The Pergola Project

years in the making...


I always wanted to do something special with the backyard.  These days on HGTV, they call it an "outdoor room".  That means turning a part of your yard into usable space, or space you actually use.


Scott wanted to put up some sort of Gazebo.  So, I got some books on outdoor living spaces, gazebo plans, etc.  We started going through them to decide on something we both liked (which was days longer and a more involved process than one can imagine).  Well, of course, what Scott liked there were no plans for in the book.  Only a picture.  So, we wrote our own plans as we went.



Digging this out took several days.  The excess dirt and sod we hid everywhere - building up the bank of the driveway, filling in holes in the dog yard, etc.  We leveled it.  (There's a test.)  We sunk 10 foot long 4X4's into holes that are 12 inches diameter and 6 foot deep, graveled beneath and then cemented in.  To dig the holes, Scott rented a two man auger.  Please note, this whole thing was built by 1 man and 1 woman.  We did not have 2 men to run the auger.  I could barely even lift my half.  How I managed to pull it up out of a 6 foot hole loaded with dirt and running, I do not know.

Each corner consists of four 12 foot 4X4's and four 5 foot 4X6's cut on a diagonal at the top.  The center posts that are cemented in from the above photo are at the center of each 8.  We needed to bolt this together on all 4 sides of each corner, i.e. through 3 boards on each side.  We cut lengths of threaded rod 16" long which we put through holes drilled 12 inches up from the base.  This is low enough that all the bolts will be below the level of the floor and unseen.
Into the floor we spread this 4 ton pile of lime gravel.  Now, one might ask why we didn't just have the truck that delivered the gravel dump it where we needed it.  That's a good question and there is a good answer.  Between the driveway and Pergola is my septic system.  We can not have any big equipment driving over it, ever.  Everything had to be hand shoveled into our trusty cart and unloaded by hand. 
Being tired of digging out dirt and re-distributing it somewhere, mixing cement, putting up posts and shoveling gravel; we decide it's time to plant a tree.  We chose a Serviceberry multi-stem clump that should attain about the same height as the Pergola and shade it nicely from the setting sun.
Two inches of sand went in on top of the 6 inches of gravel.  We bought pavers and, moved them a cartload at a time, staged next to the Pergola.  Each paver is 18 inches square and weights 33 pounds (that's almost as much as a big bag of dog food).
The way pavers are installed is to level packed sand with a straight edge and lay them down loose.  They are not cemented, but just closely fit together and bound by the edging.  Sometimes it would take several attempts at adjusting the sand to get one block level with those around it.  Did I mention they weight 33 pounds apiece?
We cut pavers to fit precisely around the corner posts.  Now, this is a test in measuring and making a pattern it fit.  I think we only ruined about a half a dozen or two.  Can I give you a tip about cutting stone pavers?  Get as good of a blade as you can afford.  Also, be sure to use a mask as the dust it puts up is unbelievable.



We did get the top of the Pergola on which are 10 foot long 2X2's set 2 inches apart resting on the 4X4's in tandem. We added a tiny amount of detail when we opted to use washers and bolts with a gold patina.  

It was about at this point when a friend asked us, "Have the aliens had told us what to do with that structure, yet?" 



That was all we could get done in the summer of 2002.  The following spring our little serviceberry bloomed.


Well, we had to have a path from the patio to the Pergola.  So, we bought more pavers.  Oh, let's not forget to mention the small task of digging out the entire bank, redistributing dirt somewhere on our 2 acres, and getting more gravel and sand moved in (by hand, one cartload at a time).  And, since Scott wanted the path "to be curvy", we had to make more cuts.  This path took the next summer.  I am feeling older just remembering....


We did this little wall first as practice since neither Scott or I had ever put in a rock wall.  We made a pact before starting the big wall.  If he didn't like the way a rock was set, we moved it.  If I didn't like the way a rock was set, we moved it.  This meant we moved, turned, rotated and tried different rocks many, many (did I say many?) times.

I got some interesting perennials in, called Lucifer.  They have an exotic red flower that is similar to an orchid, but hardy to Iowa.

All thrifty people will find it interesting that we did not buy a single rock.  Instead of going to church Sunday mornings, we'd drive around road construction sites and find all the rocks those road crews didn't want.  We'd help them out by removing them.  Many of these rocks weighed in excess of 100 pounds.  Amen.
We liked the first serviceberry so much we bought a second one and put it in.  Ta-Da!  The south side of the walk is "landscaped" and that concludes 2004.  Yes, the rock wall took a whole summer.  Remember the "moving, turning, rotating and trying a different rock"?  Scott's triceps had never been bigger.
Meanwhile, for the last 5 years, north of the Pergola, I've been growing two Butterfly Magnolia trees.  They started out as 18 inch tall twigs (@ $75 apiece mail order).  This year, 2005, they are mature enough and spring is mild enough that the blooms are JUST GORGEOUS!


To the right of the Magnolias is a weeping birch that adds some interest, don't you think?

We're not completely done with our "outdoor rooms" project.  The path that takes an immediate left needs a decorative bridge to attach it to the walk around the house.  We have "toyed" with the idea of a faux water feature, like a dry river bed, beneath the bridge.  I don't want to mess with real water, not in Iowa.  Maybe we'll get the bridge done in 2005.

to be continued....