Savannah is known for its historic garden squares. If you’ve been here, or seen pictures of the historic district, you know what I’m talking about. So one day Manny and I were looking at the disaster that had become our backyard and decided we should bring a little of that downtown charm to Gordonston, aka our ‘hood.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. It’s some variation of the following:
[A] Building a small version of a historic landmark in one’s backyard sounds like a great idea! Sort of how I’d like to have a scaled-down model of the Taj Mahal in my backyard. There’s no way it will overwhelm the space and look tacky.
[B] That sounds like a terrible idea. It’s going to overwhelm the space and look tacky. Sort of like the scaled-down model of the Taj Mahal my horrible neighbors are building in their backyard.
But truth be told, we have vision, y’all. One day, we hope to have a beautiful little cottage-style garden. Something that combines the fantasy aesthetics seen above into one sublime and only somewhat mosquito-ridden sanctuary for us to call our own.
Our research has shown that in order to achieve such incredible garden success, though, the stars must align in at least two of the following ways:
 You must be British. And live in Great Britain.
 You must have on staff a professional garden attendant to take care of the space and maintain it. Preferably one of the dudes or dudettes from Augusta who gets the fairways ready for the Masters Tournament each year.
 You must construct and add in harmonious elements — attractive pathways, antique follies, bird baths and other features, as well as a lot of flowers that are not hell-bent on dying as soon as you turn your back.
We’ve not really wrapped our heads around the first two, but we’re making some progress on the third. We would be helped a good deal if our plants ever decide to stop dying.
A Quick Recap
But why a patio square? Well… let’s recap.
When we first bought our house, this is what the backyard looked like:
But we like a challenge. So we ripped out the cast iron ferns beneath the lattice fence and added a seasonal flower bed; then we ripped out the concrete pathway and replaced it with a pretty charming little antique brick path. Last spring, we threw in some raised vegetable beds, which have consistently done a glorious job of feeding the local insect population.
These nice, labor-intensive additions aside, we also spent part of our first year in the house ripping out the weed lawn and replanting with rye grass to achieve a gorgeous green lawn. How gorgeous was it? BEHOLD:
I think this image (which shows our flower bed in its infancy and pre-dates the addition of the raised vegetable beds) might be slightly color enhanced. But don’t judge me. It really was kind of sort of nice. For a month.
You see, the thing about rye grass is, it dies. It dies a swift, hideous, demoralizing death down in these parts. And after the rye grass is come and gone in a furious burst of beauty that serves only to enhance one’s pain at its passing, you have a large dirt patch. And, wouldn’t you know, a large dirt patch is worse than a weed-ridden lawn.
Our New Olde Patio Square
As we mourned our yard, we turned our attention inside, focusing on our kitchen renovation. Then we started growing babies and… here we are. We’ve tended to the flowers and the vegetables, but we haven’t made any progress on the lawn.
Or rather, we decided that we are done with the lawn. Maybe it was the crushing disappointment we felt as we watched our beautiful rye grass die. Or maybe we simply realized that grass isn’t our best bet, given that sod is sort of pricey and doesn’t seem too tenacious against the Savannah summers, especially when your entire yard is located under a hundred+ year old live oak tree, as ours happens to be. Also, we want a fantasy British-style cottage garden, gosh darn it.
So Manny had the idea to scout out some more antique bricks like the ones we used to build ye olde garden path in order to build a little landing spot around which we can slowly add other features and ferns and shrubbery and flowers. There’re a lot of antique bricks floating around the Low Country. We found a few hundred of them on our property alone before we built the pathway. Riley has found a few more since she moved in because she likes to dig holes in our yard. But we knew we needed a big infusion of bricks to pull this off and, since our free stash had been exhausted, we faced an unfortunate reality: they typically sell for a dollar a piece at architectural salvages. Egad!
The garden gods were on our side one weekend, though, when Manny hopped on Craigslist and discovered that some kind souls in the area were just giving away perfectly good antique bricks. This really was good fortune, as people on Craigslist typically ask for money for old bricks given that, as I noted above, they are apparently worth real actual money. Anyway, Manny drove out to Beaufort, SC and got a haul and then later that same afternoon got another trunk full from just outside of Savannah. Bingo. All the bricks we needed. For free!
We had other supplies from last year’s ye olde path project, including a shovel, a cast iron tamper, and some left over sand. So he got to work.
First he laid out the design and built L-shaped garden boxes. The materials for these were something like thirty bucks at Home Depot, though we also picked up some soil and plants from a local nursery.
Next, he dug out the center and leveled it (sort of…) and did some tamping before putting down sand.
Then he began the process of laying bricks in a simple mosaic pattern. You’ll note that none of these pictures are “action shots,” as I was in the hospital while he did this and so he took the pictures himself. Anyway, he says he realized at some point that the ground wasn’t level enough and had to take up half of the bricks and re-do the above steps. Womp womp.
Lastly, after the bricks are laid, you sweep sand over the cracks to fill them in. And then…
VOILA! A perfectly reasonable way to sort of cover up the fact that your yard is a dirt- and weed-pit.
We will eventually add some stone pathways to and from the square and some “height element(s)” within it. Meaning, we have a sort of loosey-goosey plan regarding where to go from here. For now, we find the patio square to be a charming yard addition.
Note that if you’re wondering where our boys will kick a soccer ball given that we plan to dedicate our yard to totally superfluous and frilly garden elements, we have a big park in our neighborhood a mere block away, complete with a playground and pavilion. So the kiddos will be okay. And there’s also a patch of grass in the other half of the yard that does remarkably well, in part because it’s not under the oak tree that shades the rest of the space. Otherwise, we wouldn’t dare deprive them of the opportunity to wallow in the scary dirt pit we’re slowly replacing.