Balcony Business

Finishing and checking a project off the to do list is always satisfying, especially when you’re a DIYer.  Even more so when it’s an outdoor task and winter is getting closer.  Our outdoor punch list is getting shorter and the house is looking better with each change.  Just three months ago, I shared progress on our rusted steel siding along with the beginnings of our private master suite balcony.


Compare that area to the siding install from last year and it’s already a significant improvement, what with the lack of death drop and all.


Even still, the bright, unstained balcony wood attracted unnecessary attention.  Rather than being a detail, it screamed unfinished, until recently.  With a decent weather forecast, we had a chance to give it a coat of Canyon Brown stain by Olympic.


The underside still needs to get a coat because it’s visible from nearly every angle, it turned out exactly as we hoped.  Also of note, the steel has continued to rust and is darkening nicely.


At three feet deep, the balcony is mostly a little retreat to enjoy a sunset and the best mountain view in the house.


With this area facing the road, we agreed on a railing of 6 inch boards with 1 1/2 inch spacing between for privacy without a completely solid rail.  For a really sleek, finished end, Ben mitered the corners to avoid leaving ends exposed.


Our big deck rebuilding project is almost finished, too, with a rail to match, once stained.


The plan is to put a few bistro chairs, side table, and planters out here.


The other side of the rail terminates into the bump out side.


With two large decks, this little balcony doesn’t need to be huge to serve our needs; just a little private retreat to relax on.


Now to find the right chair set.  I’d love a folding set, to easily store away when weather isn’t nice.

New Favorite Plants

Never in my life have I considered myself a garden person, until this year, that is.  I was bitten by the radioactive spider that makes me want all.the.plants.  Seriously, it’s becoming an addiction, stopping at various garden centers, wandering through rows of plants, reading tags, taking notes, and almost always returning home with at least one plant.  I made a plan, that I fully intended to stick to, but with so many amazing plants, I’ve come to the decision to buy what I like and will work in our conditions, because I will find a place to plant it.


Take this small area along the front of the house.  My initial idea was to plant a low evergreen, but with the addition of the walkway, every juniper grows too wide.  A change in plans was necessary, and I like the idea of a wider variety of plants, colors, and textures.


Still wanting year-round greenery, a Yew between the windows will fill the area, but can be trimmed to maintain size and shape.


Working as a groundcover, dark green and purple Ajuga will spread up to three feet wide, covering a decent amount with a small plant.


In front of the windows, Rockfoil is supposed to be an evergreen, even in our cold winter climate.  This low growing, mounding,  hen and chick looking plant should max out at 6 inches tall and 18 inches wide, which won’t obstruct the view out the window or need much maintenance.  The bright, spring green is almost the complete opposite from the adjacent dark Ajuga.


In addition to wanting/needing and evergreen base to cover rock expanses, adding colorful shrubs and flowering perennials adds character.  If this Smoke Tree makes it through the winter, I’m ready to declare it my favorite for the dark, matte red/purple leaves, and lace like ‘smoke’ plumes.


Salvia is another favorite because it thrives in full sun without needing excessive watering.  The bold purple flowers really stand out among the other plants.


A few Golden Barberry offer bright yellow and lime green leaves.  I love the contrast against the dark junipers, but the color reminds Ben of over watered, dying plants; to each his own.


Planted near early summer blooming peonies, late summer bloomer, Coneflower, is super drought tolerant as well as a hard-working pollinator.

Purple-ConeflowerAs with the front, starting with creeping junipers will give a good base, but adding a variety of other perennials has benefits.  First, the various root systems, as well as the rock layer, help stabilize the hill.  Secondly, more pockets of plants will absorb rain water, prevention excess runoff.  Third, give visual interest and textures to the hill throughout the seasons.  When selecting plants, I’ve been careful to choose plants with pretty or interesting foliage.  That way, even when not in bloom, it still looks nice.  Here, a small Lavender and Angeline Stonecrop have very different looks.


