How about a glass of tea on the stone terrace? That's how I'd greet you if you were to come to the little house this summer. I'd show you to the area at the corner of the lawn where the picnic table sits atop flagstone next to the creek. You'd have a seat at the long table and I'd hand you a glassful of tea with clinking ice cubes in it and a sprig of spearmint floating on top. The shade of the big cottonwoods would shield us from the summer sun and the conversation would coast along, leisurely and relaxed.
Alas, this may not be possible, loves, but lucky for us, I can show you anyway.
If I may, let me paint for you the before picture: tumble-down branches, overgrown weeds, truckloads of trash, and an old, rusty horse trailer. Hidden potential if there ever was. That was five years ago. Summer by summer, we've cleaned up, trimmed up, pruned up. We've planted and we've pulled, spending effort, as we're able, to do right by this land. And when a family lives and breathes the outdoors as we do, having a place to gather and dine under the canopy of leaves by the creek is likely to become a prominent notion.
Being drawn to landscapes that look natural and organic, I couldn't help but favor flagstone as a material choice for the terrace. I've seen flagstone disasters in my day, but done well, it makes for a relaxed, yet ordered and thoughtful atmosphere. Another plus? It's native to the mountains nearby. When you can use indigenous materials, all the better.
At 12' x 24', it's scale is in keeping with the shed next to it, while at the same time giving generous perimeter around the twelve foot length of the twin wooden picnic tables sitting end to end. Because the limbs of the giant cottonwood trees overhang the area, shade was already provided; no need for umbrellas and such. But, I did want to be able to float globe lights across, to provide ambiance at night. For this, I used four, ten foot long 1 1/2" galvanized electrical conduit pipes, painted black, and set 2' into the ground. From each pole hangs one 25' strand. The four strands meet at a common point at the back corner of the shed roof. Their tails drop over the cedar fence that meets the shed and get plugged into an outlet on the back of the shed wall.
The non-plug ends of the light strands are anchored to the poles by a slipping them into a notch that was cut in the top of the pipe.
We all love it out here.
Here's how we constructed the terrace:
We hired a man with a skid steer to come and skim off 5" of sod and soil. Not surprisingly, he ran into a massive entanglement of cottonwood roots, so had to go down 12" instead. The boys and I spent Mother's Day wheelbarrowing loads of topsoil back into the area to bring the surface to within 4-5" of grade.
We then added 2" of crushed rock called Ball Field, and raked it level. It's slightly larger than sand, and not nearly its cost. I watered this thoroughly to settle it.
We ordered two tons of flagstone, delivered from a man and his crew who quarried it from the mountains nearby. It was considerably less than the cost of flagstone from the local stone yard. This we laid out over the Ball Field, arranging the pattern until we were happy with how it looked. Then, I leveled every single stone, adding and removing Ball Field as needed (Yes, I felt like I'd done 500 push-ups by the time I was done!).
Finally, we swept a 50/50 mixture of topsoil and compost into the cracks between the stones.
P.S. I'm so glad that Merriam-Webster let me use the word terrace instead of patio here. It's so much better. Grin.