Those of you who (a) garden and (b) follow internet garden websites or DIY home improvement channels may know that "cinder block gardens" are one of the hottest residential landscape design trends right now.
I could not resist jumping onto that particular bandwagon, although my resulting design is more elaborate than most of those that have come before.
|A new innovative use for very old and very cheap materials.|
My intention was to take the wonderful ideas initiated by numerous blog sites such as Apartment Therapy...
I started this project by testing new ways of designing it, specifically, by using Lego blocks to try various lay-outs, Legos being much easier to lift than cinder blocks!
|This was one of my final designs in miniature, looking down at a representation of the yard corner where the cinder block creation was to be placed.|
|NEXT DESIGN HINT:|
Once you decide upon your layout, make a sketch or take a photograph of it. I took photos and then printed them out so that I had a "go by" in front of me at all times while I was building.
|Sand fill was added to the excavated areas as part of the leveling process.|
|This is a critical step: I used 8" x 16" flat pavers to form the foundation of the structure, but they had to be set precisely level or else the entire structure would have been out of whack. My engineer husband assisted with this part of the task.|
|This is the adhesive that we used, obtained from Home Depot. It seemed to be very strong and good for the job.|
|Prior to buttering with the adhesive, we used a wire brush to remove loose material from the bottoms of the cinder blocks...|
|...and a nylon brush to remove dust.|
|Once we got the structure assembled, it was time to line the bottom of the cinder block planter holes so that the potting soil would be retained within them. There are a couple of different ways to do this. Some previous posters used broken sections of pavers and wedged / glued them into place. That struck me as a lot of work, and very heavy besides. Blogger Sunny used cavity caps, but we found two problems with that idea: (1) The do not seem to be available anywhere in the southern United States at this time (I did the research), and therefore if they are used, they have to be ordered out of suppliers in the eastern United States (2) Although they are galvanized, I was worrying about the rusting potential because, again, they are designed to be used in the conventional manner with mortar, which would largely seal them from the environment. The last thing I want to eventually have is a bunch of rust streaks down the sides of my cinderblocks. For these reasons, I decided to try less massive hardware cloth that I could line with plastic. It still could rust, but there's less of it.|
|The adhesive that we used seemed to be really strong, and so this is how we attached the pieces of hardware cloth into the bottoms of the cinderblock cavities.|
|This is maybe overkill, but I also cut strips of plastic to use as liners inside each of the cinderblock cavities. I also added a bit of pea gravel to the bottom of each, the way you would add it for drainage to a regular flowerpot.|
|I also added landscape fabric to the bottom, to discourage weeds.|
|On top of the landscape fabric, I added a layer of pea gravel for drainage. This is also a good place to get rid of your scraps of broken stone and pavers.|
|Soil mix for planting cacti and succulents: Several websites recommend a mixture of sand, potting soil, and peat moss in equal proportions, so I did that.|
|I blended these components together in a wheelbarrow. |
Note that, while individual cinderblock cavities are not large, I had eighteen of them in this design. Cumulatively, they consumed an entire wheelbarrow of mixed soil.
|I also blended cactus soil for the final top layer of the central planting bed.|
|I had been collecting cacti and succulents throughout the winter from a variety of big box stores. Usually during the winter months, they go on sale for very low prices.|
Materials and approximate DIY cost* of this project:
- 8 x 16 cinderblocks: approx. 50 blocks @ $1.46/block = $73.00
- 8 x 8 cinderblocks: approx. 10 blocks @ $1.08/block = $10.80
- 8 x 16 pavers: approx. 25 pavers @ $1.31/paver = $32.75
- Construction adhesive: 6 tubes at $7.50/tube = $45.00
- Peat moss (only about 15% of the bag was used): 1 bag @ $9/bag = $9.00
- Potting soil: 1 bag @ $7/bag = $7.00
- Construction sand: 6 bags @ $3.50/bag = $21.00
- Cacti and succulents: 23 plants @ average approx. $2.50/plant = $57.50
(* Approx. retail prices in Houston Texas in February 2012. Note that the block counts I did above are rough counts made after the structure was completed.)
Thanks for viewing!! If I have any follow-up comments or hindsight lessons, I'll amend the post in the section below this line.
ADDED APRIL 5, 2013:
No new design proves to be 100% perfect from the outset, and this garden is no exception. Structurally and horticulturally, it has performed better than expected - but I'm in greater Houston, and we have to live with an intense outdoor menace in our area: invasive South American fire ants.
|They are a scourge upon these United States. |
Screengrabbed from this TPWD site.
|For the past several years, I have successfully used neem oil to keep fire ants out of my vegetable stock tanks. Neem oil does not kill fire ants, but it interferes with their sense of smell, so they cannot tolerate it. It drives them away very efficiently. |
However, stock tank gardens are very open and accessible and easy to treat. In contrast, the cinder block cavities create closed environments where it's very difficult to reach the ants...
|This is me squirting the diluted neem oil solution into that hole using an old dish detergent bottle that I washed out for this purpose.|
|I also have to do the same thing between the gaps in the cinder blocks, because the fire ants will seize ANY untreated area as a nesting foot-hold, no matter how small.|
Aside from the misery that the ants have caused me, watching this garden grow has been wonderful. This post shows some of the blooming results from spring 2013.
|Into every southern suburban life, a few ant problems must fall. But incredible beauty also falls.|