Bring Character to Your Backyard: 5 Weekend Projects

Beautify the backyard with these character-boosting outdoor projects. We'll show you how to make an outdoor room, decorative privacy panel, garden arbor, fire pit, and pebble mosaic walkway.


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Construct an Outdoor Room
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Construct an Outdoor Room

    Grow an open-air pavilion. Four plum trees define the rustic backyard getaway atop pea gravel. As they fill in, the trees' twining branches will supply foliage to cover the supports. In three to five years, after the branches intertwine sufficiently, you'll be able to remove the stakes and supports.

    Follow the steps that begin on the next slide.

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Step 1

    Mow a 6x6-foot grassy area very short. Plant a young, 9-foot-tall plum tree at each of the four corners. Place gray landscape cloth over the square and cover it with pea gravel a few inches thick.

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Step 2

    Prune the lower branches. Pound a 9-foot red-oak stake about a foot into the ground next to each of the four trees. Using 6-foot lengths of bamboo, form two 6x6-foot squares, lashing the corners of each square together with twine.

    Insert a 2-1/2-inch galvanized decking screw about 3/4-inch into the outside of each oak stake, 11 inches below the top. Slide one bamboo square over the stakes so it rests on the screws.

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Step 3

    Insert a 2-1/2-inch galvanized decking screw about 3/4-inch into the outside of each oak stake, 3 inches below the top. Slide the other bamboo square over the stakes so it rests on the top set of screws. To secure the squares, lash the bamboo to the stakes.

    Remove all but the top four branches of each tree. For each tree, bend two of the top four branches to the left. Use twine to tie one branch to the top bamboo support and the other to the bottom support.

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Step 4

    Bend the remaining two branches of each tree to the right, using twine to tie them to the squares in the same way as in Step 3.

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Fashion Fence Art

    Perk up a plain fence and create a gorgeous piece of outdoor art with these glass privacy panels.

    Follow the steps that begin on the next slide.

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Step 1

    Obtain a panel of clear glass from a glass store and a panel of seeded glass, cut to the same size, from a specialty glass shop. You can choose any size -- it all depends on where you will be hanging it. Use frosted spray paint to transfer the pattern of an aluminum radiator cover to the clear-glass panel.

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Step 2

    With a saw, cut zinc strips into pieces to fit around the panels. Slip individual glass panels inside the strips. Use a soldering iron and Flux, a product that helps the solder to flow, to solder the zinc strips together. Then solder a hook from a glass store to each panel corner.

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Step 3

    Draw your choice of designs and abstract shapes onto craft paper and cut out the patterns.

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Step 4

    Trace the patterns onto lightweight copper, aluminum, or brass mesh, then use tin snips to cut out the metal shapes. Use sandpaper to smooth edges and seal cutouts with polyurethane varnish. Attach shapes to the frosted-glass panel with contact cement.

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Step 5

    Position the seeded-glass panel in front of the decorated frosted-glass panel, sandwiching the metal cutouts between the two layers of glass. Using picture-hanging wire, loop the hooks together and suspend the pair of panels from a fence frame.

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Make a Metal Arbor

    Frame a walkway or make an entrance to an outdoor room with this graceful metal arbor you can make in an afternoon.

    Follow the steps that begin on the next slide.

    Materials You'll Need:

    --Wire cutters and protective gloves
    --Eight 10-foot lengths of rebar
    --Masking tape
    --Seventy-two 8- to 10-inch lengths of bare copper wire
    --Seventeen 4-foot lengths of rebar

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Step 1

    Measure in 2 feet from one end of each 10-foot length of rebar. Mark the spot with masking tape. Bend each piece of rebar around a tree trunk at the 2-foot mark to form a partial arch. Push two rebar lengths at least 1 foot into the ground opposite each other. The arched ends should slightly overlap at the top.

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Step 2

    Bind the overlapping ends together with a piece of wire. Repeat with the remaining lengths of rebar, spacing the four resulting arches about 15 inches apart.

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Step 3

    Use the 4-foot lengths of rebar to form horizontal cross bars. Space them an equal distance apart, and secure rebar with a piece of wire wherever two bars cross.

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Step 4

    Attach decorations, such as this lantern, to the arches as desired. The arbor will naturally weather to a rusty color.

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Build a Fire Pit

    Keep the outdoor entertaining going long into the night and well after summer is over. We'll show you how to build a fire pit in a weekend or less.

    Follow the steps that begin on the next slide.


    Please note: Before installing an open fire pit, check regulations. Local codes often outline siting specifications and may require you to apply for a recreational burning permit. In some locations, any sort of open fire is illegal.

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Step 1

    Start by finding a flat area 10-12 feet in diameter. Use a stake, string, and spray paint to draw the perimeter of the pit. Dig out dirt within the marked circle; ours is 56 inches in diameter and 18 inches deep.

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Step 2

    Fill the pit with 6 inches of gravel; rake smooth and tamp after each load to ensure a solid base. Then spread a thin layer of coarse sand over the gravel. Tamp the sand, as well, and make sure the surface is level.

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Step 3

    To create the fire pit surround, use small, curved, modular retaining-wall blocks. Use string and spray paint to mark an inner circle as a guideline for placing the first layer of retaining-wall blocks. (We used a 38-inch inner diameter.)

    Expert Advice: Before you start digging, lay out your blocks to determine the diameter of the pit.

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Step 4

    Place the first row of retaining-wall blocks in a complete circle, securing them into the gravel and sand base with a mallet. Use a level to make sure the blocks are level from side to side and front to back.

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Step 5

    Add a second row of retaining wall blocks. Look for interlocking blocks to simplify this step. Add the top row of coping blocks. Use a concrete adhesive to glue these into place.

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Create a Pebble Mosaic

    Turn a section of a walkway into a backyard focal point by crafting a pebble mosaic.

    Follow the steps that begin on the next slide.

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Step 1

    Sort pebbles by size, choosing flat ovals rather than irregular shapes.

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Step 2

    Fill a framed concrete base with a thin layer of slightly moist sand mix. Arrange the pebbles into the desired pattern and tap into place.

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Step 3

    Use a level to make sure pebble surface is even with adjacent walkways and will drain away from the mosaic's center.

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Step 4

    Repeat steps 2 and 3 for adjacent rows of pebbles. If desired, include special stones as focal points.

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Step 5

    While sand mix is still moist, make final adjustments to the pebbles with light taps of a rubber mallet.

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Step 6

    Gently blow excess sand mix from the mosaic using a leaf blower on low idle. Then dampen with a spray mister.

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Step 7

    Let stand for 2 hours. Softly brush moist sand mix between the pebbles to grout. This creates a finished surface.

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Step 8

    Squeeze water from a sponge over the mosaic. Mist once a day for five days to give it time to set. Avoid walking on it for a week.

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