Backyard Patio

My husband and myself have been working on a particular project for over a year now. Yes, it is true, our backyard patio is turning into a never ending patio project.  Granted, our patio does look great, but honestly, I am quite done with it myself.  I would like to add ONE more thing, and then it would be a masterpiece, but priorities!  For the time being it does look great, maybe next year we will finish it off.

Last summer James thought that we needed to extended our small concrete patio and we wanted a sturdy fire pit that would not burn though itself (like our cheap one had from Lowes).  We mapped out what we wanted to do and went to the local store to get the materials.  Before we went to the store, we decided that we wanted a slate patio (gasp! I know, its expensive, but it was a small space and James knew the guy, so we got the contractors discount.  PLUS, we took the reject pile of slate, the colors that did not match perfectly or the awkwardly shaped stones–cha-ching! Another discount!).

Notice the rickety fire pit? And yes, the dogs thought they needed to help as well.
Please disregard the gross looking grass in our backyard. That is a whole other disaster that will need to be dealt with eventually.

I should mention this project last April was done in the cold(ish), cloudy, rainy weather.  We cut up and pulled up the sod. Which was extremely easy in most spots since the grass was pretty much dead.  The landscapers put the sod right on top of clay and large rocks, with very little soil.  The roots of the grass were brown and fuzzy.  So the sod lifted up like old carpet without any glue on it after we got it started.  After we removed the sod we (and we I mean James) removed some of the clay while I chiseled the massive rocks out of our way.


We then put down pea gravel on top of the dug out clay.  (For those of you who have done this sort of thing before, Yes, I know and I will get back to that.)  We put all the slate pieces out on the grass and I looked at them for a long time to see how my puzzle could be put together–because we got the pieces that nobody else wanted due to color or shape.  We finally started to place our slate onto our patio outline. We made an outside border and worked our way in.  For the second time, Yes, I am NOW aware that is NOT how you place slate, but at the time it seemed like a good idea if we wanted a clean line on the outside.

We also outlined our “square” fire pit, which turns out was not square.  It turns out that it is a lot harder to get randomly cut stone to make a perfect square.

Yes, it was drizzling the whole time we were doing this, but it made the slate pieces look very vibrant!  After 3 hours of moving slate into place and then moving it again because the last piece did not fit properly, they got very, VERY heavy!  But we finally placed all the pieces and poured the rest of the pea gravel between the slate.

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Not too shabby for two people who have never done this before!

Well, let me get back to my first “Yes, duh” moment.  We did dig down about 2 inches to put the pea gravel down and thought that it would be enough. TA-DA! it was not.  While the pea gravel is small, turns out it is not small enough and the stones moved just slightly when you stepped onto them.  That was not satisfactory for James.  Me? I was so tired and sick of the two day (ALL DAY) project that I really did not care at the moment.  So we started to REMOVE all the stone and attempted to put them onto the yard in the same place that they were in the patio.  I say attempted, because once again, the way our minds work failed us and we did not work in unison. Communication, right?  Well we did decide that we were going to place the stones in the same order as they were in the patio. What we did not discuss was how to place them.  One of us flipped the pieces and one did not. And of course we did not notice that until we removed them all.  TOO LATE.

After we dysfunctionally removed the slate from the pea gravel we shoveled all the pea gravel back into the wheel barrel.  James then dug down two more inches into the clay, while I once again chiseled out more big rocks–some probably 5 pounds.  After that was done, we (covered in mud from head to toe–literally) went back to the home and garden landscaping store and bought some sand.  We put the sand down, I leveled it out and made quite an impressive sand garden design.  Then, we started to once again put the slate back down onto the sand. We pretty much started over from scratch and once again, we put the outline of the patio in before we started to work our way inward. Because the outside stones were easier to see with their flat edges…right?  Then we put the pea gravel back into the cracks of the stone and DONE! (for the second time)

I should mention that an uneven stone or a stone that moved when it was stepped on was not acceptable.  So if that happened, we lifted it up and rearranged the sand until it was satisfactory.  So if you think about it, without allowing the stones to settle at all (yet again, another “yes, duh” moment), we lifted up EVERY stone yet another time and made sure that it was level and did not move.  (Ding Ding! Third time placing them!)

Ok, that was last April.  And the patio was a hit all summer!  It was very nice to have the extra space to hang out in without migrating to the grass.  By the time we were done with the patio neither one of us really cared what the fire pit actually looked like.  So last weekend we decided it was time to retire the decrepit fire pit and get a new one.  We measured out our fire pit, at which point we realized how “un-square like” our fire pit actually is.  James looked at me like “Well, whats another time to lift up the stones and put them down making sure our fire pit is square?”  My response? “Its fine, lets wing it.”

We did our weekend tradition and went to Lowes/Home Depot to get our fire pit materials and came back home.  We decided on rock like concrete stones (which weighed a ton) and we had to carry them one by one or two by by for James into the backyard.  James always lets me figure out the cosmetic side of the project, because I want the different color stones to flow.  You can’t have two of the same color next to each other right?  I put them down and realized how miserable our not so square fire pit was going to be–but I kept it to myself since I was not going to redo the slate patio for a forth time in less than 1 year.  James did notice that some of the slate right next to the fire pit was uneven compared to the next one. So he started to lift up the slate and dig some of the sand out to make them level.  Ok, yes, I can go with that, we don’t want our fire pit to be wobbly. But then he decided that quite a few of them were uneven from the freeze and thaw of winter.(James, go for it, I will stand inside watching you while drinking some wine.)

This is the stone we got for our fire pit.

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James wanted a fire pit that looked like this. I thought why not? It is cheaper (minus two big rocks) and honestly I am not sure we could actually fit two more stones in there without having the top row stick out from the bottom one. Why? Really, the only reason I could think of is because we did not start off with a square and I just made it as square as I could.

Looks pretty nice huh?  Maddie (the golden retriever) has a ball in her mouth, she is not getting sick.

Now, the last thing that needs to be added before it is a masterpiece, you ask?  I would like to put a wood deck over the concrete patio and extend it to the side of the house so that our picnic table can sit on the deck instead of landscape rock. It hurts if you walk on it barefoot.  Plus, I think the transition from the wood deck to the slate patio will look a little better than concrete to slate. But again, that is not a priority.


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