Pinterest Inspiration

I used to have 29 thujas along my neighbors fence and I was so thrilled with that fact. I called them "the children", they had names, etc. Unfortunately,  I didn't do a lot of research and I guess they don't really thrive in California. 14 of them died the first year, 7 - the second one. Every year I would go to the nursery buy new ones, plan them, take care of them and in an year or two some of them will die. Additional 7 died last year. I am not sure whether they did die because of insufficient water or illness.
I installed a shed a couple of months ago (check it out here) and it kind of divided the thujas in two areas - left of the shed and right of the shed. After a somewhat painful decision, I decided to part with the ones on the left of the shed and do something else with that area.
I checked my pinterest boards, got some ideas and that's how this project started. Again, I planned everything with my daughter in mind - so I am thinking of having a labyrinth, bird bath, bird houses, etc.

First, I removed the dead trees (3 in that area) and replanted 3 out of the 4 alive thujas to the other side of the shed. I left the one next to the shed as there was no place to plan it.
Next, I started tilling the ground. Again, I can work pretty much when my daughter is asleep and this is during the hottest hours of the day. I was getting tired pretty fast.

After I tilled the ground, I started removing the dirt from the middle section, where the pea gravel patio will be. And.... of course, there was too much dirt left, for which I didn't account for. So, plan ahead. I had to go back to the drawing board and figure out what to do with the spare dirt. The handles in the picture give an idea of the width of the patio.

Then I leveled the ground. I planned to use 2" thick bricks for the labyrinth border. So, I made sure I have 2.5"-3" depth.

I was ready to purchase the cement bricks that I liked from a picture i saw (because I can stain them) and went to the local store. I didn't like them - they looked so concrete-y and industrial. I changed my mind immediately and decided to go with thin red bricks - 1" thick. This meant I've dug too deep (familiar?).  So, I put some dirt back in and leveled the ground, then put weed barrier and spread the sand.

Putting the brick was probably the easiest part of the project. My previous calculations really helped because I ended up cutting 4-5 bricks. I cut the bricks the lame way. I had a very dull chisel and an almost gone disc, not even sure what type it was, in the circular saw. I didn't have time to go to the hardware store and I used whatever was available. I did the markings with the circular saw, it was able to go to 1/10 in, and then the hammering with the chisel. The circular saw did not make a lot of dust as expected. I filled in the paths with gravel and voila, the labyrinth was ready.

At that point, I was not sure I really liked my original design and I went back to the drawing board. I have some remains of artificial grass from the playground, which I decided to incorporate here and then I realized that is still have about 100 sq.f. to cover, which was a lot of materials. Since I have plenty of free dirt, I returned some of the dirt leaving a depth of a round 1-1 1/2 in around the patio. 

It was looking better already. After a lot of thinking and drawing, I decided to use the artificial grass as sitting area around the labyrinth and to add one outer circle. I also added a brick border along the grass side, to keep the gravel inside. Honestly, I spent to much time on the brick border, it was either crooked or not even and I ended redoing it a few times to get it somewhat straight and to my liking. 

I measured the artificial grass leftovers and cut them in four even parts which I placed evenly around the labyrinth (2, 4, 8, and 10 o'clock). I had some large gravel left from another project and I used it as the base for the grass section. I'd rather use paver base but wanted to get rid of the one I had. I had to buy three additional bags of all-purpose sand. 

My daughter loved the area and when she'd refuse to leave she'd dig her feet in the gravel, moving the bricks out of place. I bought PermaSand and  filled in the spaces between the bricks. I was amazed how the PermaSand turned into a cement-like material. I need to buy a resin epoxy to do the same with the gravel.

I planted three lavenders along the wood fence. I chose lavender because it's drought resistant and repel cats. Not that I don't like cats but they have turned the gravel patio into a convenient toilet and I wanted to keep them out of this area. I added some mulch and i did not like what I saw. The artificial grass looked terrible and out of place.

Back to the drawing board. I wanted to keep the seating areas but wanted to change the material. I was thinking of other types of stone but I was afraid it may look off, too. I decided to use the same clay bricks. I went back to the local hardware store (a couple of trips) and bought 140 bricks, 35 bricks for each area. I had to sieve through the sand in each area to remove the gravel and then remove some of the coarse sand to lower the level. I placed the bricks and I think the look improved a little bit. I placed the gravel that I removed from the seating areas along the wood fence. Then I filled the gaps with polymeric sand and voila!

In the fall, I may put a firepit in the place of the birdpath. I believe it will be a nice area to sit and relax.
The project cost me a little less than $500.
I already see birds taking a bath in the birdbath. So far, no one has claimed the bird house.