I Built a Fence!

Status report: my inexpensive and talented but very flakey electrician keeps canceling (also known as not showing up), which means we haven’t been able to have the work finished, which means it can’t be inspected, which means stuff like the pantry and the ceiling-less dining room and the ceiling-less front room and patching the swiss-cheese walls in the entryway have more or less come to a stand-still. For a week or two, this led me to destroy more things (different post, different day) on the inside of the house, which is technically forward motion but kind of just feels like I’m making everything worse in our torn-apart house. It’s like I’m trying to figure out how many things I can break down before I start putting them back together again. It’s this fun game I play with myself where I end up totally insane.

I need a new electrician. And someone needs to confiscate my pry bar.

Honestly, I’m a little sulky and annoyed about the electrical thing, but secretly (except now, since I’m telling you) it’s also been a perfect excuse to finally get out of the house and get my hands dirty in, like, actual dirt instead of plaster dust and other types of dust and more dust. What a concept.

We’ve been in our house a whole year (and eleven days, technically) and thus far this is all we’ve accomplished in terms of exterior projects:

newporchlights

1. We added some new light fixtures. Big improvement, but I had very little to do with it beyond coordinating the electrical work and buying and installing the lights.

service

2. We had new electrical service run to the house, including a new service drop and converting to a single meter rather than two, since now the house is a single family. Hard to decide if it looks better or worse.

3. Mowing the lawn. Occasionally. Weed-wacking even more occasionally. We’re a mess.

yardclearing

4. Clearing a crazy jungle that had cropped up on the side of the garage, a bunch of grapevine that had run rampant from a neighbor’s property, and miles of Virginia Creeper that had overtaken the saddest and weediest flower bed ever at the back of the property. Much of which is creeping back a year later. Go figure.

roofbeforeafter

5. Getting a new roof, which was a hellish and drawn-out ordeal involving 4 different roofing contractors spread out over about 8 months and something I’d pretty much rather die than repeat. What. A. Nightmare. But it’s done. Or done-ish. Done enough. Fuck roofing.

We’re awesome neighbors. I’m guessing the neighborhood had higher expectations when the house sold and a couple of homosexuals moved in. Homosexuals are notoriously good at having good taste and making things prettier, and I feel like we’ve been letting everyone down since our beautiful tiny laundry room hardly qualifies as an appreciable improvement to the curb appeal of our house. Most of the houses on our block don’t have a whole lot going on in the way of landscaping and whatnot, so I’ve tried to stem my guilt by thinking about it that way, but I’m a neurotic Jew. Guilt is my #1 emotion and way of being.

ANYWAY. Let’s remind ourselves of our yard situation:

YARD

As you can see, there are a few different issues.

1. All the asphalt. It must go. I hate it with every fiber of my being, and I’d give my left kidney to have it disappear and be replaced with something. Anything. I don’t care if it looks like the fucking dust bowl. I don’t even care of the Virginia Creeper wants to colonize the entire thing. I just want it to be gone. I guess the previous owner of our house had several cars and decided to pave half the yard with asphalt, but we have one car and it is tiny and I don’t need or want it at all. Not even a little bit. I think we’ll still have some kind of a gate and parking situation next to the garage, but I’d much rather just have two strips of bluestone or concrete or something with pebbles or ground cover surrounding it. I hate asphalt.

2. I found out from my neighbors that the old foundation (cinderblock disaster/weed jungle) just behind the garage was actually a half-baked plan to extend the garage, which is a horrendous idea that I’m glad never came to fruition. The garage is actually a really pretty cute little structure and I shudder to think what any kind of renovation would have done to it. That said, now we are stuck with a wildly unattractive crumbling foundation of broken dreams that all needs to be excavated and hauled away. Boo.

3. The biggest problem here, strangely, is the fence. There is fencing surrounding the entire property, which is great. I’m glad it’s there. But the purple lines demarcate an old (original, probably) wrought-iron fence, which I love, and the black lines are all cheap and very crappy chain link that’s all falling apart and looking a hot mess. And as much as I love the wrought iron fence, it’s only 3 feet tall. And despite that the top of it is surrounded by a threatening row of spikes (so witchy!), I have a Pit Bull with a very impressive vertical leap who can clear it with a smile on her face. Not safe.

wroughtironfence

Now, we never leave the dogs in the backyard unattended, but there’s always the risk that Mekko will get excited by something and jump over. It’s happened three times in the course of a year, and she hasn’t done anything bad or anything like that, but it’s so scary. We live on a fairly busy street in terms of both foot and car traffic, and I’d really prefer if my dog didn’t get hit by a car or terrify an unsuspecting neighbor who wasn’t quite prepared for a Pit Bull to jump the fence to greet them. Even if it’s friendly.

So, when Mekko jumped the fence last week to go see her friend(ish…they have a rocky relationship) Bailey from across the street (an adorable 150-pound white Boxer…I don’t blame her), I felt very overcome with the need to do something and do it now in terms of getting our fence situation sorted a little bit. Panic is pretty much my main motivational tactic (aside from guilt, as we have established, but the two go hand in hand), and the idea of my dog’s safety being at risk pretty much brings my panic-meter off the charts. So I built a panic fence.

This panic-induced fence was actually kind of a good thing. I’ve been planning it more or less since we moved in, but fencing is intimidating. There are so many different styles and decisions to be made, and after mulling it over for so long, I was more overwhelmed than anything else. Vertical boards or horizontal? Pre-fab panels or individual pickets? Attractive gate hardware? Post caps? Paint? Stain? Seal? Let it weather naturally? I’m exhausted.

There is SO. MUCH. TO. THINK. ABOUT. This is the kind of shit that keeps me up at night.

Added to this is the exact location of the fence. I definitely don’t want my house to look like some kind of fortress, and the old wrought-iron fence had to stay, which basically left building a new fence behind the original fence as the best option. Which is a good option, since it gives us the opportunity to have a front yard and a backyard instead of just…a yard. Like so:

YARDnewstuff

Anyway, this  panic-fence didn’t have time for complex decision-making. It just needed to happen. I already knew the general location, so I just measured and took myself to the local lumber yard a few blocks away, made a quick decision between standard stockade fencing and dog-ear style fencing, bought my stuff, stole my friend’s truck, and hauled it all home.

Newsflash: even cheap fencing is expensive.

Newsflash: it’s also very heavy.

Somehow I managed to unload the truck myself (and splinter-free!) and haul my six 6’x8′ panels and 8 4″x4″x8′ posts into the driveway.

I was less than thrilled with the panels I purchased, but at the time they seemed like the cheapest and most attractive option. But they were not nice. The wood was either pine or spruce, and it wasn’t even pressure-treated. Each panel had a few super crappy looking boards, the pickets themselves were narrow and unsubstantial, and they were about $65 a piece.

But then I went to Lowe’s, which is basically my home away from home. The employees are all starting to laugh at me every time they see me there since I am there constantly. I was just getting some supplies for the fencing that I couldn’t find at the local place, and then I meandered over to the fencing section, and developed a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Lowe’s had MUCH nicer dog-ear style fencing. The boards were wider. There was a pressure-treated pine option for about $48/panel and a cedar option for $50/panel.

Now. I’m all about supporting local businesses. Don’t get me wrong. Really, I am. I’m willing to pay a little more to shop local, despite the sorry state of my bank account, because I feel like it’s the right thing to do when given the option. But I’m not willing to sacrifice on quality. Lowe’s was offering a much better product at a much lower price, and it just didn’t make sense to stick with the garbage panels I’d already purchased, particularly since we plan to install the same fencing around the rest of the house to replace the chain-link, and I’d like all the fencing to match. Them’s the breaks. So I had the lumber yard swing by and pick up the shitty panels, loaded my new cedar panels into my friend’s truck, and hauled that all home and unloaded it, again, splinter-free. Tiny miracles, small victories.

Posthole1

Deciding on the exact location of the fence turned out to be easy due to this weird section of missing bluestone next to the foundation a few feet behind the front of the house. The missing bluestone had been filled in with a thin-ish layer of concrete, which was getting in the way of digging my first post hole. So I rented a jackhammer, you know, like you do. This location turns out to be perfect since it’s about 4 feet back from the front corner of the house, and gives is over 18 feet of front yard space between the wrought iron fence and the new fence. 18 feet! Right now it’s all sod, but eventually I don’t want any grass whatsoever and I want it to be a luscious magical garden that both I and the neighborhood can admire. I’m so excited.

Back to the jackhammer. There is no photographic evidence of this, unfortunately, since I was mostly flying solo here, but I discovered that using an electronic jackhammer is not only really very easy, but also really very fun. I’m a tiny person without a lot of weight or muscle, so if I can do it, you can probably do it. The hardest part was carrying the thing around, since it probably weighs about 80 pounds. And then clearing out whatever you’re jackhammering.

concretepath

While I had the jackhammer at my disposal, I also decided to get rid of this weird concrete path in front of the house, next to the entryway steps. I don’t know why this path was ever put in, since it has no access from the outside or from the porch, really, but I figured the space could be much better served by plants than by concrete. Little did I realize that the concrete was VERY deep in spots and underneath it was a ton of rock, which all had to be excavated and hauled out before it could be back-filled with dirt. Luckily, digging fence posts creates a lot of displaced soil.

concreteremnants

Here are the remnants of the path and the rocky dirt, which I finagled Max into loading into a wheelbarrow and dumping onto the asphalt. It will get hauled away when the asphalt is removed. Which is hopefully super duper soon.

ANYWAY. Once I got the jackhammer situation sorted out and my first whole dug, it was time to place the first post!! EEEEEE! Progress.

post1

BETCHA WEREN’T EXPECTING THAT. Maybe you were. I decided that the fence should be black. I really want it to look as unobtrusive as possible and really recede, and I think the black will do that perfectly. I don’t want a “statement fence” and I don’t want it to detract at all from the architecture of the house. And even though the cedar panels are pretty brand new, they’ll fade over time and I hated the idea of a light wood fence next to the house, calling attention to itself. I’m very, very, very happy with this decision. I used Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain (tinted black, obviously), which goes on much like a paint and looks like paint, but should still allow the wood to breathe while also protecting it a bit from the elements. The benefit of using a stain rather than a paint is that it shouldn’t chip and peel over time and need to be redone like paint does.

For the posts, I bought 8 foot long 4×4 pieces of pressure-treated lumber. I dug each post hole about 30″ deep (which, by the way, is really fucking deep), then threw in about 6 inches of drainage gravel, and then filled it in with fast-setting Quickrete, which you just dump into the hole, soak with water, agitate a bit to mix it up (I used a stick), and let it sit, all the while checking that your post is super duper level and won’t move. The concrete sets up in about half an hour. One thing I didn’t account for is that while the local hardware store employees claimed I’d need one 50-lb bag of Quickrete per post, I averaged more like 3 bags per post. Back to Lowe’s! This section of fencing is about 30 feet long, and I think I used somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 bags of Quickrete for the posts. Luckily it’s cheap.

I bought a post-hole digger for this project, but ended up returning it immediately. Soil in Kingston tends to be really rich and kind of sandy, which makes it really very easy to dig. I averaged about 30 minutes to dig each post hole with a shovel. The post-hole digger I think is better if you have really hard soil, but I found it completely worthless for us.

gatebuilding1

After the first post was in and setting, I built the gate! To do this, all I did was cut down one of the 8 foot panels with a jigsaw and added vertical 2×3 supports, which are attached to the original 2×3 horizontal supports. All in all, very easy. It seems super sturdy to me.

gatebuilding2

gate

After it was stained and the second post was in, I put it up! You’ll notice that it’s a bit wider than the path (the gate is little over 3 feet) but I wanted it to be wide enough to cart a wheelbarrow through with ease. I’ll find a way to tastefully widen the path a bit, I think. I picked up a gate hardware kit from Lowe’s (I can’t find the link, sorry!), and two gate hinges. I think I may add a third one to the middle, just for some added support. All are made by Stanley.

