When I look at this photo from late February I can hardly believe the transformation out here. I wrote a post here about finally making a decision on what to do in this seating area out front. I pretty much stuck to that plan and took plenty of photos along the way of the process.
The photo above was our mosaic size trial. We located where we wanted the center to be based on the entry to this upper garden and then placed a stake in the center and used a string line to create the diameter. As I would continue to do throughout this process, I would check the view from our room upstairs because the most important view to me is the one from our bedroom windows. Every morning I open the shades and snap a photo and take in the progress from the day before. I should really compile a time lapse of those photos – that would be a crazy ride.
I’m skimming a bit over all the immense prep work that happened here – again, removing an obscene amount of dirt here to get a stable foundation of paver base below the perimeter of salvaged brick we installed. The bricks sit vertically between two circles buried slightly in the ground, and they rest on 5″ of compacted base and another 1″-2″ of paver base that helped level them at the top. There are exactly 187 of them in total, and all were salvaged from our backyard years ago.
Eventually the ground will be level with the bricks, but it’s been compacted quite a bit while we’ve worked. I’m excited to see flowers and groundcover spreading over all the areas with just mulch now. After the border was in we filled the center with many truckloads of compacted base and probably should have done some more, as I ended up also using several more inches of concrete mix than I needed to. This thing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The patio stayed like this for May / June, and worked just great for our graduation party in early June. I took a week off after the party to recuperate, another week to gather the materials and a third week to gather my nerve – starting the mosaic over the long holiday weekend at the start of July. It took several hours to get the geometry figured out, and string tied to create eight sections and some additional criss-crossing at the border areas. The first evening I set the center, and then ran inside to check out the work. Looked promising so I kept going!
My clothes remained soaked at all times – even in the shade it was pretty grueling work in some form of kneeling or squatting for hours on end. I had a nice dusty ring around my middle from wiping off my hands / gloves all day too. It was filthy work, and just lifting and moving around 60 pound bags of concrete mix and buckets of rocks was exhausting. But sometimes I’d get on a roll and lose myself in the process and the heat and fatigue would melt away for a bit.
By day two I was working through the first quarter of the design, and had the border design in place and the petals laid out. Then it was just a process of trying to keep things in line, searching through buckets for the right sized rocks, and letting go of perfectionist tendencies.
Three full days and two after work sessions later, I had half complete! I placed formwork at each side and pounded in steel stakes to hold it into place so that I could “set” this side with water before the weather switched to rain.
Watering this portion of the mosaic made me nervous – but after it appeared to be working just fine, I relaxed a bit and found it really satisfying. After really soaking it, I covered it in plastic to retain the moisture so the curing process could begin. It rained for a few days and I took a much needed break to rest up and celebrate F’s birthday the following weekend.
By that Sunday I was back at it, plastic close by for little pop up showers.
Formwork off revealed a nice cross section of curing concrete with pebbles. The pebbles rest at least 1/3 of their height into the concrete mix, but these at the edge were a little less than that as I wanted to be able to put dry mix right up to them and have some wiggle room for the next section. It wasn’t always this simple as I moved around the circle, so occasionally I had to chip away at some concrete to get the next row installed, but for the most part the formwork worked great. The first half was completed over five days with no rain in the forecast, and three days off of work, but everything past that time was in smaller chunks, so I set up smaller sections to lay out and then set to avoid any weather mishaps. Or animal mishaps. I had nightmares about both.
Slowly and steadily I made my way around.
The night I worked on the 7th of the 8 sections the weather was MISERABLE. 95 degrees, zero breeze, mosquitos in full force. I was so tired, and even setting that section at the end of the night had lost some of its joy. I wasn’t really sure that I could muster up the energy to do one more section – even the final one. The closer I got to the end, the less room I had to work in, which made the body positions I was holding that much more painful. I hit a bit of a wall that evening, and didn’t like anything that I was doing.
I had posted a few process photos and then my phone had died, and I dragged the tools and supplies to the basement again, dreading the process of covering everything back up and my nightly body scouring in the shower. I had angry bug bites already popping up all over me. I was DONE. A few hours later I noticed a text message I had missed, and then I started seeing all the comments and notes from everyone cheering me on. I think it gave me that much needed boost to the finish line.
And there she was. I had done it. I still can’t believe I did it. I finished it up an hour or so before my parents were arriving in town, so I set the final section with water and covered it up to cure.
Sunday afternoon I opened it up again to show them, and then once they got on the road I started in with the mortar mix – sifting each batch to eliminate any larger grit like below.
I also brought out the shop vac to clean up any loose aggregate from the concrete base and errant mulch bits. Then it was time to brush in the dry mix.
Starting in the center, I worked my way out in sections. It took a long, long time.
Good thing I’m a patient person when it comes to detail work like this.
The center section and 1/4 of the outer design took three hours to complete. I only had about five hours from that point until it was dark, so I tried to pick up the pace, and didn’t take any breaks.
I debated waiting until the end to set with water, but I worried that I’d discover some issue with my technique, so I decided to wet it in stages. It seemed to go well, so I proceeded to the 1/4 across the way from the wet area, and zig zagged around like that until I was done.
The sun was also done. We’re good friends now, the setting sun and me.
It’s hard to explain just how I felt at this point. Mostly proud. Not because it’s perfect or anywhere close to it. But because I really, really wanted to try it and I was really, really afraid to go for it… but I did it anyway.
I wanted to share the thoughts behind the final design, but that’s a post for another day. In both words and (now) pebbles… there are always way more in the end than I first anticipated. 🙂