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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: Pool Be Gone – Part 3

By Jim Bishop.

The last 2 months, I discussed how we came up with a design to replace our pool with a casita, stair tower and several garden rooms. This month, I’ll discuss the finishing touches to complete the area.

Tile work in Casita

Scott and I did most of the tile work ourselves. However, when we got the stair tower, the angles and different sizes of the stairs proved to be too difficult to figure out. So we hired an expert to lay the tile. They were a bit slow in completing the job and left their tile saw here one weekend. We had a large pile of red S-style roof tile left over that had originally been on the pool house roof. We had retiled the pool house with a different tile styled that matched the original construction of the house. I saw the tile and saw and thought why not cut the tiles in half and then lay them on top of the pool wall to protect it from the rain? The end result was the old leaning pool wall took on a much older and appealing look.

Scott and chimney tile

As construction proceeded several changes were made along the way. Arched alcoves were added inside and outside the tower. While purchasing tile in Mexico, I found a concrete statue of San Miguel. The stairway in our house has a stained glass window of San Miguel, so we sort of considered him to be the patron saint of the house. I would add tile and paint the ceiling with gold stars in the alcove in the stair tower, copying a shrine I had seen in an old church. San Miguel was added to the arch on a small platform and a pot for the plant tags of the all of the plants in the garden that had died . We christened it the Shrine to the Dead Plant.

The large gated archway that replaced the side gate couldn’t be constructed in the purposed size due to an existing Monterey Pine in the way. The arch was built slightly smaller and a notch was made in the roof to go around the tree. (Eventually the tree was removed due to all of the pine needle drop as well as several disease problems the tree had.) All the white stucco looked too bleak and so we painted the old retaining wall and pool wall a golden yellow color. The actual name of the color was peanut butter. A yellow color, cornbread, wainscot with a blue stripe, blueberry, at the top was added to inside the tower and casita. We had the thick wood rafters sandblasted and stained them in keeping with the food names for colors – cappuccino.

Casita fountain

Towards the end of construction, we had a big rain storm. All of the water from the house and patios above it previously had run down the retaining wall across the pool decking and through drainage holes in the sides of the pool wall. However, without the pool decking, the soil line was now well below the drainage holes and we ended up with the casita sitting in a small shallow lake. We decided the solution was to put 2 new drainage holes below the new soil level and construct French drains in the area to collect the water and pass them through the new holes under the pool wall. To save money, we did the work ourselves…so Scott rented a jackhammer again and started digging. We were very surprised to find out that the footing for the leaning pool wall was 4 feet wide.

As I had mentioned in earlier article, I had seen are article about Keystone Country Manor retaining wall blocks in Sunset Magazine and had contacted RCP about purchasing some. They were in the process of making their first batched but didn’t want to sell them to me until they had fully cured. However, I persisted and we bought several pallets of blocks. We did break a few by throwing them over the retaining wall into the pool area. I had already decided that I wanted to build raised beds in the new garden area. The raised beds would be much easier to work in, show off the plantings better and provide additional seating. We still had yards of dirt that we had thrown down the side of the hill when we dug the bathroom area out under the house several years earlier. So we hauled all of this dirt back into the former pool area. We still needed more dirt so we dug down several feet for the new pathways in the area. We then placed drainage pipes for French drains at the bottom and filled the walkways with several feet of the gravel that had been left over from when the pool was filled in. Still we weren’t able to get enough elevation change for the water to run into one of the new pool wall drains. There were windows in the pool wall in this area where you used to be able to watch the Sea World fireworks while in the pool. However, this no longer was possible since the raised beds made the windows too low and top of the wall was now at eye height. So we dug a sunken patio in the area with a seat wall around the outside. Next to the patio, we dug a hole and put the old bathtub that was left over from when had remodeled the upstairs bathroom.

As we dug near the retaining wall, we hit concrete several inches down that extended 7 feet into the garden. This would not work for growing plants. I called the contractor to complain that all of the pool decking had not been removed. He explained that this was the footing for the 15 foot tall retaining wall and could not be removed since it supported the wall. So we purchased a truckload of topsoil and raised the area another 3 feet.

Keystone walls, bathtub fountain and sunken patio area

We had problems finding someone to do the ironwork for the handrail in the stair tower, 2 of the arches in the casita and the side gate. We hired someone, paid them a deposit and never heard back from them. When we called their phone number it was disconnected. I was interviewing someone else to complete the ironwork when the original ironworker showed up. Their shop had burned down, but they finished the ironwork in Mexico and where there to install it!

Finally we had to tackle the small wall at the top of the retaining wall. The original wall was an ornamental concrete block with a very 1950’s look. It also was too short with a drainage gutter running in front of it. We were always afraid someone would trip and fall over it into the pool area. We had the wall removed during the pool demolition. Luckily the Country Manor retaining wall blocks fit perfectly in the gutter space. 4 large pilasters were constructed at intervals along the wall and we hired the second ironworker to make an iron banister that ran between them. Atop the pilasters were placed 4 large blue pots filled with succulents.

Next month, the plants finally go in…

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