L-brackets

The one thing I did do to complicate things for myself was that I decided to space the rest of the posts evenly, rather than 8 feet apart and end up with a shorter panel on the end. Then I decided to attach the panels with stainless steel 5″ L-brackets (spray-painted black) rather than screw the panels into the front of the posts. The L bracket is screwed into the bottom of each of the horizontal 2×3 supports, and then into the 4×4 post. This leaves the front of the post exposed, which I think looks a little nicer and more custom from both the outside and the inside. I was assured that I wouldn’t have a problem with the brackets rusting or falling apart, so I’m hoping for the best. If we run into problems down the line, I think I could replace the brackets with vertical pieces of pressure-treated lumber (exactly like the gate, pretty much), and screw those into the posts. If that makes any sense.

trench

Once all of the posts had set for 24 hours, it was time to put up the panels! Before doing this, I decided to dig about an 8″ deep trench under where the panels would sit and fill them with drainage gravel. We used about 15 bags, which added about $60 to the overall cost of the project, but the gravel should help keep weeds from growing at the fence line, and provide drainage underneath the fence so that the bottoms of the pickets don’t rot out. Additionally, because the fence is black, the gravel should help keep the color looking good when it rains and soil crap would splash up onto the fence if the rocks weren’t there. I think it was worth it.

chainlink

I’m sorry this picture is so awful, but I also wanted to address the section of chain-link fence that would now sit in front of the new fence, which separates our yard from our neighbor’s. Chain-link is just such a bummer, particularly when it’s so close to the street, and I wanted to find something better that would tie in with the original wrought-iron fence in front of both our properties.

fauxwrought

I searched a couple salvage places for something old (no dice), but then on another trip to Lowe’s I found this stuff! It’s nothing super fancy—galvanized steel that’s been powder-coated black, but the size was good, the price was good (about $30 for a 4′ section), and installation seemed (and was) very easy. I really hope it lasts. I thought removing the old chain-link would be a huge pain in the ass, but it was super easy. I used bolt cutters to detach the chain link from the posts, and the posts—which I thought would be set in the ground with concrete) just pulled right out of the ground with a little of my manly brute strength. Awesome. To fit our dimensions, I just had to cut one of the panels down with my Sawzall, which took roughly 30 seconds, and attach it to the last post. Overall, it’s not the fanciest thing in the world, but it does look good and feels pretty rigid, and it ties in nicely with the original fencing.

noraandmax

Did I mention my wonderful and long-suffering friend Nora was here during all of this? Poor thing thought she was coming up for a nice few days in the Hudson Valley and got sucked into my insanity. While the panels were going up, I put Nora and Max on staining duty, which they were obviously loving. It was pretty much the time of their lives. As you can see.

paintingprocess

EEEEEE! Almost done! I include this process image mostly to show the difference between the cedar and the black. See how the cedar is super visible and kind of obtrusive, whereas the black just kind of disappears? I think so, anyway. I also like that it ties in the with the black window sashes and other black accents I have planned for the exterior.

fromback

Annnnnd, DONE! Here’s the view from the back, which I know is nothing amazing but I think a hedge or something will do wonders. The gravel should settle down a bit and look less ugly over time, besides. After all the panels were up and stained, I used my Sawzall to cut the posts to the same-ish heights and topped them with these generic and affordable fence post caps from Lowe’s. I think they look nice!

corner

In the front, I’m super pleased with eliminating the area of chain-link while we were doing this anyway. The fencing on the left is the new faux-wrought iron, which I think looks pretty damn good for what it is. Again, it’ll look better with some plants and whatnot, but it’s just so much more inviting and pretty.

cornerwithpvc

I secured the last faux-wrought-iron fence panel to the wood fence with some super cheap plastic PVC connectors I found in the electrical aisle. They do the job. I spray-painted them black. Exciting stuff, I know.

gatefromoutside

I’m really pleased with how the gate turned out. Nothing fancy, but it opens from the inside and outside and it looks good. Obviously we need a better situation for the hose, but I’ll save that for another day…I have a couple ideas. Let’s just all ignore the vinyl siding and the missing end of the downspout and the foundation work we might have ahead of us. This is about the fence!

fencefromacrossstreet

I really like how it looks from the street, which was obviously a big challenge when thinking about this project. Setting it so far back keeps it really unobtrusive, and I’m SO excited about our new dog-free front yard! I think the fence will look a million times better once we get a bunch of plants growing in front of it and some real landscaping going. All in due time! In the meantime, I have pretty much no experience with landscaping and could use some plant suggestions and ideas for how to use the space…hint, hint.

frontgarden

I’m also really glad I broke up that concrete path and got back those couple of feet of gardening space in the front next to the entry. I backfilled the hole and obviously need to plant some things and mulch, but I think it already looks better. I also went on a MAJOR weeding/pruning spree to try to get the Rhododendron under control a little. I actually really don’t like Rhododendron in general and I don’t like them here (too tall!), but the pruning definitely helped me like them more. Someday I’d like to get rid of them altogether (or at least the one on the right) and replace them with a bunch of other stuff I like more.

header

ANYWAY, I’m so excited to have this new foundation to work with as we start to plan some more landscaping! As for the rest of the fence, I’m not sure I have it in me to DIY-it (it’s a TON of fence…) but we’ll see. There’s also the whole matter of cost—I haven’t added up every little thing, but I think I probably spent about $700 for just this section of the fencing, including the faux-wrought-iron business, so I might continue to just do it in sections where it’s most necessary and go about things that way. For now, I’m just glad to have this section taken care of—not only do I think it adds some curb appeal, but it definitely gives me some peace of mind where the dogs are concerned. They still have plennntttyyyy of space in the backyard to run around and play and poop, and this just goes such a long way toward keeping them safe. So that’s good!

I want to plant stuff. Tell me what to plant.


196 Comments

  1. I love “panic-fence”! Black was definitely the right choice. Once you get some landscaping done, the plants will pop against that black and look amazing.

    We have the most hideous old chainlink, and I can’t wait to replace it. You made it look pretty easy! And I’m glad to know it wasn’t super expensive.

  2. Nice fence!

    Here’s what I like, for plants. My plant tastes, for a formal house, run to (1) not something you’d find growing in a field, and (2) something fairly dense (to fill space in an interesting way) and (3) with interesting leaves that turn colors, or that make interesting shapes.

    Most important rule: plants in front of an older/formal house SHOULD NOT LOOK LIKE WEEDS. I love weedy plants next to a country house. This is not that.

    So:
    – Japanese Andromeda
    – Tree peonies/regular peonies
    – Hens & chicks, in front of the bigger plants.
    – Azaelas
    – Rhododendrons, but in uncommon colors (white, yellow), and smaller bushes. They’re not great when they get out of control, as you’ve seen (yours look pretty now, though).
    – A small dogwood tree can be really nice. Same for Japanese maples–they’re little and delicate and can look really gothic in a cool way, next to other plants.
    – Bulbs, for the spring, planted in clumps in front of/away from the other plants, so you don’t get bare patches later. I like daffodils and tulips and crocuses (the usual, why mess with classics?).

    I recommend against having roses, just because they can look really scraggly, they can be high-maintenance, and if they get big, pruning is a hassle, but YMMV.

    • Thank you!! This is so helpful!!

      • You’re welcome!

        I forgot to mention lilies. They’re a great contrast with rounder plants, and if you choose correctly, they’ll re-bloom all summer. I like tiger lilies, personally.

      • Oh, and (last comment, I promise) if you have a big linear area to fill and you just don’t want to be bothered with lots of futzing around with plant selection: hostas.

    • I recommend hosta for that shady area right near the gate. They actually thrive in shade, And their leaves come in some dramatic colors and shapes – the neon yellow-green ones with the great big leaves come to mind. Give them several years to get established, the first couple they look really puny, the BOOM, big plants.

      I love peonies for an ‘old classic house’ look – again, a little slow to get established, and the bloom season is short, but the foliage is reasonably attractive from sping to fall. You cut them back for the winter, so they work best where that isn’t an issue. Feed them a little bone meal every spring and they will get huge. I’ve used them all along a fence for a nice ‘foundation/back row’ planting.

  3. If those are any kind of pine overhanging the fence area, avoid peonies. The high acidity in the soil will lead to bud blast.

    I’d try to salvage the Rhodo from in front of the porch because a) that’s a great old plant and b) peonies would look dynamite in front of the porch, and hopefully the soil is less acidic there. The rhodo will also do a good job of filling up the space in front of the fence.

    I’d put the Rhodo and some yew or boxwoods in front of the new fence and plant peonies, anthony waterer spirea (traditional in the Hudson valley area) and some outrageous azaleas in front of the porch. Hostas should also do well there, but they will try to eat your yard. If you like to smell flowers, that sunny front-of-porch space also looks like a Vibernum would do quite well, and it the stark white flowers would look nice against the white of the house.

    If you’re wanting to learn about gardening, pick up a copy of Michael Dirr’s tree & shrub book

  4. http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/81092-product.html
    this is basically a black and white climbing rose and clematis combo that I think would be PERFECT for you.

  5. Your fence is so good! I work with a professional landscaper and they don’t even add all the nice touches you did (like the gravel underneath!). Although maybe that is regional– I’m in California. But seriously, nice job!

  6. My husband flips the bird in EVERY photo, so I am loving that shot of Max. Also, I need to go take a nap now since reading about all that fence building is pretty damn exhausting.

  7. Looks fantastic! My planting suggestion consists of an arrangement I’ve seen in various spots in Hudson River Park. It’s a gorgeous three-layer arrangement that I think would look amazing in front of that black fence and all are perennials, so they’ll keep coming back year after year. Like so (front to back, with the back being closest to the fence):
    – catmint (looks kind-of like lavender)
    – allium ambassador (big, tall purple pom-pom looking flowers)
    – silvery-green ornamental grasses (fountaingrass or another variety tall enough to show behind the allium)

    • Love those! I keep a running list on my phone of plants I like, and catmint has been on it since the beginning! My friend has some and his looks so great mixed in with other stuff.

  8. You need boxwood. Just think how pretty and formal but not too formal that would look against your beautiful house! Classic lines need traditionally classic plants. You can soften up the formality with a climbing rose. Viburnums or hydrangeas would be nice, too, but for god’s sake, please avoid those maw-maw pink and blue things us Southerners seem to gravitate towards! Annabelle or Limelight for the hydrangeas maybe. Korean spice or ‘burkwoodii’ for the viburnums.

    • I agree on the boxwoods! I definitely don’t want to go *too* formal at all, but I think they mix nicely with other things, particularly that variety that’s a little softer and lighter than the other kind.

      • Check out these boxwoods, where the designers varied the sizes and let them undulate instead of clipping into formal shapes. I think they look really cool, but also give a little modern twist to such a traditional shrub.
        http://www.tomstuartsmith.co.uk/projects/show-gardens/chelsea-2010 and
        http://www.pinterest.com/pin/237072367858234262/

      • Oh wow! That’s super cool. I think it might be too much for us, but maybe a smaller version somewhere in the back. I think I’m leaning toward pretty traditional in the front and more modern/structured in the back.

      • I second boxwood. Absolutely. Nothing is classier. And I agree about the softer/lighter, less topiary-ish kind. I thought of it immediately when I read “but I think a hedge or something will do wonders,” below the photo of the in-side your beautiful matte charcoal/black fence. Avoid privets, AKA instant-gratification boxwood. Boxwood is to privet as original windows are to vinyl replacements. Box is slow growing and can live for centuries.

      • Good to know! I wonder how they’d do behind the fence. It’s SUPER shady there. Gotta read up…

    • Personally, while I adore boxwood, slow growing ends up meaning super expensive. I have several yews which the previous owner of our house didn’t kill. Would that fill the same need for nice green shapes year round?

      Daniel, on youtube there’s a series from the BBC called “how to be a gardener”. It has a great episode on planning a mixed border (which is what you want).

