pick up bricks

i’ve taken a different approach with my garden this year. i’ve always admired a naturalized look, but my ocd has generally gotten in the way of having a naturalized (read: overgrown) garden. it’s like growing out your bangs; there’s this in between stage where you don’t have bangs, but you don’t not have bangs, and you look kind of terrible. in the garden, there’s this stage where your yard is just weedy — and i’ve never been able to get past that. i always break down and yank all the clover from the lawn… and so have to start growing things out all over again. this year, there’s been no time to care about the weeds. the clover actually had time to flower, and (though i knew this would be the case all along) it looks quite pretty.

i have put some parameters in place. like the minute (or the week) the weeds threaten to trip up passers by, i’ll pull it back a bit. but for the most part, i’m pretty happy with the look, and it’s, obviously, way way way less work.

there’s a garden on my walk home from the subway that i’ve always admired. it has an archway at the sidewalk, with climbing roses. and then this delightful, winding brick path that circles around some overgrown beds and eventually makes its way to the front door. the house is little, just like ours, and it reminds me of an english cottage, with its pointed roof and faux stone exterior.

on my backyard list a few months ago, i mentioned one of my summer to-dos was to finish the area under our kissing gate. we didn’t get to it a few summers ago when we built the fence, and one gate became two. it gets icy in the winter (especially this winter, which saw pierre out there with a hammer and chisel on garbage night) and muddy the rest of the year. i felt some old bricks would solve the problem nicely — and go a long way to contributing to this laissez-faire style of garden i’ve got going on.


i wanted really old bricks with character, specifically. my parents had enough sitting at the side of their house, from when their house was built in 1983 or so. they didn’t really have the patina i was looking for, but i liked the idea of reusing materials from my childhood home. a quick perusal of kijiji this weekend, though, gave me a number of options, all within a five minute drive.

my first stop was right around the corner from my house. this guy had torn down a chiminea in his yard and was left with this pile of crap. i don’t know why i thought these bricks would be useful, but i was really enjoying chatting with him, his wife, and holding his newborn baby. the oddest, but most pleasant kijiji encounter of my life. i brought about 30 or 40 bricks home with me, which pierre took one look at and declared unusable. they are now sitting in my driveway.


my second stop was a century home about five minutes away, at woodbine and queen. out of the 600 bricks advertised, there were about 250 left, and i helped myself over several trips with the civic. these bricks are a mixture of buff, a peachy pink, and bright red. most are in good shape, and they’re pretty much mortarless. all of these bricks are imprinted with the name john price, and a little research reveals that john price brick yards operated on greenwood avenue, from 1912 to 1962. mr. price lived at 99 greenwood avenue, himself, and petitioned the city to widen greenwood avenue in 1907. the john price soft-mud brick press, which these bricks were most certainly made in, now belongs to the evergreen brick works, and i think it’s on display in their welcome centre.


the same geological features that made our neighbourhood ideal for brick making one hundred years ago prevails. our soil is pretty much just sand, which makes for very easy digging. now, if i’d wanted to do a proper job on this, i would have dug down at least six inches, purchased some screenings and levelled everything out before placing the bricks, but that’s not really aligned with my new approach to yard work.


pierre gave everything a good tamp, but then disappeared inside because he couldn’t stand the way i was choosing to execute this project. he did pause long enough to let me know he thought it would be a better idea if i laid the bricks on their sides, since the way they are moulded would make it awfully hard to shovel snow.


once the bricks were more or less in place, i used our neighbours’ coal ash sifter to sift large rocks from our sandy soil. (they found this under their back porch earlier this summer. quick bit of research tells me the sifter is circa 1916 and the woodstock museum is in possession of one. our neighbours are planning to use it as a beer cooler.)

IMG_3098all done! it’s supposed to rain a bunch this week and is, in fact, raining now, so i’ll continue to add more sand (courtesy of the banner dustless ash sifter) to fill in cracks as needed. because of the hollows on the bricks, there is a lot of void space to fill, but, over time, i think the bricks will be pretty well in there.


i’m thrilled to be able to add this little bit of character to our yard, and to have rescued 180 historic bricks from the dump. the fact that they were made so close to home is a bonus. actually, the banner dustless ash sifter was the bonus. pretty fitting that i used a tool from the early 1900s to lay some bricks from the early 1900s.

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