Reveal: Thrift Diving’s 30-Day Outdoor Overhaul

My 30-day outdoor overhaul is complete. I came in just under the wire, with the goal of finishing by April 30th. It’s been a full month with one three-day weekend spent in Reno chaperoning my son’s Key Club event and another partial weekend away touring colleges. Throw in an unexpected root canal and it’s been quite the month. Phew!

Serena of Thrift Diving hosts 30-day challenges a few times a year. Several of us sign up for the extra motivation that comes with a deadline. Since I live in California, I’ve been lucky with the weather. We had a bit of rain on one of my painting days, and some windy days too, but nothing like the rest of the group. Serena actually extended the deadline by one week, since so many of the participants have had late-season snow.

I’ll be sure to share Serena’s post with all the challengers when they finish.

Without further ado, here’s what I accomplished this month.

Goals for the 30-Day Outdoor Overhaul

Goal #1: Clean, *repair* and paint my old potting bench

I’ve talked about repainting my potting bench for years but never quite got around to it. Now it’s done and I’m so happy. I painted the bench inside and out with two coats of Annie Sloan’s chalk paint. Once dry, I stenciled ferns along the bottom slats in a lighter shade of chalk paint. I arranged a variety of glass jars with fresh sweet peas along the top of the bench. I like the look of green and purple together. My friend Sherri gave me the decorative bird you see at the top of the bench. It’s perched on a pine tree twig.

Goal #2: Research gate options for side yard

About six months ago, I installed a make-shift temporary “gate” pictured above to keep Tessa from wandering out of the yard. I used an old wooden trellis, a 2 x 4 and a scrap of shade cloth, all items I had on hand. On the plus side, it served its purpose (keeping Tessa in the yard). On the down side it was ugly and impractical.

Once I started calling for quotes, however, the options for a metal gate seemed bleak. They’re all custom-made and cost thousands of dollars! Instead I worked out an alternate plan for free.

We extended our cat-fence netting all the way to the wooden front gate facing the street. We had just enough leftover from the back fence to finish the job. We used a remnant to cover the gate leading to the street. I’m so happy to have access to the side-yard once again and I’m pleased with the way it looks.

Here is a bit of serendipity. I reused the old trellis to complete goal 4. Though the bottom of the wooden trellis is partially decayed, I simply attached a pair of garden stakes with zip ties to support it and to keep the trellis off of the soil. Mike helped me pound the stakes into the ground to support the free-standing trellis.

ย Goal #3: Outdoor sandbox for cats

This goal is neither exciting nor blog worthy, but a goal is a goal. I picked up two bags of sanitized sand at a hardware store and poured it into the back corner of the garden.

Tessa and Mouse explored and then started using the sandbox. I’m hoping this cuts down on the deposits in other areas of the garden.

I made the Kitty-Loo sign out of scrap paper and Washi tape, then slipped it into the bottom of a page-protector. The silver cord came from my stash. I wanted something to photograph for this post besides a pile of sand.

Goal #4: Camouflage and Beautify

Goal 3 blends nicely with goal 4: camouflaging the kitty box and beautifying the back corner. I bought a 10 x 40 inch planting box, and set it on an angle in the corner near the back fence. Instead of a vine (my original plan) I bought a gorgeous white camellia. I planted purple periwinkle (vinca minor) on either side. The camellia will grow wider over time, eventually hiding the trellis all together. This corner looks so much better than it did.

Goal #5: Create a step-up to the raised garden along the back fence

I used 10 inch pavers to create a small step-up to the elevated planting bed along our back fence. I only needed ten stones, and a bag of pea gravel to pull it together. Although the rock wall is natural and the pavers manufactured, I was able to soften the edges with a couple of plants. The first time I used the steps I felt like a kid in a candy shop. They work really well.

Home Depot garden paving stones

Future garden steps

garden near back fence

Garden, back left corner

garden near side yard

Garden near side yard

There are a number of challengers working hard to finish their outdoor projects. When Serena posts her blog with all the finishers, I’ll be sure to share it here with you.

