A few years ago, we decided to tear down our old above ground pool leaving this ugly dirt hole in our backyard. I am sure that there are many people out there who are or have been in this same situation. Whether the pool was just old and needs a new liner or the kids have moved out and nobody uses it anymore. Or you can just take some ideas shared here and incorporate them into your garden.
I am going to show you how you can turn this area into a beautiful backyard landscape. We are going to build raised garden beds surrounded by crushed stone and incorporate a stone fireplace and wall.
The easiest and probably most affordable way to improve this area would be to just buy some topsoil and throw some grass seed down. But that would be too dull and boring, and I am glad that we did not take that route because I found some hidden treasures that saved us a lot of money.
I should mention that we are not the original homeowners and that the above ground pool was already here when we purchased the house, so we did not know what was hidden beneath the pool.
Planning your backyard garden landscape is a crucial step before the shovel hits the dirt. You want to use a tape measure to and plot the dimensions on a piece of paper. Then once you have all the dimensions you can draw out the area. I did two different drawings, one using colored pencils and one using AutoCAD (I might do a tutorial on this sometime in the future). AutoCAD has many features that allow you to label and move your structures around. But a pencil and paper will do fine.
You want to get a good idea of where your structures are going to be located and how much space you get to play with. This will also provide you with an idea of how much materials are going to cost. You want to make sure you have just the right amount of material. Too little and you will have to order more and too much, and you are wasting money.
Clearing the Landscape
This step for me was the hardest and most back-breaking step. But once it was completed, I could better visualize as backyard garden landscape and it also gave me a sense of gratification once it was done. I now had my blank canvas to paint.
Tearing down the pool
The first step in this process was tearing down the pool. I grabbed my handy ax and my surfboard. I took one swing and rode that wave into the neighbor’s yard (just kidding about the surfboard, but draining the water using an ax was the easiest part at clearing the area).
After the water was drained, I used a razor blade to cut out the liner and threw it out in the trash. The outer shell of the pool was metal, so I took my Sawzall, cut it into pieces, and sold it to my local scrapyard. That was the end of our above ground pool.
Separating Gravel/Sifting Soil
This step took the longest. I should note a couple of years had passed before we decided to turn the pool area into a garden. This allowed weeds to take root and penetrate the weed barrier between the underlying soil and gravel that had surrounded the pool. The rocks needed to be separated from the soil. However, this saved me a lot of money on rocks as I sifted through them and then used a hose to clean them off.
It took me three tries to build something that would be efficient enough for the number of rocks that needed to be separated. The first two were small and I felt like I was panning for gold. The last and final one I made was bigger in which I propped up on blocks so that gravity would help with the process.
Materials used for Soil Sifter/Gravel Separator
- Wool Pallet – I had a couple of lying around but you should be able to get them for free from searching on Craigs List or Facebook Market Place.
- Hardware Cloth/Chicken Wire 1/4 inch, 24-inch-high, 5 feet long – I went to my local hardware store and purchased this for around $15.
- Box of Cable Staples – Purchased these for around $3 at my local hardware store
Steps for building the Soil Sifter/Gravel Separator
- Use a Sawzall to cut the pallet in half height-wise.
- Sawzall the wood off the front of the half of the pallet that is going to be used but leave the wood on the back for support.
- Unroll the hardware cloth over the top of the half pallet so that it hangs about 1 to 1 ½ inches over the sides. Then cut the sheet from the roll using tin snips.
- Fold the overhanging hardware cloth over the side and hammer in the staples. Use enough so that the material is flush against the wood.
Now just prop this up on some blocks and you are ready to start separating. I have found that a 45-degree angle works best.
Raised Garden Beds
My raised garden beds are simple and inexpensive. The most expensive part about these beds has been the soil. This year, however, I started a compost pile and so by next spring I should have enough soil to replenish my garden beds.
For the raised garden beds, I use “Tan Brown Builder Blocks” that can be purchased at either Home Depot or Lowes. I love using these blocks because they are so versatile in how you can design your raised garden beds and they will last forever. You can stack them and connect them anyway you want.
To connect these blocks and box the soil in we use 2 x 6 Douglas Fir wood. It is just as good as cedar and much less expensive. The wood will eventually rot but it is super easy to replace. All you have to do is buy another piece of wood, take out the old wood, measure the new piece, cut, and replace it.
I must admit this is the first year that we are composting so we are not exactly sure how much soil we will have or if we are even doing it right. From the research that I have found you want between 25:1 to 30:1 portions of carbon (brown material such as leaves and even newspaper) and nitrogen (green material such as grass clipping and food scraps). Many ratios depend on what type of brown material to green material you put into the pile. To be honest, I cannot tell the exact percentage by looking at the pile of how much brown and green material is in the pile.
For now, we are just going to eyeball it and make sure that the pile is more brown than green, that the pile stays very wet, and that we turn it every few days. Even though this is our first time composting and we do not have useful soil, I have already seen some advantages.
- We throw out less garbage. All our coffee grounds, spoiled vegetables and fruit, bread, pasta, and anything else that is not meat, dairy, or has oil in it, gets buried into the pile.
- Worms!!! I noticed a lot of worms when turning the pile. Worms are great for composting. Worm castings are greatly beneficial to plants.
- Useful spot for all the overgrown weeds that we pulled up from our backyard garden landscape.
This step is where our drawing comes into use. When we started planning, we did not realize how much stone we had buried beneath our backyard garden landscape. We also did not realize that there were two layers of colored stone. Our layout did not change but our colors did. When digging up the crushed stone, we found so many big rocks that we could use to build a rock wall with steps against the back off our garage that leads out to our garden.
Once we had everything cleared, we put our raised garden beds into place and built our fire pit and stone wall. We then filled in the rest with the rocks that we filtered out of the ground.
One great thing about living in New England is there are a lot of big rocks buried in the ground and the area around the backyard garden landscape is no exception. There are thousands of miles of rock walls up and down New England. Farmers of the past would find these big stones every season and would use them to build walls that would mark their property. We wanted to keep with tradition and build one of our own.
Our backyard garden landscape was a lot of hard work, but I really loved every step of the way. I realized half through that this project will never be fully completed. I have so many more ideas that I want to incorporate such as a green house to extend our growing season. This takes time and money. However, we now have a foundation to build upon and we are super excited to what we can produce out of our backyard landscape garden….
If you like what you saw here or have any suggestions, please leave us comment.