Thursday, September 22, 2016

Making a New Garden: The Evolution of a Fire Pit

The gods of fire compelled the Facilities Manager to construct a fire pit in the garden. While not quite completed -- more flagstones arrived yesterday -- it is pretty much as it appears, i.e., a place to grow warm and enjoy the companionship of smoke and flame in the great outdoors. Join the FM now as he journeys through the process.

Ah, the fire pit. Home-made and golden, we are ready for our first fire! What follows is the short tale of how we did it:

Here is the old landscape. As the entrance to the gardens is most often down the stairs we reckoned the best fire-pit placement would be here so we can see the broad vistas to the south or turn and see the house in its steel-clad glory. Note: Pink is no more. Hooray! The scraggly maple in the center of this photo is a good point of reference to use throughout this post.

Facilities Manager's mother is attacked here by numerous and ground-hungry plants we brought to our gardens from our former residence in Portland. Yes, FM's mom is just 30 inches tall. Tiny Sharon. This photo, from February, shows where the fire pit would be, just behind Mom. Note where the maple tree is.

Hark, the memories of the back-breaking sod-cutter! Well, we had to remove the sod to start to landscape the surface. Note: In the background you will see the beautiful chicken-coop under construction. The very first picture in this blog post features the green cube in a lovely fashion.

Yep, that's the fire pit in Stage One. A tad larger than the end-result, but a good place to start. Maple barely visible in the upper right-hand corner.

From the north-side now, looking down the garden slope to the south. The ring for the outline of the fire pit is just visible on the right. The soil from the pit and the pathway leveling effort provided the materials for the embankment -- see below -- for the grass gardens. Note: There below is that beautiful coop again, this time in mid-construction primer.

Let the digging begin: Kind of shallow. More digging is necessary to ensure the fire pit does not become a garden pond. Tamara here: I just want it noted that David, I mean Facilities Manager, did this all by hand. Not that it's such an overwhelming task, but I thank my lucky stars every day for him!

This was all moved by shovel in hand. Good exercise!
Tamara again: OK, so he beat me to it.

This is the construction of the rock embankment. Chief Gardener did this duty. I believe at this stage we enjoyed a fire in the pit.

Yep, we sure did. See the remains. And the yard debris is ready to go again. 

There we go. The FM dug down about 40 inches and then filled the pit with three wheel-barrel loads of gravel. Some four inches of sand was then added. This is a so-called "french drain" to, again, prevent a garden pond in the fall and winter months. In any case, the FM plans to make a lid for the pit, i.e., a pit-lid!

The pit was then filled with water to determine two things: A, How it drained; B, To find the level of the bottom. Working on a slope one often becomes confused as to levelness.

Here the FM installs the floor of the pit. These are hard kiln bricks available at Lowe's for $2.66 each. We used 96 bricks in the pit with four bricks to spare for repair purposes.

FM spent an hour or so making sure the bottom bricks were as level as possible. Paver-sand was sprinkled on the surface and swept by hand to fill in the gaps between the bricks. This will help dissipate the heat. So we believe, anyway.

These are the rings to rule all rings. Again the paver-sand was used between each ring of bricks.

Here I back-filled with the removed soil. Carefully, though, so as not to disrupt the bricks. Tossed in some gravel, too. Then the FM watered the outside fill and compressed it. It turned out as hard as concrete and the bricks are very secure in place.

So three rings (to rule them all) up and checking out how the stones would look.

More testing. Kind of swirly, no? The Chief Gardener wondered about hanging the flagstones over the lip of the brick ring, but fearful the heat would crack the flagstones and to ease cleaning, it was decided to just line up to the edge instead with about an inch of sand and gravel between the top ring of bricks and the flagstones.

Ah, now that's a fire pit!
Okay, a comment or two. We thought of mortaring in the flagstones but decided to try the laid-in method first. The mortar may crack under the heat and the just-laid-out in the manner shown above allows the stones to be a bit flexible. We are sure they will settle in as the rains come and we use the fire pit and walk on them. Not at the same time, haha; we won't be fire-pittin' during a rain storm!

The final work to do is to install the new stones, which will simply enlarge the flagstone pattern, and then to clean out the sand and gravel from the pit and then toss in some logs and enjoy the crackling fire and the Chief Gardener's stupendous gardens.

Thanks for checking out Chickadee Gardens this week. Happy burning!

Tamara's final note: Thank you guest writer Facilities Manager for giving me the week off. And yes, happy gardening and now that fall is officially here, happy burning!