last summer, my friends craig and sarah threw a birthday party for craig at their apartment. i was super impressed by their hand-built picnic table, keg, bratwurst assembly line, and — most of all — their can-do attitude towards hosting a party of 30-ish people when they live in about 850 square feet and share their yard with two other tenants.
since we moved into our house, pierre and i haven’t entertained more than eight people (including ourselves) at any one time. we’ve looked around, recognized our limited capacity for seating, and accepted christmas dinner will probably never be held at our house — at least not this one.
but bicycling home from craig and sarah’s party last summer, we realized we probably could play host to a pretty large group of people, so long as we did so in july or august. our backyard has more square footage than our house, after all.
unfortunately the yard, at the time, was pretty sad. no barbeque, no patio or deck, no patio furniture, no hottub or pool (not that we’re ever likely to have either, but one of these would be pretty entertaining), no fire pit, no plants, even. we had a small group of (luckily very close) friends over last summer and served them watermelon and beers over a piece of plywood straddling two sawhorses. nice, right?
our patio furniture was in the dirt, though, which still didn’t feel like a very nice thing to invite friends over to enjoy. but building a flagstone patio — the excavation, levelling, transporting of materials — while not beyond our skill set, just seemed like a hell of a lot of work. a whole summer’s worth, even. meaning it’d be next july before we’d actually be able to enjoy it.
so i called a few places. and was alarmed when quotes started coming back in the $6,000+ range. the real burn was in the breakouts — the cost for materials was only around $1,800, so it became pretty clear pretty quickly that we really were paying someone (a lot) to do the dirty work.
so it was back to doing it ourselves. $4,000 for labour was just too much to stomach; that’s a paycheque, so from a “how much is our time worth” angle it certainly seemed economical to toil away for a few weekends.
but then a beautiful quote came out of the blue. two weeks after stopping by to take measurements (we’d pretty much written them off), east end garden centre said they could do the job — all in — for $2,500. and they could do it the following week.
obviously we said yes, please and thank you, and that’s why this post is one in number and not ten. because a couple of (shirtless) guys showed up at my house on tuesday and were done our patio by wednesday afternoon, making painstaking progress posts over the next few weeks unnecessary.
for the last few weeks, for quoting purposes, i had some twine held down by rocks outlining the desired shape of our eventual patio. i added the spray paint outline an hour before the guys were due to show up, a little easier to see than string buried under several weeks of grass growth and soaked through by toronto flood 2013.by lunchtime on the first day, our little oasis was beginning to take shape. the guys dug down 12″ — 6″ deeper than the company that quoted us $6,000 said they would — and filled bag after bag with our sandy soil. then, they took a break for lunch, turned down my offer of homemade chocolate chip cookies (vegan! celiac!), and went back to the garden centre to load up the truck bed with gravel. they dumped the gravel onto the road and started wheelbarrowing it into the yard. with each return trip, they filled the wheelbarrows with the bags of dirt and loaded up the truck bed. very efficient, but really hard work. (and so happy i was sitting on the porch reading a book instead of doing that hard work.)
i despair at the sight of those sickly looking grasses, planted with the hope that they would grow tall, feathery, and green to conceal the blair witch project situation of a neighbouring yard. right now they are none of these things and since that chainlink fence and ratty yard kind of dampens the patio joy, we may need to remedy this — possibly with a plant that is tall and lean but suited to shade, possibly with a trellis covered in pre-grown ivy, possibly by hoping next spring’s sunshine (before the trees fill in) gives these grasses a reason to live. anyways, the achievement of this gravel pit marked the end of day one.
wednesday i went to work and pierre stayed home to supervise. basically the guys lay down the flagstone. i don’t know if any cutting was involved, but they did work a full day on wednesday, so it must have been a decently difficult puzzle to get everything fitting the way they wanted.
they also drove an aluminum border in around the patio’s circumference and continued the ledge rock we’d bought from east end last summer around the scraggly grasses and garden bed.
so, patio! and we have the whole summer to enjoy it, rather than slave over it. now we just have to clean up our patio furniture (the set is a hand-me-down and it’s filthy — but with potential!) and we can get down to the business of having people over. actually, ready or not, first friendly gathering is set for next week, post-east lynn park farmers’ market food truck festival, but as those are, again, very close friends, i’m making no promises that they won’t be sitting on dirty teak chairs — but i can promise they won’t sit in the dirt again.