  9. I recommend the classics! Several hosta varieties, because they love moderate to low light, are low maintenance (unless there’s a drought…they do better with water but established plants will survive anyway), need very little care, come in a wonderful array of subtle colors and shapes, are SO easy to propagate, and will look great with your house. Peonies, because they love the sunny spots, are fairly low maintenance, are so beautiful, and will look great with your house (make sure you follow the planting instructions or they may not bloom). Lilacs, because they will be great along a sunny fence, come in lots of colors and a few different sizes/habits, are low maintenance, and will look great with your house. Iris are good for accents. I’ve grown all of these, with ease, in a climate similar to yours (south central Wisconsin). Garden centers should have many varieties to choose from.

    • Thanks, Meg! Definitely with you on the hosta and the peonies! We have a TON of hosta that desperately needs to be divided, and when I do I definitely want to mix in other varieties—I always think that’s how it looks best. We have a couple of lilacs growing along the fence that I just pruned to try to encourage, but I don’t know…I hope they start looking better! They’re pretty mature, but kind of spotty and sad, and I don’t even think they bloomed at all last year. They may need more sun. I love iris, too!

      • Make sure you prune the old lilac blooms off or they wont bloom the next year. They produce buds during the summer after they bloom in late spring, so the better you prune the better bloom you get next year.

      • That’s good to know! Thank you!!

      • Iris! Yes! In a variety of intense colors. Sunflowers for later in the summer.

      • First – love your blog! So much fun, and I get so excited to see you post! I agree with the lilac suggestions. Lilacs don’t do that well in Virginia where we live but I grew up in upstate NY (faaarrrrr upstate) and they were everywhere there. I thin the new types are much hardier and better bloomers so perhaps you need to try a new variety to see how it does. They need a good amount of sun but probably not full sun. More hostas are always a good plan, and the big bearded iris are always beautiful. Great work on the fence!!!

  10. Fantastic decision to use the L-brackets — you adeptly avoided having an “ugly side” to your fence (which in Beacon must face the owner’s property, not the neighbors). I love it and plan to copy it, if we ever get a house with a yard. Sigh.

  11. The fence looks great! Ok, here’s some planting advice (I’m a landscape architect so forgive me if I get a little carried away….)

    You really need to keep two important things in mind when choosing plants- the amount of daylight and the amount of available moisture. Is this area sunny all day? Part of the day? None of the day? Is the soil damp or dry? Are there other things competing for water? Evergreens are notorious water hogs and will suck most of the moisture out of the soil around them. Once you have established those parameters it’s easier to know what will and won’t work.

    Another good trick is to think both in plan and in elevation when designing a garden as shrubs have different forms that can compliment or compete with their neighbors. For example, a vase-shaped shrub is happy next to a rounded shrub, but not so happy next to another shrub that is also vase shaped.

    Lastly, sticking to a limited color palette is usually the best place to start as you can always add color with smaller plants later.

    Have fun!

  12. Daniel, you continue to amaze me. The fence looks like a million bucks. Great color choice. But, I am writing to thank you for addressing the safety of your pets. I hate HATE it, there is no excuse for it when otherwise loving dog owners lose pets to vehicular traffic. Dogs do get excited and will jump a low fence and explore. You did good and, possibly, saved yourself some legal costs. I am a devoted reader of your blog but not a commenter.

  13. Plant Elephant Ear! They do well in low light, bloom for a long time into the fall and are HUGE. Good bang for your buck!

  14. FENCE-TASTIC!!! Looks awesome. Just wondering if the sun will fade the black??

    • I don’t really think so? If it does, it’s really not a big deal to re-coat it if necessary. We knocked the whole thing out with a roller and brush in a couple of hours.

  15. Once again, despite reading your blog for years, I’m astounded by how good the finished result looks. Really, when will I learn…
    I’m terrible with plants, but I do think mid or bright greens will look amazing against that black (as opposed to dark green which might get lost). And also, although I realise this is a bizarre thing to say in June, this is going to look amazing on a Christmas Card.

  16. LOVE the black! And I think this is really going to help out with the neighbors’ expectations; people seem to view fence building as the Everest of DIYing, in my experience. When my husband put ours up right after we moved in, he immediately gained a reputation as a “guy who does shit around the house” ….at least according to our neighbor, Bruce, who talks a lot.

    • It’s so funny you say that! I met a lot of my neighbors while I was building the fence, and people were so kind and supportive. There are some people across the street who have lived there for 50 years (!), and I think they were glad to see us finally doing something substantive with the yard. We’re friends now. :)

      • Did you give them a preview of your magic on the inside? You’ll blow their minds. I wonder if they have stories of the place from 50 years ago…

  17. Looks lovely, great job! Fencing is one of the easier projects that can give you a lot of quick gratification – actually, landscaping in general I find to be pretty easy. I’ll rip out a little section of lawn in an afternoon and it is so satisfying!

    Anyway, I quickly skimmed the comments and found other people suggested boxwoods and peonies and I cannot agree more. Peonies don’t bloom for a very long period, but they are so appropriate for your house and they do have nice foliage. A white bleeding heart would also be lovely, as well as hostas and ferns for your shady areas.

    Someone recommended a lilac and while I love these, be careful in your selection. I have an unknown lilac in my front yard that is a monster that we have to severely cut back annually. I keep it around because it smells wonderful when in bloom and I just haven’t had the energy to relocate it. It also doesn’t have very exciting foliage. But with that said, I have some tinkerbell lilacs that I planted myself in the back yard that I love. They are a compact variety that I do not have to cut back at all and have really cute little leaves – they also bloom once in the spring and again in the fall and have tiny adorable flowers.

    Can’t wait to see what you decide on for the landscaping!

    • I agree, white bleeding hearts are sooo beautiful! The little flowers are so crisp and fresh, especially against hostas and/or ferns.

  18. The fence looks great! It definitely adds to the curb appeal of the house and it’s nice that is hides the icky chainlink in the backyard. And puppy safety is a great motivation factor.

    For plants I would suggest tiger lilies. They’re super easy to grow and they would look awesome against the black fence. Some bright orange poppies would look killer also, though my mom always has trouble with them falling over haha. Or if you wanted something edible you could plant rhubarb, which is a perennial and has cool giant leaves. I’m also a huge fan of lilacs, and I think they would look beautiful in a line behind the iron fence. Plus they smell great! Good luck with the landscaping, I know a lot of people find it super intimidating! Just walk through a garden center and see what you like. You can always transplant stuff if it doesn’t work!

    • Yes, very true! One of my friend’s pieces of advice was to just buy things I like when they’re cheap (or, better, if people give them to me!) and just stick them in the ground! Stuff can always be moved around, but it’s nice to get some things established rather than try to do it all in one fell swoop and have to wait a few years for things to really fill in. I like that strategy. :)

    • Tiger Lilys have the added benefit of being edible flowers. My grandfather used to make us Tiger Lily pancakes when we were kids – they were pretty yummy!

  19. Boxwood and Viburnums. A garden without Viburnums is akin to life without art and music! The fence is amazing!

  20. Daniel, I am LOVING this fence! When you first talked about cedar planks I thought “oh no! not another ugly privacy fence!” I should have trusted it would be anything BUT “another”! I love the color choice–inspired, really. And the gravel underneath was a particularly well-thought out choice! I also love the small touches that really elevate it–attaching the planks on the sides of the post, as well as the nice caps to the posts. You’ve really made me reconsider how I want to do my own yard!! although $700 is a lot of paint and baseboards for me :)

    • Thank you so much, Ashley! And I totally hear you on the $ front…that’s why the rest of the yard is going to have to wait. Fencing isn’t cheap!!

  21. Hostas, autum joy sedum, daffodils, and perennial mums….all are pretty fool proof and you will have something that blooms in spring, summer and fall!

  22. Yup, going for black here definitely was a good choice. I’ve planted some hydrangeas close to our fence ( in a shaded spot) and I love them. Where the fence gets more sun I planted berry bushes… Oh and I love my clematis that flowers so beautifully and grows and climbs on the fence like crazy!

  23. Hi Daniel! Your fence is beautiful, as would be expected from your talented self. When I’m gardening, I love to consult this website: http://www.plantnative.org/rpl-nypanj.htm (that link is for your region). It lists the indigenous plants for your area, so you can a) avoid planting invasive species, b) maybe have a more historically accurate garden, if that’s a thing you care about, and c) maybe plant some things that are better adapted for your climate. Good luck with getting your electricity up and going soon! I know what a pain that can be.

  24. My advice would be to go to a good nursery/garden centre (probably not Lowe’s unfortunately) and talk to the staff. They will be very knowledgable and able to point you in the right direction. The plants may be more expensive than at a big box store but will definitely be worth it in the end.

    Also, when walking/driving around town take note of any gardens you like and talk to the gardener–people love to talk about their gardens and share plants from their gardens. And take pictures. Common themes will become pretty apparent.

    • That’s totally what I try to do! I take creepy pictures and ask anyone outside what types of plants they have.

  25. If the rhododendrons are flourishing in the front, you must have acidic soil. (At least there.) If you keep the rhododendrons, you can also put in azaleas which also like acidic soil. Watch out for the rhododendrons if your pups like to eat plants… they’re toxic.

    If you want some GORGEOUS black plants, look to black irises, “Black Knight” hollyhock, and Green Wizard rudbeckia. These all flower and are amazing! Black mondo grass is a slow grower but it makes for lovely dark clumps, great for by the front fence. (If you get shade. It likes shade.) You can even throw in some Amethyst Basil (dark purple/black) for delicious breeze-smelling.

    For fun, I highly recommend allium.They are like giant purple lollipops!! Massive purple flower-globes on the end of an arrow-straight stalks. AMAZE-BALLS. Here in Maryland, they flower in May. Might be later up there in Hudson Valley.

  26. I *love* the black. Did you stain the ends? Fence pickets usually rot from the ends because they aren’t protected, so you can extend their lifetime by doing that. I too have a horrid fence that eventually needs to be completely replaced, but we’ve managed to make it secure for the dogs for now. I think the ungrounded electrical is going to take precedence over everything else at this point.

    • We stained some of the ends, but unfortunately I was on a time crunch because Max was going back to the city and getting the panels up (which I couldn’t have really done by myself) became priority! I know, I know. I think all the ends are stained except for on two of the panels. Oh well.

  27. Hi Daniel,

    I’m English, so not sure all the plant names will translate but at least it means I’ve got gardening in the soul! I agree with Green Canary, you must have acidic soil if the rhodedendron are flourishing. I also have that kind of soil and the plants I have found to do really well include; camellia (which are gorgeous, they flower and are evergreen), bleeding heart, ferns, skimia, lilac and alliums. You really can’t go wrong with a few camellias and 100 allium bulbs I reckon.

    Don’t forget to put some gravel or stones around too, so you can walk through your flowerbeds to tend them! Wish someone had told me that before I planted.

    Good luck and can’t wait to see growing flowers. Not being cheeky, I hope, but there is some pics of my before (HIDEOUS) and after acidic garden here… http://artsop.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/wednesday-wellbeing-happy-memories.html

    Oh and well done, I want a black fence now.

    • Wow, Kirsty!! You did such a great job with that space! And thank you for the suggestions!!

      • Kirsty, I just looked up Camellias, because I love them. Unfortunately, Kingston is in the same climate zone as me, 5b, and that’s too cold for camellias. Perfect for peonies and lilac and tulips and daffodils, not so much for even geraniums and lantana and agapanthus (which I have always considered virtual weeds, they’re so indestructable).

  28. The fence looks awesome! Before you pull the rhododendrons, consider that they are evergreen and add color to the winterscape. Now that you are taking care of them, they should fill out and look better.

    We need an electrician, and i hope we do not run into the troubles you are having!

    • Thanks, Jessica! I think the rhododendrons will stick around for a while…I used to HATE them, but after pruning I think they’re semi-attractive. I do hope they fill out a bit, and I definitely like the evergreen factor…I just think the one on the right in particular is way too tall and kind of dominates the porch. Perhaps it can be transplanted when the day comes…

  29. I have a tiny yard in Montreal and have great success with hostas, love the big leaf variety, astilbe, and coral bells (heuchera) in the part shade. For sunny areas, daylilies, tall grasses and clematis vine on the fence. Start with a foundation of perennials and put in annuals to fill gaps until the perennials are established. The great thing about gardening is that it’s easy to move things around until you find the perfect layout. Also, look for end of season sales and save a ton.

