Once upon a time (almost exactly a year ago), I stepped into the backyard of our newly purchased fixer upper. A thrill of excitement shot through me as I investigated – here were the rather neglected, sorely overgrown bones of what would soon become a gloriously lush, outdoor space. I knew this project would cost money and take time, but I somehow thought it wouldn’t take us much more than a year to create beauty out of the chaos. (laugh with me, please. I know now how naive that sounds) I felt anticipation bubbling up each time I looked around, imagining all the before and afters we’d proudly show off. Cue me having a baby, dealing with a newborn, Vincas working hard at his new job, me getting back to running my photography business, and both of us spending oodles and oodles of time on weekends working on the house. It’s incredibly satisfying to finish a project, but when you have an entire house and yard full of projects? One thing leads to another, which leads to another and another, which soon stonewalls into “we’ll have to wait and put this off until we have money.” All summer, we’ve been working and working and working (Painting rooms! Paying to have trees cut down! Sanding bubbling walls! Staining porches! Putting in storm doors! Tearing down rotting fencing and putting in extra beams to get them up to code!) and it still feels like every single room in the house is now just in a state of flux with nothing – NOTHING – looking actually finished.
I’ve decided I need to start appreciating the slow and steady work we’ve been putting in by basking in what we have accomplished. It might not look like a lot in photos, but I assure you, it’s taken a solid year of effort to get to this point. And, as my sister helpfully pointed out, a first house is the perfect place to make all your mistakes, learn what you don’t like, discover what sort of projects you’ll never tackle again, determine what areas of a house you DEFINITELY need to inspect before purchasing, and define your style. That last one has plagued me quite a bit (especially since Vincas and I apparently have opposite tastes when it comes to interior design), so I’ve decided the backyard is a great first place to stop and admire on my virtual tour. You ready?
Our backyard is one of my very favorite parts of this house. It’s big. It’s rambling. It’s overgrown. But it’s so magical, too. In all my dreaming about a house, I never imagined having a backyard with multiple fenced in areas, a woodsy forest, and a bridge spanning a sometimes-creek. It’s a perfect yard for little boys to play in. I somehow completely forgot to take photos when we moved in, so here are the photos from the house listing. We actually had the house painted blue as part of the selling price, so that was the first big change to take place. Our yard is really woodsy. In the fall especially, it’s a nonstop showering of dead leaves and massive prickly nuts. For this reason, too, it’s pretty impossible to grow grass. That was the first big thing I had to let go of. I kept looking around and thinking how gorgeous it would look with ground coverage and I finally had to resign myself to the fact that any ground coverage would have to come from a very careful and steady planting and pruning of leafy plants and garden beds, not to mention lots and lots of mulch.
In the spring, we finally put together the money to have over a dozen trees cleared from the property, including a massive tree that towered high above our roof. This was especially important to Vincas, because he was worried that a good windstorm would knock a tree over onto our house (especially after his sister’s back porch was destroyed by a falling tree!). All the trees with two yellow ribbons were taken down completely, while the ones with one ribbon were just trimmed. (There are more than pictured here) For two days, Povi had the time of his life watching all the big equipment come and go while branches thudded to the ground impressively and sawdust sprinkled every possible surface. Glorious sunshine was finally able to break through in patches, making it all worth it! I’m also hopeful that this fall we have slightly less leaves to clean up, too.