If you think you might like to sign up for a future Thrift-Diving challenge, you can subscribe to Serena’s blog or follow her on Facebook at Thrift Diving.

71 thoughts on “Reveal: Thrift Diving’s 30-Day Outdoor Overhaul

  1. Wow Alys – you accomplished so much in the 30 days; I guess a timeline really is motivating! I love that you reused the trellis; it still looks beautiful! The kitty loo sign is a hoot. How did you find using the chalk paint? I’ve never used it before but have always wanted to!


    • Sara, the timeline is motivating. It would have been so easy to push this off. The truth is, there is always something going on, or something unforeseen. It really kept me on task knowing I had this deadline. Mike helped me cart home the pavers and he did most of the cat netting. He too knew it was important to me to reach this goal.

      I loved using the chalk paint! It goes on thickly and smoothly and as you know, no sanding or priming required. It dries quickly as well. I did need two quarts (they thought I would only need one) but this bench has so many sides so I guess its understandable. It was worth the two coats though.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Karen! It feels so good to have these tasks done. I have several more projects to go, but these ones seemed daunting. I’m so glad they all worked out.

      Next up: power washing. I refuse to let that machine intimidate me. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  2. How satisfying to achieve all those tasks! I think the corner with your newly painted potting bench looks just lovely.


    • Thank you, Jane! It is satisfying to have the projects complete and of course the immediate gratification of everything looking clean and fresh and summer-ready. We often start getting brutal heatwaves as early as May 1st, so that was added incentive to get moving on this. I can handle the cold and the rain, but the heat wipes me out. Do you have any garden projects planned this year?


      • I don’t have projects like yours, but it’s my intention to reorganise my garden over this coming winter which means moving quite a lot of plants and putting them where I think they fit better. I planted in a haphazard way to start with and now must fix my mistakes!


  3. Your DIY overhaul turned out so beautiful. I love the screen in front of the kitty loo and the potting bench turned out perfect. I don’t think I’d ever sign up for the challenge because weather and plans very often do not cooperate with my agenda. ๐Ÿ™‚ The fact you got it all done with everything else you have going on is testament to your perseverance. We had the last of our rain this morning and now I can start getting out and do some yard work. I have a list. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hugs, M


    • Thank you, Marlene. I did one other challenge two years ago July, but it had a big indoor component (making slip covers for all my deck furniture cushions). Power washing the deck was, shall we say, often refreshing. ๐Ÿ˜‰ This go around it was all outside. I suppose I could have painted in the garage, but that bench is pretty flimsy, so moving it back and forth isn’t the best. It’s now back in it’s happy spot.

      So the last of the rain, eh? I hope this doesn’t mean instant heat for you. We’re actually back down to a slightly cooler than typical for late April. I’ll take it!

      Ah yes, the list. Or should I say the LIST! I’m actually considering making a page of garden chores so I can track it. I’m not sure how to do that. So far it’s just an idea rattling around in my head. Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, when you do a 30-day challenge, you really get organized. That bench is lovely and I really like the stencils. I used pavers myself earlier this spring to a much less beautiful effect. Your solution for the hard to grow place is priceless, too! The kitties have a place and you’ve hidden it. Perfection!!!


    • Thank you for all your kind words, Lisa! I’m really tickled with the bench. My biggest fear with this project was messing up the stencils. When I finally realized that it’s *just paint* and that I could cover up my mistakes, I relaxed. I made a sample board and worked out the mistakes. That really helped.

      So what did you use pavers for? They’re small but they’re really heavy. Mike helped me get them in and out of the wheelbarrow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, someone in the garden was taking them out and one of my AFAC volunteers, Jane was there and said we could use them. She had pilfered materials from the large garden to box in the small garden, so the large garden needed its beds defined. And that it what I did–little angled pavers snugged in a border. I was surprised at their heaviness too. I could only put two layers of them in the wheelbarrow and still push it! There were fifty and it was just what we needed.