    • Thanks, Jannike! Astilbe!! I used to grow that as a kid and I totally forgot about them! They’re fun, and the foliage is so nice even when they aren’t flowering. And that’s totally my strategy for this summer. I might cave and buy a couple things before then just to have SOMETHING in the ground, but I’m totally holding out for those end of season discounts. Wayyyyy too much to do to be blowing my reno budget on plants, unfortunately!

      • I forgot to mention that it’s good to buy an odd number of the same plant, 3,5,7 etc and plant in groups. Gives a more cohesive look.

  30. I would incorporate hydrangea in the plan.

    • I agree! It’s a voluminous plant with big flowers that grows fast so you will have a lot of green in front of your gorgeous fence in no time. It comes is a lot of different colors (including white) so you can always incorporate an hydrangea in the color palette of your choice. And it’s quite an easy plant to maintain.

    • Definitely! I love hydrangea. :)

    • Yes! Hydrangea. Its my favorite and looks great with old houses like yours. My neighborhood, in Missouri – so different climate zone, is filled with houses from the 1890s to early 1900s. Azalea, hydrangea, hostas, boxwoods, are the common plants.

  31. Such a fun read!! And I don’t have plant recs, and not sure what your use for that yard might be. But did or would you consider white gravel? I think it could look great in that small area. Def lower maintenance. With a bench and maybe some small boulders. Or am I wayyyy off? Just an idea.

    • I think I really want to reserve the front for a really lush, super full garden and save the back for a bit more structure (and perhaps a graveled seating/fire pit area!). This “new” front yard area is about 18×30 feet (not counting in front of the porch), so it’s a lot of space to fill! The backyard is really sizable too, so after the asphalt is gone there will be good opportunities to create more structured zones and whatnot.

  32. I didn’t believe you when you said a black fence would be unobtrusive and disappear, but you’re absolutely right. And it does bring out the narrow black frames of your windows. Another fabulous job!

    The way Max is holding his paintbrush makes it look like he’s brandishing a lopped-off fake arm! It almost distracts from the finger, ha ha!

  33. LOVE the black! We have a cedar fence stained redish/brown, which looks nice with our moss green house, but your black/white combo is just so classic and chic, albeit a somewhat unexpected choice for a fence. The exposed posts also seem a little more Victorian to me for some reason and compliment the house nicely. Again, LOVE!

    Hydrangeas like acidic soil (under pine trees) and lots of varieties like partial shade. I just planted some deep pink/light red ones and they certainly pop in front of our concrete porch/green house. They also seem like a “traditional” flower but appropriate for your “modern traditional” aesthetic.

    Another fence note…as someone who installed 42 (!) posts and about 360 linear feet (!!) of fence around our back yard last summer with my hubby, let me tell you that it is not for the feint of heart. But we are (ahem) cheap, so it was worth it to us. We rented a “one man” auger (that’s on sort of a teeter-totter thing) to dig the holes but a “2 man” auger would have been A LOT easier to use and control in our terribly sandy/rocky soil. We also didn’t buy pre-fab sections (they’re spendy) which allowed us to not be super exact with our post placement and they all looked pretty darn close to 8 feet apart in the end. We used treated 4×4 posts and stung three treated 2x4s between them (just like your pre-fab panels), then screwed cedar planks onto the stringers. Screws are more time consuming, but hold better than nails. We’ll finish staining the rest of the INSIDE of the fence in the next couple weeks, but it looks done from the outside. :)

    • DAMN, that’s impressive!! I can’t imagine doing that much fencing at once! I think if I do major sections of the yard myself, I’ll definitely rent the auger. And you know, it didn’t even OCCUR to me that the pre-fab sections were more expensive than buying the pickets and 2×4 or 2×3 separately, but that’s definitely good to think about as I price out the rest of it. I modified all the panels anyway, so it might make more sense for me to do your strategy. I also had that feeling about the screws vs. nails thing…ANYWAY, I’ll look into it next time. Thank you! And congrats!!

      • Just don’t get into a fight using the 2 man auger, if one person lets go, it is a spinning, out of control tornado of death! This might lead to someone yelling and throwing a screw driver at the other….not that I ‘ know’ this, just guessing…..

  34. I love love love the fence! I’m a landscape design student but I’m from subtropical Australia, so I’ll hold of on recommending plants, but I agree with Laura the landscape architect! I’d recommend doing something of a site analysis so you have an idea of light, soil pH and drainage before you fall in love with any particular plants. If you’ve got acidic soil, you could go for things like camellias and azaleas, which look beautiful and are quite classic. Again, I’ve never even seen snow, so neither have most of the plants I know! :D

    Also, clients often come to me with a specific designer’s style in mind – some recent ones have been Piet Oudolf (Perennials and grasses, very lush) and Paul Bangay (formal, lots of hedges) and they both work in cool climates. I’d look at gardens that you love and build a suitable plant list from there. :)

    • (Having said that, I think hydrangeas, magnolias, Japanese windflower, camellias, maples, azaleas, hellebore and lilacs are my favourite “colder climate” plants)

    • Never heard of Piet Oudolf before, but I am LOVING his stuff for our cabin reno. Thanks for the inspiration!

  35. Nice call on the black, Daniel; it was precisely the right choice

    My thoughts on landscaping:
    – consider getting rid of some/all of the pines at some point. They always outgrow the area, look very scraggily as they age, and acidify the soil, making it difficult for other plants to grow (this is why pine forests typically don’t have lots of underbrush.
    – hostas are your friend
    – if you do cut down at least the front yard pine, consider planting a kousa dogwood. They are an understory tree, so will do well under your street tree. They have a woodsy feel and horizontal spreading habit which provides good “architectural” presence, even after the blooms have fallen. They’re also appropriate to the period of the house, as they were very popular in the Victorian era.
    – speaking of appropriate to the era, on the other side of your house (along the side street) consider planting old fashioned day lilies (NOT newer hybrids). Since it’s both an awkward space and gets full sun exposure up against the foundation, you’ll have trouble getting something to grow reliably. Day lilies spread like crazy, provide a bit more height than most flowers, and you can’t kill them. In early summer you’ll have a dramatic mass of bright orange flowers, and after they’re gone, it will look somewhat like a field of some tallgrass. You will probably see plenty along rural roads, which you can dig up for free, if you’re a bit subtle about it (I’ve done it!).

    • Thank you, Amy!

      You know, I think about the pines a lot…I like the one in the back behind the fence because it is ENORMOUS and I think removing it would be…more than I can fathom dealing with, but the two in the front, I don’t know. I guess I kind of like that they’re evergreen and they block the house next door a bit, but I hear you about the scraggly thing. They’ll stay for now, definitely, but I don’t know. And as a native Virginian, I LOVE dogwood! I definitely want one somewhere.

      We have TONS of day lilies in the back! I don’t really love them as a mass, but broken up a bit with some other stuff I might like them more. Anyway, lots of good potential to move them elsewhere for free!

  36. Dude, what is it about electricians? We have called three to come do quotes for a very simple job and they are so unresponsive! I am considering just going with a guy that is at least a little more responsive than the others. Ugh

    • Ugh, yeah. It’s probably much harder when you have a simple/small job, since they have bigger fish to fry if they’re pretty booked already. I’m mostly getting frustrated because there isn’t that much left to do…1 or maybe 2 more days and we’d be DONE! (for now)

  37. (ok, I’m writing a novel here!))

    Two more things I forgot:
    – keep your plantings further away from the foundation and fence than you think they should be. They WILL grow, and if too close, will trap moisture and promote rot/mildew and create cozy habitats for bugs and sheltered mice runs.

    Lastly, since you have to get excavating equipment anyway, think about moving the garage straight back into the corner (within the setback limits of your town, of course). Lay a driveway leading up to it and remove all the rest of the asphalt, including that next to the house where you probably park now. This will create a somewhat sheltered square “courtyard” bounded the garage and house, a “utility area directly behind the house, and a grassy doggy area toward the new fence. You could even put some french doors on the side of the garage and design it to be both your workshop (with tools hidden in cabinets) and a sort of summer house for outdoor parties.

    • I’ll keep those planting suggestions in mind!! I’m totally paranoid about foundation problems and rot, haha.

      Oh man…we are definitely not moving the garage! It’s super old and would probably fall apart and sits on a stone foundation. I actually like the location, though…I think we’ll probably utilize the area behind it (facing the property line, where the jungle used to be) as a garbage/recycling/compost area to keep that stuff out of sight. It’ll be good, I promise!

  38. I think a whole row of limelight or annabelle hydrangeas (white) would look amazing against your black fence.

  39. Here’s how the limelight hydrangeas look as a kind of hedge:
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/25684660349618892/

  40. I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy reading your blog. It’s so fun to follow your progress and you always tell a wonderful story.

  41. Gorgeous fence! Kudos to you on the thoughtfulness that goes into every detail of every project you tackle.

    For plants, I am a fan of the hard-to-kill, the deer resistant, and the neglect tolerant. In nearby Connecticut I’ve had luck with astilbe, Stella d’oro lilies, spirea (lots of bang for your buck), yarrow, echineacia, allium (love, love, love how whimsical they are), irises, ornamental grasses (which add great “architecture” to the garden in winter too), sedum, and bleeding heart.

  42. Hydrangeas would be fantastic, and they are really low maintenance. The Endless Summer varieties bloom all summer long and so you get that pop of pink or blue for months and months on end. I immediately thought of this blogger’s landscaping and house when I saw your exterior shots:
    http://acountryfarmhouse.blogspot.ca/2013/04/a-love-of-hydrangeas.html

    And of course, peonies. So classy and ruffled at the same time!

  43. Oh Daniel, you’ve brought back memories, horror memories of dealing with fence panels. When we brought our place it was just eighteen months old and had a pretty good fence all around it. Or so we thought!

    It had been put in by the previous occupants, inside the builders chain link. It was evidently expensive but it just hadn’t been put in properly. The fence posts hadn’t been sunk low enough into the ground. We lived on the side of a hill and evidently caught the wind. The fence posts started moving and one by one the panels started disintegrating. I have memories of staggering up the garden with a fence panel on my back, acting like a sail. I thought it and I were going to take off but I needed to get it into the garage and out of harms way. I didn’t dare wait for my husband to return to help me.

    We replaced the part of the fence at the end of the garden and my husband sunk those concrete posts so deep nothing would shift them for years. But they were soooo heavy!! We put concrete ‘barge boards’ under the fence panels, which kept the wood off the ground. But the side fences remained just the builder’s chain link. We couldn’t face the cost or effort of fencing those properly.

    Your fence looks brilliant and the black is much better than the cedar. I never have liked that cedar orange but against your white and black house, there’s no contest. Well done.

  44. Hi Daniel
    Great job on the fence. Love the black. I’m new to the gardening thing so no recos from me. I buy, plant and if it lives to bloom again the next year it’s a win for me. My gardening centre loves me!
    I just love reading about your house adventures. Cheers

    • Thank you! You know, a lot of gardening centers offer 1 or 2 year guarantees on their plants. If you keep the receipts and stuff dies, you can just go back and they’ll replace it! At least around here!

  45. Good advice from Amy L. Another vote for hostas, in varied heights and colors (different blooms times, too). Also lungwort (pulmonaria), a few ferns that don’t spread madly (e.g., Japanese painted ferns), a couple of old-fashioned bleeding heart, coral bells (Heuchera), astilbe as recommended–all play nicely together and are low care. With all that house stuff, you don’t need a fussy garden. For drama, deepest purple Siberian iris, blooming now in northern New England.

