Design a Circular Sod-and-Brick Seating Area
Host Ken Bastida shows how to lay out bricks to hug the curves and round out the seating area with a colorful assortment of plants.
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Homeowner Lynn Hale has a 40- by 40-foot backyard that's a blank canvas ready for some landscaping. She likes the idea of brick and lawn but doesn't want a traditional square patio with lawn surrounding it. She would like something unique and interesting with an English country feel and lots of color.
Landscape designer Lisa Van Cleef takes the idea of a square patio inside a square lawn and turns it inside out. She puts the lawn in the center, framed by a circular brick walkway, which in turn is framed by planting beds. She says that incorporating circular designs is a great way to add a classic touch to your landscaping. In a formal garden, curves can set off a beautiful fountain, but the shape also lends itself to more casual designs.
The brick path will extend from the steps at the base of the deck, encircling the middle of the yard. The sod lawn inside the path will provide plenty of room for seating. The planting beds will curve around the path, filling the yard with cheery color in every direction.
Lisa estimates that a professional would charge about $3,000 for the design, materials and installation (including the cost of sod but not plants). A do-it-yourselfer can build the pathway and lawn for only $850 in materials. Because the bricks don't have to be mortared, the project is a 2 on a scale of 1 (easy) to 5 (hard) and can be completed in two weekends.
Framing the Seating Area
As with any seating area or patio, start with a clear site. Also ensure that the area is sloped 1/4 inch for every foot away from the house for proper drainage.
Locate the center point of the seating area for this project, 13 feet from the house, centered off the stairs. The crew uses a laser level, which can be rented for $80/day, to set the center point. They place it at the midpoint of the seating area where it lines up with the beam.
Place a stake in the middle of the seating area. Tie a string line and pull it out to the radius (in other words, one-half the width) of the size lawn you want. Attach the other end of the string line to a line marker to mark the perimeter (figure C).
Frame the area with recycled plastic 1"x4" bender boards, available for $15 per 20-foot plank. Bend the boards to shape, screw one end to another and hammer in stakes to hold it in place (figure D). Raise the frame up a few inches to set the grade away from the house, and screw the boards to the stakes.
Preparing for the Path
Contractor Tom Kirk dry-sets the bricks in a sand and cement mixture, instead of mortaring them in place. For this project, you need 10 bags each of sand ($4/bag) and cement ($6/bag).
Using a spacer to maintain the 3-foot width, hammer in stakes to mark the outer perimeter of the path. Compact the soil with a vibratory plate compactor, available to rent for $50/day. Pour and rake out a couple inches of road base ($75/cubic yard), which helps set the grade and provide support underneath the path.
Frame the outside perimeter with more bender board, making sure it's level with the inner frame before fastening it to the stakes (figure E).
If you are installing a landing to lead to the path, go ahead and frame it, compact it and fill with a couple inches of road base. Then compact the road base in both the landing and circular path.
Top the road base with a layer of landscape fabric ($20/roll) to create a barrier against any pesky weeds. Pleat the material to fit inside the curving frame (figure F). Secure it with irrigation stakes or landscape staples. Spread out more road base and compact it again.
Mix equal parts of sand and dry cement and spread out the mixture 1/2 inch deep. Use a screed board (figure G) made out of scrap pieces of bender board to distribute the mixture evenly inside the frame. Hand-pack the surface for a smooth finish.
Laying the Bricks
Tom is reusing bricks from the homeowner's previous patio and bought more used ones for 40 cents apiece. He chose a standard running board pattern with staggered seams, which does not require many cuts.
Spray the path surface with water so that the bricks adhere better to the dry mortar mixture. Start laying bricks in a single row and then adjust them to achieve the staggered seam design (figure H).
Keep adding bricks to the path, and the pattern will fall into place (figure I). Maintain consistent spacing between the bricks.
As you get close to completing the circle, you'll probably end up with some odd-sized gaps. Cut the bricks to sizes you need using a wet saw, and complete the path (figure J).
Move on to the landing. Lay the bricks except those closest to the circular path. Mark each brick in the final row with the angle you need (figure K). Cut the bricks to size and complete the landing (figure L).
To fill the gaps between bricks, sweep some of the dry sand-cement mixture into the cracks. Sweep off the surface of the bricks and then wet down the gaps to lock the bricks in place. You may have to repeat this process to completely fill the gaps.
After the mortar dries, you may notice a white film on the bricks, which can be scrubbed off with a brush and water. Or you can leave it to give the bricks an aged, whitewashed look.
Planting: A Circular Garden
To emphasize the circular path, Lisa designs a garden bed to encircle the path. She chooses lush, colorful plants to achieve an English country look and drought-tolerant plants for low maintenance. Her plants have silvery foliage to reflect the sunlight or fuzzy leaves to collect morning dew. She uses dwarf fescue for the lawn, which stays short and doesn't have to be mowed as often. Her planting plan includes:
- Peruvian Lily (Alstromeria 'Hot Pink'), Zones 8-10, which have bright flowers with unusual flecks and are a great flower to cut for arrangements
- Verbascum 'Helen Johnson', Zones 5-9, which are covered with multitudes of colorful rosettes and wooly stems
- Yellow flowering maple (Abutilon hydridum 'Luteus'), Zones 9-10, with arching branches adorned with eye-catching, bell-shaped flowers
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