  5. Now Alys – you might want to nip back and edit that sentence under the third photo collection – for want of an ‘f’ your reputation is at stake ๐Ÿ™‚ But thank you for the laugh out loud moment – and it does tie in so nicely to the other project of making an outdoor potty area for your so obliging kitties…. I’m impressed that you achieved your goals given the other things that you were also achieving throughout this past month. You are a veritable Amazon!! I was surveying my kitchen yesterday and wondered what you would do with it… Don’t suppose you want to nip back for a wee working holiday……

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, how you tempt me so, Pauline. Second best would be a working session via FB Messenger. That would be fun. Of course I couldn’t be there hands on, but I could make suggestions.

      As for the above, I just can’t see what I know is surely there. Sh*t…am I right. Help me…..

      Liked by 1 person

      • So sorry I was busy in my room – I nipped into Spotlight this morning to pick up some tape runners and came home with a pile of canvases and a new Big Shot all on sale ๐Ÿ™‚
        Glad you found it, it’s so easily done. Proofreading your own work is the hardest thing I think – you know what it is supposed to say and make it so…. I’m sorry, but I did chortle ๐Ÿ˜€
        As to my kitchen dilemma – in the words of the esteemed Boomdee “Gah!” It’s really more than reorganisation, it’s a whole renovation. Let’s just pretend I never mentioned it.


        • Pauline, you got an amazing haul! What fun. I’m glad you got a good deal on a Big Shot. I love mine and wonder why I waited so long to buy one.

          It is hard to proofread one’s own work. I’m a pretty decent editor when it comes to other things, but never my own. And I continue to find mistakes in old posts that make me cringe. Ah well.

          It’s nice to be loved for my content and character and not my grammar and spelling. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

          • I spent last evening die cutting – what a pleasure it is to have a decent machine again. I had a spellbinders model that Jo bought me about eight or so years ago, it was always a tad tricky to get the pressure right and over the years just got worse and worse. I felt bad for my budget – but my goodness, why didn’t I do this sooner? ๐Ÿ˜€
            You are indeed loved and the odd missing ‘f’ matters not a jot ๐Ÿ˜€

            Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cathy! It’s been a busy month indeed, but I’m enjoying the feeling that comes with a challenge met. The biggest surprise is how we lived with that ugly temporary gate for so long, when we had the materials to fix the problem all along. Life is funny and always there teaching you as you go.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Well done, Alys! If anyone could accomplish so much during April with so many other things going on, it had to be you! Your potting bench looks so lovely. The stenciled ferns are just charming. Such a cute potting bench would make me stop to repot all of my containers. Yet, you continued working through the 30-day challenge with such dedication. I truly admire your hard work and careful planning. The best part, my friend, is that you can now enjoy the fruits of your labor all summer long and for years to come! So proud of you, Alys!! Wishing you a delightful May in your ‘new’ garden!๐Ÿ’—

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your vote of confidence, Dawn! There were days when I thought fatigue would win, but I pushed myself out the door and got things done. It took longer than I expected to apply the first coat of paint. The bench has so many edges! The second coat went much faster, and stenciling the ferns ending up being a lot of fun.

      I was thrilled to find the perfectly-sized planter box and struck up a nice conversation with the guy at the nursery. It’s partially made of fiberglass, so it won’t warp or rot the the way the wooden planters so often do.

      All in all, it was fun to take on a challenge. I now you challenge yourself all the time. I admire your ability to always see things through!

      Sending a big hug your way, Dawn.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Painting fence pickets really does take time! Hope your paint and stenciling will last and last, Alys! Taking on a Challenge with a deadline and letting the world know via our blogs helps me stay motivated on projects. I have so many unfinished projects!! My To-Do list is never-ending!! So, it’s important to celebrate our accomplishments with friends!๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿ’ƒ You rock, my friend!๐Ÿ’—

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Dawn! I’m still working my way through outdoor projects, but I’m almost “there”. After that it’s just summer maintenance. Yesterday I mulched a corner, added shredded paper to the compost bin, cleaned up a pathway under the orange tree, and in the middle of that took a break to visit with my neighbor “over the fence” if you will. Thanks for always cheering me on. Best of luck with your long to-do. I feel you.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I love your potting bench. I’ve used Annie Sloan’s paint for indoor projects but not for anything outdoors yet. Have you put some soft wax on the top to protect it from the elements?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The woman in the shop selling the paint said that wax is only recommended for indoor use. She said two coats of this paint should do the trick and not to use wax outdoors. Your comment got me thinking, though, so here’s what I found on Annie Sloan’s website:

      “Chalk Paintยฎ even works outdoors! Itโ€™s particularly good on brick, concrete, stone and terracotta โ€“ and thereโ€™s no need to wax. On garden furniture, a coat of water-based exterior varnish will protect against stains and keep the finish looking good for longer. Look for a varnish with UV protection to prevent colour fading.