    Lamium’s an easy groundcover with a silvery tone to unite house and fence, but my hands-down favorite groundcover is lemon thyme between and around pavers. Smells heavenly with every step, stays low, spreads fast, and bonus: You can actually season food with it. For sunny spots, plant blueberries and two-season raspberries. CanNOT beat the taste of just-picked ripe berries, pricey even in season at farmers markets.

    A good bet is to chat up your gardening neighbors and friends, who’ll be dividing perennials. Gardeners are generous folks and love to share advice and plants. Spread the word, and plants may come to you.

    P.S. When you’re ready to ditch the rhododendron, just put an ad on your area freecycle or craigslist free that it’s available to the first person who’s ready to dig it up and haul it away.

  46. I love the fence! And I have so many boring questions…

    Did you have setback rules to consider?
    Did you have to get any type of fence permit?
    Did you coordinate with your neighbor about the fencing?
    Do they/will they contribute financially to the common fence (that is often the custom in my area)?
    We need to replace our fence, and these are the things that keep me up at night!

    I live in the mountain west, and I have no idea what your climate likes for plants. I personally have a fetish for lilacs (probably not for your front yard) and lilies of all kinds (asiatic, oriental, day, of-the-valley, etc. (probably fantastic in your yard)).

    My number one advice for anyone is to consider structure and color in all seasons. January is super dreary if all you have in the garden is a couple of twiggy bare shrubs, all the leaves fallen and the perennials having disappeared for the winter. Layer evergreens, deciduous trees/shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and leave a few spots to tuck in annuals for a yearly update. Yeah, I learned this the hard way.

    • I love boring questions!

      Luckily, in Kingston, you don’t need a building permit for fencing that’s 6′ or under, which pretty much allows anyone to build a privacy fence. So I was free to just go ahead and build it.

      As for sharing costs, I didn’t even try. Our neighbor on that side is a very absentee landlord and really doesn’t care, and I’d rather avoid talking with him! I’m sure he wouldn’t do it, so there’s no point. I’d be more nervous about him objecting to my plan (like, I’m not sure he’ll be so thrilled about the new low fence, but the chain link is mine and I can do what I want!) just to screw with me than anything else, so I’d rather just avoid it altogether! I may talk to my neighbors in the back about sharing the cost of that length of fencing, since they have a fence and we have a fence back there, which creates this horrible 6″-ish void between the fences where the Virginia Creeper goes crazy and messes with both of our properties. Their fence is looking pretty rough, so they might be up for it, but I’m definitely not expecting anything. Honestly, I think I’d feel better just trying to save up and replace both fences out of pocket than ask them for anything…I’m sure they’d rather spend their money on something else.

      And thank you for the recs! You’re totally right remembering to layer in evergreens.

  47. Very nice! I am not really an expert, but I would suggest that you consider planting a fruit tree (like apples or cherries) somewhere- beautiful flowers in spring, delicious fruit later. My parents neighbours planted an apple tree two years ago in their practically not-existing front yard and it looks so pretty, so now I want to put them everywhere!

  48. I think it would look AMAZING if you planted mostly green plants (variegated hostas, some other with chartreuse leaves) and white flowers (lily-of-the-valley, lilac, an autumn clematis:http://www.bhg.com/gardening/design/color/white-flower-garden-ideas/#page=8 ) and then have a couple pops of one really dramatic color like a blue hydrangea and one or two other blue flowers or some purple bearded iris and a couple other purple. I think that would be stunning.

  49. I love the fence! It’s perfect and reminds me of a dark version of Tom Sawyer’s white-washed fence…and your house is that vintage, roughly, isn’t it?

    For plants, I’m assuming it’s a little shady over there. I echo the hosta idea. Money saving tip: they divide at the roots with the swipe of a spade, so if you have a friendly neighbor who needs to thin out their collection, offer to think them out and then divide the ones you remove. After a season, you won’t know they were divided. And there are a wide range of leaf colors and stripes and thicknesses. Zero maintenance, unless you are my mother who made us routinely chop their cute spindly stems with purple flowers.

    My other go-to plant for shade is coleus. It’s an annual, but I grow them as houseplants (Chicago…high rise…you get the idea). Again, a zillion varieties and such pretty colors (greens, maroons, hot pinks, reds…) You can plant them in geometric patterns.

    Finally, coral bells, as someone suggested. Lots of choices (red leaves, green leaves, orange leaves…)

    They all look “natural” to me and kind of keep away from the over-manicured look I think you are trying to avoid.

  50. Oh gosh, I’m SO glad you put a taller safer fence in. Cars and escaping aside–I work at an emergency vet, and I have seen some really awful injuries from dogs trying to jump wrought iron spikey fences. (Also, from dogs getting stuck between the bars and other dogs attacking them while they can’t get away.) They may be pretty but they are SO dangerous :( That new privacy fencing looks fantastic AND safe.

    (I’m going to go yell at my father now for making us put all the pickets up individually instead of buying PANELS.)

  51. LOVE the black fence-well done!

    Having lived in NY, TX, (AUS) and now CA, I swear by the Creative Homeowners book series-they tell you what kind/how many you need/etc based on basic stuff like shady or sunny areas, formal or informal looks, etc.

    They sort by region:
    https://www.creativehomeowner.com/category/landscaping

    In our last place ( in OR) we did ALL the landscaping ourselves-it was two summers of torture, but we loved the end result-these pix were right after we “finished” the front yard; Blogger has misplaced my updated version but this still shows most of our updates finished by 2012.

    http://sharingourpath.blogspot.com/2012/06/before-and-after.html

    It also pays to have a landscape architect/garden planner come out and give you a plan that will cover whatever time frame you need with a list of plants etc that you can start with and then add to over time.

    There are really amazing black Iris on the market now too-surely you’d have a space for them somewhere!

    http://www.brecks.com/product/Black_is_Black_Colourful_Tall_Bearded_Iris/Iris_Perennial_Plants?p=0729246&utm_medium=shopping_engine&utm_medium=google&CAWELAID=120020120000005094&CAGPSPN=pla&gclid=CNfx5Ken874CFQqFfgodxjYALQ

  52. I am not sure if anyone suggested it yet, however, there are a few plants I would recommend.

    1) Hydrangeas, the blue and white and green would really pop against the black fence. I believe so variety thrive in the shade also.

    2) for a quick fix try planting moon flower. It is a climbing vine that has big beautiful flowers that bloom as the name suggest at dust/night. They smell nice too.
    as a side note you might want to consider honeysuckle as well.

    3a) Coneflower,
    3b) Foxglove
    especially if you are looking for a good bight, cluster of flowers in front of the porch where the rhodos are now. ( I might move the rhodos to the side of the house? or just put a sign out saying you would give it away if someone wanted to come dig it out)

    4a) forsythia
    4b) Mountain Laurel
    either or both1 together in front of the fence, on either front or rear years side would look good. You can probably even find some on the side of a highway to dig up if there is a bunch of it. usually the best times are march/april or september/october for transplanting

    5) for the rear yard you might want to consider a few lilac trees (if you’re lucky you can find one by the side of the highway too sometimes.)

    • Love those! Especially foxglove! I might plant some Forsythia in the back…I love saying the name for some reason, and my friend has some that look beautiful in bloom!

      • Forsythia – stick this in a corner or someplace where it will be out of the way when full grown – this plant has a natural fountain habit that is very attractive if left to develop. If you start pruning it to some other shape, you will be fighting it forever, and it will drive you nuts.

        If I was planting one today, I would stick it about 4′ out from the corner intersection of a fence. In a few years, the dogs will have a nice shady ‘house’ where they can scratch up the dirt and be dogs and it will all be out of view. (at least until you have to brush them – I like my smooth coated dogs – swipe with a washcloth and they are reasonably clean!)

      • Foxglove warning — dramatic, old-fashioned flowers but highly toxic to dogs and cats! If you want foxglove, be sure to put them in the newly segregated front fenced area, and keep your dogs out of there. Even then, can’t be sure other people’s pets won’t leap the fence and poison themselves on your pretty foxglove. (And forsythia grows like a weed. If you plant it, make sure you want it there. It’s maddenly hard to get rid of.) Mountain laurel is lovely and manageable.

      • Forsythia is also great in the deary months before Spring starts because you can bring in cut branches that will bloom inside in just a couple of days. I love a huge mass of them in a vase in late Feb/early March. Keep them in the back yard though. Too casual for the front.

  53. A very clever solution and a pretty frame for your house and property.
    I see that you have a heap of hostas thriving there already, so it makes sense to add more. You can separate the big clump into individual plants to save money on new ones, but there such lovely cultivars available now (some with big blue sculptural leaves, others streaked green and white, and a few, like Aphrodite, with fragrant white flowers in July) that it seems a shame not to include some. White Flower Farm has a good selection. They also sell a daffodil bulb mix called The Works–100 bulbs for $58–that is a great value. Add some tulips (I recommend the Darwin Hybrids for their strength and beautiful display, year after year) plus a few slow-growing shrubs like yew or boxwood, and something Fall-blooming like New England asters, or Japanese anemones. Peonies would be gorgeous in late Spring, and if your soil is sandy, you might try a couple of bearded iris for both their blooms and their linear leaves. Have fun!

    • Yes, the hostas are out of control! I plan to dig them up and thin them out a bit and spread more around. It’s not my favorite variety of hosta, but it’s obviously free and layered in with other varieties, I think it’ll look great!

  54. I LOVE black stained wood. When the sun shines on it, it looks like charcoal. Gorgeous.

    I have no idea what is typical in the US, but anyhow, a red Japanese maple would look absolutely stunning against the black background, also with those fir trees or whatever those are in the background. Those reds are just magic and the leaves come in such wonderful shapes. So elegant! They are pretty expensive, so perhaps you could just get a small plant and watch it grow over the years.

    Amelanchier (shadwood?) is quite popular in Germany. It’s also originally Japanese, I think. It has very pretty, dainty white flowers and the leaves turn a very intensive bright orange in autumn. A really gorgeous color! It shouldn’t be too expensive.

    On those Hydrangeas: while I do love the flowers in a bouquet, as a garden plant they tend to look a bit too prim and proper, in my opinion. However – there are some varieties that have blooms, that are sort of more irregular, fluffier than the ordinary kind, so perhaps look into that?

    I would recommend to keep your flower’s colour palette reduced – as in: just whites or just pinks and reds.

  55. That fence looks great! You’re right that by making it dark it blends in much nicer than if you’d let it unpainted. Can’t help you much about plants though, I still need that education myself.

    Totally agree about the roof workers, I’ve heard more problems about roof works than any other area in or around a house. I’m currently also writing a series about our own roof renovation, which we also had done by a contractor… It took him over half a year and he never finished it completely…

    • Oh man, I feel your pain. Roofing sucks. End of story!

    • I gueas I got lucky, our whole roof, insulation, chimneys, zinc guttering and all was done and dusted in 10 days :) The not so lucky carpenter dived into his pool a day after finishing and broke a disc in his neck!! (no perma-damage fortunately but a long recovery :(. He did a fantastic job on the roof though :)

  56. I’ve been loving your blog since you’ve bought the house. You’ve given me some inspiration to tackle a project of my own I’ve been wanting to do since I bought my house 5 years ago. Rip down the craptastic, cheap beadboard on my living room walls and find out what was going on behind them. The answer, adhesive and half ripped off wallpaper attached to unpainted drywall. Even in this shape they look better than before.

    And, I second everyone’s suggestions of peonies. I was lucky that one of the one things here already was a nice patch of them. Also, one of those hydrangeas that’s pruned to be tree-like. If I wasn’t headed out to work I’d try to think of some more suggestions, I’ve been working on my own crazy cottage garden in front of my house.

  57. Nice job! You should get a petpeek fence window for your dogs!
    http://www.amazon.com/PetPeek-Fence-Window-for-Pets/dp/B00BHBJPHA
    I plant basil by my front and back doors. It smells so nice when you brush past it.

    • Oh god, that’s the last thing they need! I think Mekko was getting a little fanatical about patrolling the fence line. The less she sees of the street, the better!

