putting a few seeds into the pots and watching them grow. And then I realised I’d need to do that every year because the kinds of herbs I would want to grow won’t stay vibrant all year round. I’m also going to need something that can tolerate both full sun in summer but quite a bit of shade in winter.  So I went back to the drawing board. Google.

I was super excited to find that Ozbreed, another favourite of mine, has experimented with green walls with some of their plants and even tested some of those in Western Sydney! Check out this page for a handy table of plant’s they’ve tested, what conditions they do and don’t like, and some great pictures of their experiments in action. I’m sold.

I’ve seen a lot of the Ozbreed plant’s in my local Flower Power nursery but the Ozbreed website also gives some links on where you might find them online as well (often cheaper!).

As well as the new plants I’ll be buying, I’ve also decided to move some of the rock daisies out of the western facing front yard. Although they’re drought tolerant they’re not doing so well in the heat. They’re supposed to be fine in containers so I’ll add them to the vertical wall and see how it goes.

One thing I’ve had a bit of fun with today is the downloadable PNG images of the plants from the Ozbreed website. I’ve been able to lay them on top of a photo of the area and imagine what a successful green wall might look like. This is a fantastic option if you’re trying to imagine how a plant might look in your garden at home.

Green wall

Floating plants. Still need to use your imagination!

What about a change in the front yard?

Front yard

Considering grevillias.

Anyway, back the vertical gardens, James has already installed two of the sets for me. At the moment they just look like big black pots on the fence but I’ve ordered some plants and hopefully it looks much better in a few months time.

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Ready for planting.

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I’ll let you know how it goes.

Take a peek at our winter garden

Hello! I know, I know, it’s been such a long time…

This morning the sun is shining and it’s a delightfully warm 19 degrees here in Bungarribee. I’ve been a lounge lizard all morning with my tablet doing “life admin” when I looked up and thought it was a great opportunity to snap a few photos of our house in all it’s winter glory.

Enjoy!

Primary frontage. Hedge is still small but grown quite a lot since it was planted as tubestock. Grass is greener in the higher areas where it’s suffered less frost in the cool mornings.

House, from the corner

House, from the corner.

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Primary frontage, taken from the corner, looking up Annabella Street.

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Secondary frontage, looking down Hopkins Street, towards Annabella Street.

Secondary frontage, looking up Hopkins Street.

Secondary frontage, looking up Hopkins Street.

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Primary frontage, looking North towards the creek.

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NSW Christmas bush- oh my, how big you’ve grown!

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NSW Christmas Bush, getting ready to burst into Spring.

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Inside the parapet- first row of plants is the Rock Daisy. Second row are Hills Jubilee Grevillea. Both have flowered throughout winter.

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Under the kitchen window. In the foreground, the Rock Daisy. In the background, Grevillea Rosmarinifolia.

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Our hedge plants are doing ok, seeing as they’d prefer to not be planted in such high clay soil. They’re Westringia Aussie Box. You can see the small mauve flowers are starting up for Spring.

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Mat Rush grass, dug up from Jame’s family farm. I think they’ll get quite a bit bigger over Spring.

Was it greener on the other side?

Those of you who have been following along will know that we were originally quoted $44 340 for our builder to do the landscaping for us. After we finished laughing, we decided we would give it a go ourselves.

Was it worth it? Or should we have just handed over the cash?

It was absolutely worth it! Here’s how we know:

  • People stop to look. They say imitation is the finest form of flattery and while it’s true they could just be looking for ideas about what not to do, we like to believe they’re using our garden as inspiration for theirs. Even our neighbours are asking us for advice.
  • We’ve been asked if we’re just the landscapers, or whether the house is ours. If our day jobs pack it in, at least we know how to set up a damn good string line!
  • We’ve seen some of the dodgy work going around. In particular, one of our neighbours was referred a “landscaper” who was cheap, but took a lot of short cuts. The result is less than ideal, especially in their back yard. When you do the work yourself, you’re more likely to put in extra effort to make it last.
  • We learnt new things, discovered new muscles, and it was nice to work together on achieving a common goal. We make a pretty good team.
  • It didn’t take us as long as everyone said it would. We were told it would take us 18 months to do the work ourselves. Pfft! It took us about 4 months, even with a lengthy Christmas break in there as well.
  • We came in on budget!