The Dreaming & the Scheming
I went back to my inspiration board recently to refresh my vision of how I’d like our backyard to look. Granted, I know these Pinterest photos feature gardens that are professionally tended (or carefully nurtured by a retired old dear with no grandchildren and maybe just one spoiled kitty), so I absolutely know we’ll never have anything this perfect. But I can dream, right? With all the shade our property has, I want to create a fairy garden of sorts: lots of beds with lush ground coverage spilling out, hopefully some bright pops of color from flowers here and there. I want to plant sunflowers along our one sunny stretch of fence and I’d love to have a whole mess of black-eyed Susan’s in the back area of the second yard next year, too. (Just added a reminder on my calendar to scatter seeds at the beginning of summer!) We have big rocks everywhere and I’d like to keep some of them, because they’re so fun and whimsical – plus they make for great borders and retaining walls. We’re starting the process of building up pathways and I know I need to keep one big area clear for hauling equipment in and out of our shed, but I’d like at least one pathway that has either clover or moss growing in between the pavers. The yard needs to be kid-friendly for the boys, but since their biggest enjoyment is playing with trucks, I feel like winding paths and lots of lush hideaways are perfect for that. We live a few blocks from a park, so I don’t feel the need for a swing set. Since we can’t grow grass and my sister (across the street) has a huge grassy backyard, no need for us to have that either. The boys can come to our yard when they want to adventure with their trucks and go to my sister’s yard when they want to play soccer or tag. My mom’s fenced-in yard (a mile down the road) also has a playground and pool.
(a work in progress)
Which brings us to this summer. While Vincas has been tackling bigger projects (our rotting porch fences, the rampant poison ivy taking over every corner of the yard, our stealthy mouse attack, and our water drainage issues, just to name a few), I began tackling the crazy weeds and freshly cleared patches of land. If you know me, you know I have zero history of gardening. I know next to nothing about beautifying a yard and am learning on the job. Shockingly, I’ve also discovered I love spending quiet, quality time in the backyard. The kids are pretty good about playing while I work (especially now that I have a baby pen set up on the porch for Aidas!) and I love being able to be productive while they’re awake, while simultaneously making sure they’re exhausted for bed.
The area by the side gate (see pictures below) was the first I cleared out. I kept the big Hosta and Azalea on the left side, added a weed liner and mulch, and managed to transplant a few young Hostas to the right side. I also added in a red, leafy plant I got from Home Depot. It’s still pretty tiny (contrary to the ones I planted in another corner of the yard) and has a constant dry look to it, which makes me suspect that maybe that corner gets a bit too much sunlight for it. I might be transplanting it again soon. When we moved in, there were rocks ALL over the backyard, but especially around the bonfire. I decided to steal the rocks from the bonfire circle, since we were moving it anyway and haven’t gotten around to building a new one yet. We’ve discussed buying a huge load of rocks, but haven’t done that yet either. The brick sidewalk has crumbling areas, so that’ll have to be another project down the road. (possibly whenever we finally can afford to replace the entire back porch, since that needs to be done as well, yay).
My little rock garden bed outlines are a bit silly, but I need something to show Povi where not to step, since he has a habit of driving his truck over any little plants. After much chiding, he is now very careful not to touch any of those rocks. (although has has a stack he’s allowed to play with that lives in the crook of a big tree) I want to intersperse some bright pots within the yard, but have quickly realized that any time it rains, these pots get covered by a thick coat of dirt. I’m guessing the answer is that they have to be lifted up off the ground – maybe with a cute pot stand?
My parents had a whole bunch of extra pavers after redoing their back patio, so we snagged them up for a pathway. It’s on our to-do list to buy a truckload of mulch, at which point we will be able to evenly lay the pavers into the ground. The ground in our backyard currently feels like it’s down to the bone – there is NO real soil that you can dig into. If you try, you just hit rocks, tree roots, and weak, over-irrigated dirt. Basically, we need to start building ground onto what we have, although this can only be done once we finish solving our water drainage issues. (the long and the short of them is that any time it rains, we have a flood of water pour over are yard, carrying any soil or mulch away with it) Eventually, I’d like to create a few beds of either grass (in the sunny spots) or clover – this will help soak up extra water, too. We’ve agreed that if we do that, it’ll have to be spaces either small enough to easily weed-wack or big enough to accommodate a mower. Vincas spent last weekend chopping up our firewood (leftover from the big tree purge) and stacking it around the yard, to dry it out.
