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Under Deadline, Finale: Lights Out

April 15, 2014


NOTE: The final in a series of projects completed for a new local newspaper publication. To read the first post in the series click here.


LIGHTS OUT: Last stop on our 6-part Rancho tour is the area I used to call The Temple. I called it that because it had a symmetrical, altar-like presentation (click here) made up of classical-looking bits of this and odd-looking bits of that. But, if it was anything, it was a shrine to collecting; I loved tracking down pieces and plants to insert into its whimsical mix. In 2011 and ’12, I sold most everything that made up the garden and the Temple was not spared. With everything gone, I decided to turn the spot into an elevated concrete lounge pad (click here), keeping its existing salvaged factory windows and gate as backdrop. I was fine with the completed pad, however my lounge idea stalled … I seemed unable to make a seating/eating/chilling/lounge space materialize. I added a multicolored salvaged wood wall on one end, then dissatisfied, I turned it into a floor … I added, then subtracted, furniture; it seemed exposed and forlorn perched atop the stark concrete. Thinking the pad’s face needed softening, I added stacked cement block planters on either side of its step-up; still not content, I placed white stalagmites in front of them, their organic irregularity finally giving me the softening effect I craved. A bizarro rusted steel BBQ/smoker came next; I centered it on the painted wood floor where it would hold its own and have pride of place. Then: Inertia, brought on by my spinal issues, surgery and recovery … until that fateful editor’s call last month that shook me back into action. Forced to look at the pad as it stood, I decided that what it needed was a sense of enclosure, a wall to finish off the end that looked toward the Evergreen Cemetery. As in the past I searched Craigslist for a solution, finding it in the form of vintage galvanized carts. Complete with plastic liners, these carts probably once held wet uniforms on their way to an industrial laundry … I saw them planted with grass-like succulents, finishing off my outdoor lounge in style. I bought all carts offered and they worked out perfectly! I got my lounge wall without blocking sight-lines to the view beyond (see next photo) …


… A mix of vintage metal seating came next, including: A two-person ribbon settee in green; a pair of matching strap chairs; a stylin’ pair of rusted steel swivel chairs with conical mesh bases and curved backrests. I improvised a bench out of a painted truck step topped with square cushions. To spare visitors a sprained ankle, I stacked concrete elements (including a beehive) to fill in space between the pad and a nearby retaining wall. The final element to transform my concrete pad into a comfy lounge was a 100-foot length of string lights. To hang the lights, we took four 12-ft lengths of thick rebar and placed them into the ground at the four corners of the pad; hooks secured with industrial strength velcro finished off the top of each pole. We then simply strung up the lights, hook-t0-hook, until they ran out; amazingly they fit exactly! Flipping the switch that night for the first time, I felt the pad was complete, and completely transformed; it was exactly what I wanted it to be.



In the opposing view the BBQ/smoker looks great on the painted wood floor. Note the galvanized carts in the foreground.



Of course the daytime view is pretty nice, too … It’s a great place to read or simply nod off in the afternoon breezes.



Oh, in case you were wondering, that lovely bit of curved rusted steel affixed to the back wall is a very old wheel guard from some sort of gigantic farm machine. Scored during a picking expedition somewhere in the midwest, it was spotted by me in a back stall at the always-dependable Treasures N Junk in Ontario. I imagined it mounted arch-like over the back wall’s center gate, where it would serve as a focal point … I quickly scrapped that plan, however, once I saw it upside-down against the gate. Not only did it fit the width of the gate perfectly, but like a wide, U-shaped grin, I could see it functioning as a planter — a succulent planter! I followed my standard planter-conversion formula to achieve this: I lined the lowest part of the U with metal mesh front and back and secured it with wire; in the resulting channel, I added a layer of  coco-fiber matting, followed by easy-drain cactus soil mix. Lastly, I installed an attractive array of succulents in the new planter/basket. More than an arch on the back wall, I love how the newlplanted wheel guard completes the lounge in grand Rancho style.



A neighbor dropped by recently to faux whine over the fact that we’d had a party the night before and neglected to invite him … I was momentarily confused because we hadn’t. I then realized he’d seen the lights in the backyard and just assumed they signaled a fiesta. I guess I don’t really blame him for feeling left out, even from behind the fence the Rancho’s lounge looks like a hotspot.

“Because I’m happy — Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof” … That lyric from Pharrell William’s giddy pop hit expresses how I feel about my completed lounge — and my garden, really — now that it’s finished. Under the stars at night — alone, with Paul, or with friends — my room without a roof makes me very happy indeed.