Speaking of budget, I bet you’re wondering how much we spent?

We aimed to spend less than $25 000 (just over half of the original quote). Here’s what we actually spent (including delivery charges):

  • letterbox, $300
  • stepping stones, $276
  • soil (high quality topsoil for lawn and native mix for garden beds), $2014
  • garden edging, $597
  • sand and cement, $298
  • driveway and concrete entertaining area, $4020
  • fence, $4893
  • plants, $1439
  • labour (leveling the clay and help to spread topsoil), $ 950
  • turf, $3470
  • drainage (to stop the backyard flooding!), $200
  • pebbles, $262
  • mulch, $198

All up, $18 717.

You might like to note that this sum doesn’t include the “bonus $5500 landscaping gift card” that Wisdom gave us when we signed their contract. That money subsidised the cost of the driveway.Though, even with that money added in to make the fair comparison ($24 217) we are under budget. Yay!

By doing the hard work ourselves we’ve saved a huge 45%, or $20 123!

PLUS, we got more than what we were originally quoted for. The stepping stones and pebble path under our clothesline was not part of the original quote, nor were two extra garden beds we decided to add in. We also planted significantly more plants than what was on the original quote.

So, I’d call it a success. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it stands up against the test of time.

I’ll be sharing some photos soon.

Doing it ourselves: the landscaping saga! Part five: Planting the hedge

Planting a hedge sounds like an easy thing to do, until you’re faced with 200 plants and a shovel.

Here are my top tips for success:

1. Buy tubestock. These little plants are fantastic for three reasons.

Firstly, they’re fantastically cheap. So cheap that if you loose one or two plants to the elements (or to a not-so-green thumb!) you won’t be so devastated that you want to give up on gardening forever.

Second reason is if you want your hedge to be bushy from the ground to the top then you should plant young, small plants. Larger plants are more expensive, tend to have a higher rate of fail at planting and can lead to the gappy look at the base of the hedge.

Third reason is that you don’t have to dig an enormous hole to plant it. Remember that the hole in the ground should be twice as big as the pot of the plant!

I’ve talked about where to buy plants here and my latest favorite place to buy plants online is Fernview Nurseries. They have some lovely hedge plants for just $2 each. We’re using Westringia Aussie Box.

2. Dig a trench. While it will be tempting to just dig a hole for each individual plant and shove it in, you’ll get a much straighter and neater hedge if you dig a trench. It will be easier to space your plants out and you can move them around in the trench to be happy with the positioning before filling the trench in.

To make sure you dig the trench straight, set up a string line first. We used a hoe to do the digging and it seemed to be the perfect width for the tubestock.

3. Get the spacing right. We were told to use the “0.3” rule, where you multiply the hedge height by 0.3. So for a 1 m high hedge you’ll be planting the plants 30 cm apart. We did a double staggered row of plants for our hedge. I measured out the spacing using a long measuring tape.

Use a string line, measuring tape and a trench to set out the  plants.

Use a string line, measuring tape and a trench to set out the plants.

4. Tip prune. While it may be tempting to let the plants get height first, you should encourage the plants to gain side growth. You can do this by pruning the tips of the plant regularly.

The results?

This is what out little hedge looked like when we planted in early January.

Tiny plants, all in a row.

Tiny plants, all in a row.

Here they are, 2 months on, in early April.

Growing up!

Growing up!

Doing it ourselves: the landscaping saga! Part four: Stepping stones

Oh, dear followers, I have been so exhausted by the landscaping that I haven’t even wanted to write about landscaping! I’m so sorry for leaving you hanging.

But, the good news is that we are on the home stretch. Up next is the stepping stones. We had a couple of places to put these, out the front and out the back.

Basically, it was just like laying giant garden edging. We followed the same golden rules- a string line, some cement and a whole lot of patience.

The only thing we did a little differently was added in some weed matting. This black plastic stuff will supposedly stop weeds growing through. So far, so good.