I planted lavender and mint in this particular bed, although I was only informed by my mother AFTER I planted them that both take over areas really quickly and would stay contained better in a pot. Soooo I’m contemplating whether to re-home them into lovely pots.
More of those colorful leafy plants. (anyone know its name?) They’re doing much better in that center flower bed than in the far corner that gets extreme sun during the mornings and afternoons.
The octagonal pavers are original to the backyard and kind of a tripping hazard. I would like to dig them out and space them more evenly at some point. There are also several massive rocks buried into the ground there that we want to dig out, since the kids (and we!) are constantly tripping on them.
The other half of that inner backyard is still mostly weeds. I love how lush it looks, but it can’t really stay that way. Not only is it a haven for poison ivy, but it’s also choking out the few nice plants hidden in there. My plan is to gently tame. That further space is our woodsy backyard. We keep talking about having chickens back there. Maybe some bee hives. One day…!
When we had the trees cut down, we saved some of the logs for a table for the kids. My measurements were waaay off and those stumps are massive. It’s really more adult sized. It was suggested to me to pour polyurethane on the stumps to keep them from cracking, but now they’re incredibly rough. Yet another “future project” involves Vincas using a planer on them to level out their surface, then use a sander to get them shiny smooth. The trellises have Virginia Creepers planted under them, but – shockingly – they’re not doing so well. Apparently Virginia Creeper is a invasive weed and grows like crazy…except for where I want it to. -<
This back bed is newly weeded and awaiting some sort of small, ornamental tree. We’re thinking of planting a tiny Japanese Maple in that back right corner to bring a pop of color to the yard. Hoping to also bring Vinco favorite sort of plants – fruit tree! – into the sunny areas of the yard. We’re going to start with a Fig Tree and hopefully progress to a Pomegranate tree!
Another in-progress project that Vincas has undertaken is to build a step next to the shed to make walking in and out of it easier. (note how uneven the ground in front of it is) We need to buy a whole load of dirt for that. Someone stupidly put rubber mulch all over the yard, but mostly in the area that the fire pit was located. THE FIRE PIT. Think about it: fire being burned + rubber on the ground. Brilliant, right? Our first attempt to light a fire in the old bonfire pit resulted in LOTS of smoke. We’ve been attempting to dig, shovel, and scrape the rubber mulch off the ground for the past few weekends and those two water barrels in photo below are currently full to the brim with it. We still need to take it all to the dump.
This side yard winds around the house and currently homes the last vestiges of poison ivy. Somehow – not sure how? – Povi has yet to get poison ivy on himself. It’s a small miracle! The gate you can see to the left of him leads to the bridge over the drainage creek and our woodsy yard.
The bridge! I love this bridge. It’s such a cute and whimsical part of the yard. I can’t let Povi play there by himself, because he’s always trying to climb down to the rocks, but it makes for great photos and a pretty view off the main back porch. The creek bed underneath it is usually completely dry, but when it starts raining it quickly becomes a gushing river as all the extra water from the surrounding neighborhood drains into it and runs downhill towards the Eno River. All the plants along this creek bed do incredibly well for obvious reasons. Someone planted Rose of Sharon and it’s spread into a thick hedge along both sides of the creek. In the summer it blooms beautifully – massive purple flowers that open wide during the night and then close up tightly during the hottest part of the day.
So there you have it: a backyard that is definitely smack dab in the middle of major overhauling. I hope that this time next year, I’ll be able to post photos of it looking so much prettier and greener (although it won’t be done by then either, I’m sure!). Right now, all the browness is getting me down a bit, but the weeds had to come out in order for me to see what I had to work with AND for us to be able to rake up all the rubber mulch, not to mention putting down a weed barrier and planting ground coverage. Thankfully, Povi is always ready to help me with rock hauling and general noisemaking. 😉
Anyone have any brilliant gardening tips, suggestions for shady plants, or neat gardening blogs I should follow? I’m all ears!