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Creating a Patio with Concrete Circles

This "polka dot garden" adds curves and creativity to an ordinary square backyard.

Homeowners Darek Defreece and Alan Croteau have a house in a homeowners' association, and all the backyards look the same. They don?t like their deck and shrubs (figure A) and want a yard that looks totally different than their neighbors'.

The First Meeting

Darek and Alan meet with landscape designer Shirley Watts, who takes on the challenge to transform their yard in just 2 1/2 days. The yard has a beautiful view of marshlands and the ocean, so Shirley wants the design to tie in with the view. Everything — from the shape of the deck to the shrubs — is too square, so Shirley adds some curves.

Figure B

Her design (figure B) includes removing the main deck, which is rotting, and adding two steps from the sliding glass door landing to the yard. In place of the deck will be a series of concrete circles, with soil and plantings in between them. The metal fence will be disguised with circular planters of varying sizes and heights and plants that tie in with the marsh plants beyond the fence. The materials for this unique project cost about $4,000.

Figure C

Day One

After the main deck is removed, the remaining side deck is power-washed to remove mud and ocean salt. Contractors Fred Norgaard and Mike Meehan arrive to build the two steps. They construct a frame with support joists every 16 inches. Redwood decking, laid diagonally for visual interest, covers the joists. Figure C shows the large step being carried to the backyard. It is attached to the backdoor landing.

Figure D

Shirley makes circular planters using concrete tubing, a smaller one inside a larger one, with concrete poured in the space between the two (figure D). The tubing is arranged along the fence before it is filled with heavy concrete. After the concrete dries overnight, the outer and inner tubes are removed.

Day Two

For the circular concrete pads, they use a cement mixer, available to rent for about $30/day. Shirley uses decomposed granite instead of sand, for a different look and feel (3 parts decomposed granite to 1 part cement). An aluminum edging material is used to form the various sizes of circles, and aluminum pipe is cut to form the smaller circles.

Figure E

They add a layer of sand to the bottom of the circular forms and grade it for drainage. Then they pour concrete into the circles (figure E) and screed the top with a board to level it. While the concrete is still wet, they scatter pieces of smooth, recycled glass on top to add interest and sparkle to the surface. A trowel is used to gently press the glass into the concrete and smooth the surface. About a half an hour later, when the concrete hardens a little, the top layer of concrete is rinsed off with a hose to reveal the glass.

Figure F

Day Three

Shirley's planting plan includes native California grasses and plants, including Blue Margherite, that blend with the marsh plants on the other side of the fence. Using plants that tie in with the surrounding landscape makes a yard appear larger. The concrete planters are painted with a blue-green stain, and then the plants are added (figure F). The area around the circular concrete pads is filled with soil and more plants. Smaller potted plants and other decorations fill in to complete the area.

Figure G

The completed "polka dot garden" (figure G ), with multiple concrete circles and marsh-like plants, is much more creative and welcoming than the original square space. The transformation gives Darek and Alan a unique retreat that is truly different from neighboring yards.

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