Time for a garden refresh – Building

by | 10:06 am


It is time for building after drafting and finalising my design (a couple of times). The materials schedule, which lists all the stuff you need to buy, is essential and includes an estimate for labour to help build it.

I figured I needed two guys and myself for about two weeks to complete the edging construction and the topping up of soil, mulch and stones. I toyed with various options for the edging. There are plastic, wood of all types, bricks, formed tiles, hoops, corrugated steel…the list goes on!

I checked out each one and decided that the best option for durability and visual impact was COR-TEN steel edging. This material is designed to rust only on the outer layer after about 3 weeks outdoors. It lasts more than 20 years and is relatively simple to install. The 2.4m lengths come in different heights so you can play around with the design. Considering its durability, prices are not too high. Most of my design was for the 150mm (15m) with some 180mm and a short 5m span of 210mm.

COR-TEN steel edging

About 30% of the height of the edging is below ground level – it’s important to account for this when planning your levels. At ground level, I planned to spread 5cm of pebbles in front of the COR-TEN for pathways so I had to make sure that my final height calculations allowed for this. I used 150mm COR-TEN, so 100 mm showed above ground level. The other benefit of COR-TEN is its flexibility, you can easily bend it for a right angle or gently coax it into a curve. The lengths can be cut, but you will need the right tool. Importantly the finished edging looks amazing!


I found a local supplier, All Green Nursery, and finalised my order 2 weeks out for delivery close to the scheduled work date.

The same process applied for choosing the ground cover (path) materials. There are dozens of rock, pebble, mulch, crushed recycled brick, stone, concrete options to choose from. We knew we wanted stones so that made the job a little easier! I asked a few landscape friends and they all warned against very small rocks as they ‘travel’ on shoes and when someone walks from the garden over the deck to the house they scratch the deck and leave a trail of dust. Good advice! So we opted for medium sized river pebbles.

DH hard at workI had lined up a couple of labourers to work with me, but at the last moment they were unable to help. In the end a good mate Ryan took the job and we worked together over 7 days to complete the installation of the edging. My DH* saved the project by ‘volunteering’ to move the fill materials to build up the garden beds and path areas – soil, mulch and pebbles – from the driveway to the back of the property. This was no mean feat, as there were about 8 cubic meters of soil, 4 of mulch and 4 more of pebbles. On the upside, I figured this would have the added benefit of improving our general fitness!

It’s not just about ordering materials and receiving deliveries…

It’s really important to pace yourself and take regular breaks for a homemade lemonade, glass of water or beer! Plan lunches and snacks ahead of time, so prep time is low. This way it is more relaxing, enjoyable and fun. We had a good breakfast with coffee, eggs and tomatoes or mushrooms every day about 8am and discussed the plan and aims for the day; we then got stuck in and had a break around 10am, then aimed for lunch around 12.30. Another break was taken around 2.30pm, then a short spurt of work and clean up time. This meant we were winding down by 3.30pm in time for Ryan to pick up kids, call clients, drive home and relax awhile before dinner.

Digging in

We watched the training videos on YouTube over and over until we were pretty confident we could tackle the job. I had marked out the garden where the new edging would go, as the beds would be quite a bit deeper and wider than before. I had also incorporated a 3-D section into my design with two layers at different heights, so that required a bit more thought.

What they don’t tell you on the video is that no garden is perfectly level and especially if there are established trees, you will encounter tree roots right where you don’t need them! We dug shallow trenches along a 10m length and I used a long level tool to check that it was not veering up or down. This is where preparation is key.

All went well until we met a substantial tree root at about the 13m mark. That required heaps of thought and energy as it was on a critical curved section. We made some short videos of our learnings and will be posting these to YouTube in the next few weeks.

Putting a curve in the COR-TEN edging

The key to being able to re-do a section if you encounter an issue is not to drill in the screws until everything is even and flowing. Once you are happy with the levels and the joins are fitting cleanly, then you can use the clamp to keep the steel plates in place and carefully drill holes for the screws. It is recommended that the screws are placed lower down on the join plates, so they will be covered by the toppings. This is quite intensive work so in this case, lunch was well earned!

We took a much needed recovery break over the weekend. Fortunately, another friend stepped in to help finish the edging and move and spread the pebbles the following week and…presto we have a fantastic designer garden! Ryan, Camilo and DH are my heroes!

Now for the fun bit – planting !!

Look for Part 3 – Time for a Garden Refresh – Planting

Pebble path with COR-TEN edging

* Darling Husband!

Just as a heads up, Sam and I are launching Design by Open Backyards. We are offering garden advice, professional designs and build options to our readers. So, if you are thinking about tackling a job like this in your garden, or even your investment property, but would prefer some help, send your ideas and thoughts to Sam and I. Just click here to contact us and we’ll be in touch.