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The Garden of Our Dreams: Better Living, by Design

"We're going to build a stone wall and a terrace for our garden," my husband, Jonathan, announced. "We are?" I replied, hoping he was joking. No such luck. We had contemplated starting the garden in our back yard, but that area was steeply sloped all the way down to the pond! I had tripped and slipped several times and my sister had gotten leveled in mid-sentence. Obviously, not the best setting for a garden. But we didn't really have a choice;  the rest of our property is thick with tall and beautiful trees. So much shade, so little sun.

But a DIY terrace? Our skill set for building a terrace was  highlyquestionable. I didn't have the heft needed to move wheelbarrows of soil, let alone lift large stones into place. My husband's ongoing chemo treatments and afternoon napping wouldn't quite put on us the fast track for a summer garden. And it was already May. I really didn't think we could pull it off.

Sometimes Crazy Ideas Work

Weeks went by and Jonathan's enthusiasm for the project grew by leaps and bounds. A passionate gardener, he had always dreamed of building a stone wall and a beautiful patio for his garden. His excitement began to fuel my curiosity and sense of adventure.

But tackling the entire project ourselves would be daunting. So instead, we decided to act as the general contractor, do the planning and a lot of the work, and hire workers to do the heavy lifting. Now, we had a plan! And my husband was going to live his dream.

Here's How We Did It

Once we made the decision, we plunged in!

  • We immersed ourselves into the world of rock, stone, and gravel. We borrowed stacks of landscaping books from the library and watched how-to videos on YouTube.
  • We hired two workers to help us move soil, build the stone wall, and add the top soil. Presto, we had a terrace garden.
  • We chose bluestone (a natural stone) for the patio and walkway and made the path 36" wide to be user friendly for anyone using a mobility device. We took multiple excursions to the local stone yard for bluestone (oops, we had a couple of counting mistakes) and hand selected more than 100 stone slabs, 1.5" thick for you DIYs. This was the fun part. It was like being in a candy store and each color variation looked more delicious than the next.
  • I sketched out the walkway pattern with various shapes and sizes of colored stone.
  • The same workers who helped build the terrace helped carry and lay the bluestone.

We Did It!

It took a lot of planning and hard work, far more then we ever expected, but I'm still in awe that we built a terraced garden. We now have a usable backyard that is both safe and accessible. Because we acted as our own general contractor, it didn't cost us a bundle. For $6,000, we built the garden of our dreams, with ripe heirloom tomatoes and the sweetest beets I've ever tasted. Just as wonderful, we sometimes abandon our deck to sit on our terrace, surrounded by our garden plants, and immersed even more closely in the colors, scents, and sounds of the natural world. Looking back, I now realize that Jonathan's dream of a terraced garden was my dream, too.

Visit and, a website for caregivers of persons with dementia. You can also find out more about her book, AARP Guide to Revitalizing Your Home: Beautiful Living for the Second Half of Life.

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