By planting lower growing plants to the front, and taller shrubs near the back, each plant is still visible.  At the front edge, Artemisia, a silvery green dry loving plant softens the hard rocks.  Once mature, it should spill over the base a little and become dotted with tiny flowers.


In the back, the Viburnum planted this May has already grown by leaps and bounds.  Next year, it just might be covered in snowball sized flowers!


Right next to that Viburnum is a Catmint that has gone wild, in the best way.


Here’s that it looked like just over one month ago:


For the majority of the plantings, I’ve selected full sun, drought tolerant varieties because we want a pretty, but still resource friendly landscape.  In the small, only truly shaded area we have, evaporation isn’t as much of a concern, so I’ve added a few slightly less water wise plants.  Hostas and Coral Bells still don’t need much water to live, but flourish with deeper watering.


By far the most water drinking plant I have is this Hydrangea.  For the nearly head size blooms, I think it’s a fair trade-off.


At the end of the back walkway, I’ve started a full sun-loving flower garden.  It includes a reed grass, red day lilies, Catmint, poppy, Delphinium, and a Petite Snow Butterfly Bush, bottom left.


Watching this (and the other plants) grow and bloom is exciting, which is why I’m hooked on gardening.


Near the butterfly bush is an American Dream Coreopsis, with thread like stems and leaves and dainty pink flowers.


Another Coreopsis, this time creamy white Big Bang round out the full sun area, at least for now.  I’m giving it a year to grow and fill in before adding anything else to the mix.


Needing more color to the left of the waterfall, I’ve added another Coreopsis, this time hot pink Show Stopper.


As I continue researching, my plant want list grows.  My next step is to include native grasses, perhaps Switchgrass and Little Bluestem, dotted over the hillsides.  For native plants and guides, Prairie Nursery has been extremely helpful to this novice gardener, giving plant conditions and a map of native areas.  If you have any plant suggestions, feel free to shoot them to me.

Two Doors Down

As usual, summer is our time to tackle outdoor projects.  During the week, I add and keep up plants, build walkways, and pull weeds.  Weekends are Ben’s time to knock out the heavy lifting projects, like installing new windows, siding, and rebuilding the front deck while I help in any possible way.  So far, we’ve constructed a cover for the south-facing front deck, to make it usable and enjoyable in blazing heat and sunshine.  Before we can go any further with that, we have to replace the sliding doors.  The old sets are original to the house and barely function.  Sliding each door takes far more effort than it should, the screens are gone, and the panes are fogged up.


When renovating, every step feels like a huge victory, so having easy to open, see through doors is a thrilling luxury.


Two down, one to go.


Followed up by the rest of the pool house windows, that are waiting in the only looking/getting worse pool house.


But, after windows, we can work on siding, then the interior.  And you know what that means?  The giant warehouse room filled with building supplies and tools can start looking better, perhaps even become usable.  What an original idea, no?

Walk This Way

Over the last two years I’ve dreamed, researched, plotted, and planned, and at long last, I’m slowly tackling our landscape plan.  Having an incredibly steep lot, both front and back, has been challenging to say the least.  Before starting anything, we discussed oodles of options: wood, metal, concrete, or stacked stone retaining walls, all of which are difficult to secure enough to prevent leaning or toppling over time.  Yes, plenty of houses have these in our ‘hood, but they’re all leaning or have caved in heavy rains.  We kept coming back to one option, setting boulders against the natural slope to prevent erosion, but it also serves as a retaining wall, without being rigid and noticeable if it shifts a little.  But, that led to another decision to fill even the flat areas with rock, not knowing where or how to separate the slope from the flat areas.

Basically what I’m saying is, we have literal TONS, and tons, and tons of rock and while it’s super low maintenance, I’ve been looking for ways to break up large areas.  Of course, plants are a must and I’ve added 170 (no exaggeration) between this year and last, though I have deviated/changed up my landscape plan.  Sadly, I’m not finished, instead focusing my attention to the most noticeable areas, then I’ll take time to tackle the smaller, untouched areas later on.