      Chalk Paintยฎ will fade in the sun and age gracefully with the elements. Chalk Paintยฎ is a water-based decorative paint and does not have any weatherproof or protective properties. Depending on the look you want and the site-specific conditions you may find it needs a fresh coat periodically.

      Chalk Paintยฎ is not recommended for teak or other oily woods. Always test, if in doubt!”

      Are you doing any painting this summer?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I need to paint a metal garden and chairs which will need some serious rubbing down action first – a horrible job as they are made with decorative metal swirls – which is why I thought to use the chalk paint. I think they’d have to be varnished afterwards though for some protection against the elements/dogs/cats/people. I’ve been meaning to do this for several years but I think the time for calling them ‘shabby chic’ is long past and ‘bin fodder’ might be more accurate unless I do something about it soon.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I read a post somewhere about using chalk paint, slightly diluted, in a sprayer. It would make quick work of all those swirls and curls. If you don’t have one, perhaps you can borrow or rent one. I’ve never priced them, so it might not be a big expense. If you repaint them, I hope you’ll share details.


  8. This blows me away! And it gets me thinking about my own outdoor problem spots and inspires me! You did it all and with such style, and frugally as well, it seems. But I’m sorry I got here too late to see the embarrassing typo–now I’m trying to figure out what it must have been! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, the famous typo. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I like the challenge of time and a budget. Everything we did in theater was certainly about that (please costume 40 actors. You have $200). I grew up in poverty after our dad died, and college life was lean as well. It’s good to hone those skills.

      I’m so glad you found inspiration here.


    • I’m so glad she spotted it. It’s certainly not the worst of the four-letter words, but somehow seeing it up close on a gardening blog was a bit jarring. I’m also happy to have a good laugh at my expense. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Okay. You got my attention. The last time I attempted something like this was a trip to the emergency room and subsequent thumb surgery. And it was just installing electronics around the house. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • W, I remember that horrible injury. Fingers are the worst, too, since we use them all day long. They’re also full of nerve endings. I hope you fully healed. These projects were all low-risk in the power-tool department. The biggest stress as we age goes to the back and knees.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  10. A-mazing! Look at you go, grow, but not mow ๐Ÿ˜€ Your naturalized garden is da bomb. Loving your refurbished garden bench! I never noticed it requiring work but my oh my, it looks awesome. Did you add a magnetic closure for the doors? I’ve never tried the chalk paint but you picked a super colour for the garden. It’s enough of a contrast to say, “over here, look how pretty I am” without being to standout’ish (not a real word but you probably catch my drift). Great Job on the kitty fence, bravo team Milner/Francini ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve barely scratched the surface of spring things outside yet. It’s only been warm 2 days…..last week. Patience is an asset :/ and I completely understand what Serena’s ‘spring’ woo’s might be like. gah! My favourite thang is your Kitty Loo area in the back 40 there! That sign is a hoot ๐Ÿ˜€ Lovely plantings and trellis idea too. Congratulations on reaching your goal, I had no doubts what so ever and you garden is tres magnifique Madame Milner, vous รชtes un jardinier extradinaire ! โค โค Au revoir xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well here I am, finally catching up in bogland. It’s always nice to visit with you here. I’m usually chasing you on Instagram or via Messenger. Did you ever dream you could connect with someone one country over in so many interesting ways?

      LOL on the “go, grow but not mow” mantra. You make me laugh. Every day I watch bees and hummingbirds visit the native garden. It’s a wonderful thing to behold.

