Blue Castle Garden: Year 4

In 2008, a tremendous amount of progress was made. Fence now enclosed the entire back and side yards. Soil amendments were rototilled into the poor clay soil to improve structure and drainage. 

Key design elements were built, the pergola, the back gate arbor and a beautiful block retaining wall by my neighbor. Sidewalk blocks and paver stones were laid in the side yards, cutting down on mud tracked into the house.


Completed Fence

Early in the spring, fence boards were installed to complete the back alley fence and trim was added to the retaining wall fence installed by my neighbor. Front and back gates were hung and the fence closed off in the front yard.  

My brother and dad trimming the bottom of the retaining wall fence to tidy it up.

Added Garbage Can Enclosure

A garbage can enclosure was built within the property limits to fit two standard trash cans. These were later replaced by city issued garbage and recycling bins. 

Posts framing the garbage area prior to moving the fence panel.

Inset garbage enclosures keep back alleyways clear.

Amended Soil in Back Yard

In this area, the soil is mostly clay. A rented heavy-duty rototiller made working in soil amendments much easier. In the process, stones and building debris were uncovered and removed.

Dad rototilling in compost, peat moss and zeolite.

Built Retaining Wall

A short retaining wall was added along part of the back fence to raise the soil level. This allowed for the construction of a stone wall under the future pergola and increased the soil depth, leading to healthier plants and trees. 

Digging post holes by hand for the retaining wall.

The completed retaining wall before the installation of the pergola.

Installed Trellis Posts

To add interest to the back of the house, arched trellises were planned for either side of the back window. Due to time constraints, only the posts were installed this season.

Posts were tamped in place, avoiding concrete which would obstruct plant roots.

Laid Temporary Side Yard Pathway

Several wet years required the laying of a temporary walkway using borrowed sidewalk blocks. These would later be replaced by a flagstone path the following year.

Laying sidewalk blocks using a level resulted in a trip-free pathway.

Neighbour Built a Retaining Wall

My talented neighbor designed and constructed an elegant retaining wall over a couple weekends. This wall provided a beautiful and interesting backdrop for my front garden.

Installing guidelines to ensure the walls were laid straight.

Pallets of building blocks prior to being laid.

A solid, classic, well-built retaining wall.

Created Front Yard Flowerbed

Once the back yard was prepared, the temporary sod in the front yard flowerbed was moved. Construction in the back yard would have damaged the sod if laid earlier.

Using a bright electrical cord to create the outline of the new flowerbed.

Empty flowerbed ready for planting the following year.

Finished Storage Area with Pavers

Recycled gravel from the back yard parking pad created a base for pavers in the storage area. Interspersed with limestone rock, the diamond pattern had a more artistic effect. 

Dark grey pavers contrasted well against light grey limestone.

Replaced Patio Boards and Added Landing

The patio boards were replaced and, to prevent rotting, spaced further apart. To create a transition between the lawn and wooden patio, a flagstone landing was roughly laid.

It took until Year 14 to properly complete the flagstone landing. 

Constructed Pergola

The pergola, a major focal point in the back yard, was angled to soften the boxy nature of the lot. Adequate space was left between it and the fence to plant trees. 

The structure was modeled in AutoCAD to make visualizing the final design easier.

My brother cutting the decorative ends of the pergola beams.

Notched beams ready for placement after cutting the 4×6 posts to the correct height.

Nailing in the third and final layer of pergola beams.

Decorative pergola braces were added to increase structural stability.

Built Back Gate Arbor

An arbor was added to frame the back gate and provide support for climbing vines. Also modeled in AutoCAD, the style of the primary beams was influenced by Japanese garden structures.

Nailing in the top layer of beams. 

Trellis panels were added to the arbor the next year.

Completed arbor and pergola, ready for staining. 


Exhausting Manual Labour

Most weekends were filled with grueling manual labor. Wet, heavy clay soil made digging holes and hauling dirt exhausting. All of us were quite ripped by the end of the summer. 

Digging deep holes by hand and moving large rolls of sod.

Removing Buried Rocks from Soil

The soil in our region is filled with rocks, a challenge when digging deep holes for posts. Years later, I still encounter them when digging new plant holes. 

Some of the rocks we uncovered during construction.

Another Wet Construction Year

Poor drainage from clay soil allowed water to accumulate in another unusually wet spring. This led to construction delays and created thick, sticky clods of mud on shoes, boots and shovels.

Large puddles like these were commonplace. 


Flagging Tape Helps Visualize Design

Using flexible plastic tape to outline major structures and flowerbeds was key in clearly seeing the future design. It was left out and adjusted over several weeks until the results were pleasing from both inside and outside the house at different heights and angles.

Flagging tape stands out more than a garden hose when marking outlines.

Year Old Sod Transplants Easily

Surprisingly, the front yard sod was easy to cut free and lift. Despite regular watering, the roots still hadn’t deeply penetrated the soil below. The recovery period for the newly transplanted sod was short.

Transplanting sod from the front yard. 

Ten days later, the sod already looked lush and green.


Having an actual plan before construction paid off in quicker decisions. Because of the previous years’ research, we were able to tweak and improve the design while building. Despite having no plants, the lot began to look like a garden.

The enormity of a project like this can be paralyzing. But with persistence and help, slowly but surely, progress will be made. Gardens don’t get built overnight. 

This post is part of the Blue Castle Garden Timeline series. 

About Jolene

I’m an avid gardener whose mission is to bring more beauty into the world. I believe that with the right information anyone can create their own lovely, small garden paradise.

When I’m not gardening you can find me exploring the Canadian Rockies. Learn more…

Jolene Rempel on Cirque Peak, Banff National Park.

About Jolene

I’m an avid gardener whose mission is to bring more beauty into the world. I believe that with the right information anyone can create their own lovely, small garden paradise.

When I’m not gardening you can find me exploring the Canadian Rockies. Learn more…


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