Having a private green space to retreat to is a dream for many people, but unfortunately hiring landscapers and contractors can very quickly become quite costly. The solution. DIY projects!
When Natalie’s deck started to show its age, she decided to take on the task of refurbishing it herself! Through learning from reading and watching videos online, and some guidance from local small businesses, Natalie was able to renovate her deck by herself so she can now enjoy the outdoors (and all her beautiful native plants!)
DIY home improvement projects can seem daunting, so we wanted to take you through the process with a first-hand account.
Brought to you by Bill Ball!
The Starting Point:
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the project?
With the porch, the biggest challenge was working around a century's worth of other people's DIY projects. I originally was going to just replace the floor, and then realized there was an old floor right under the current floor, and a mystery deep pit full of old pieces of plaster, metal, ceramic, and animal bones(!) underneath that. It was definitely one of those "Should I really pull at this thread?" projects.
With the yard, the hardest thing was dealing with these huge wild grapevines that hung over and into my yard from on top of the retaining wall. It's been a constant battle keeping them from taking everything over. This year, my neighbors on top of the wall were kind enough to let me stand in their yard to cut vines from above, which helped significantly.
What are some resources you would recommend to someone who is considering starting a project like this with no prior experience?
I learned a lot of the building things from reading and watching videos online. I also got some guidance from working with local small businesses when I needed supplies. All the lumber was reclaimed wood from Manayunk Timber, and they helped me choose the right type of wood for each step and gave me a lot of tips about building with it. It's also super important to know your limits. I had a plumber come deal with mystery pipes under the old porch and had an engineer friend help me install the columns. There are certain things that I definitely leave to the professionals.
If you want to get into native plants and support native ecosystems, the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society, Penn State Extension, and wildflower.org are all fabulous online resources. When I was just starting, I was pretty overwhelmed with all the options and the wildflower site helped a lot, because you can enter your zip code and sunlight/moisture levels and it gives you a bunch of suggested plants. We are also lucky to live in an area with really excellent native plant nurseries. I got most of my plants from Good Host Plants in Philadelphia and Redbud Nursery in Chester County. The folks at both were highly knowledgeable and took the time to give me advice about plant selection and care. I've found that most people that are into native plants really like talking about them and helping each other.
What was the part of the project that was the most fun?
There were lots of fun parts and lots of frustrating parts! With the porch, finally getting to put in the floorboards was really satisfying. It was actually quite easy compared to most of the work but it looked like a ton of progress because all of a sudden I had a porch again instead of a construction zone. In the garden, it's so rewarding seeing it really start to develop into a little ecosystem. This is the first year that the native plants have really started seeding and spreading of their own accord, and I'm seeing so many types of insects and bees and birds. The other day there was a hummingbird feeding on my beebalm flowers and that was pretty cool to see.
What will you use the new space for the most?
Hopefully, just enjoy the outdoors and be able to eat and relax on the porch by myself or with friends or the bunnies.
Do you have any future DIY projects in the works?
So many. The garden is ever-evolving and I'm already scheming about next year's improvements. There is still some trim work to be done on the porch as well. And there are plenty of indoor projects - I need to paint the whole house and parge the basement walls, so I have lots to keep me busy.
What neighborhood do you live in, and what is your favorite thing about it?
I live in Wissahickon/Roxborough. My favorite thing is being able to walk to both Wissahickon Park and Manayunk. It's the perfect location.
The Finished Product: