I WANT BACKYARD.

If you’ve been following the saga of my own home unfold over the past couple of years, you may recall that my backyard is essentially a total wasteland of mega-depressing sadness whose only real function is as a dog toilet and junkyard.

This isn’t for total lack of effort. I’ve actually already done a fair amount of work back there, but it’s like every action has an equal and opposite reaction and the result is that nothing has actually gotten all that much better. In fact it’s very possible that things just look worse and worse. But sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, right? Let’s review:

backyardbefore1

By way of background, my entire property is about 75 x 100 feet, which is a lot of space. Granted on that land sits my house and a garage, but the yard space is still quite sizable especially for an urban lot. The previous owner took advantage of this fact by paving the majority of the backyard space in asphalt and evidently used it as an enormous parking lot. I’m told he worked for GM or something and had a few cars and, at one time, a boat.

So there was all the asphalt, an old foundation behind the garage (evidently the plan was to expand the garage to house the boat, but it never went any further than building the foundation—thank goodness), and LOTS AND LOTS of overgrowth. The house had been vacant for about 2 years and I don’t know how much maintenance the yard got before then, so the parts that weren’t paved were kind of a jungle.

backyardbefore2

Work began that first summer with a pretty hefty clean-out effort. I removed as much of the crazy overgrowth as I could, which included a ton of grape vine and Virginia Creeper that seems to really thrive in the 6″ gap between my fence and the neighbor’s, which is impossible to maintain. More on that in a sec.

So anyway. Lots of debris-clearing. Many many yard bags. So much fun.

This seemed like a big improvement at the time and I still think it was, but man…there is almost nothing I hate more than my chain-link fence, and removing all the overgrowth exposed so much more of it. Yuck, yuck. If I ran the world, chain-link fences would be illegal, but unfortunately I can barely run my own life so chances of this happening are slim to none.

The only good thing about chain link is that as long as you’re OK with your property closely resembling a prison yard, it is fairly maintenance free and has for the most part withstood the years fairly well. The neighbor’s wood fence is pretty decayed at this point, though, so it’s been super fun and charming to look through my chain-link at her decaying wood fence for the past two years. #pinterest

backyardbefore3

Last summer, a couple major things happened with the yard—the first being that I couldn’t stand the asphalt anymore and got it all removed. There was SO much of it that doing this DIY was just not at all an option—I called in the pros (my plumber and his team of chain-smokers) who had 3 or 4 different backhoes in there over the course of several days. Literal tons upon tons of my backyard were hauled away in massive trucks which felt very exciting and like a big leap forward, all to the tune of about $2,000 which more than maxed out the non-existant backyard budget for 2014.

backyardbefore4

What I had failed to account for is that removing so much of the yard (underneath the asphalt was a few inches of gravel which also got hauled away for the most part) would leave me with some major grading issues. When all the machines were in my backyard I may have spread a false rumor that I was installing an in-ground pool, which turned out to be not that far from the truth if you like pools that are really just enormous mud puddles. Luckily Mekko is a classy lady and Linus doesn’t know what fun is, so neither of them were terribly interested in our new water features.

The other major thing that happened last summer with the back yard was really what happened to the front yard—I put in a section of new fencing to delineate a front yard on the side of my house, and did my best to do some landscaping in that space. I’ll have to do a little update on that space in the next few weeks and we can review all the things that lived and also all the things that died. Whoops.

Stupid azaleas. I knew you were mistakes.

Anyway, the point of this story is that in order to landscape the front yard, I had to excavate the top 6-8″ of crap out of that whole area to fix some grading issues and remove all the old sod/weeds. I did it with a shovel and a wheelbarrow and my brute strength and steely resolve. As I filled each wheelbarrow, I wheeled it back about 50 feet and dumped it unceremoniously into the crater in my backyard. I had high hopes that this would make a big dent in the grading issue and allow me to get away with buying less fill dirt/topsoil, but I was mistaken and it barely made a dent beyond leaving my yard covered in mounds of weedy sod. ADORABLE.

grading2

Last fall was when work started on Bluestone Cottage down the street. You might recall that that yard also had major grading issues and essentially just way too much soil build-up, so the crew and I excavated about 1-2 feet out of the whole front yard, loaded it up, and brought it to my backyard. This also did not make the kind of dent I imagined it would in my problem and my severe drainage/grading issues still abound. But it didn’t hurt.

japanesemaple

One area of major concern for me since buying the house was this enormous old Japanese Maple. It’s too bad because it’s a pretty tree, but it had really extensive rot right at the base, and its proximity to the house could have caused some serious damage if it ever decided to fall.

So last week I called Armin’s Tree Service here in Kingston, who also did the major tree/shrub removal over at the cottage in the fall. Armin is great! He’s prompt, professional, super duper knowledgable, and handles a chainsaw like a boss. He has a background in landscape design and knows everything about trees and is a nationally-ranked tree-climber (yes, that is a thing!), so I love picking his brain about suitable plants for my yard(s) and asking prying questions about the wild world of competitive tree climbing.

armin3

He evaluated the tree and the verdict was no bueno. He concurred that it was dying a slow death and at risk of falling on the house and recommended taking it down. He also offered to spend some time in his bobcat grading out my enormous mounds of soil, and I also took the opportunity to get him to trim up the honey locusts in the front of my yard between the street and the sidewalk.

armin1

Seeing this tree go was kind of sad, I’ll be honest. It was scraggly and dying but seeing something so old getting destroyed in a matter of minutes is just sort of an emotional affair. Plus its absence does not help the wasteland-y-ness of my yard.

armin2

Despite the momentary feeling of loss about the tree, this was such an exciting day! Along with grading out the mounds, Armin hauled away some pretty massive hunks of concrete that Max and I were just barely able to move out of the front yard when I was working on it last summer. All this work was about 600 clams (I don’t have a final invoice yet, so I’m not entirely sure), which sort of hurts but it needed to happen and this is the kind of thing that should really be hired out in my book.

backyard3

So anyway! I feel like the slate has been wiped pretty clean, which feels great. I really feel like this is the summer when things will start to happen out here for real. As you can imagine, the two years of fantasizing about doing something with the backyard have left me with a brain full of ideas and I just want to get going. 

Backyardrendering1

Here is the basic plan! This rendering is missing quite a bit of stuff but frankly I spent way too much time sketch-upping what I really could have just scribbled out on a notecard so we’re all just going to live with it. Deal? Cool.

I’ll walk you through it. Real Life looks like this:

Backyard1

Not cute. Not cute in the slightest. backyardrendering2

SketchUp Life looks kind of like this, though. So here’s the plan:

1. NEW FENCE, FINALLY. This is the year when all the chain link comes down and gets replaced with a fence to match the section I did in the front—6 foot dog-ear style opaque-stained black. This will probably be the single biggest improvement to promoting a sense of privacy and luxury that this backyard is sorely lacking. I know it seems like a lot of black, but it’s going to be really nice with plants and stuff…I really love the way the black fence recedes so nicely in the front and just lets the plants and trees shine, so I’m holding onto that idea back here. I’ve already talked to my neighbor about this and we both agree that sharing a single new fence along our property line is going to be the best plan to help avoid the impossible-to-maintain space that currently exists between our fences.

2. I want to follow the line of the garage and build a much lower fence (maybe 2-3 feet) to sort of section off this back part of the yard from the dogs. It still leaves a lot of space for them to run around and play and poop so they aren’t getting shafted, but I don’t want them messing with my….

3. MASSIVE PLANTERS. Each of these babies is about 4×12 feet. Construction should be really simple—I plan to build them much like the retaining wall situation over at bluestone cottage. I also want to stain these black. You might be sensing a theme. This is obviously a ton of planting space so I picture lots of veggies and herbs and probably flowers as well, just because I don’t think I could possibly consume as many veggies as these could potentially grow.

4. Not on the rendering, but along the back and side of the fence I want to plant some taller stuff to provide some more privacy and block some views I’m not a huge fan of. I’m thinking maybe forsythia along the back and some skinny evergreens mixed with something else (purple sandcherry, maybe?) along the side. I don’t want a fortress but I do want to not look at the commercial business next door quite so much.

5. Pea gravel! This is a whole helluva lot of a pea gravel. I think it’ll look great and feel fancy. I love feeling fancy.

backofgarage

Real Life looks like this. Too bad, so sad.

backyardrendering3

SketchUp Life looks something like this. YES, I will play with the dimensions of the planters so that the pathway between them aligns with the center of the garage. I’m not an animal.

So I also want to paint the garage black. Black-paint-haterz, eat your hearts out. It’s happening so you can be for it or against it but I do not care. This is me not caring at all. The impetus for this is that the garage is sort of cute but also sort of shack-like and SOMEDAY when my actual house is beautiful, I think it will just be so gorgeous to have this big white Greek Revival house being set off by all the nice plants and all the black stuff will sort of disappear and really let the house shine. I feel strongly about this and someday everyone else will too.

ANYWAY: FIRE PIT. I want my backyard to be a fun party zone too so obviously a fire pit is a must. Preferably one surrounded by four Bertoia diamond chairs but that might just stay in SketchUp world unless I happen to score some cheap ones.

I also want to put a set of doors on the backside of the garage. It’s not a huge amount of framing work and would allow me to easily add/remove seating when it’s not in use or during winter or whatever, as well as maneuver the grill, gardening crap, etc. etc. The existing door on the side of the garage is very small and this makes a lot of sense to me.

behindgarage

In Real Life, this mess lurks behind my garage. It’s just a place for weeds to grow and the dogs to poop. It’s totally wasted.

backyardrendering4

SketchUp Life, though, sees all of this shit getting excavated out and replaced with brick, I think. I have kind of a stockpile of brick from the chimney that was removed when the roof was redone, so I’d like to recycle those to make this space feel kind of special and nice. Its special use will be the trash/recycling/composting zone, so that I never have to look at any of those things anymore. There will be a gate at the end there so that I can easily move trash/recycling out the curb on trash night. I think the brick will be better than just doing more gravel for the wheels on the cans.

I know people will feel like this is an awfully inconvenient place to put garbage because it’s sort of far from the house itself, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I’m out there with the dogs a million times a day so it’s not such a big deal to walk the 38 feet from my back door to throw a bag in a can, and totally worth it to me to keep it out of sight. The city gives us these HUGE blue recycling bins (and soon HUGE brown trash bins) so there isn’t really a way to make trash cute here.

