Category Archives: Garden Renovation

As two people who really aren’t gardeners, my wife and I have decided to throw money at the problem and have the garden professionally landscaped into something we can actually enjoy. It will include space for a portable steaming track.

Garden Renovation: Fence

November has turned wet, but our brilliant designer/builder is prepared to keep working on our garden renovation – with some help from a tent:

Marc + Tent
(Marc brings fence boards through the garage. The big sliding door is a real help when moving large stuff)

Tent + Tools
(As long as the power tools are dry, work can continue)

The next project is primarily cosmetic: new cladding for the fences to make them look more modern. The work is straight-forward, but fussy. The posts need to be shimmed to ensure the fence cladding remains straight along its length, and intermediate supports are required so the fence boards do not buckle. The figuring and prepping took a few days, but then the boards themselves went on relatively quickly.

Fence in progress.

Deck and fence
(The deck at the back door is finished, and work on the fence has started)

Garage deck
(The deck at the garage has also been finished and our garbage bin shed is back in place)

Fence + inspectors
(The inspectors check out the progress on the fence – and approve!)

We’re still determining how to treat the fence on the south side of the property. A preliminary investigation revealed a couple of rotted posts on this side, too – so we’ll have to discuss the fence with our neighbours on that side…

Garden Renovation: Decks

Bill and Trixie
(Bill, our landscaper, and his border collie Trixie inspect the progress on the new decks)

With most of the stone patio work completed, the next step in the garden renovation was to add decks at the back door and at the garage. The crew spent a couple of days installing and truing up the footings, then built the framing:

Deck framing - back door
(Framing for the back door deck. A drain pipe will distribute rain water under the deck. The wooden panels are a temporary path for our dogs to reach the garden)

Deck framing - garage
(The framing for the deck at the garage end of the garden. This will be extended under the recycling bin storage box as well)

For the decking itself, we went with a sustainable option – Bamboo:

Bamboo

I’m not sure how “X-treme” it is, but it sure looks nice…

Deck bamboo - garage
(The forecast calls for rain, which will take care of those boot prints)

Deck bamboo - back door
(The inspectors check it out on a wet Saturday)

The decks are only a small step up from ground level, but they nicely add interest to the garden while maintaining the sense of open space that we desired. There’s still some work to do on them, but we’re really happy with the results so far!

Garden Renovation: No more wires

No more wires!
(It may seem like a small thing, but it made a huge difference)

Since we were executing a scorched earth policy in the back garden anyway, we decided to remove the overhead wires and place them in conduit below ground:

Conduits and Cables.
(Jack inspects the conduit. Click on the image to read more)

This week, the lines were successfully re-routed. First, our designer/contractor removed the four overhead power lines that connected our garage to the main panel in the house:

Removing the power lines

At the same time, he routed our internet connection through the garage and up the old power pole. Then, a field technician pulled down our overhead lines (you can see them running through the new trees in the above photo) and routed those underground too:

Re-routing the internet connection

The difference, as shown in the lead photo, is actually bigger than I thought it would be. I can only surmise that the overhead lines would act as something for the eye to focus on, so they would draw the eye along them to the edges of the garden. They would also divide the sky into strips – much more so than I thought a thin black line would. The view from the ground is much, much better now.

From a practical perspective, we’ve removed the potential for our new trees to cause a problem with our wires.

I’m really glad we did this!

Garden Renovation: Plants and Trees

Garden overview
(It’s starting to look like a garden where we actually want to spend time!)

Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed some plants appearing along the fences of the garden in my previous post about the new stone patio. (If you did not, you can revisit that post. Go ahead: I’ll wait here.)

With the patio mostly in place, the landscapers decided it’s time to finish the plantings – especially in the back (northwest) corner of the garden. With three border collies in residence, we’ve gone with a mix of hardy shrubs and a stand of trees that – as they grow – will help shade the garden from afternoon sun.

Truck - trees
(It was exciting to see the truck pull up across the street yesterday, with trees on board)

Trees and bulbs
(Shrubs and edging for the patio)

Trees and bulbs
(Some colour for the spring)

Trees and bulbs
(Planting Trees and burying bulbs)

Trees and shrubs
(Bill the landscaper spreads mulch around the trees. The overhead wires will be buried in conduit as mentioned previously on this blog)

Trees and shrubs
(The pocket garden under the trees, with lots of room for plants to grow)

Trees and bulbs
(The baggage wagon, set in place)

Lion and Lamb
(A lion and lamb, from my mother’s house, finds a place to rest in a corner of the patio)

From from the back landing
(The view that greets visitors as they enter the garden. There are plans for all those spaces currently occupied by gravel…)

Overhead perspective
(The garden as seen from the 2nd floor deck off my home office)

Dogs
(As always, the inspectors must inspect at the end of the day)

More to come next week, as we move on to adding some wood tones to the space!

Garden Renovation: A Proper Patio

As my wife and I discussed the garden renovation with our designer/contractor, one of the things I insisted upon was a large patio. I wanted space to set up a portable steaming track (as well as space to swing sheet goods through a table saw on occasion). With the jungle cleared, the services laid, and the gravel spread, the landscaper’s stone expert got to work.

Al worked on his own – no need for distractions, I guess – and spent two and a half days laying out the patio:

Garden Patio

Garden Patio

Garden Patio

Garden Patio

Garden Patio

Garden Patio

It was wonderful watching the patio grow from a single square into this new, welcoming space. We’re looking forward to hosting parties (and steam-ups) in our garden!

