the big project

It’s done at last, the project from Hades.

The ugly backside of the outdoor fireplace, a week into the demolition

What started out as this ugly outdoor fireplace with attached bench…

The finished bench, from the end.

…has now morphed effortlessly (yah right) into this new garden feature: part bench, part deck, part raised bog/planter. It’s about four by sixteen feet in size.

For the last two years my bog plants were hogging up the sunny spot in the middle of the patio. Totally in the way. The new bench needed to have a raised bog/planter detail, returning some of the hardscape to garden.

With a general plan in place we got going.


Some scenes from the project:

This act of creation began with an act of destruction. The decrepit and not earthquake-safe chimney came down a brick at a time over several weekends. We saved 350 bricks that came off in pretty good condition and hand-chiseled the mortar off of most of them. Inside the fireplace was the reason the whole thing hadn’t collapsed already: 200 pounds of reinforcing steel. At current metal recycling rates we got almost 30 dollars for the scrap metal.

The rustic Japanese tiles that I loved 15 years ago and still appreciate now

I had some moments of nostalgia and renewed appreciation for the little Japanese tiles that I picked out fifteen years ago to try to ornament what at the time was already a marginally attractive garden feature. The didn’t come off the fireplace easily, and the shards and even the good bits were dispatched to the dump. As much as we tried to recycle, this project is not going to get a Platinum LEED rating.

The super-story bricks removed, we were left with a long concrete bench. I like plain concrete as a material, but this bench had been formed around a wood fence that had rotted away a decade ago. We shimmed over the ugliness and covered it all with wood.

A shimmed corner with support for the decking about to be installed
The whole bench with shims in place


The bench with black paint to keep the white from showing through between the slats
Before adding suppot battens for the planter we checked to see how it would look with them outside. Ugh. Way too rustic, too Country Home, too NASCAR. The battens are now hidden inside.


With the fireplace gone, it opens up the patio to the rest of the back yard.I liked how the zones were distinct before, but the bench still serves as a gentle separator between garden zones.


The bench was poured with this Greco-Roman column for support. Were they pining for some lost ancestors? Or were they postmodern ten years before the movement caught on with architects? Whatever the case, we decided to paint it black to de-emphasize it. No way were we going to take on taking it out!
The planter nearly complete, ready for the pond liner
Pond liner being put into place. This is to protect the wood and allow the bog plants to sit in water. This could also be repurposed in the future as a raised pond, or--after punching some drain holes--a normal planter box.
...and here it is with the bog plants in place.

A final “after” picture:

We’re going to relax some before starting the next garden project, maybe in these two old butterfly chairs John got second-hand 30 years ago, with our feet up on the new bench…

10 thoughts on “the big project”

  1. Wow, what an improvement! And that Greco-Roman column is hilarious. I would never have thought of painting it black. Hope it succeeds at the deemphasizing.

  2. It looks great James – as Diana said, as if it has always been like that. Great home for the bog plants, far easier to get up close and personal, though watching plants digest isn’t everybody’s cup of tea 😉

  3. James, a wonderful and thoughtful transformation, with obviously much work gone into it. Your garden appears to be much more open now, with greater serenity.

  4. Your new bench/planter looks great! I do have a question, though. For those of us who are botanically challenged, what is a bog plant?

  5. A bog plant is simply a plant that lives in a bog. They have special requirements because their roots have to be wet most or all of the time and often times they will have nutrient requirements because of the way a bog decomposes. Bogs tend to be high on methane and low on nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of those ‘need to have’ nutrients for plants, so that is why so many of the carnivorous plants are found in bogs. They supplement their nitrogen by digesting live food which is nitrogen rich.

  6. Gayle, thanks! Painting it black made it disappear almost completely. I think I can live with it now.

    EE, making something look intentional still sometimes gives me a headache–this project sure did.

    Janet, thanks. Sunset on the plants can be lovely with the light coming through the pitchers…until you look farther down and notice this dark mass inside of every pitcher.

    Faisal, the space feels more a part of the garden now. I like that, and the serenity you mention comes much easier now.

    David, thank you! Pamela did a great job of answering your question.

    Pamela, thanks for the notes on bog plants! As you mention these plants derive their main nutrition from insects. In fact, adding plant food to them can actually kill them.

  7. Wow! What a neat bench and just perfect for you! It has really clean lines and that looks like redwood. I like the now secret column and i bet you’ll be really glad you made the bench nice and long. Projects like this are more trouble than you imagine, but very satisfying. Why didn’t you invite your garden blogging buddies? Might have gotten the police there….uh, no maybe not.

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