For the winter or when I’m feeling lazy or whatever, I might buy a couple cute cans to sit outside the back door as kind of a transfer station between the kitchen and the trash zone. They can sit on the porch or just off the porch or something.

WHAT’S THAT NOW? OH YEAH, PORCH.

fireescape

Real life used to look like this, which was kind of awful. The house was a duplex so the fire escape from the second floor was needed, but now that it’s a single family it’s not necessary. I had it torn off when the roof was redone about a year and a half ago, and the roofers also tore off the little overhang above the mudroom door while they were at it because…I don’t recall why. Whatever.

backofhouse

That left us with this gorgeous view of today, which is totally shameful and horrendous and I’m sorry we’re all having to look at it.

The mudroom is really an awful space…the inside is all 70s wood paneling and vinyl tile flooring and leaky-roofing and just a total mess. I’ve known since day 1 I would eventually tear it off the house so I didn’t even have it re-roofed with the rest of the house. The interesting thing about it is that it’s actually a lot older than you’d think—the foundation it rests on is not original to the house but is a stacked bluestone foundation, so it more than likely post-dates the kitchen addition but pre-dates the garage and the bathroom/laundry additions. “Summer kitchens” are typical of houses of this era, so that’s my best guess as to what this thing was…and then it was all enclosed and turned into this hideous rotting appendage you see today.

Oh yeah, don’t mind the door leading to nowhere upstairs. I don’t have the key so it’s remained locked, but even so the fact that it’s there is a major thrill for my homeowner’s insurance company, as you can imagine. They just love that feature almost as much as they love my pit bull. Stupid insurance.

backyardrendering6

Anyway, SketchUp Life is so much more exciting. There’s a lot going on here so allow me to break it down…

I want to tear down that hideous mudroom thing and build a double-decker porch. The idea is to reuse the existing bluestone foundation but extend the porch along the entire width of the back of the house (minus the laundry room/bathroom additions). I don’t want the second floor porch to come out as far as the first floor (about 10 feet), so that’s why it’s set back a bit. I think the room above the kitchen (which was another kitchen when I bought the house) will eventually be my bedroom, so being able to walk out there with a cup of coffee in the morning is going to be so fancy. I will probably replace the door with the one on the existing mudroom since it matches the other exterior door that’s currently in the kitchen.

The nice thing about this plan is that it doesn’t all have to happen at once. You might notice that this rendering calls for replacing and enlarging the windows both upstairs and downstairs to ones that will work with the eventual kitchen renovation, let in more light, and follow the proportions of the rest of the windows on the house. Yes, this means sacrificing the cute casement window in the kitchen, but that thing is SO drafty and doesn’t match any other windows on the house style or size-wise, so it’s really for the best.

I think eventually the exterior door will also move to the back wall of the laundry room, which will sort of act as a mini mudroom/vestibule and provide access to the backyard. I’ve gone back and forth on just keeping the door in the kitchen or just switching it to the other side (where the existing casement window is), but I think this will look a lot cleaner both from the inside and outside of the house, even though it’s a little bit wonky. Anyway, relocating the door is a bit down the road so for right now it can stay where it is.

This rendering is obviously way short on detail but I’ve been doing lots of planning and scheming and sourcing to try to make this porch look as legit as possible. Luckily I have a front porch to take my cues from, so the plan is to order replica columns to match the ones on the front as closely as possible and keep this thing looking as original and greek revival as I can. I’d like to replicate the original exterior spindles I found to provide the railing upstairs, so feel free to ignore that silly mess I mocked-up. It’s going to be so nice, trust.

Also, any tips for tongue-in-groove porch flooring? I’m a little lost on where to source the right wood from, or what the right wood even is. I was thinking cedar but maybe I’ll do yellow pine (pressure-treated?) and stain it, or bite the bullet for fancy mahogany, or…I don’t know. Old porches are always tongue-in-groove so I don’t want the more modern-day alternative of 1×6 pressure treated boards—they’ll just look all wrong. If you want some MAJOR greek revival porch inspiration, you have to go look at Steve’s flawless work at An Urban Cottage—he gets into amazing detail that’s been so helpful as I plan this big project, including some really helpful product resources. He used mahogany on his new-old porch floor…the whole thing is kind of everything I want for here, except matched to the details on my house. So nice.

driveway

Oh, Linus. You little stud. I can’t wait to see that busted up gate GTFO.

backyardrendering7

There will still be a gate here, but it’ll be sized appropriately for a car and not for a boat. The existing gate is 16 feet wide which is just outrageous. I think maybe I’ll do two strips of bluestone for where the tires will go and then do some creeping jenny or something to fill it all in. I’ll also have a garden bed on the side of the garage—maybe just a nice boxwood hedge or something. And probably another one on the front of the porch. Haven’t decided yet. Anyway. It’ll be nice, whatever it is.

bluestonebed

Lest you’re still mourning the loss of the tree, chin up! The bright side is that right behind the old tree is this super cool circular bluestone bed that looks to be very very old and I LOVE. It’s closer to the house than the old tree, but I’d like to clean it all up and plant a nice tree right smack-dab in the middle—I’m thinking a dogwood since it’ll stay small-ish and Armin said it would do well here. Also I’m from Virginia so I have a real soft spot for dogwoods.

