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House Beautiful: A huge concrete patio is at the heart of a garden paradise

When Kerry and Rick Salter built their North Saanich home 10 years ago, they acted as their own general contractors, a role that required a tremendous amount of forethought.

When Kerry and Rick Salter built their North Saanich home 10 years ago, they acted as their own general contractors, a role that required a tremendous amount of forethought.

“We picked out everything for the house — from granite countertops and lighting to floor coverings, plumbing, electrical fixtures and door knobs — before we even started, because we knew we had to keep on top of the trades,” said Kerry.

The only things they didn’t pick out ahead of time were paint colours. But the two also didn’t have a moment to contemplate their 10-acre property.

“We never gave a thought to landscaping,” said Rick, who is plant-maintenance supervisor for Ocean Concrete, one of the Island’s largest suppliers of commercial and residential ready-mixed concrete.

Once construction wrapped up, they looked around for garden inspiration and turned to Rob DeGros for help.

The landscaper came up with a plan for lawns, gardens, patios and pool. Over the next eight years, the Salters turned that vision into reality.

The result is so attractive, the garden is being featured July 11 on the For The Love of Africa Society’s water garden tour. (See details page E6)

The owners said the landscaping took much longer than the house to come together, partly because they had given no thought to what they wanted, but also because their lot is challenging in that it slopes downhill.

“We decided to hold up the front bank with big boulders rather than rock walls, and Rob designed several terraces for the house and lawns,” said Kerry, adding DeGros came up with several “wonderful ideas,” including a large patio spanning the entire width of the house, with a pond and waterfall at its edge.

The Salters had found their house plans in a book and liked the layout of its four bedrooms, 31Ú2 baths and a big bonus room over the garage. But they had a designer make some custom changes, such as removing a vaulted living-room ceiling: “I’m not a huge fan of soaring ceilings because of heat loss and echoes,” said Kerry, who prefers a traditional house.

“I think modern houses are lovely, but I find you can’t have any stuff in them or it doesn’t look right.”

They hired a craftsman who designed and built all the maple cabinets for the kitchens and bathrooms, and gave them a cherry finish.

“We told him we didn’t want our kitchen to look too kitcheny and he really achieved that, with cabinets and an island that look more like furniture.”

Rick mirrored the profiles of those cabinets and other details when he built all the cabinets and mouldings in the living room. But the real work began when the garden started to take shape.

Rick hired an excavator to place rock to support the banks and then bought a used backhoe to sculpt the landscape into several terraces himself. “I also used it for the drain work, for moving dirt and rocks.

“We did all the garden work ourselves,” said Rick, who also used a small Bobcat excavator.

“The patio ended up being bigger than we thought, about 1,600 square feet, and we did it in one big pour, four inches thick, then cut it into six-foot diagonal squares.

“When it was finished, we sprayed a releasing agent on top and laid big mats over it that look like huge fried eggs, to stamp in a pattern. They give it a ragged profile. The guys would throw down six or eight at a time and use a weight to tamp it down.”

Sidewalks, which were given the same treatment, weave throughout the property, providing easy access to the various levels.

“We have so much lawn, it was important to be able to cut it easily and Rob designed sidewalks to meander through the property, so we can ride the mower from level to level. There are no stairs,” said Rick.

The paved pathways are especially handy now, since Rick recently broke his leg after doing some high-ladder maintenance.

“It’s a large garden but it’s fairly easy-care,” said Kerry, who is now riding the mower temporarily.

“The secret is to weed in the spring and then spread mulch. It doesn’t require much after that until the fall, and of course the drip irrigation helps. “

They also use solar lights in the garden, which features mostly deer-resistant plants.

“That was a learning experience,” said Kerry, who had to give up on some plants.

“I still have lots of hostas but keep deer away with a mixture of water, eggs, cayenne pepper and garlic. I let it sit till it really stinks, then spray it on the hostas.”

Kerry retired early, at age 60, from her job as a financial advisor at a bank, and is passionate about gardening.

“You have to be, with a garden this size. I used to have a stressful job, but found I could come home and spend hours in the garden. It is very satisfying.”

She explained they started with small plants because of the cost.

“They took a long time to fill in, but I have been told by several garden experts that this is one of the few gardens that is not overplanted. There were huge gaps when we started, but I was always very conscious of how big they would become.”

A highlight of the back garden is a pond filled with goldfish and koi that are protected with motion sensors — one lets out a hawk-like screech and another shoots powerful jets of water at any intruder.

The pond is about a metre deep and planted with bull rushes, lilies, a weeping maple, ferns, hostas, day lilies and fuchsia to give it a lush, tropical feel. A recirculating waterfall keeps it aerated and healthy for the fish.

Rick dug the hole himself, piled up earth to make the waterfall and lined the space. The edges are camouflaged with stones on three sides, and on the patio side, the concrete overhangs the pond and steel bars hidden under the overhang attach to the liner.

“It’s so nice to sit out here by the pond after work, and listen to the sound of the water,” he said.

The garden is filled with rhodos, mahonia, viburnum, maidenhair ferns, calla lilies, skimmia, coreopsis flowers, styrix japonica, giant rhubarb, crocosia and much more.

Kerry has brightened shady areas with fountains of lime-green Japanese forest grass, which she said is so vigorous, she has been able to divide it many times.

The whole landscaping project was “pretty challenging,” said Rick.

“We had to bring in I don’t know how many loads of fill, as well as 11 big gravel trucks of blasted rock about a metre in diameter.”

Nonetheless, he and Kerry are delighted with the results and happy to share their garden to raise funds for projects in Africa.



SIDEBAR or extended cutline for a picture featuring the concrete patio

The concrete patio looks brand new and requires far less maintenance than pavers or a deck.

“It’s been down 10 years and still looks fabulous,” said Rick.

The slightly polished finish is thanks to an acrylic sealer and the lack of cracks in the large 1,600-square-foot expanse is because a chemical was added to the concrete before it was poured. The product stops shrinkage that causes the cracks.

“Everyone thinks concrete is expensive,” said Rick. “People squawk at the price, but it’s not expensive when you consider how long it lasts and the anti-shrinkage chemical only added about 60 cents a foot.

“And besides, this deck is not just a driveway or a sidewalk. It’s a landscaping feature.”

The owners chose to add a dark colour to the concrete, to hold the heat so they get longer evening usage —“It’s like radiant in-floor heating,” said Kerry. The charcoal colour also goes with the house paint better than the natural shade, and doesn’t show dirt or pollen.

The surface was poured and trowelled smooth. Once it was set up enough, lines were cut in it to make large squares. Then, a releasing agent was applied on top, so stamps wouldn’t stick, and mats were thrown down, overlapping randomly, to give it a pattern.

The sidewalks were done the same way and a polymer in all the concrete ensures it is not slippery.

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