      I bought that garden bench for $99 about 15 years ago and it’s really held up well. The paint on the top was worn away to bare wood in some places, and the squirrels chewed the top corners of the “fence posts” over the years as well. The legs were rotting in some places from the time it sat on the dirt (why did I do that…I don’t know). This new paint fixed all those problems, and it gave me a chance to try chalk paint, too. I like the ferns and had fun with the stencil once I sorted it out.

      I know you are finally getting reliable spring weather so I’m looking forward to hearing what you get up to outdoors. We’ve had a surprisingly mild May so far and no heat wave so I’ve had more opportunity to work throughout the day, instead of limiting myself to early mornings.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Now here *I* am catching up in Blogland ๐Ÿ˜€ I sure never dreamed of engaging with so many in so many ways when we lived at the lake. The internet was soooo slow, it’d take ages to load one page, let alone several. I fear I didn’t have the time nor patience.
        If the folks who build that garden bench only had customers like you, they’d surely starve and go out of business, LOL Good thing you’re one in a million! $99/15 years = a measly $6/yr ๐Ÿ˜€ That’s a great investment !!
        I’ve been going non-stop outside, inside and all around the house. I think I mentioned having the blinds all cleaned and furnace too. Since then the A/C got preventative maintenance. Each appointment seems to take a whole day as you sit and wait for people to arrive. The outdoors has been whipped into shape but still on-going planting. I finally finished Lisa’s blinds and mailed them off. I re-decorated my craftroom, hopefully will blog soon annnnnd well the usual, laundry, house cleaning, grocery, blah blah, vets and kitties, yadda yadda, LOL.
        I just spent the whole morning on Silhouette Studio’s because everything is 50% off and today’s the last day. Did you know you can always shop the sales and download the weekly free-be even if you aren’t using the machine. Just thought I’d mention it. You could be building your library at a discount for when you have time to enjoy it ๐Ÿ˜€ What does this all have to do with your lovely post? Nothing, but I’ve had 3 coffee’s and a little hyped on life! LOL! loving you xoxoxo


        • I tend to put off service projects for the same reason. It seems to take forever to get them scheduled, then as you say you wait around all day for them to show up to do the work. It’s such a relief when it’s done.

          I can’t wait to see the changes to your BoomRoom as well as your summer garden. We’ve had a couple of heat waves now and sadly, most of my self seeded annuals are now starting to wilt and go to seed. I love it while it last.s

          I’m so excited to see the blinds you made for Lisa. Congrats for getting that done (some of the crafting folks call these UFO’s (un-finished objects).

          Thanks for the tips on the Silhouette Studio freebies. You’ve gotten so much use out of yours. I really enjoyed it at the beginning, but then the software kept crashing, the cutting when awry and eventually I just gave up. I’m going to look into buying the newer model this fall when the boys are both off to school and I’m needing a pick-me-up.

          Love you xo

          Liked by 1 person

    • Amy, what fun it would be to pop over to organize. I love the process and the challenge of finding different solutions. I can’t wait to see your place one day. J. is getting so close to moving into her new home. I’m glad she’ll be living close to you moving forward.


  11. I really enjoy seeing garden improvements and transformations. Your potting bench is lovely! I look forward to any other photos you’ll share. They inspire me to make some improvements of my own. You had a busy month and kept to your schedule. Good for you. Enjoy!


  12. Way late to this discussion, Alys, but let me add my hurrahs to your work. It looks wonderful. Now you have have had a few weeks to enjoy your work, and to see if the kitties are still using their sandpit. What a clever place to have it, in a corner that has never worked as a garden bed, and then hide it with a beautiful camellia. And more time to admire your steps!


    • I’m even later to respond, Anne, but I’m always happy to hear from you any time, anywhere. The sandbox is working well! All three cats have used it and with a cat scooper, it’s easy enough to remove and dispose of the solids once a week. (The things we get excited about, eh?) ๐Ÿ™‚

      The camellia is sporting one flower, but since it’s late in the season, I’m grateful to have it. It’s a lovely plant year round, even when not in bloom so I’m glad I went with a shrub instead of a vine. xo


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