  58. Hi Daniel,

    Quite enjoyed looking at the half-painted fence; picture – 1000 words thing, there. Would there be a picture of Before: No Fence similar to the After: Black Fence? Just trying to imagine what it used to look like.

    thanks!

    • You know, I could have SWORN I had photos from that angle, but I couldn’t find any!! Just imagine a terrible view of asphalt and chain-link fence and a pile of rotting yard debris. Yuck.

  59. Actually, you may be able to fairly easily move the rhododendrons in front of the house to the area in front of the fence. I agree with you about where they are now, but in your shady front yard, they could get big and lush in the back and serve as a nice foundation for other plants, and they seem pretty healthy.

    • I might try! I’m a little apprehensive about how established they are and what the root system might be like, but it’s worth a shot!

  60. We could be your parents (or maybe young grandparents) and we wait eagerly for each of your blog posts, Daniel. As the owners of 8 different homes throughout out marriage we learned a LOT about DIY and ownership–mostly the hard way or through how-to books. No blogs or internet during most of those years. You are doing a great job and your writing is top notch. In a way we are envious but in another way we are glad we’re not going through this much work again! Now, take it from some older experienced home owners and DIYers, before you start planting and getting your yard in shape, you’ve got to get yourself a copy of this book: Home Landscaping Northeast Region by Roger Holmes and Rita Buchanan. It is a MUST HAVE. It is several years old and is available used on Amazon. Most libraries have a copy also. It is easy, colorful and limited to plants that thrive in your area so you won’t be wasting time and money on things that you shouldn’t. Planting area design plans already laid out. Check it out!

  61. Sadly, I can offer no plant selection recommendations for New York, as I design and garden in Central Texas, but there are a few guidelines for good landscape design that are universal. First, don’t think about the flowers, think about the shape of the plant and the color of the plant, and make sure you’ve got a lot of contrast going on. Flowers are the sprinkles on top of your cupcake. Just make sure your colors don’t clash. Second, use evergreens as the backbone of your design, so the garden looks good year-round. I’d buy the evergreens first, set them out to make sure they all look good where you put them, and then buy anything that’s gonna die back to the ground in the winter last. I would include any tree with decorative winter bark/berries as evergreen for that purpose. Third, think of the mature size of the plant when you’re spacing things. You don’t want to be out there whacking stuff back every 3 weeks, and tortured pruning jobs become very visible in the winter.

    That said, I think a long small rectangular formal lawn with edging for ease of maintenance with deep borders of plants would look fantastic. And you could put a seating area or bench or something at the end of the lawn.

    I also painted my fence (a deep blue) and I think you’re gonna loooooove how that dark color acts like the matte on a painting and makes anything you put in front of it pop.

    Love the fence!

    • Thank you!! The evergreens rec is definitely something I’m keeping in mind.

      I hesitate to put anything like a bench in the front…partly because it would be solely ornamental, and partly because I worry it would get stolen! That’s why there are no chairs on the porch anymore…we lost them to some sticky fingers, haha.

      • We solved that here by using our teak chairs with the broken armrests. Which has worked so far, knock on wood! Others here just run a chain around the chairs/bench and secure them to the porch. I’m sure you could find a way to do something similar that looks better… A chairless porch is so sad!

    • “That said, I think a long small rectangular formal lawn with edging for ease of maintenance with deep borders of plants would look fantastic. And you could put a seating area or bench or something at the end of the lawn.” That’s funny, you’ve just described our backyard.

  62. I can’t speak to what to plant since I live in Florida and everything I love in our yard would never survive there, but I wanted to give you some advice on Virginia Creeper. I used to spend hours pulling it out of the ground only for it to return stronger than ever. So I bought some Roundup and some plastic, narrow-necked 12-oz soda bottles (important so critters don’t drink it). Pour the Roundup into the bottles 1/2-3/4 full and fill the rest of the way with water. Bury each bottle upright halfway into the ground (for sturdiness) near the root system of each patch of VC. Cut the thickest VC vine as short as possible near the bottle, leaving enough of the vine for it to fit into the bottle to its bottom. The vine will suck up the poison and deliver it to every part of the plant, root to tip. It takes a couple of months, but it kills the plant completely. Good luck!

    • That sounds so sinister! It’s perfect. I always shy away from poisons, but the virginia creeper is making me nuts! I cleared every visible speck I could last year, and it’s all back!

    • OMG, I need to try this on my Virginia Creeper that I can never seem to get rid of! Great idea!

  63. Nice job! As a dog (and chicken) owner I can vouch for the peace of mind/safety of a good fence, but also how nice it is to have a separate space to make pretty that can’t be destroyed by trampling! Looks like good advice from other folks on plants I’d just add to talk to your local nursery on easy-care stuff so you don’t add too much to your workload.

  64. Hi, Daniel – just happened to see this great old, industrial iron fence on craigslist – http://newyork.craigslist.org/wch/atq/4516743147.html

    • Oh man, that’s so nice!! $15/ft is pretty spendy for me (we’d need about 50 feet), but man oh man. Maybe I can wheel a deal…

      • so exciting… antique metal fences to replace crappy chain fence at your historical house… cant wait to see if it will come through. Your house is like Cinderella and you are its fairy godmother!

        Ps: I’m sure Nora didn’t expect a relaxing lie-around time when she come visit you at the house, not for the next few years at least! :)

  65. Great work on the fence, it looks great! I’m definitely trollin your comments for some plant recommendations! Im currently in need of some landscape loving and have absolutely no idea where to start. These comments are giving me life! Ive been falling hard for hydrangeas myself, and I will make them work somewhere in my yard!

    • I know, these comments are invaluable! You should see how many google image tabs I have open right now, haha. Good luck!!

  66. Love the fence! Love it black.
    My plant suggestions are not revolutionary or anything but here they are (also I am from buffalo so our climates are probably not too dissimilar) :

    1. buxus/boxwood – don’t tend to brown out, low maintenance, don’t loose their leaves in winter unlike many of the popular shrubs at the moment (I’m looking at you spirea, barberry, and potentilla) and you can shape them into anything – circle, square, dolphin, whatever.

    2. Hydrangeas – I see them mentioned above, I love mine, and if you have a big space to fill, just give them a couple of years and they will do that.

    3. Roses – here me out, I thought rose gardens were a pain in the ass, and when we moved in I inherited a half dozen freshly planted by the woman who owned the house before us. I looked up rose care, and was fully prepared that I would be ripping them out, but it turns out that they are all disease resistant varieties and they ended up being my favorite things in the garden.
    Here’s what I do, prune them back lightly (takes maybe a half hour for all of them) in late winter, feed 2-3 times with rosetone (best rose/clematis fertilizer), order ladybugs off amazon to eat aphids (I get them every spring, so I dump a box of ladies on them and problem solved) and mulch in the winter with leaves. In return I get roses that bloom all season long from early summer to late fall, with plenty of clippings for taking inside.
    Check out this thread for some varieties:
    http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/rosesorg/msg0917123520945.html?37

    4. Clematis, work well with roses, because they require the same nutrients, and are just stunning plan and simple.

    5. Perennial suggestions – I love my false sunflower (Heliospis ‘Loraine Sunshine’) I’ve had it for four years, and its about the size of the one in the picture. Its super hardy, has come back bigger and better every year, the leaves are stunning and it will bloom straight from mid summer into fall.
    http://www.unionagway.com/Plants/884336_FalseSunflowerLoraineSunshine.jpg
    Salvia – I have the maynight variety – they continue to bloom about every two weeks or so if you trim off spent stalks.
    Heucheras are great for shade, and they reliably come back for me every year, and there are so many varieties when it comes to leaf color and shape to choose from. Plus I personally think they pair nice with hostas, which you I see you already have.
    http://heucherasforsale.blogspot.com/
    http://www.theprimrosepath.com/Featured_Plants/Heuchera/purplemtmajesty.htm
    Astilbe – again good for shade, and again so many to choose from. I have the “sprite”
    http://www.degroot-inc.com/product_info.php?products_id=210
    http://www.gardenersnet.com/flower/astilbe.htm

    Gardening has taught me a lot, the loss in winter, the hope of spring, the patience for things to grow like you envisioned them in your mind. Best of luck with your garden!

    • Thank you! One of my neighbors has had great success with roses, and she’s giving me tons of pointers, too! I never thought of myself as a rose person, but I do think certain varieties are gorgeous! I think I’ll give it a shot!!

  67. Love that you went with black! Beautiful. And I’m referring to this very post when we pick up our plants for the front of our house. So, THANK YOU for asking the world’s best question at the end of your post. (I’m a plant killer.)

  68. Love it. I think it looks great and I like the extra steps you did like the post caps and the gravel to provide drainage.

    Can’t suggest plants since I’m in a southern climate, but around here I do a lot of native plants and a good mix of evergreen and deciduous as I don’t want an area to end up look completely empty in the winter. Of course we never get snow to cover anything so it looks bare and boring if there is nothing in place.

    Have you considered cutting the top of the fence panel into a shape like these pictures
    http://www.jackswholesalewindows.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/wood-basic-fence-with-curved-top.png
    http://picturesoffences.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/wooden-privacy-fence-design.jpg

    I’m curious how did you attach the new faux iron fence panels together and how are they kept standing? Are there stakes into the ground or something?

    • Thank you!

      I don’t think shaping the fence that way would work with our panels (since there’s a horizontal support only about 8″ from the top on the back side), but that’s OK! I think I prefer the straight, boring look. :)

      The faux stuff is held in with these stakes that you hammer into the ground and then rods that interlock the panels and go into the stakes. It’s really simple! Sturdier than it sounds…I hope it stays that way!

  69. Daniel,
    Love the plant suggestions, and after following the blog for quite awhile, know that whatever you choose will look amazing. That being said, I have one plant suggestion and one fence idea. I love Hakone grass, especially the golden hakone. Pair it with your hostas, heuchera, and with something with purple or black leaves (brunnera macrophylla “jack frost”?)
    This is just me, but I don’t like having something that everyone else has. If I put up that privacy fence, (love the black), I would find a trim piece, something like a u shape that I could fit over the top and cover the dog ears. It would make the fence look more formal and very custom. You may not even need a U shaped piece, maybe just two pieces of trim along the top to dress it up a bit and make it your own. I don’t know if Lowe’s has a trim piece like that which would be suitable for outdoors. It’s just an idea. It looks great as is. Love all of the work that you have done thus far.

  70. My landscaping recommendation: hire a professional, not to do the work, but just for a consultation. This will go a long way to make sure you end up with the right plants for your climate, soil conditions, light levels, and desired style, and could save you from making costly mistakes. You can still do all the labor, but at least you’ll go into it armed with the advice of a landscaper or gardener who does this for a living. Even something as simple as helping you choose the right varieties of some of the plants mentioned above will be money well spent.

  71. Hi Daniel, here are some plant suggestions, having grown up in the Hudson Valley with a landscape architect for a mother:
    1. Helleborus orientalis – a perennial to about 1′ high with deep green, mostly evergreen leaves and flowers in many colors in very early spring, before it has leafed out. I have seen it used to good effect with some 1800s houses in Poughkeepsie, and have personally grown it and found it easy, hardy and the leaves stay green throughout the summer. It prefers partial shade.
    2. Peonies and irises are a classic, lovely combination. Keep in mind though that irises are attractive for about one month while blooming, and then the leaves die. I recommend planting them behind other summer-blooming perennials that will conceal the leaves.
    3. Hydrangea quercifolia – a large, loose bush with lovely white flower clusters and good fall color. It is not as showy as some hydrangeas but is a native and is very low-maintenance, and I find it more elegant than many of the showier ones.
    4. There are many gorgeous ferns native to New York which can look airy, elegant and neat, while also being very low maintenance. I personally recommend Christmas Fern for individual evergreen clumps and New York Fern for an airy, spreading groundcover. Both need partial to deep shade.
    5. I see a blue spruce and what looks like two hemlocks in your yard – keep in mind that most evergreens are fast-growing trees that tend to keep their roots near the surface, and also that they tend to drop very acidic needles, which makes it difficult for plants to grow beneath them. I would recommend spreading a few inches of good soil on top of the area and planting a shade-loving plant that spreads by runners or tubers (which do not root deeply), such as New York Fern which I mentioned above. Many plants that you will find at a regular nursery recommended for shade can be invasive, such as vinca or pachysandra, so watch out.