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Then on top we put river pebbles. All up we used 2.5 t of pebbles. What does 2.5 t of pebbles look like? This:

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But it’s worth it in the end.

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After all that, there’s only the hedge planting to go!

Purchasing plants

If you’ve ever attempted to have a ‘green thumb’ then you probably know that plants are expensive. Here are my top tips for getting plants into the garden at the lowest cost possible.

1. Let it grow

Plants, by their very definition, will grow. If you can manage to resist the urge for an “instant” garden then plant smaller plants and let them do their thing. There are a few benefits to choosing smaller plants:

  • they cost significantly less (and are cheaper to replace if you manage to kill them all!)
  • they are easier to plant (no need to dig massive holes)
  • it’s a common misconception that ‘bigger is better’. Research has shown that smaller plants experience less transplant shock and are better at establishing a root system rapidly. This is especially true for trees. See here for a great comparison of tubestock vs a mature plant.

One word of caution: smaller plants (like tubestock or “landscaping plants”) will have small root systems and need a bit of extra care to get established. They will need to be protected from extreme heat, frosts, strong winds and trampling, at least for their first growing season.

2. Upsizing

If you absolutely have to plant a larger pot size and you know months in advance you could try growing some up to the right size. Purchase smaller plants, like the tubestock and re-pot out into larger containers. As they grow you will need to keep increasing the pot size. We did this with great success for some of our trees, shrubs and grasses. I would happily do it again for the grasses, shrubs and ground covers, but I would probably not bother with the trees (see the point above about transplanting trees).

3. Grow from cuttings

How to get many plants for free, you ask? Many native plants can grow from cuttings. Have a look around to see if any of your neighbors, friends or family have plants you can grow from. One example is the coastal rosemary plant we are using as the hedge. There are heaps of them around and they grow well from cuttings. James’ mum was kind enough to give us a whole bunch of cuttings (we’re still waiting to see if they grow roots). My advice is to take way more cuttings than you actually need (you will loose some!) and do a bit of research on the best way to get your specific plant to strike. For a general guide to cuttings, see here. If you want to take cuttings from somewhere other than your friends and family then please check the rules around taking plants for that area. In some areas, like some national parks, it is not allowed at all.

4. Divide and conquer

Some plants, like grasses, are happy to be dug up, divided up and replanted as several smaller plants. This was true for one of our grasses, the mat rush, which grows just about everywhere on James’ family farm. His parents dug us up a bunch of it and put it in some pots, ready for us to plant in the garden. They normally cost between $10-12 for a 140 mm pot!

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5. Buy online

Many plants are available all year round online. It’s an amazing world out there! I was a little nervous about buying the first lot but when you pay about $3.30 each for tubestock instead of $10-15 per plants at nurseries I simply had to give it a try. The mind boggles with how they can just put plants in the mail but they did and they were all really well packed. I used both Garden Express and Koala Native Plants but there are many others out there. Even give eBay a try- there are loads of common plants on there very cheap.

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6. Try a wholesale nursery

If you do want to order from a local nursery then try one that sells wholesale. If you’re ordering a bunch of plants, most wholesale nurseries will happily sell direct to the public at much lower prices. You may need to give them some notice though, as sometimes they are “made to order”.

Doing it ourselves: the landscaping saga! Part two: Dirt

After all the garden edging was completed, we decided to buy some soil. You need at least 50 mm (but 100 mm is best) of turf underlay soil. We’re on clay, clay and more clay, so we went with the 100 mm, and it worked out a little deeper in some locations as well.

You can get turf underlay from heaps of different places. My advice is to shop around. $35-40 per tonne seems to be about the usual price, but we managed to get great quality soil for $29 per tonne from Burgess Soil. The premium native mix soil was about $31 per tonne. When James asked for delivery they said they don’t deliver to our area. When he said we’d be ordering just under 70 tonnes they changed their mind and delivered for free!

I have honestly never seen so much dirt!

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The darker coloured dirt in that last photo is a native soil mix suitable for growing native plants.