So, the backyard! It’s ON. I love yard work so hopefully I can find time on weekends to tackle this sucker, since Olivebridge Cottage is taking up my weekdays and I need to get back to bluestone cottage, too. Why NOT have a million different things going at once? I see no valid reasons.

Oh yeah, and I want to adopt a puppy.

SO. I might start mudroom-deconstructing pretty much ASAP, because I’m nuts, and I have a rental rototiller reserved to pick up on Friday so I can till the living daylights out of my whole yard this weekend, continue getting things graded out, and maybe even get away with not purchasing a bunch of soil to fill in if possible. By the by, I’ve been researching clover lawns as opposed to traditional grass and they seem like kind of my answer to everything (draught-resistant, dog-urine resistant, way less mowing…), so if anyone has thoughts/experience with that I’d love to hear them.

If not, go away.

Just kidding. Tell me everything. I need help.


207 Comments

  1. YESSSSS!!! THAT PORCH!! It’s gonna be awesome. And I would also be itching to rip that mudroom right off. So maybe you’re nuts, but I totally get it.

  2. Love the pea gravel/raised planter bed idea.

    Do an ipe porch if you can stomach the cost!!

    Ipe is really nice, low maintenance and long lasting (20 years)… and you can easily biscuit join / miter the ends for absolutely invisible gaps between board ends. A board wide apron wrapping the whole deck looks great around a porch for a finished look. Make sure you seal the ends after you cut lengths. Are you thinking horizontal orientation of the boards perpendicular or parallel to the house?

    Just be prepared to go through lots of drill bits and pre drill everything! It is kind of a bear (but in a fun way) to work with.

    • I read about ipe! It sounds so nice, but I kind of doubt I can swing it cost-wise. I’ll price it out just in case and see, though!

      • I’m gonna weigh in on the long-lastability of ipe… it doesn’t. Or, it didn’t for my parents. They built a new house in 2006, and by 2009, it was horribly in need of refinishing. It’s possible that our contractors just didn’t do a good job (very possible), or it’s possible that ipe is not good in humid weather? (We live in Florida.) But it’s a South American tree, so, that wouldn’t make sense. Anyway, just wanted to chime in that ipe isn’t (always) what it’s cracked up to be. But you do you.

        (Also, I love your blog!)

  3. Pea gravel AND a raised porch? Fancy indeed!
    Your plans look brilliant. I totally back painting the garage black.
    As a five-dog girl, dying to see what others say about a clover lawn.
    Carry on and sally forth, Daniel!

  4. I don’t want to be a hater, but I just want to throw out there that in my experience pea gravel looks ah-mazing for about a week, and then it grows ALL THE WEEDS. Even if you put weed barrier fabric underneath, the seeds blow in from above and sprout in the gravel, and they are surprisingly tenacious and hard to pull. Just my two cents! I can’t wait to see the progress on everything!

    • Huh. I admittedly have almost no experience to draw from on this one, but the internet tells me that a layer of coarse mulch underneath the weed barrier should help. I guess I also kind of feel like doing any sort of landscaping is pretty much resigning yourself to a lifetime of weeding, so…I guess there’s that? I don’t really know what the alternatives are to be honest…I can’t really afford more impermeable patio situation so I feel like this is my only good option! But I’ll keep looking into it so hopefully I can avoid too much weeding with some solid prep work. Thank you!

      • I have 2 raised beds surrounded by decomposed gravel in my front yard. I get a smattering of weeds, but it’s bearable. Still get some fancy, not too much fuss.

      • I have heard it called decomposed granite, not gravel. Many colors to choose from and cheap if you do it yourself. http://www.gardenista.com/posts/hardscaping-101-decomposed-granite

      • Interesting, interesting! Thanks, guys!

      • Oops, hey, yes, decomposed granite:). Comes in multiple colors.

      • Daniel,
        I really think you would be far better with decomposed granite. It’s not too spendy and it’s totally different to gravel because it is generally compacted with a machine and so is much more weed resistant. I loathe and detest gravel because no matter how much you prep, those tenacious weeds will always win. Also something to be considered is the money you will spend supporting evil companies like Monsanto when you resort to spraying the damned weeds with glyphosate because maintaining it is using all your time and sucking the joy out of being in the garden. Trust me, weeding is only pleasant when it is for the benefit of your garden plants.

    • also ew pea gravel. its so annoying to walk through. do you like feeling like you’re in school again playing in a jungle gym? because that’s what its like. Also black planters are going to get really hot in summer and dry out quick, so be ready

  5. With you on the chain-link fences!

    I like your plans and can’t wait to see how things take shape…I bet it feels great just to even have the plans/to-do list on paper.

    Second the poster above on the pea gravel…have had similar experience with weeds…you can spray it all down occasionally with a mix of vinegar, salt and dish soap and it really will help inhibit the weeds/kill what’s there, but I don’t know if that’s your vision of “low-maintenance.”

    Keep up the great work! It really has come so far from when you moved in!

    • Thanks for the tip, Emily! It sounds a little more eco-conscious than my friend’s method of spraying bleach in his sidewalk cracks…yikes.