  72. Great, great job. You did it again. I quickly skimmed the comments and saw people saying peonies and hosta as a few choices I’d vote for. The thing with peonies is you do have to realize they don’t last long with their flowers especially with a big rain so you’d want other beautiful flowers to help out with beautification. Hosta are cool but I feel like you’ve really got to find types you like and use sparingly. My vote is for Lenten rose (not actually roses) as they first flowers to peek out after winter! They are the family helleborus and there are tons of colors and choices. I love the darker ones and the lenton rose the best. Best to you!!

  73. P.S.
    For inspiration at one of the loveliest historical gardens and mansions in the area, you must go see Boscobel, south of Garrison, NY. I was there yesterday and it is currently in full bloom. Also, if you have never been to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, that is an experience that everyone in this area needs to have at least once!

  74. Chartreuse plants will pop against that fence…..Lenten Rose is a good suggestion….Hosta “Sum and Substance”….tall and bright green, Japanese Forest Grass ‘Aureola’ would be great, kind of an undulating line of it…..hmmmmm Japanese Anemone (fall bloomer, Queen Charlotte is a good one). Geranium “Rozanne’, kind of a purple informal sprawling plant (not at all like the geranium you put in pots!). Lenten Rose is also a great idea. The white blossom ones with lighter green foliage would look fantastic against that fence. Another part shade suggestion is Aralia ‘Sun King’….tall and crazy bright green.

  75. Kind of kitsch but kind of fabulous… a antler hose hanger! http://gardenglory.se/shop/vaggfasten/reindeer-vaggfaste/#.U5nyAFywhhA

  76. For spring – magnolia stellata and redbud.
    For fall – japanese anemones

    For Hostas and Peonies (put the peonies near the porch, away from the pines) look for fragrant varieties. I like peony maxima festiva for its understated but lovely perfume)

    Some of my other favs you might like to check out –
    Sambucus nigra – maybe as a color echo somewhere away from the fence.
    Aruncus aethusifolius – which makes a tidy ferny border along paths (this is a dioecious plant, if you happen to get male and female plants you will have lots of little seedlings, but these pull up very easily and I would do a once a year pull to keep the plants where I wanted them.
    Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ – japanese forest grass, variegated, tidy, soft but interesting seeds in fall.

    Regarding your concrete out back – you might consider leaving it in place and just putting a low deck there – BBQ headquarters? Hot tub? Ramada overhead for any kind of theme party decor you can think of?

  77. If you have any particularly sandy-soiled areas, plant snow-on-the-mountain there. It’s a low ground cover and produces the most gorgeous small white blooms. It loves sandy soil and doesn’t require much water. It’s especially great in those garden areas that just.won’t.grow.anything.

    And, with sandy soil, I cannot overestimate the importance of a good mulch in your garden beds. Gorilla mulch (the kind that has lots of wispy bits and not so many chunks) breaks down gorgeously over a few years. Till it into the soil every few years and it really does improve the growing potential of a garden bed. And then once you till, put more on top. It keeps water in, improves the soil, and finishes off a planting nicely.

    Great fence–love the black. You are so right, any other color would have been too “look at me, I’m a fence.”

  78. Hi Daniel!
    I always look forward to a new blog post from you! The fence looks fantastic! You’ve gotten lots of good ideas for plants (I second and third the peony suggestion) — having spent the last three summers turning a weedy wasteland into a cottage garden, here my suggestions that haven’t already been mentioned:

    – Itea Little Henry (Sweetspire) is a pretty little green shrub with nice white flowers that provides some structure to a bed of perennial flowers and can grow in sun to light shade (I have one under a big oak tree and it’s very happy) http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/3059/little-henry-dwarf-virginia-sweetspire/

    – Monarda (Bee Balm) is my favorite old-fashioned flower. The leaves have a wonderful lemony scent and bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. It likes full sun. http://www.bluestoneperennials.com/mojc.html

    – Ornamental grasses add nice texture and contrast to perennials and come in every height you might want. My current favorites are Carex Bunny Blue http://www.sunlightgardens.com/plants/1460-Carex-laxiculmis-Bunny-Blue-Sedge-Bunny-blue.html which will grow in shade if you’re looking for a Hosta alternative, and Dwarf Fountain Grass Hamlen http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/2484/dwarf-fountain-grass/ that makes neat little mounds and sways in the breeze.

    And remember, if it turns out you plant something that you decide you don’t really like after all, you’re not a bad person if you dig it out and give/throw it away (at least I need to be reminded of that). Happy gardening!

  79. I just looked up Virginia Creeper, because I had no idea what that actually is – I have that plant in a pot on my balcony! In Germany it is commonly just called “Wilder Wein” (wild vine). Wikipedia gives “Selbstkletternde Jungfernrebe” (self-climbing spinster vine) as its official name.

    I actually really like that plant, because a) it doesn’t die in the winter and returns every year faithfully while all my other pot plants usually snuff it, b) because it grows quickly and covers the balustrade affording us some additional privacy from the street on our tiny balcony c) because the leaves turn a vivid red in autumn and d) because it requires very little care.

    Couldn’t you train it to grow on your chain link fence? You will see less of that hated fence, it will give you more privacy from your neighbours – plus it’s free.

  80. If you are having trouble with Virginia creeper or other invasive plant you can sterilize the soil. Water the area and then securely cover it with black plastic for 3 to 4 weeks in the middle of the summer. This is a lot better for your garden than any chemical means.

  81. I’m in agreement with a previous commenter. Keep the asphalt until the entire house is done. It is a good staging area. A good place to keep lumber off the grass.A good place to put your new bathtub before it is installed. You can get a $100 white flea market style pop up tent to use for barbecues and parties. You can play four square on it. Save all your money for the big projects. I would consult with Lowe’s or Amy’s List, or someone to get a new electrician and get that job wrapped up before the end of the summer. You know it is going to cost at least $5k or more. And you will find a lot of surprises.
    As far as landscaping, ask around to see if anyone has a plant swap every year, like your local nature center. White Flower Farms is expensive, the plants often come as sticks, but the finished product is great. I have some rose bushes, (no maintenance) that I’ve had for over ten years from then. Lilac or lilacs.com is a really nice man in Maine. He only grows lilacs and has
    waiting lists. A row of lilacs is a definite must for an old New England house. Skip the forsythia. You won’t like it, it’s too messy for you. There is a Greek Revival house in New Canaan, owned
    by an architect that has authentic period correct landscaping. He used a lot of sculptural plants and lots of pea gravel. It might be the Borglum House. It is to the left of the Christian Science church on God’s Acre. Drop by to see it sometime. I think he gives tours once in a while. Make your outside decisions slowly, you will save money and get something that is perfect for you.

  82. We have a Negronne fig plant in our yard and I *love* it. It’s always such a gorgeous bright green, and fills up space nicely. We live in Seattle, so you should probably check to make sure it’ll grow well in the East, but I’m sure it would work!

  83. Hi Daniel-
    great plant suggestions. I have many of the ones mentioned in my garden in Seattle!
    A note about Hydrangeas- they like a lot of water. My large, established bushes will turn brown at the tips if I don’t give them lots to drink. ( Well, I guess “hydra” in the name should have given me a clue).
    We have “Summer rates” here, where they jack the price of water to encourage conservation. I almost fainted the first Summer we were in our house and got the water bill!
    I wonder if you can grow California Lilac in the Hudson Valley? Evergreen, pretty purple flowers, and grows like crazy, but doesn’t care if you hack away at it to create the shape you want.

  84. When you decide to get rid of your rhododendron, please let me know! It’s so hard to find mature trees at a decent price and we just bought a little place ourselves out East in need of landscaping!

  85. These are kind of my favorite shrubs.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pieris_%28plant%29
    If they work for your climate they’d look amazing with that house.

  86. Looks Great!
    I know you said you had some ideas for the hose. . .but I thought i would throw these thoughts out there, as I have been considering solutions for the same exact problem. Modernica’s “Hose Jockey” is awesome, but i can’t bring myself to drop a Ben+ on a hose holder. So my plan has been to pick up one of Target’s “Suncast Coil Hose Basket” and see if that works, can’t beat the price.

    With regards to landscaping, it is worth checking at any of the local college’s to see if they have any landscape architecture students that might be willing to draft up a couple plans for you guys as part of their portfolio. I am sure you could sell them on the idea with your offers of free publicity and praise.

    • Oh man, the Hose Jockey. That’s really nice. THANKS A LOT. That Target guy is nice, too…I think I might go try to buy one!

  87. The fence looks so good Daniel. Your front yard is going to be spectacular. I love all the plant suggestions that you are getting. Another lovely plant is lady’s mantle. Light greyish green foliage with chartreuse flowers in the late spring.

  88. I don’t know if wildlife is having as hard a time of it over there as it is here in the UK. If it is, can I suggest native wildflowers and other wildlife attracting plants? Then your garden will always be full of butterflies and bees in the summer. : )

  89. Daniel, it’s all looking really good, both the fence and the laundry room. Very impressive how you continue to improve the substance of the house (increasing its overall value) and are not just focusing on the superficial aspects. like some renovators do.

    I’m really envious of your yard! It’s going to turn into a fantastic garden, I’m sure. Regarding your choice of plants: my only advice would be, whatever you choose, look out for plants/trees that are heading for the rubbish heap. I saw a really nice documentary on gardens on tv, and the people had set up their entire garden with salvaged plants – which completely reflects your philosophy anyway.

  90. You are lucky to have such good helpers. Nora looks so patient and Max is so funny! Great job–the yard will be fun, the tools are smaller.

  91. I think everyone has covered any of my plant suggestions (I am a gardening FIEND and totally built my own fence a couple of years ago, and now my urban backyard is my favourite place in the whole entire world, weeeee) so really the only thing I wanted to add is that I appreciate all the cusses in this post. You’re my favourite internet.

  92. I read this post yesterday, and I am STILL chuckling today because it was at the weed-whacking that I thought: “Man, I bet the neighbours had such high hopes for the garden when a gay couple moved in!”.
    This will not stop being funny.
    I am easily entertained and I am okay with that. :)
    P.S.: I love the pic of Max! :D

  93. dean riddle is the best gardener i know, and one after your own heart. he’s a gay man up there in the catskills, frugal, an ambitious DIYer. his own garden is my idea of heaven, a combination of veg and flowers and handmade features by the hardworking dean. he’s also got a downtown rock edge, so you can expect like a tire urn or two filled with rainbow chard.

    http://deanriddlegardens.com/

    his most wonderful book, with extensive plans but no photos, is about gardening wonderfully in your region. please read it and go meet dean and see his garden. he’d love you two.

    http://www.amazon.com/Out-Garden-Growing-Beautiful-Life/dp/0060188057

  94. and max can approve because riddle is a martha gardener.

    http://www.marthastewart.com/1039340/gardeners-grand-finale

  95. I’m trying to build a garden on the cheap since I rent my house. I’m lucky that a big part of my job over the past few years has been buying and tearing down 170 houses in the floodplain after a record flood. I’ve been able to take cuttings here and there.. There are other things you can do. Take a walk in the neighborhood and approach your neighbors who have gardens that appeal to you. Ask them if it would be possible to take cuttings from their plants. Consider Craig’s listing the shrubs you don’t like and finding plants you like. Get in touch with your local Extension office ( or as local as it is) and find out if there is a local garden club. My town has a garden club and they do three plant sales during the growing season. They can also give you advice on good plants for your climate. Look around for properties that are going to be demolished and ask the owner or contractor if you can take plants. Here in Iowa it’s also common to find abandoned farmsteads with vintage plantings. They can be a great place to dig up perennials like day lilies, lily of the valley, columbine, iris, sedum and pachysandra. I love the black fence!

