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My DIY Patio Adventure, Part 1

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MSL copy chief/articles editor Myles McDonnell, a lifelong Manhattan apartment dweller transplanted to the suburbs, recently tackled a patio project in his backyard, with the assistance of paving stones and advice provided by Pavestone. This is the first installment of his great DIY adventure.

When our family moved from Brooklyn to the northern Westchester suburbs five years ago, this city kid had never even had a backyard of his own before. Outdoor DIY home-improvement projects were completely unknown territory—and utterly terrifying. Every now and then my wife, Whitney—who grew up in the burbs herself, and does not find the word landscaping inherently intimidating—would point out the mess in the back corner of our yard, which consisted of our tool shed and a little eroding dirt hill beside it, and start telling me her ideas for improving it. I would nod calmly and pretend to pay attention, but inside were panicked thoughts: We can’t do that! We don’t know how to do that! Where’s the super?

What we were dealing with.

But five years—the last of which I’ve spent working here at Living—have helped me conquer my fears. And when the kind folks at Pavestone offered up their Plaza Stone IV Circle Pack paving stones for the job, I couldn’t find any more excuses for putting off our exciting adventure in landscape design (a combination of words I never, ever expected to type). Paved patio in place of sad dirt pile, here we come.

The sad corner that was to be the beneficiary of our attempted improvement presented several challenges. First off, it’s sloped—though as it turned out, that’s not entirely bad, since a paved patio needs to be slightly graded so rain can run off it, rather than pooling. While our grade is decidedly larger than the almost imperceptible one recommended for patios, our patio was to be more staging area than walking/sitting surface, so we figured we could live with a noticeable slant.

Second, and more serious, an immense, ancient tree (that’s it behind the fence there in the image above) has over the years grown an impressive network of giant roots all over, under, around, and through the spot in question. Doug Scott of Pavestone, who was helpfully offering us his advice on the project, pointed out that if the base for our pavestones wasn’t level, the patio itself wouldn’t be either. He also told us that tree roots are particularly pesky obstacles, what with trees being alive and tending to, you know, grow over time. (Yes, on reflection I did feel most of this should have been obvious to me, but I’m new at this. Bear with me.)

In our planning stages, we figured that if the largest roots—two real monsters sticking way up out of the ground at either back edge of the space—weren’t completely covered by our base layers of dirt, gravel, and sand, we would shave them down as required to make it so. (We were reasonably sure this wouldn’t harm the tree, which has dozens more in all directions and is quite well established.) In the long run, if we ended up with some bumps and ridges from root movement underneath, well, again, we could live with some of that, given the location and purpose of this patio.

So we had our paving stones, thanks to the Pavestone folks. (As you can see, we had some underage help getting them back to the staging area.)

Our attempt at child labor. It didn't work; our 5-year-old couldn't budge the wagon!

We had giant piles of sand and gravel to use as our base layers in our driveway, each very dramatically delivered by a semi using hydraulics. After a quick Home Depot run, we had some important tools for the project that had not not part of our existing stash in the shed—mainly a square shovel and a hand tamper. We were ready. Or as ready as we’d ever be, anyway.

Stop by tomorrow for the next post in this series, in which my back complains that I did not give it remotely fair warning about what this project would do to it.

Comments (3)

  • My wife and I completed a do it yourself patio/firepit project several months ago. We also used pavestone circle kits though a bit different style than you used. The kits were 8.5 foot circles. We however wanted a 17 foot circle with a firepit in the center. We also needed to get an additional pallet of pavers. It came with three sizes: A small rectangle “twinkie”, a square and a large rectangle. We also hand dug and hand tamped…brutal… For the sand that you put over it at the end, we used polymeric sand. So far it has been 3 months and the sand is keeping the weeds out. Great product. We did end up renting a powered vibrating plate tamper to get the sand in between the stones. Well worth the money. Wish I had used it for tamping down the gravel and stonedust. I posted the link to the pictures that followed our progress in case you are interested. Looking forward to seeing your progress.

  • Author Comment:

    Yes, the only saving grace for us with the hand-tamping is that our total patio area is pretty small. Can’t imagine doing that over a large (or even much larger) space!

  • Proud of you city / prep school boy

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