A mate of James’ spread quite a bit of the dirt around in the back yard with his little excavator, a few hours worth at around $80 per hour. The rest of it was up to us, a wheelbarrow, two shovels and a rake. It was a fair bit of work, but we got there in the end.

Doing it ourselves: the landscaping saga! Part one: Garden Edging

My loyal followers, I am sorry for being absolutely slack and not blogging much at all lately! We have been so exceptionally busy with a wicked combination of work, end-of-year madness and all of this landscaping.

After we fumbled our way though the letterbox construction and the fencing went up, we decided the next thing to start on would be the garden edging. We started on the easiest section on 20/11/14. We’re still not finished some sections!

There are a number of ways you can install garden edging but as per our landscaping plan we decided to stick with pavers. There are a couple of advantages to pavers:

  • they won’t rot, unlike sleepers and other kinds of timber garden edging
  • they won’t discolor or become brittle, unlike plastic garden edging
  • they provide a good barrier between the turf and the garden beds, limiting opportunities for the grass to invade the garden bed
  • they shouldn’t move out of place as easily as most other kinds of edging.

The downside is they can be time consuming to lay!

Materials:

  • Pavers. You want something solid the whole way through and roughly 200 x 100 x 50 mm in size. They come in a number of colours and can get them from most nurseries and hardware stores like Bunnings. They’re sometimes called a “havenbrick”. They tend to cost about $1 each but are available for less if you shop around. We brought ours from Turtle Nursery (85c each). To work out how many you will need, measure up all the lengths of where the bricks will go and divide by the length of the paver (usually 200 mm).
  • Cement. It’s hard to estimate the amount of cement you’ll need but there are lots of online calculators that can give you a rough idea, like this one.
  • Brickies sand. The landscape supplier should be able to tell you how much sand you’ll need depending on how much concrete you’re buying.

Tools:

  • trowel
  • either a wheelbarrow and shovel for mixing the cement, or a cement mixer
  • shovel for making the ground level
  • string line and pegs
  • string line spirit level
  • tape measure
  • rubber mallet
  • hammer and chisel, or angle grinder to cut pavers (if you have to)

Steps:

1. Level the ground as best you can with the shovel.

2. Set up a string line to help guide where your edging will go. You’ll need to use a peg to secure each end and stretch the line tight. Check that it’s level using a string line level and that the height of the string matches what your finished height of the edging will be.

3. Mix the concrete,

4. Start laying out the bricks. Plop a bit of the cement on the ground next to your string line and lay the paver on top, using the rubber mallet to tap it into place. Check that the edge and the top of the paver lines up with the string line. Check that the top of the paver is level as well (not tilted to one side or the other) using a small spirit level or the string line spirit level. Keep laying pavers, butting the ends together with no cement in between. When you’ve got a few in the line, go back and add extra cement to each side of the pavers, sloping the cement down on each side to help strengthen the line of pavers and keep everything in place.

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Finished garden edging, looking down from above.

Finished garden edging, looking down from above.

Two lines of pavers to form the front garden bed.

Two lines of pavers to form the front garden bed. The garden bed will need to be dug out a little to make room for the plants.

Hints and tips:

  • You’ll be bent over all day- make sure you look after your back!
  • Try as best as you can to avoid having to cut pavers, but if you just can’t avoid it there are a few ways that work. Check out this for some ideas.
  • If you find you need to build the level up (we did!) you should try to get the brickwork laid on the hardest soil. For us, this meant laying on the natural clay. You can use extra cement to raise a paver up a little, but if you need to raise it a lot you may want to consider some retaining blocks or, do what we did and lay a left over house brick under the paver first.
  • It’s important to get the pavers in the right spot and get them as level as you can but don’t loose your marbles over it. By the time the hedge/grass/shrubs grow in around it you won’t notice that little mistake you made.
  • Go with the cement mixer if you can get your hands on one. Ask around, maybe a neighbour or a friend has one you can borrow? If not, they are available for hire.
  • Get lots of help!

 

Luke takes over the concrete mixing.

Luke takes over the concrete mixing.

James dad brings the wonderful invention of a cement mixer into the fold.

James’ dad brings the wonderful invention of a cement mixer into the fold.