    • Great advice Tricia! I didn’t even think of those but I will now. My boyfriend owns a landscaping company and I work for him as a designer. I can thank you enough for the tips! I love being able to offer our clients something a little different or even being able to start from scratch with not everything looking first year new.

      I tip for bulbs if you can get them and you can’t get them into the ground before the frost is to put them in a brown papaer bag and toss them into the freezer. They need the severe cold to come up in the spring. In the spring plant them from frozen as soon as you start to see shoots from other bulb plants start to poke up.

      I also saw in the picture of the rhodes you don’t like that you have a couple of hosta that can be split. You could end up with 2 or 3 plants that look full and mature right away from that big one on the left!

  96. I’m a dog lover too, and have done alllll kinds of fencing, and fence repairing to keep my pups in aka safe. The gravel under the fence is a good idea, it should also help deter if you have a digger. But my question is, can’t she just go on the other side of the house and get to the front? jcurious

    • Ha! I’m actually surprised you’re the first person to point this out! You’re absolutely right. Fortunately, she doesn’t seem very interested in that side of the yard for some reason, and since the space to get to it is so narrow, it’s much easier for us to patrol and redirect her elsewhere in the yard. This piece of fencing is just part of a MUCH larger fencing project, so eventually there will be another section (but much further back) blocking access to the side yard. I’m planning to build that after a couple other things are taken care of, but it’s on the list. :)

      Luckily, neither of the dogs are diggers!

  97. Looks great! There is nothing i the world that looks better then piece of mind for our “babies”.

    I love the black against the white house and your future planting are going to look awesome. As for the Rhodes, If you like them you can get ones that stay very small, Usually a dwarf version. but a couple of dwarf azaleas would look great there or some Knock out roses (color from June till first frost, then once a year- you will have to check when for your area trim the whole plant down to 18 inches and then let it do its thing.

    I kept thinking about that old foundation this past weekend. My advice for that space would be to fill it with dirt and put in a veggie/ fruit garden. You could put trellis in the back (closest to the garage) and run beans, peas, grapes, tiny pumpkins… up it. Then on the side closest to your rear property line you could do blackberries and raspberries (they will climb) and toss in a couple of blueberry bushes. That will leave the entire center open for veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers….

    I would just leave a 12-15 inch path for walking between the rows that are up against the fence/ garage so you can easily access those plants with out stepping on others.

    This way you are turning something ugly into something beautiful and getting free produce!

    Either that or my other thought was to fill with dirt (doesn’t have to be good quality just enough to fill) leaving 4-6 inches of the top open. Then top with some sort of small stone of gravel and teach the dogs that this is where they go to do their business. I’ve seen others do it with good success. The bonus here is that #2 clean up is easy, you don’t end up stepping in puppy bombs and after cleaning up the #2 you can hose down the stone and it all filters down through the rock and into the dirt.

  98. yes, Daniel, by all means go to Boscobel for inspiration- and this is the perfect time of year with so much in bloom! I don’t know if you are a scent person, but one of the things I noticed there, since they have used old varieties of plants from a time when people were more tuned in that way- what a feast for the nose! You will not have this experience at the nursery, even with all the plants chockablock.

    You have had so much great advice already that I don’t have much more to add except I am a big fan of Japanese maple because it is beautiful in all seasons and comes in such pretty colors. The more I have gardened, the more I choose for colors and textures of foliage and less for bloom. Choose something with berries for winter. You can also have a theme that isn’t “decorative” per se. We decided to plant to attract hummingbirds. It looks great. You have terrific instincts- it will be fun to see what you choose-.

    Best, Karin

    • I love Japanese Maples. I would recommend the dwarf version. they stay smaller (up here near Boston they are usually no more then 6-8 feet tall) and they have a great umbrella like shape!

  99. You should check out this nwedible.com post (http://www.nwedible.com/2014/06/5-ways-to-save-time-in-the-garden.html). She makes the suggestion of laying down wet cardboard and covering it with wood chips to suppress weeds. It won’t suppress all weeds, it a start.

  100. Hi there – I am an avid fan of yours – and the fence looks great!
    As far as plants I have a roof garden here in NYC , dedicated to butterfly and bee supporting (and delicious smelling) tough, annual plants, with lots of flowers. I love honeysuckle, which would grow fast and look pretty on your fence, as well as Clematis, comes in many colors. I also really like Agastache barberi ‘Firebird’, sometimes called Mexican Hyssop, which people say is hardy for zone 6A and was sold to me an an annual but it overwintered in containers for me for 5 years , reseeding itself as a perennial, before this last crazy winter killed it. There are various colors, but the Firebird smelled the best to me – like mint mixed with sweetness. I dry the stalks to use in sachets and break off branches to put in water to flavor it… The color looks garish in a monitor but in real life its very pretty, butterflies love it, the leaves look almost like catmint so it would be a nice complimentary planting. I also recommend a Butterfly Bush, which comes in many colors, and Jasmine, both are delicious smelling. I did order some roses but I found them a pain, maybe containers weren’t the right thing for them. I’d also recommend raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, they’ll take a bit of time to start but then…nom nom..
    I second the emotion for a fig tree, Mini japanese weeping maple, dogwood and cherry…Lastly, Id say don’t forget to plan your compost pile area and if you are gonna do hot or cold composting – if you go for worm composting you’ll be amazed at how much less trash you generate.But above all I must echo what your friend said – find what you like and try things out- especially when things go on sale at the end of the season – gardening is MAGIC fun!

  101. Some commenters have touched on the subject, so just another heads up: before investing in new shrubs and plants and depending on the location you want to plant them, you might want to research toxicity first. Some of the plants recommended above (boxwood!) could be dangerous for Mekko, Linus and their four-legged friends in the neighborhood. http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants
    could be a good place to start. All the best for your garden projects!

  102. You have some great tips up there so I won’t add to flower ideas, so as a professional flower gardener here’s a few tips from the Green Industry:

    -Be realistic in what you can handle. Most of our clients were DIY gardeners that just kept adding “one more” planted area and it got too much to handle on their own. It’s not just the size of the garden, some plants are just more work to keep looking nice.

    -With the thought and care you put into the design of the inside of your house, perhaps getting a consult from a high end landscaping company and talking to a gardening company that has a landscape designer on staff would be a good start. A well planned garden makes a house look well loved and cared for. As with everything, be honest and say you may DIY it. Tell them what you like, show them your photos. A plant design will be more expensive then you would think, it’s more work then say a mood board, so think in the 400-500 range if you go the whole way with a designer.

    -You will want irrigation. New planting will die in less then a week without regular watering. There are many kinds out there, but look at the kinds that have a sensor that will turn it on/off on rainy days. You don’t have to water everyday either. It’s pretty easy to do yourself, like anything the difficulty is making it look nice. Check out http://rainbird.com/

    -If you end up with an amazing garden and it starts to get unruly, it’s very easy to call someone to help clean it out once in a while. Almost all companies will do an on call maintenance schedule. Discuss your budget ahead of time if you do this. Unlike other home repairs or work a garden maintenance budget is easy to stick to. We just pack up and leave when we hit the agreed dollar amount.

    Good luck and enjoy!

  103. Nice fence. I agree with what the landscape architect said: Observe the light at different times of day and year and map it, so you know which areas get full sun, part sun, full shade, etc. If you plant the right plants for your conditions, once they are established, you won’t have to do too much beyond occasional weeding and they will just grow. I recommend asking a local nursery for help. We went to a store in Brooklyn and for only $100 they visited our yard and designed a garden for us. We ordered plants through them, which cost the same as they would anywhere, and it was up to us if we wanted delivery, installation and other help (we did). Our garden was wild for years before we arrived, so the weeds would just take over even if I stayed on top of it. To get rid of the weeds, the store weeded, laid down cardboard, then covered it all with mulch. In the spring, we planted and mulched some more. This mulch is really classy stuff (“estate mulch”) that makes your yard look incredible — it is not that red tanbark you see in hotel parking lots. We asked them for easy to grow plants we would not have to water once established. The store added evergreen plants for winter interest (boxwood, a low-growing pine bush thing, and a cedar), and other plants for texture I would not have thought of (Carex grass and lamb’s ears). Our garden is mostly sunny and we have roses (super easy to care for if you get the old fashioned kind or the variety called Knock-Out — roses need six hours or more sun per day), peonies (also need six hours or more sun daily), echinachea or coneflower (looks like a daisy and has cool dried black seedpod things in the winter), coreopsis or tickweed (another daisy type flower), yarrow, lavender (hardy to zone 5 and Brooklyn is 6a), Blue Hill sage, sedum (looks kind of like a succulent and is the easiest plant in the world and will thrive under almost any conditions including full sun and drought), and sea pinks (just a couple for punctuation — they look cute in the front of the garden). In the shade plant category, we also have ivy, hydrangea and hostas. As for color, it’s been my experience that you should stick to pastels or to brights but not mix them. Pastels look good with white but brights do not. Right now we’ve got pink, yellow and white with a little bit of blue/purple thrown in.

  104. Oh one other thing: Best not to buy one of this and one of that. Plants look best in groups of three, five, seven, etc. Though the garden designers mixed things up more than I expected and used a lot of twos. The evergreens, peonies and to some extent the roses are foundation plants, and the basic combination of echinacea and coreopsis, as well as lamb’s ear and grasses, are repeated throughout the garden. The sea pinks and the lavender are just a seasoning or contrast — just a sprinkle here and there.

  105. Having read through every post I have to say I agree a simple bunch of white hydrangeas would look amazing in front of the black fence and go so nicely with the other plantings in the front of the house, which I think are beautiful.

  106. A little late to this party but wanted to add my two cents regarding a row of Hydrangeas… Do It!
    We were invited to the Brazilian Embassy in Ottawa where they have the entire back fence (like the size of three normal sized back yards) planted with white hydrangea- It was gorgeous!
    If you need a quick fix why not just split your Hostas and stick them in there?

    • The whole point is to keep her from obsessing about what’s going on in the street/on the sidewalk! But I do like the collection of photos. Dogs are such goofs.

  107. So gorgeous! The black stain is killer.

  108. Hi Daniel,

    I have been following your blog for quite a while – and I’m endlessly impressed by your boundless energy and enthusiasm (sort of)
    I was in New York for a long Weekend this June and headed up into the hills in Pensylvannia to see a piece of architecture drove up with a friend I met in Philadelphia. Anyway, saw lots of plants that seem to do really well along the way. Hostas, Helebores and Heuchares seam to do very well, I think Heucheras originate from the woodlands of north America, although they don’t mind been forgotten about as I can attest as they get neglected a lot on our little balcony in Angel, London. Plants like ceanothus are good for bulking up borders…i’m not sure how pricey plants are in the states?

    Anyway good luck,

    Greg,

    Architect, London

  109. That is a lot of asphalt. While you seem pretty handy with a jack hammer – and all sorts of power tools – one thought might be doing a raised bed garden on top of it – at least maybe in the back part, which would save some jack hammering. Raised beds are good for kitchen gardens and generally controlling the soil. Kind of like what Frances Palmer did on her tennis court http://www.gardenista.com/posts/steal-this-look-an-old-tennis-court-turned-kitchen-garden

    Maybe a row of arbor vitae would make a nice green privacy fence for the back. If your neighbor already has a fence, then you don’t need to worry about the dogs getting through, but the trees/hedge can cover it. It supposedly grows pretty quickly.

    As for the rhododendron, I actually fell in love with these while hiking and seeing them grow into blooming tunnels over trails. I love that they are evergreen too, but can see how you may not want this right in front of your house. If you can’t find a place for it, I will adopt it! I recently purchased a ramshackle cottage in Saugerties. My yard is a complete jungle right now, but I have heard from the neighbors there is a garden in there somewhere. Reading this post has kind of made me feel excited and exhausted all at once. I hope I can finish my garden before I die : )

Comments are now closed for this article.

Back to Top