      I don’t know, I bought an old house—my whole life is maintenance!! That sounds totally doable. :)

      • I’ve been taught that gravel should be raked every weekend so that the weeds can’t get a hold. But it’s not the American way to clean before it’s dirty, though. :-)

      • Ha! No, it isn’t, but I aspire to live more like that! Good maintenance is always better than waiting until things fall apart!! :)

  6. Daniel, you can’t just throw out the line “Oh yeah, and I want to adopt a puppy” and then switch to mudroom-deconstructing! Tell us more. Is this a particular puppy? One you know?

    • No particular puppy!! Just something I’ve been considering for a while…I really feel like Mekko needs somebody to play with while she’s still young enough to enjoy it, and I keep hearing that the difference between two and three isn’t so crazy. Especially now that I’m in Kingston full-time, I feel like it’d be possible!

      • The difference between two and three is really not much at all. No extra effort, negligible cost difference (other than increased vet bills) and I can tell you that my original two love and adore now being a pack of three. I highly recommend it, especially if like me you have one that needs a play mate. So much happier all round!

      • thank you, Aneke! That pretty much echoes what I hear all the time. I’ve never had more than two dogs at a time so I’m not sure what I’m getting into, but Linus is kind of more like a cat anyway. :)

      • Like Susan I was like ‘WHAT? PUPPY!!??’ That really excites me. Now, just to clarify, I know you on the other side of the pond like to refer to all dogs as puppies whereas we on the old continent tend to use the word ‘puppy’ to refer only to baby dogs. So, will it be a baby dog or an all ready grown dog? It is usually easier to integrate a young puppy to an already established ‘pack’. Can’t wait! What a lucky dog.
        On another note, I just came back from the country and two weeks of gardening. I planted two viburnum snowball trees a few years back and I’m so glad I did, the flowers are so pretty – pale green in the beginning then pure white then tinged with pale pink at the end. I had long-lasting bouquets all over the house. Every house needs one, they thrive in sun and shade and when the flowers go the leaves are still pretty in the summer.
        Love your Sketchupworld! I’m sure it will be a million times even better in real life. LOVE the black fence/garage idea, green and black are a beautiful combination.

      • If it happens, I think I’ll probably be looking for something in the 4-8 month range? To be honest Mekko doesn’t respond super well to all other dogs but she’s always been GREAT with puppies, so I think introducing a younger dog and allowing them to establish their own pecking order as it grows up is maybe the best move. Mekko was about 2 and Linus was about 10 when we adopted them, so I wouldn’t mind a little puppy time this time around…:)

        Those viburnums are so pretty! I think I may actually have one in the backyard that I’ve been calling a hydrangea…good one to keep in mind!

      • A playmate for Mekko will be fantastic. My two dogs are similar size and age, and they really tire each other out. Good move. Oh and the garden plans sound amazing :-)

      • As the owner of four late-middle aged cats I will say: make sure you plan for the vet bills if your new pup and Mekko are close in age. One old cat was no problem at all! Four…is quite a lot of money, from time to time. Not just urgent care, but ongoing maintenance – medications, diet control, and general time-spent-taking-care.

        It’s all worth it – SO worth it – but in retrospect I wish I’d spaced their ages out a little more, so they weren’t all aging up together.

  7. I can’t wait to see how all of this turns out! I am unspeakably excited about the double decker porch!!!

  8. Daniel, I love that you are staying true to your house even with all the updates. Also, totally with you on the black so just keep on ignoring those black-paint haters. I did want to give you a heads up about the clover lawn though. We inherited a yard that was about half clover and half other ugly weeds when we bought our house and while it seems to be low maintenance we have had an issue with our dogs and bees. As in bees who love the white clover flowers in spring and summer and our dogs who love to chase/eat said bees. Might not be an issue with your pups but our’s have been stung a few times which causes some uncomfortable (but hilarious looking) swelling. Might just want to make sure your dogs aren’t super allergic before going that route. We’ve got tons of flowers (i.e. my rose garden) but it’s something about the clover that I’ve noticed particularly brings in the bees.

    • I’ve definitely heard that about clover lawns and bees as both an advantage and disadvantage, and at least semi-avoidable with regular mowing to keep the flowers at bay. Bees are great for gardens and I guess clover is catching on as a way to sort of help the struggling bee population, but I also can’t say I LOVE the idea of having too many in my yard! Mecca does chase the occasional bee and I think has gotten stung and it was fine…Linus doesn’t care about anything…pretty sure I’m not allergic…hmmmmm.

  9. Our very old Victorian farmhouse used to have tongue and groove fir decking. The contractors we had quote our porch work said that fir is preferable to pine because it is a harder wood and therefore does less expanding/contracting and wears better.

    We replaced with mahogany, and oh my gosh is it gorgeous. My only regret is that we had not been given a tongue-and-groove option for mahogany, so they’re just regular boards. We were at a small local chain building supply store more than a year later and found tongue and groove mahogany there and I have been kicking myself ever since for not doing my homework!

    • That’s good to know! I have fir flooring on the inside of my house and I think that’s what was originally on the front porch as well (since replaced with 1×6 pressure-treated pine, bummer), but I’ve also read that it may not survive very long since new fir isn’t as hardy as the kind of fir that was being milled 150 years ago. But I’ll look into it!

