By Herb Lagois

It was a great bonding time for Andrew and me.

I’ve been in the design-build-renovate business a long time, but this summer I learned a whole new skill. It was exhausting and satisfying ‒ even fun (well, most of the time). It also gave me an enormous and renewed appreciation for landscape professionals.

The best part was an opportunity to bond with my son, Andrew.

It can be painful when your kids move away. Fortunately, when they go to a beautiful place like Cape Cod, where Andrew lives, it eases the sting. Still, it’s quite a drive to get to him, and we miss him. So when there’s a chance to visit, we usually seize the moment.

Andrew is the owner of a great house. However, until recently, it was a house without a decent walkway. Andrew had been planning one for a number of years, so we figured it was time he and I got down to business to build one.

Without a good walkway people (and Willow) tended to track wet grass clippings and dirt into the house.

It was a perfect excuse for a visit. This time it was just Andrew and me, one to one.

Before the walkway, when people walked to the front door from the driveway, they tended to gather wet grass clippings or dirt under their shoes that would then get tracked into the house. 

And then there was Willow.

Willow is Andrew’s beautiful rescue dog. Like all dogs, Willow’s paws get wet and muddy and dusty, especially in the rain. A proper walkway would help get her into the house with dry (or at least drier) paws.

Willow, Andrew’s lovely rescue dog, approved.

A good walkway would also be aesthetically pleasing and would update the look of the house in a subtle but substantial way.

It was a big task. I had almost forgotten how heavy dirt can be, especially when you start excavating it. Did you know excavated material can double in volume? 

It took us four whole days of backbreaking work (we calculated we moved more than 40,000 lbs in material) and I have to say when evening fell and Cape Cod seafood called (even a game of golf once), it was a time of joy and relaxation for Andrew and me. Neighbours kept popping by to chat and observe. It was almost a community event.

After the work, seafood called.

This was our second building-and-bonding experience. The first happened when I helped him create a new kitchen. I will never forget how hot and humid it was then, and how challenging it was because of it. 

But this time the weather was superb. Not too hot, not humid, with a nice breeze. It was the perfect time to be outdoors.

We had some amazing assistance with the non-physical aspects of the job from two people in particular. First there was Larry Hoffman of Hoffman Materials in Kemptville, Ont, whose endless professional knowledge of products was incredibly helpful, especially with sizing, product selection and how to order the material.

The other person was Andrew’s local supplier, J&J Materials in Bourne, MA. We worked with Jen. Her knowledge and advice were invaluable. I know from experience that when you start working with a new supplier you wonder what they’re going to be like, but Jen was a real pleasure to deal with.

Thank goodness for great weather. This task would have been much more difficult in blistering heat.

And there was a lot to learn. I discovered that interlocking material is bigger and heavier than it used to be. The Techno Bloc Blu 60 (shale grey) is beautiful, but it weighs a lot, even for someone like Andrew who is strong, fit, and athletic ‒ a marathon runner. For me, it was, well, heavy. It needs a set of muscles that Andrew and I have probably never used this way. I am such an admirer of landscapers and what they go through. They make it look easy, but it’s hard, unrelenting, backbreaking work.

Andrew chose a modern, clean-line stone for a contemporary look. The original entrance had been two steps up to the landing, but we reduced it to one step and a bit of a slope. We filled it in with crushed stone in layers ‒ many layers. I don’t know how many wheelbarrows of crushed stone we used…did I mention 40,000 pounds?

Today’s interlock is beautiful. It’s also large and heavy.

We added to the front yard aesthetics with black mulch in planters. Originally I wanted to use River washed stone, but it was hard to get there. Here we would use stone dust as a levelling material for the interlock, but there they use sand, so that’s what we used.

Andrew knew how to stay cool despite the backbreaking work.

This is the first landscaping job I’ve done from start to finish, and I observed many things:

  • We were at a big advantage because I understood the process, the sequence of steps, and was well educated on the materials. Most people don’t have that advantage.
  • It would be terrible to put in all that effort and then all of a sudden see your walkway sink and shift two or three years later. I have seen my share of horror stories over the years, so I know it happens.
  • If you’re going to be out there doing the work because you love it and want to bond with your son, fine. But if you hate it, or if you just don’t want the backbreaking aspect of it, or if your time is better used doing what you’re good at, why do it yourself? Let the pros do what they’re good at. 
  • If you think you’ll do it yourself, it’s probably a good idea to get some professional quotes to see if your time is worth it.
  • If you’re not used to this kind of work, don’t. 
  • It will take longer than you think.
  • You really have to take the time to design and plan!
Andrew chose a modern, clean-line stone for a contemporary look.

The walkway turned out nicely. Andrew was pleased. It was a lot of sweat and toil, but it was also a good and memorable time for us. 

He’ll be visiting here soon, and we just might discuss his next project: new siding. 

Stay tuned!