James mum gets ready to lay MORE DAMN BRICKS.

James’ mum gets ready to lay MORE DAMN BRICKS.

Building the letterbox

If you can remember, our landscaping quote from Wisdom Landscapes was, well, outrageous. We’ve decided to do as much of it as we can ourselves and use individual suppliers to get things like fencing done.

Wisdom Landscape quoted us $900 for a masonry letterbox to be installed and painted in the white moroka paint. Presumably this meant we had to paint it with an exterior colour paint ourselves.

Thinking there is a lot of other things we’d like to do with $900, we decided to give it a go ourselves. The fact that neither one of us has ever laid a brick in our lives before did not deter us. How hard can it be?

Well, as long as you don’t need it to be absolutely perfect, it’s worth giving it a try. It cost us about $300 and a day’s worth of work (not including paint drying time).

Here’s how we did it:

Please note, we are absolutely NOT brick laying experts! 

Materials we used:

  • Some bits of timber (straight bits, not wonky bits) for the formwork. We rummaged through our neighbour’s scrap heaps- no point buying new if you can help it.
  • Pegs to secure the formwork. You can use smaller bits of timber for this or even some scrap metal. We found some metal off-cuts in our neighbours scrap heap that worked perfectly.
  • Timber screws. You might need some of these to secure the corners of the formwork together. You might get away with it if you use lots of pegs.
  • About 2 bags of ready-mix concrete. The builder had left us some leftovers from the build.
  • About a bucket of gravel. Again, there was lots of blue metal gavel in our back yard from the build so we raked that up.
  • Steel reinforcement mesh. You probably don’t need this but we found some laying around.
  • About 110 bricks. We used leftovers from the build. Otherwise, drive around some new estates to see if there are any freebees on offer.
  • About 8 20 kg bags of sand and cement. Available from most hardware stores.
  • Letterbox face plate, extension sleeve and rear plate, or a kit.
  • Newspaper holder face plate (if you want one of those). Usually, you will need a 300 mm long piece of PVC pipe (ours was 100 mm diameter but it will depend on what sized face plate you have- check the back of the packet for instructions).
  • Silicone.
  • Moroka or render paint and a primer. We used Dulux Textures Primer and Medium Cover to go with our moroka look on the parapets. You could use the Full Cover to look more like render. Don’t forget to get it tinted in the colour you want. They can be tinted in a wide range of colours, including Colorbond colours. The 4 L bucket should be enough for a letterbox.

Tools:

  • Wheelbarrow or something to mix the cement in
  • Shovel for mixing cement
  • Bricklaying trowel
  • Rubber mallet
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Medium sized spirit level
  • Drill (if you’re using screws in your formwork)
  • Silicone gun
  • screwdriver for assembling your letterbox (unless yours comes pre-assembled! Lucky you…)
  • Paint brush and roller (we just used a brush- can get away with that for the primer).
  • Lambswool mitt. Note, if you choose the full cover you need to apply with a roller- see back of packet for instructions.

Seems like a lot of tools, but we had a lot of it from other DIY jobs. See what you can borrow from a friend.

Method:

Laying the slab

1. Clear the area and roughly level the ground. If you’ve got grass already you’ll need to dig that out and cut into the soil a bit so the letterbox doesn’t move around.

2. Set up your formwork. We had one straight side already (the front path) and so we just extended out from that. Make sure it’s the right size and use your spirit level to make sure it’s straight and level. You need to get this right or you’ll have a Leaning Tower Of Letterbox.

It’s worth noting that an alternative to formwork is actually digging a letterbox shaped hole in the ground and then filling that with the concrete (using the ground as your formwork). You may need to do this if your land is already landscaped (ie, the top of the path is level with the grass).

How to use a spirit level

James setting out the formwork.

James setting out the formwork.

James setting out the formwork.

James setting out the formwork.

Completed formwork.

Completed formwork.

3. Fill the base of the formwork with the gravel and level. Try and compact it by stamping it with a bit of timber.

Gravel base

Gravel base

4. If you did manage to find a bit of scrap reinforcement metal, here is where you would add it on top. Prop it up off the surface of the gravel with a couple of rocks. We used a bit of smashed brick (plenty of that lying around!). This is so that it adds strength to the concrete slab. The concrete needs to get under and around it.