      I LOVE the look of the mahogany. I wonder how costs compare. I don’t even know where to get it! Maybe my local lumber yard has it. I’ll call them up. I don’t need a TON so I feel like if I can find it, I’d love to spring for it.

      • What about redwood? That seems to be popular around here (DC area) when it comes to being long-lasting and sustainable. There are FSC certified redwoods. I don’t know how it cost compares, though.
        Loving your plans for the yard, but a word about the raised bed planters. That’s a LOT. And veg gardens always seem to require more work than you think. Plus then you have to figure out what to do with the bushels of arugula and kale, the bags and bags of zucchini, the mounds of tomatoes. (Canning in August is way less fun than it looks in other people’s blogs).
        Just my experience.
        Anyone want any cilantro and chervil before it all bolts? Arugula?

  10. Very exciting!

  11. We had a gravel path installed once, and it was a maintenance nightmare. Gravel wouldn’t stay inside the path boundaries, leaves were difficult to rake off it, weeds grew in it no matter what we did, and ladies’ heels sank into it with resulting scratches on the leather. It looked great for a few weeks but after that I would have paid the landscaper to remove it.

    • Hmmm. A couple people above suggested decomposed granite, which looks really pretty too and seems to help avoid some of the things you’re mentioning. I’ll weigh both options before committing! I do love pea gravel but given how much there is going to be, I don’t want to live to regret it, either!

      • Living next to a river on a mountain and chipping away at the rocks, I’ve had to read a lot about stones and drainage. So finally I may be of some use to you.

        Many readers have had the same problems as Ann, but nobody’s mentioning the many stabilization solutions out there. I don’t know if they’re not as common in the US, but even DuPont has a product called “ground grid”. The concept is best explained with an image search: http://google.com/search?q=gravier+stabilisatrice&nfpr=1&tbm=isch. The trick can also be applied on grass, giving an invisible solution to driving / parking cars on lawns.

        Regarding mud-lakes, listen to Matt (below) and get ag pipes / drain pipes. Slotted plastic pipes, buried at the level of the “water table” (that’s a thing, best illustrated here: http://www.maskinbladet.dk/assets/imagecache/640×445/article/530830-1.jpg). They’re not that expensive, and they will be necessary in the foreseeable future. Long story short; climate change means heavy rainfalls will be more frequent.

        So it’s a very good idea to make sure the garden can handle a lot of water. If the local sewer system struggles, it’s advisable to get rainwater collection barrels for the house and garage. In some cities these are subsidized, because they delay the heavy push of a cloud burst.

        For the beds in the entertainment area, consider lavender. It’s quite a hardy plant, and there’s that pleasant smell.

      • Woah, that ground grid! I’ve never heard of that—so cool!

        I’ll look into the pipes more…I guess my hope is that resolving my grading issues will help avoid the puddle/lake situation…it’s only been an issue since all of the asphalt excavation so I think it’s fixable…

        And yes to lavender!

      • You may also want to check out permeable pavers (https://www.google.com/search?q=permeable+pavers&es_sm=93&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=_A5JVfjNL4bwoATZhoHwCA&ved=0CDkQsAQ&biw=1920&bih=947) — the same idea as the suggestion given by Rasmus, but not invisible. It may be too mid-modern for your house (it gets used a lot here in Phoenix in all of the mid-century neighborhoods.

        Love the yard plan (and the additional puppy plan too)!

      • No experience with gravel, this is just an idea based on what others said above:

        If you really love gravel but decide you want a less problematic solution, you could be even MORE fancy. Put a border of pea gravel around your do-free yard, with a different material in the center for actually walking on.

        You could even repeat the gravel border around your raised planters! So fancy! So foolish? So foolishly fancy!

  12. Daniel, I really really love your blog. I can’t get enough. I am really happy that you have so much work, so I can get as many posts!!! Your backyard will be lovely.

  13. Amazing! And I think it just needs to be said that this the ONLY good home renovation blog. The only one.

    • Aw, I’ll respectfully disagree on being the only good home reno blog, but I’ll take the flattery!! :)

  14. I didn’t realize dogwood would grow so far north, those blooms will look very pretty with the house. If you do go with the PT wood for the decking, make sure you get the proper stain for the type you buy…don’t want a repeat of the front door. I think I need a nap after reading your schedule, too. Good luck!

    • According to the tree guy, dogwoods are actually deciduous to this area! Who knew.

      I will definitely research the stain to death, haha! Stupid front door…still haunting me.

      • Is that what he actually SAID? That sounds wrong. Deciduous just means a tree that loses its leaves. Did he mean native? Might do a little more research on that.

      • OOPS, I’m dumb. I think he said native, or natural, or something, which I took to mean indigenous, which then I mixed up with deciduous, which then I wrote down like a fool. Ignore me!

      • If that’s a direct quote, I’d look for another tree guy.

      • Tree guy probably said “indigenous” :)

      • So strange I actually READ it as indigenous.

