Side Entrance Refresh -

Side Entrance Refresh

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With just a few tropical plants and a couple of well-placed planter boxes, we refreshed and rejuvenated our home’s garage-side entrance.

Apparently, it was a big selling point for my babes.

For me? It was just a brick portico.

But then again, she sees things that my dusty walnut brain can’t fathom – like how a room or any other part of the house will look when she’s done with it.

So yeah, the garage entrance – a red brick portico with empty landscape beds of red pumice – was a big draw for her when we were looking at this house. Because she saw the potential. It’s a skill I lack when it comes to rooms and houses, but I think that’s par for the course for most men.

Anyway, my babes was so excited about that portico because she saw it as the ultimate canvas for our seasonal displays. Translation: our Halloween props are gonna rock in there!

Here’s how it has looked before we tackled it for this mini makeover.

messy side entrance to house

Its most important functions were a cardboard repository between weekly recyclings and a frog haven. Since we never used the door that leads into the garage, the frogs claimed that territory as their own sovereign land.

I’m not sure why these landscape beds were empty when we moved in, but then again, I’m not sure about a lot of design choices made by Those Who Came Before. For example: red brick house and red lava rocks. Okay, whatever. You wanna roll with red – I get it. But then when the roof needed to be replaced last fall, He Who Came Before replaced it with a…drum roll, please…red roof! It defies logic and buggers the brain. But it’s all good in the hood because we’ll be whitewashing the house at some point, and then the red roof and red lava rocks will make sense! Just my two cents, and my opinions do not necessarily reflect the official views of The Navage Patch, The Wife or The Family.

Anyway, we had a lot of red lava rocks…with nothing planted in them.

So that part was easy. My babes loves nothing more than strolling through the garden centers of Lowe’s and Home Depot with two or three flat carts while The Boy and I fill them with whatever tropical delights she points at.

And speaking of The Boy – thank god he’s here for the hottest part of the year! Though I’ve planted my fair share already and worked like a 2-bit rented mule, Baris has also planted a ton, and that helps me tremendously. I don’t think there is any worse torture than digging holes. But I have to say, the actual digging here in Florida (not factoring in the beastly heat and humidity) as vastly easier than it was in Georgia or Connecticut. The Georgia soil was compacted red clay – heavy stuff that stained everything in a 2 mile radius. And Connecticut earth was more rock than soil. You needed the strength of Paul Bunyan and the mental fortitude of a Shaolin monk just to dig a meager hole in which to plant a small tree.

Now as luck would have it, the plants we bought for this side entrance refresh were all planted by Baris. Let’s give him a big round of applause! Let’s hear it for The Boy!

boy planting flowers

The eventual goal for this side of the house is to replace that AC unit (it is at the tail end of its service life) and have the new unit installed between the two windows, not in front of the guest room window like it is now. It boggles the mind to think that some contractor just plopped that hideous compressor unit in front of a window and called it a job well done. “Yessiree,” he said to no one in particular, “That thar’s a mighty fine place fer this here chill box. Mighty fine!” He then belched, spit, scratched his butt and moseyed off to find another window to block.

Until that day, we’re just going to hide it as best we can with plants and shrubbery.

Now, for the portico, my babes had a slightly different plan. She had found some beautiful white planter boxes at Lowe’s, and we picked up four of them. Two were earmarked for the side entrance makeover, and the other two were for future projects in the back yard. You can see the planter boxes stack on top of one another in the first picture of this post.

Since the lava racks would make it difficult to level those planter boxes, we bought a few 12-inch by 12-inch white landscape pavers. The plan was for me to clear the stones, level the dirt and lay the pavers. The boxes would then sit on them, nice and level.

Of course, the day we chose to do this project, July 3, was the most humid day in the history of the universe. There was no air to breathe, only soup. To get a sense of what summer feels like here in the Florida panhandle, take a bath towel and dunk it in the bathtub. Then place the towel in a 200 degree oven for one hour. When the hour is up, remover the steaming wet towel and wrap it entirely around your head and face, including your mouth and nose*. Now go about your day.

*My high-priced, imaginary lawyers have advised me to tell you not to actually try this.

Anyway, back to the rock-scraping. It didn’t take long for the sweat to flow like wine at a Roman Bacchanalia.

man and boy picking up stones

After removing the pumice, I poured a bag of paver sand in the excavated area.

man putting paver sand in a garden bed

I leveled the paver sand as best I could. I was going for mostly level but with a very slight slope away from the house and away from the garage.

man leveling paver sand
man leveling paver sand

By now, I wasn’t just sweating, I had a literal Niagara Falls issuing from my pores. Oddly, in my advancing age, I’m finding I’m able to handle heat and humidity far better than I could when I was younger. And fatter. Maybe that has something to do with it, too. I used to get dizzy and nearly pass out in the heat. Now I just turn into a dripping Sweat Monster, but at least I can function!

When I had the sand leveled, I started laying the landscape pavers.

man installing landscape pavers

Every time I pick up a rubber mallet with the intention of bashing a paver into place, it takes me back to the halcyon days of my youth when I lined my parents’ two-acre yard with bricks. It was a job my dad had started back in the early years of the Reagan administration. He’s no slouch when it comes to physical labor. He could have easily handled the entire job. On the other hand, he had an idle son. I can almost remember the blinding flash, as the light bulb exploded in his head. It lit up the whole neighborhood.

“Hey Gregs!” he called from his hands and knees in the side yard.

I tossed my Star Wars figures aside and went to see what was up.

man installing landscape pavers

My father looked up at me as I approached his work area. “I’m going to show you how lay landscape bricks!” he said, enthusiasm creeping into his voice. “Take this mallet!”

