Keep It Personal




Thinking of creating a stunning backyard garden? Lower the cost with these DIY project tips. Gardens can add style and value to a home, but they can also leave a large hole in your pocket. However, if you're willing to get a little down and dirty, you can save yourself more than just a few dollars.As the dreaded snow starts to melt and leaves your yard a mass of puddles and lifeless grass, you might find yourself wishing for a more appealing scene to welcome you home. Take matters into your own hands - literally. Use these easy, cheap DIY suggestions to jump start your yard makeover.SoilThe best soil for a vegetable and perennial garden consists of living matter, says Charlie Cole, manager at Cole Gardens in Concord. That means it contains worms and micro-nutrients. If you have treated your soil heavily with chemicals, it is possible you have killed these off. Add compost and manure to bring it back to life. It's important to note, however, that having living soil does not mean you are an organic gardener.You can buy compost or make your own with kitchen scraps, shredded leaves and grass clippings. Add worms and a compost maker to speed up the process, says Cole. If you're leaning towards store-bought compost, he recommends Coast of Maine Products. Spread out three inches of compost for a new garden or half an inch each spring if you already have an established one.If you have a woodstove, Cole also suggests adding the leftover ash to your vegetable garden. It acts quickly and is high in calcium, potassium and magnesium, which is particularly beneficial to tomatoes.Homemade stepping stonesAdd a more personal touch to your garden with some homemade stepping-stones for around $4 each.For a simple round mold, you can use an old cake pan or pie dish. You could also use a plastic planter saucer, which will only cost about $1 per piece. More elaborate shaped molds are available at any art supply store. All of these molds are reusable.Quick-setting concrete is cheapest, but if you are willing to spend some extra money, there is specific stepping-stone concrete that is less pebbly and easier to use. Slowly mix more and more water into the cement until it becomes an even mixture. Grease the inside of the mold, then gradually pour more of the mixture in, taking breaks to press with your hands (wear plastic gloves) in order to let the air bubbles escape. Let it sit for about 10-20 minutes.Then it's time to decorate. In the wet cement create any type of embellishments you want to accompany the look of your garden, perhaps adding small stones for a mosaic effect or adding textures to the unset cement. Allow a few days to fully dry, then flip the mold over and you have your very own self-created paving stone.Hypertufa plantersGrowing in pots is one way to simplify gardening chores. To reduce the cost of large growing pots, why not make them yourself? Making hypertufa planters involves most of the same simple steps as stepping-stones, only with different ingredients. Hypertufa is a lightweight material made to provide the same earthy look as old English stone-carved planters.Begin by mixing together equal parts of Portland cement, perlite (available at hardware and garden stores) and sifted peat moss (with large stems removed). Use a tub large enough to make quite a bit. You'll enjoy experimenting with it. Add water gradually into the mix until it is smooth and you can form some into a ball without it falling apart.Apply this mix by sculpting it onto to any planter-shaped mold, first coating the mold with a releasing agent such as Vaseline. A large trough-shaped mold can be fashioned from 2-inch foam sheets and duct tape. Remember to create drainage holes in the hypertufa or you'll have to drill them later. Let it sit at least 48 hours before removing. It will take 2-4 weeks for the planter to become hardened and strong enough to support a plant and its soil. Before putting your plants inside, rinse with vinegar in order to remove lime residue.Build your own pondNothing says elegant garden like having a small pond surrounded by a number of exquisite plants. But putting a pond in your back yard can be a time-consuming and expensive project unless you're willing to do a little work. To get the project started, all you need is a hole, liner, sand, and water. Then, as you can afford it, you can begin to create some character by adding fish, stones, plants, lights and a water pump and filter.The type of liner you need is called a "silo cap," which you can purchase at a local farm or home improvement store. The sand you can get from any nearby sand yard (many let you take it for free). The water comes straight from your hose.Good location is key. Partial shade helps to prevent algae growth. If you can, try not to position it under any deciduous trees unless you think you're going to enjoy skimming out their leaves each fall. Use rope or string to mark the shape on the ground where you want the hole to be so that you have a guideline while digging.After carefully selecting and measuring out the area to make sure your liner will fit, grab a shovel and get to work. Any rocks you uncover while digging can become accents for your pond. Get a couple of buckets of sand and scatter evenly in the hole to protect the liner from anything sharp that might tear it.Fill the liner with water, and position rocks to hold it in place. Then take a break and imagine what a few carefully chosen plants will do to blend your new pond with the nature in your back yard. The rest is up to you. NHThe above are only starting points for the DIY enthusiast. The following companies are great places to seek assistance, supplies or advice. Cole Gardens 430 Loudon Rd., Concord (603) 229-0655, www.colegardens.com DB Landscaping 3 Alpine Ct., Sunapee (603) 763-6423, www.dblandscaping.biz DeJohn Landscaping 71 Tioga Rd., Canterbury (603) 783-3307, www.dejohnlandscaping.com Landscapers Depot Inc. 59 Rte. 125, Kingston (603) 642-6677, www.landscapersdepot.com Northeast Landscape 59 Rte. 125, Kingston (603) 642-6677, www.landscapersdepot.com P&L Landscaping 79 D.W. Highway, Merrimack (603) 595-2802, www.pllandscaping.com

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