Thursday, June 22, 2017

Outdoor Spaces

When we began planning this house, which was immediately after purchasing the land, accessing the outdoors was a priority.  We wanted social places in the front (50-foot by 10-foot front porch -- 3 m X 15 m) and the back with our roughly 20-foot (6 m) square covered lanai.  The porch on the apartment in which my father-in-law lives also has a 10-foot (3 m) porch.  The porches and lanai have fans and recessed lighting so the areas can be used comfortably in the day and the evening.  We integrated such ideas into our house plans because we wanted to enjoy the land as much as the house.

The access of our four remaining acres of woods (of our five total acres, ~ 2.0 ha) was always in our discussions.  We knew we wanted to access the woods -- why have them if we cannot enjoy them?  A trail loop in the woods was a minimum requirement.  As there was no timeline for finalizing the plan for our outdoor spaces, ideas came and went, and some had staying power.  We knew we wanted to keep our property as wildlife-friendly as possible, so whatever we did could not destroy significant habitat and shelter.

The first area to make "people-friendly" was the anterior of the woods.  This area had naturally very low ground cover, bare in many places, due to the grove of American Holly trees which occupied the area.  It was this grove which we used to set the limits on how far back from the road our campus would sit.   We wanted to make sure that the construction of the house and its disruption of the surface soil would not impact this native space.  The anterior of the woods extends approximately 71 feet (21.64 m) from the graded yard area, which itself extends 112 feet (34.15 m) from the back of the main house.

The first improvement to the anterior was to mow the grasses and flora to improve human access:

The picture on the left is "before" and the one on the right -- though a different zoom -- is "after".  The log on the right side of the right-hand picture is the same as the log in the "before" picture.  Note the arched holly tree near the left-center of the "after" picture -- it comes into play in our outdoor spaces design.

The first element or "people space" which was added was that of a fire pit.  We will always have debris to burn, and the opportunity to share memorable times with family and friends around a fire.  The fire pit is a good solution for both.  Ours is three feet (0.915 m) in diameter:

Fire pit in the anterior of the woods.  Border Collie is optional, but usually required.

The logs are re-purposed from a 90+ year-old Loblolly pine (pinus taeda) which we lost to the home construction.  Its remnants are used throughout our outdoor spaces.  I used pavers resting upon landscape fabric to give the pavers a unified platform, and then used pea gravel to further level the pavers with respect to one another.

The next space of the anterior woods to enhance was beneath the arched holly.  The holly was naturally arched, no doubt its attempt to get more sunshine in heavy woods.  As a result, we have a natural arbor.  I used a pole-trimmer to clear the branches below the trunk, allowing people to sit comfortably beneath its beauty.

Beneath the holly: at first I made it for the only two Adirondack chairs we
had, but it was so pleasant that Pam purchased two more chairs (next photo).

With the addition of two more chairs, the number of pavers expanded from
15 to 36.  It was the right thing to do, and the photo shows the midday shadows.

The fire pit area and the holly arbor area are the only places added to the anterior.  A swing, which was first hung shortly after we bought the property for our then-one-year-old grandson (he's almost nine years old, now), was replaced last spring with a round horizontal mesh swing, to the delight of all the children who visit.

Tackling the interior of the woods would require more effort -- it would require machines.  I hired a contractor to use a forestry mulcher (here is a LINK to one at work in our area of Texas), like the one we used when we first cleared our property, to create a path in the woods.  I gave him an idea of the path I wanted, and then turned him loose.  His experience gave us a nice "boulevard" in the woods.  He did pause and contact me from time to time to discuss ideas or questions which came to mind while he was mulching the path, just to make sure we were on the same page and that I got what I wanted.  It is always good to work with professionals who understand service.

Photo of our dogs and grand-dog (the cream-colored retriever) running fast
and free on our newly-cleared trail.  The width will make the path both comfortable
and easy to maintain in the years to come.
In addition to the trail, I guided the contractor to create some "social spaces" in the woods -- places where people could sit, visit, read, meditate, reflect -- whatever a person or persons might want to do while enjoying the woods.  Most of the log sections for creating these spaces came from the 90 year-old pine which we had to cut down, and these sections were pulled into the spaces with our UTV.  Further cutting was required and placement was done by hand.

This is the first area when one takes the right-hand side of the trail (facing
away from the house).  It has four seats, a "table", and a log for more than
one person (in case you like to sit close to someone).

This space is called "Fern Overlook" and is on the bank above the creek which
runs through the back of our property at roughly the boundary.

Just for fun, I call this "Adirondack Point", so named for the green resin
Adirondack chair which I found in the bushes -- a victim of the record
April 2016 rains when it rained 17 inches (43.2 cm) in 20 hours.  The bushes
in the background are at least eight feet (2.44 m) above the creek in normal
conditions.  Last spring was not normal.

Fern Overlook (wild native ferns growing on the bank of the creek):

We just planted wood ferns which are native to Texas behind the seating area of the first social space cited above.  This place gets very soggy after heavy rains, and I am hoping the combination of grass which I have sown and the ferns (wood ferns spread as they grow) will prevent the area from becoming a mosquito breeding ground after heavy rains.

Last, but not least, the fountain we ordered finally arrived, and with help from my son-in-law, we installed it among the potted bougainvilleas.  The fountain is the last landscape element on the campus.  While the replanting of failed plants, nurturing the lawn areas, and general outdoor maintenance will continue, the landscape design implementation for Leaning Oak is now complete.