And from that day forward, I was the designated brick layer. Back then, I didn’t know about paving sand. I grew up using patio base under the bricks – a technique I carried into adulthood. But then I saw how the pros laid our new walkway in Connecticut – the one we had installed two months before we moved. The top layer, just before the pavers, was paving sand, aka leveling sand. I had also seen it used a couple of years before that when the guys who built our deck laid some new brick around it to connect with the old brick around the pool.

I’d been doing it wrong all those years!

Well, live and learn. I now know the right and proper way to lay bricks and pavers, and it’s a skill I intend to use extensively in our Florida home!

man installing landscape pavers

After laying and leveling the pavers, I readied the planter boxes by drilling some drainage holes in their bottoms. This area not only gets normal rain – it also gets the roof runoff from the portico, so these planters need heavy-duty drainage!

man drilling drainage holes in a planter box

I plopped two planter boxes on the pavers and jiggled them to and fro until my babes was satisfied with their placement.

man putting planter boxes in a landscape bed

When I had the placement nailed, I replaced the excavated lava rocks. Notice the two bukbuks at my side. It was July 3rd, and people were starting to shoot off fireworks. The only safe place to avoid certain death was by daddy’s side.

man putting lava rocks in a landscape bed

Even with two enormous chickens underfoot, I managed to get the job done.


man placing planters in a landscape bed

To take up space without weight, I cut up a bunch of pool noodles to place in the planters before adding soil. We got a bunch of these at Dollar Tree, and they make perfect planter filler!

man cutting pool noodles to put in a planter box
outdoor planter with pool noodles in it

Baris then filled the planters with soil.

boy filling a planter with soil
man and boy filling a planter with soil

Then The Boy planted two firecracker plants in each planter.

planting firecracker plant

We love these plants, and they’re the perfect showpiece for these planters. They’ve got the thrill, fill and spill all in one!

After cleaning up the area, this is how our side entrance refresh was shaping up.

Side Entrance Refresh -

The planters are beautiful, and the colorful plants break up the monotony of the brick.

Side Entrance Refresh -
Side Entrance Refresh -
Side Entrance Refresh -
Side Entrance Refresh -

Carrying on with the refresh, we turned our attention to the entrance door.

Side Entrance Refresh -

If you like that fall gnome wreath hanging on the door, stay tuned for the full tutorial this Friday!

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  1. Great job guys (and pups!) Definitely an upgrade and of course it fell on the most humid day of the year. We’re painting the upstairs and despite a million fans and A/C running it’s a swamp up there so kudos for being out in the slop! Can’t wait for the gnome tutorial!

  2. Looks like you did a great job. Loved your helpers. Keep up the awesome updates. There’s always something to do as a homeowner. Just about to hot in North Alabama to do a lot of work outside. May just have to wait till fall. Good luck with your projects.

    1. Thanks, Joan! Unfortunately, I have to plant throughout the summer here in Florida. Just too much to do and not enough time to do it!

  3. You shouldn’t call it ‘dirt’ Greg. Dirt is what you get on your clothes. SOIL is what plants grow in. It’s only non-gardeners that refer to it as dirt. I know you’re going to get back and say, “but I’m not a gardener,” but you could at least pretend to be one!


    1. You are absolutely correct, Hanna! I could get you on a technicality and claim that our soil is actually more like dirt because it is so sandy and nutrient-poor, but I take your point. Even if our soil is nothing more than dirt trying to make it in the big leagues, I will give it the benefit of the doubt and call it by its better name. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

    1. Hi Diane, if you have empty plastic water bottles they work exactly like the pool noodles. Just make sure that they have the caps on, so water or soil can’t get into them. If we had enough empty water bottles we were going to use those but I didn’t have enough time to save them.

  4. What a beautiful statement for your entrance. Great teamwork! I love the pool noodle idea. You guys are the bomb. Have a blessed day. Sharon

  5. Hey Greg! Wonderful job! I hope you can help. Do you know the actual name of the ‘firecracker plant’? It looks very similar to a very hardy plant here in Palm Springs, but your plants have a lot of foliage compared to the similar plant here in PS. Also, any details on the planters you used? Sweating’ to the oldies here in Palm Springs, Laura (the oldies are songs from the 80s)

    1. Hi Laura, the scientific name for the firecracker plant is Russelia equisetiformis, but it is know as and sold by “firecracker plant.” I’ve linked the planters in the post – we got them at Lowe’s and we really love them! I hope you can find both in Palm Springs! 🙂

  6. I love reading your posts in the morning with my coffee. It is a great way to start the day, with laughter! ! You are funny. And I love all the detail you and Handan and Baris put into your projects! Watching you turn your house into your home! Thank you!

    1. Hi Jill, I love reading comments like this! If I can make you smile (or even better – laugh), then I feel like I’ve done a good job! 🙂

  7. Greg, you and Baris did beautiful work on the side yard and portico!
    Add hot flashes to the heat and humidity – we live in south Louisiana and the walk from the door to the car – 10 feet- feels like a large iron smelting plant.

  8. I really dislike the lava rock because it retains the heat a lot more than any other kind of rock. I would guess the previous owner used it because it blended with the red brick. In Florida many of us like to use the white stone especially the kind that looks like it has marble in it. Very pretty and it reflects the heat much better. I love your idea with the pool noodles.

  9. That was a fine job that you and Baris did with the plants and planters Handan chose. I can empathize as we have 100% humidity and 90+ temperatures now in OH. I don’t do well working outdoors when it’s like that. Thanks for the humor, Greg; it’s always welcome! Your tip on using pool noodles and Handan’s suggestion re: empty water bottles to take up some of that space in the planters and remain lightweight were the best I’ve found. My husband will be happy to learn that. He’s the ‘muscle’ on putting away the planters in the fall. It will be much easier now. Thank you so much!