Click here to get “Happy”


Thanks, readers, for following this 6-part series. Thanks again, too, to all who assisted in physically making these projects and spaces come to pass: I could not have done any of it without you! It’s an amazing blessing to know that I have so many willing hands (and backs) supporting me and my ideas. The newspaper publication in which the Rancho will appear will be inserted in the Sunday, April 27th issue of the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Vickie Perez permalink
    April 15, 2014 5:08 am

    The pics show everything so well. I did enjoy your night time look the evening I was there. Sure made me think about what I’m going to be doing here. Just can’t quite make up my mind. Or find the energy necessary. Have you any ideas for me?

    • April 15, 2014 5:11 am

      Wow, ideas … I’m sure I could dredge up some of those! Energy might be another matter … I’ll be in touch. 😉

  2. April 15, 2014 1:16 pm

    The huge swag with succulents is what makes it for me. Otherwise, I think the angles would be too prominent, but the scale of the one giant curve is enough to balance it.

  3. April 15, 2014 3:45 pm

    A feast for the eyes!!! YOU amaze me!

  4. April 15, 2014 3:57 pm

    I’m sure I’ve said it before but you’ve really outdone yourself this time…wow! I love everything about this spot.

  5. April 15, 2014 4:38 pm

    I saw the completion on Paradis Express and had to rush here for the commentary. After all those months of being stymied, it’s amazing what a little deadline pressure produces. The laundry carts are fabulous planters. Incredible how you will these disparate objects into a space with such coherence and inevitability. Bravo!

    • April 15, 2014 4:53 pm

      Thanks, Denise … and you’re right: Deadline pressure was the spark I needed to finally shake my creative doldrums. And it is force of will that makes these odds and ends work together so well, not to mention tons of good fortune! 😉

  6. Dave in Toronto permalink
    April 15, 2014 5:48 pm

    Nice job, Reuben. Stylish and inviting…

  7. Lita Sollisch permalink
    April 15, 2014 10:53 pm

    Well done!

  8. Luisa permalink
    April 16, 2014 1:54 am

    Awesomely wonderful. Honestly, you have no idea how inspiring your garden is and how much of an inspiration this series has been. I have a big, rusty ore-cart from an old mine [family’s had the cart for three or four generations] and am now trying to figure out how I can get it over a wall and into my back yard… Meanwhile, I need to cruise Craigslist — those galvanized carts of yours are terrific. Thanks so much for sharing your garden and its evolution!

    • April 16, 2014 3:41 am

      Reading your comment pleases me so much, Luisa! Best of luck getting that awesome ore cart over the wall … you can do it! And, yes, cruise Craigslist relentlessly; check certain keywords each night and you’d be surprised what turns up! 😉

  9. April 18, 2014 3:08 pm

    Difficult to see which area or item that grabs me the most, as I enjoy that’s been done with so much. I’ll just say the way these spaces are expanded is refreshing and maybe quite the model for what my patio can become in my different ecoregion or climate.

    Now, I need to look at more of your past posts to see where you came from and where you might be going!

    • April 18, 2014 4:11 pm

      I like that you’re so analytical in your approach to my garden, DD. Share your conclusions!

  10. Val Rubida permalink
    April 23, 2014 7:28 pm

    Reuben…I have been having problems with my computer, but i’m back now. This project is wonderful and a great space for fiestas. I especially like what you’ve done with the metal swag.
    My neighbors also think I’m having a party when the lights are on my rancho.

    • April 23, 2014 8:00 pm

      Ugh, I hate computer problems, Val! Happy to see you again and thanks for the lovely comment 😉

  11. Shelly permalink
    April 24, 2014 8:08 pm

    So love checking in on your most recent endeavors. This one was particularly enjoyable. Love the rusted industrial aesthetic, and you are a master at composition. Inspirational!

  12. April 25, 2014 1:09 am

    You are an artist with scrap metal and space, Reuben. This garden room is, in every way, inspiring. Wow! It’s interesting too to hear about the creative process. Thanks so much for sharing.

  13. melbajojo permalink
    November 29, 2014 9:10 pm

    I just found your blog and I love love your garden! I have a question – how did you secure the gate and windows into the ground? I have several old large metal casement windows that I would love to use in the same way, but I’m not sure how to attach them to the ground in such a way that they would be sure not to fall over. Again, love your space, your re-use of materials is an inspiration!

    • November 30, 2014 1:03 am

      Hi, Melba, thanks for your comments. Luckily I have a brother-in-law who’s very adept at securing the often unusual elements of my garden schemes. In the case of the windows and the uprights who support them; he dug down a few feet for the uprights pouring concrete into the holes to secure them … he also, at some point, made sure they were both plumb and level. Once the concrete had cured he screwed the windows onto the uprights at regular intervals to render them permanent. Visitors to the garden are always covetous of this window backdrop and I can’t say I blame them, I would be too!

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