Garden Patio Inspectors
(The inspectors, well… inspect)

Next up, some greenery…

Garden Renovation: Unseen Essentials

The landscaping crew is making quick work of rebuilding our back garden. With the destruction out of the way, the next step involved adding some services into the garden to make it a more welcome space – and hiding others from view.

Right now, two sets of wires span the garden, front to back. One set delivers electricity from our main panel to a satellite panel in the garage. The other set runs from the laneway to provide our Internet access. Right from the start, we knew we wanted to bury the electrical service in conduit. As for the Internet, we made some phone calls and had an onsite visit from a technician from the appropriate utility, and were instructed on what needed to be done to bury that as well.

The landscapers ran the necessary conduits and cables along the north side of the yard:

Conduits and Cables.

Jack inspects the work – and approves!

Jack inspects.

We also added water and natural gas hook-ups, for the watering system and a grille:

Utilities

With that work out of the way, gravel – lots of gravel – started to arrive, to form the foundation for a new patio:

Gravel

Patio installation is next… and will radically transform the space.

Garden Renovation: Clearing the Jungle

For someone interested in live steam and running trains in the garden, I have one huge hurdle to overcome.

I am not a gardener.

I’m lousy at gardening – and what’s more, I hate doing the work.

I blame my mother for this, in part: She was an amazing gardener and whenever I’ve attempted anything involving plants and soil, I always end up feeling inadequate. She had two green tubs: Mine are black. In addition, my mother often recruited me to help doing the donkey work in the garden – the digging of new beds or the end of season clean-up. It’s no wonder I prefer to work indoors.

Still… one does not need a garden railway in order to be a live steam enthusiast. As I have learned through my friends, it’s possible to enjoy this very social hobby with the aid of a temporary/portable steaming track:

Doors Open 2008 - Water Boilers Display Track

Setting up such a track in the back yard on nice days would be, well, nice! If only I had the space. Well, it turns out I do – or I will…

Given that we live in the downtown of one of the most expensive cities in Canada, my wife and I have a huge amount of under-used space on our property: Namely, a back garden that’s approximately 20 x 40 feet (with an extension of roughly 10 x 10 along one side of the house). Neither of us are gardeners, so over the years it has become a bit (well, a lot) of a jungle:

Back yard - September 28 2018
(The garden, as it appeared at the end of September)

Having lived with this suboptimal situation for several years, we decided this year to do something about it. So, we talked to the designer/builder who has been helping us renovate our house. He devised a plan and has brought in one of his landscaping contacts to help make it happen. It’s in progress now, and should be done before the snow flies.

The plan includes a large patio – big enough for parties, but also big enough to swing sheet goods over a table saw or host a portable steaming track. At some point next year, my goal is to build such a track – and find room to store it in the garage.

But that’s in the future. Right now, the work has started and I couldn’t be more excited. Here are some progress shots of the clearing of the jungle:

Garden - October 3
(October 3: The landscapers made short work of the greenery)

Garden - October 5
(October 5: The crew removed a lot of stone, and is now down to the soil and rubble)

Garden - October 9
(October 9: We decided to do this work, in part, because a storm blew down portions of the fence along the north side of our garden. The crew has replaced rotted posts and re-hung panels. The baggage wagon makes a handy, mobile storage space. There’s a spot for it in the new garden, of course!)

There’s a lot more to do – and I’ll share more progress photos in future posts. I’ve also created a category for all posts related to this project – Garden Renovation – for those who want to follow along.

A whistle post for the garden

I made a trip down to Port Colborne, Ontario recently to visit my friend Jim Martin. Jim and his wife recently moved to a smaller property and wanted to unload some pieces that were surplus to their needs – including this whistle post, once used on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway:

NST Whistle Post - Garage

The NS&T is a significant prototype for me, with a lot of personal connection. In fact, I’m currently debating whether to model it in 1:64 (S scale). More about the whistle post can be found on my NS&T website but what’s important here is that I’m happy to take a turn as the caretaker for this piece of railway history, now that Jim has decided he no longer needs it in his life.

Fortunately, the post fit in the truck – barely:

NST Whistle Post - Truck

Before my trip, Jim measured the post for me. It’s 12″ wide, 3.5″ deep, and stands 73″ tall. A quick measurement of my truck showed that 73″ would just fit, if the post rode on its edge and was angled across the bed. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if it had been 74″…

As the lead photo shows, the post is currently propped against some renovation materials in the garage, but it won’t be there for long. That’s because in a month or so, landscaping work begins on our back yard.

My wife and I have been working with our architect/contractor and a landscaper that he likes to use to eliminate the jungle behind our house and convert it into a welcoming, useable space. The whistle post will find a home in the new back yard, alongside the baggage wagon I acquired several years ago:

Baggage Wagon
(The baggage wagon, currently being used to hold some patio stone samples for my wife and I to review. To learn more about the wagon, click on the image.)

Of course, one of the reasons to undertake this landscaping project is to create a space where I can set up a portable steaming track, so I can start to enjoy the live steam equipment I’ve collected over the years. Most of the hardscaping will be done before the winter, with planting in the spring, but once the garden is ready I’ll even be able to host steam-ups. I can’t wait!