  15. It’s a bit whimsical for your clean modern lines but my parents 1890s house has it’s original lawn (I assume..) and it’s full of lawn daises and other little things. You can buy seed mixes here: http://protimelawnseed.com/products/fleur-de-lawn This mix has a bit more science than my parents lawn. But people are constantly asking how they managed to establish all this little flowers.

    • Huh! I like stuff like that, actually—the LAST thing I feel like I need in my life is some perfectly-maintained carpet of grass to mow all the time and fertilize and blah blah blah. I guess I might worry about it just because it looks like you’d have to kind of let it go to get the nice flower effect, and I live in the lyme-disease capital of the world! So whatever goes in I’d like to be short enough that it doesn’t become a hotbed of ticks. :/

      • I immediately thought of fleur de lawn, too! The little daisies are very short, and I’ve seen them blooming happily in well-mowed lawn areas. There’s a good mix of perennial grasses and clovers, so the resultant lawn is self feeding since the little leguminous plants are busy fixing nitrogen.

  16. I think your garden bed plan is spot on. I have four 4 X 8′ raised beds and one of them is basically dedicated to cutting flowers. One bed is all herbs. I use the other two for greens and “seasonal” veggies (tomatoes, green beans, etc.) Those plus a few pots of things are enough to keep two people in produce most of the year (I’m in a warmer zone than you so I can garden almost year round if I cover my greens bed).

    I also have a pile of old chimney bricks that I want to use outdoors. Was warned by someone that they might disintegrate outdoors (Not fired hot enough? Old? Always meant to be interior bricks?) Not sure if it’s true. Mine have been in a pile for 3 years and seem to still be fine.

    • Nice! I love the idea of being able to grow so much stuff. Looks like I might have to learn how to can!!

      That can DEFINITELY be true about the bricks, but in my experience you tend to know pretty quickly which ones will weather OK and which ones won’t. The ones that disintegrate are called “salmon bricks” and I’ve found start to fall apart with pretty much any exposure to rain, and the true test seems to be how they fair over winter! I’ve had a bunch sitting outside since fall and most of them have done OK (granted, these were from the top of the chimney above the roofline, so they were outside for a long long time!) but it’s definitely best to give them a test run before throwing them down as a patio or whatever. I guess you also want to be careful because chimney bricks can be contaminated with creosote, which seems to only be a problem if you’re using them near stuff you’re growing in order to eat, so that’s something to keep in mind, too.

      • Thanks for the brick education! Re: creosote – I cringe when I see raised beds built of railroad ties for the same reason.

      • I really enjoy having food on hand that I have canned from my garden. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource: http://nchfp.uga.edu/
        (They’re located as part of the University of Georgia extension service) They have recipes, etc as well as the basics.

    • I don’t know why, but in Northern Europe bricks from chimneys are considered toxic waste. So you might want to check up on that, before using them for composting / near plants.

      • Possibly because centuries of accumulation of waste products from wood or coal fires? Even wood gives out toxic substances like arsenic in small quantities. Bricks are also quite porous, so chimney bricks have probably spent decades or centuries mopping up waste products from fires.

  17. I cannot wait to see this transform! Our backyard looks like a mini version of yours right now, and it’s absolutely terrifying. The biggest thing we need to work on is tearing out the 3 levels of fire escape to the back of our home! Did you find that to be a big deal when the roofers took it down? We do not even know where to start or who to ask.

    • Nope, it wasn’t a big deal at all! They just did it at the same time as they were tearing off the roof and it took them almost no time (I don’t think they even charged me at all for it either since the roof was happening anyway). It did leave some damage to the siding because the vinyl was put on around it and it was affixed to the framing of the house, so I have some patching in to do, but the actual demo was no biggie.

  18. I always love the photos of Linus wandering around the yard. SO EXCITED for the backyard plan!!! You can never have too much pea gravel.

  19. As always, your ideas are amazing. Love the black, love the pillars, love the second level, love the idea of fancy planking. However, as a gardener, it did occur to me that your top porch might be the place people will want to gather, because, view. And you might want to sit there in the late afternoons, reading and drinking something cold. And if you’re up there, as a gardener, you’re going to spot SOMETHING you want to attend to right away.

    Then you’re going to want a teeny tiny staircase off the back of the porch, so you don’t have to go down through the house and then track dirt back up.

    Maybe.

    • Hmmm, I get what you’re saying, but I don’t really feel like there’s a nice way to put stairs off that upper porch. Not sure how much entertaining will happen out there…it’s not going to be that big so I feel like it’ll just be a couple of chairs and some potted plants, you know? To be honest the view is not very nice either, but maybe it will be someday!

  20. I can just imagine how awesome it will be, sitting around the fire-pit on a summer evening, with a light breeze carrying a whiff of rotting garbage and compost.
    Seriously though, compost and full rubbish bins can be stinky, perhaps something you don’t want right next to an entertaining area?

    On the topic of clover grass, we have similar stuff here, and my experience is that it does pretty well in shady areas (better than normal grass) but doesn’t do so well in full sun (but I live in Joburg, the sun may be less scorching in summer where you are). It’s low maintenance and feels pretty soft underfoot, however, you may want to try it on a small area first to see if you like it, because it’s pretty tough to remove if you hate it.

