Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fall, a great time for outdoor projects

This beautiful rose arbor at Sierra Azul Nursery in Watsonville, is actually
 a pergola because it shades a long walkway. Note the pointed roof shape.
7 Secrets to the 2 hottest, dreamiest backyard projects yet
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, September 10, 2011

Throughout the spring and summer,
Sunset uses fashion/beauty lingo to sell

March: Makeovers for small backyards
April: 7 secrets to beautiful backyards
May: Get your backyard ready for summer
June: Create a dreamy backyard retreat
August: Hottest backyard looks

Obviously, Sunset has to compete in supermarket check-out lines with the glamorous covers of Marie Claire, Seventeen and In Style.  The difference is, as the weather starts to cool in September, so does the intensity of Sunset’s backyard teases.

September: Easy-grow gourmet lettuce

But September and October are actually perfect months to start new backyard projects. The warm days start with sunshine instead of fog and still last well into the evening. The two “hot” projects I propose also make practical sense as fall projects. The first, an arbor, will add a beautiful focal point to a yard that may not be as verdant and colorful as it was in the spring and summer. And the second, a compost bin filled with spent annuals, fall leaves and kitchen scraps, will save you money and time because you won’t need to shop for garden soil and amendments in the spring.

All About Arbors

Painted red, black and turquoise, this arbor serves as a
gateway to the Japanese Garden at the Sesnon House at
Cabrillo College in Aptos
Although arbors generally play supporting roles (for plants and vines), they can also be the mood-setting stars of the show. An arbor—especially a colorful one—can provide a splendid vertical highlight in an otherwise placid garden. Or, when fitted with a bench or swing, can draw you in to a relaxing getaway. A gated arbor can offer a warm friendly welcome in front of a home, or add a sense of wonder as you enter a private garden retreat.

Although arbors are typically made from pressure-treated lumber, eye-catching arbors can also be made from a variety of unexpected or cast-off materials such as curving willow branches, rough hewn logs, or even iron rebar.

The graceful arc of this arbor complements
the round shape in the gate to this
apartment complex entrance in Gilroy
Larger than a trellis but smaller than a pergola, an arbor usually consists of two or four upright posts connected overhead by a horizontal lattice which offers shade below and a climbing structure for plants. The overhead connection is typically flat, but can also be rounded like an arch or peaked like a roof.

Arbors are often designed to complement the style of the surrounding home and garden. A traditional design will feature crisp, symmetrical lines. A cottage design will typically have curving lines and liberal embellishment. A simple, contemporary design will make use of sleek industrial materials like metal and concrete.  A rustic design will be more freewheeling and one-of-a kind, sometimes making use of found, rusted or improvised materials.
The Garden Company Nursery on Mission Avenue in Santa
Cruz is a great place to see lots of different arbor designs.
This one supports hanging plants and provides shade
 to seedlings below.
You can find lots of free plans and instructions for arbor-building online or at your local library. The ideal money-saving arbor would be made from recycled materials. But a simple, yet sturdy arbor can be made from new lumber for about $100. Start your Website search with “how to build an arbor” or flip through the pages of “Making Arbors & Trellises” by Marcianne Miller and Olivier Rollin for lots of ideas, plans and instructions.

Surf City Coffee Co. in Aptos has a thick, asymmetrical arbor
to support a beautiful, mature wisteria.
Compost Bins

My favorite DIY Website, Instructables, has plans for several compost bins made from recycled products like garbage cans and pallets. I've used a black plastic orb for composting for years, but it gets too heavy to roll around as it fills up with moist material. I wanted to make a sturdy bin that was easier to use, would not compost itself, and could accommodate more waste, without spending too much on materials.

Wooden compost bin plans often call for pressure-treated lumber, but I don't like the idea of pesticides in the lumber leaching into my compost and soil. So I decided to use recycled redwood, which I had in abundance from a play structure we built for our kids when they were young. Redwood or cedar are the best choices since they are rot-resistant, and will keep the garden organic and safe.

Although the triple bin I built uses lumber, the sides are made from wire hardware cloth, so this cuts down on the expense of using all wood. You'll need a 3x9 foot space in your yard to accommodate this bin. The large size will allow you to compost everything you've got—from garden trimmings to kitchen waste. Ours is place in the vegetable garden but not too many paces from the kitchen door, to make composting as convenient as possible.

The triple bin will also allow you to compost in stages, moving the contents from one bin to the next as the material breaks-down. With removable wooden slats in the front, the compost is very accessible and easy to turn, stir or shovel to the next bin or the garden.

For my step-by-step instructions with photographs, see There is also a lively discussion in the comments section on the best methods for effective composting. Incorporating recycled lumber will cut down on the cost, but with purchased hardware and Con-Common grade redwood the total cost would be about $220. If you don’t have space for such a large bin, you can cut down on the materials (and cost) by building just one or two bins with the same basic principles of construction. 

1 comment:

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