Our bocce court is a water and hassle free way to section off a large rectangle.

Another large part of the rock is broken up by the reclaimed beam back deck, stairs, and front steps, but between the bocce court and stairs was a long strip of super boring rock.  After nestling in a few pavers in the back, I knew adding a longer, winding path would add interest.


Reusing leftover pavers from the old back patio, I created a stepping stone walkway to connect the two areas.


Just off the step edge, narrower stones go between the Russian sage and day lilies.


On the other side of the Russian sage, I plan to add a short ground cover plant below the basement windows, so I curved around, leaving room for growing plants.



On the other side, I’ve already added my favorite succulent, a stonecrop Angelina.


I know it grows well here with little water or effort because the one in the back near the waterfall has gone crazy over the last year.



Creeping junipers are always welcome, covering large areas with year round color, but need little maintenance.  To contrast against the deep emerald-green, I added two golden barberry plants.  Ben says the just look like dying plants, but I love the chartreuse color.


Looking from the bocce court toward the entry, things are taking shape, but still not finished.


I find adding plants extremely enjoyable, bordering on addicting, but waiting for each to mature is a different story.  Much like children, even fast growing plants are hard to notice growth when seen on a daily basis.  You don’t see a startling difference, but looking back on pictures proves just how much they’ve changed in a short time span.


Look at the puny Russian sage not even a year ago, now they’re almost five feet tall!  Can you tell plants and landscaping have been at the front of my mind these warmer months?  Never before did I enjoy gardening, but I’m totally digging it now.  Oh the puns, the hilarity.  Now I feel like going through old photos of my kids and plants to fully appreciate the changes and growth that have taken place right in front of my face.  I didn’t realize how nostalgic a simple walkway could make me feel.

Rusted Steel & Curb Appeal

In last week’s deck and garden update, I shared a few pictures with peeks at the CorTen steel siding that has now started to rust.


For those not familiar, CorTen is a steel alloy that develops an outer layer of rust patina, protecting from further corrosion. When purchased, the steel is gray with a slight sheen but as it is exposed to weather, it rusts, but only as a surface layer.


Snow, rain, and two rounds of spraying with a water/vinegar mixture has warmed it up, though the process isn’t perfectly even.  See how much darker the rust looks closer to the house roof?  Vinegar quickly starts the rusting process, and helps even out the color.


Right after install and before rusting, the front looked very monotone and boring.  We wanted a maintenance free material to contrast against the traditional painted lap siding and break up the long, simple rectangle.  When freshly installed, the steel looked like a shiny version of the gray painted lap siding.


The addition of plants, the start of our bedroom balcony, and weather, the front looks very different.  When fully rusted, it actually looks like stained wood board and batten from short distances.  Once up close, the mottled look is noticeable and proves it’s actually rusted steel.  Again, you can see where moisture naturally hits the siding versus the eaves and protected areas.  Another round of spraying is on my to do list soon.


Notice how similarly toned the stained beams and bench are to the rust?  After finishing the railing install and staining, our balcony will fit right in.



When sprayed, gravity comes into play and darkens the bottoms more.  I’m going to experiment with a rag to see if rubbing vinegar will even out the top sections-at least on the easy to reach parts.


The most evenly and thoroughly rusted side is the garage end.


A lack of overhang leaves the entire section open to water.  Note: even after fiddling with settings, some of the colors are a little off; the photo above is the most accurate color representation of the paint and steel.


The local supplier/manufacturer created custom edge trim to go over the painted frames to help prevent the steel from dripping on the white.


One area got a little more water and it has streaked the white on one side, but that’s nothing a quick coat of paint can’t fix.


So far, we’re 100% thrilled with the results and ease of care, and our neighbors seem pretty happy as well.  On several occasions, people have stopped to compliment the new look, which is nice to hear considering our house is part of their view.  Heck, they probably look at the exterior more often than we do!