Scrap rio

Scrap rienforcement metal

5. Time to add the concrete. Empty the bag in to the wheelbarrow and mix it according to it’s directions, or have a look here. Pour the concrete in and jiggle it around to remove air pockets and make sure it goes under the metal reinforcement and grabs hold of the gravel on the base. James just used a bit of steel to jiggle it (I’m sure there is a technical term but I’m sticking with jiggle.)

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Removing air pockets.

6. Level and smooth the surface using a piece of timber with a straight edge. Slide backwards and forwards as you move along- this is called screeding.

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Leveling and smoothing.

7. Wait for the concrete to set and dry. We waited a week (which is the convenient length of time between weekends) but a drier mix tends to set faster.

Brick laying

8. Get your bricks ready. You don’t want to be searching for bricks while the mortar is setting so pile them up close to where you’re working.

9. Mix your mortar. We only mixed one bag at a time because we’re bricklaying novices. It sets fast and if you’re slow at laying the bricks you’ll run out of time. Follow the directions on the bag to mix your mortar. It should stick to an upturned trowel when mixed properly.

10. Start laying the bricks. There are lots of videos online about how to do this. All of them make it look really easy. You’ll feel like a goof at the start but once you get going you’ll stop worrying about it so much. My advice is to check each course (layer) with the spirit level. If you get one layer wonky the rest will follow on! We didn’t check it nearly enough (too lazy!) and ours is a little wonky but we’re covering it with the texture paint anyway. We didn’t use a string guide but you might find that easier. The last brick in on the corners is much harder to squeeze in. Your rubber mallet will fix that! Make sure you clean off any lumps of mortar (scrape it off or a wet sponge works well) as you go.

The Art of Brick Laying

This picture makes it look solid but actually we just went around the edge of the slab and the inside is hollow. We just filled the hollow bit with broken bricks when were close to finishing.

Brick by brick.

Brick by brick.

11. When your brickwork gets high enough you’ll need to put your letterbox sleeve in. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos of this bit! You’ll need to assemble your letterbox according to it’s instructions and then set the sleeve bit in the brick. It should go in on a bed of mortar, just like the bricks. You can brick around it. Most of the letterbox sleeves we saw were “2 bricks wide” so we didn’t have to cut many bricks.

Letterbox bits

Letterbox bits: face and rear plate, universal sleeve, newspaper holder, PVC pipe. You’ll need to assemble according to the packet.

12. When you get to the top you’ll want to fill in the void with some more bricks and finish with a layer of mortar. Make sure you measure your brickwork to make sure it’s the right height! We didn’t – here it is “finished” but one course too short! We had to go back and add another layer.

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13. Let the brickwork set and dry. Again we waited a week but it probably doesn’t need that long.

Applying the texture

14. Give the brickwork a hose and a scrub to remove any dirt and dust. If you have dropped some mortar where it shouldn’t be you can remove it, carefully!, with some vinegar and a brush. Just dab some vinegar on with a sponge and scrub. Make sure you wash it thoroughly with water to rinse any vinegar off.

15. Apply the textures primer according to the directions. We just used a brush and made sure to cover all the brickwork and mortar. It needs to be applied more thickly than paint and you’ll only need one coat so make it count! Tape around any bits you don’t want to paint. Let it dry for at least 4 hours before adding the textured paint.

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Letterbox with white primer paint.

16. Using the lambswool mitt you can scoop the textured paint out of the bucket and apply it to the letterbox. Follow the directions for more information.  Lay it on thick! You’ll need two coats of this one.

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Despite the look on my face, it’s actually really fun!

Finishing off

17. After everything is dry you can go ahead and fix on the letterbox face plates. All done!

This photo was taken a while after we finished it and, as you can see, is very dirty around the bottom from the clay.

Finished letterbox- only a little bit wonky! Note, this photo was taken a while after we finished it and, as you can see, it’s very dirty around the bottom from the clay.