    • Ha! You make a valid point. I guess I feel like my garbage gets picked up weekly and isn’t all that smelly, the compost is surprisingly not either, and all that stuff will be sitting closer to the front corner of the garage, anyway…so we might just have to see! Also a fire itself is pretty fragrant so would theoretically overpower whatever lingering scent might be coming from that region of the yard? Hopefully it’s not a problem but I’ll report back. :)

      Good to know about the clover! Some of the yard does get a lot of sun but not for HUGE portions of the day so I feel like it’d be alright.

      • We had a similar garbage / compost setup when living in Ireland, like yours our bins were at the side of the house in mostly shade. The compost definitely did stink when you opened the lid to chuck in more waste but when the lid was down all the stinkiness was contained. Also, our bins were only emptied every fortnight.

      • Good to know! Yeah, I think between being out of the sun, emptied weekly, tumbling composter that doesn’t smell unless it’s open, and lots of herbs and flowers growing even closer than the trash add up to it all being OK. At least in my head.

  21. Longtime listener, first time caller. Two questions/comments:

    1) Why are you not parking your car in the garage? From the post above it sounds like you’re planning on parking next to it. Maybe I missed it from a previous post, but is it too small? Car too large? I had a similar situation at a house I renovated in Minneapolis (small, detached garage and a too big car) and used to look longingly/curse at it in the winter while I shoveled snow off my car. Which brings me to my second point…

    2) If at all possible do not do the two strips of stone driveway thing – they are are cute in the summer but a pain to shovel and keep clean/usable in winter. Concrete is a lot of things (including hideous, admittedly) but it’s also remarkably good at keeping your car off the lawn and providing a flat, shovelable (not a word, let’s go with it!) surface several for the 1-6 months/year where you have snow to contend with. Maybe a brick driveway?

    Thanks for maintaining the blog – you’ve got a great voice!

    • Ha! A little embarrassed to admit all the reasons I don’t park in the garage…

      There’s actually chain link fence running IN FRONT of the garage door, which is ridiculous. It basically has to be lifted from one end and then maneuvered kind of like a gate and is just a huge pain in the ass, and then the garage door itself is not automatic so getting a car in there everyday would just be a big production that I’m too lazy for. The garage is also full of crap! Construction crap, scrap metal, old kitchen cabinets, old windows, furniture I plan to use to stage the cottage…you can barely walk right now let alone park a car, haha. I’ll try to get it together by winter though, because it would be nice to use it then. Sometimes I forget it’s even what it’s for.

      Honestly I park my car on the street almost 100% of the time so the bluestone strip thing would be more for occasions when I’m unloading a ton of stuff or bringing in a truckload of mulch or whatever. I don’t really picture it getting used all that often, so I’m not super concerned about keeping it shoveled in the winter especially if the garage is a viable alternative.

      • No need to be embarrassed – this is a shame-free zone! You do you with your garage.

        That said, as someone who lived for a long time looking at and not using his garage, nothing says LUXURY like a snow-free car in January…trust. And I know you have a taste for luxury.

        However, if life’s crap is winning the garage wars for the foreseeable future, then skip the two little strips, park on the street with glee and treat yourself to an automatic starter for the winter. The only thing better than not shoveling snow off your car is pre-warmed seats for your buns. (pro tip!)

        Oh, and not sure if they grow in Kensington, but I put a magnolia tree in my yard and loved it – pretty in the summer and super dramatic in the spring. Like a dogwood it’s quasi-southern, so a great excuse to drink mint juleps and be fancy. Or just drink mint juleps.

      • Ha! Shame-free zone, I like that!

        I do want to have the garage park-ready by winter—that’d be great. When it snows heavily you aren’t allowed to park on the street here so that the city can plow, so having to dig out and move the car either to the snow-covered driveway or to a weird cross street the past two winters has been a pain! Access to the garage will be much easier when the fence is redone so I think that’ll be a good motivating factor to get it in shape.

        Magnolia trees seem to do well here! And I do love them. Armin thought it would get too big for the spot I’m talking about for a dogwood, but maybe for somewhere else in the yard. He also mentioned that some tree disease is killing all the pines and spruces and that mine might up and die, so a pretty magnolia where that ENORMOUS spruce is wouldn’t be unwelcome if it comes to that!

  22. This is ambitious, but you are the man for the job if there be one. We have clover grass here in Weschester and it does well in the sun and is low maintenance, which is always a bonus.

  23. the plans for the house and yard are amazing! i wish i had that much house and land to play with!

    so about your plans for gravel and clover. first, i just replaced my small backyard (read: weed and dog poop pit) with gravel. i did several different sizes of river rock with pea gravel spread on top to fill in all the cracks. it works pretty well and i haven’t too many weed issues yet. i did till up the entire yard and spread mulch below the weed barrier. i expect that i’ll have to pull weeds at some point…it’s just how it is, but so far i’ve only been fighting the running bamboo that i haven’t quite managed to kill yet. planting that shit should be illegal FOR SURE. terrible stuff.

    now about the clover. i live in austin, so clover doesn’t really grow here, but i have a patch of native ground cover in the front yard called horse herb and i LOVE it. i don’t water or mow it ever. in fact, in the three years that i’ve lived in this house, i haven’t used a lawnmower ONCE. that’s a win in my book. i love its maintenance free, water-free, native properties. i do have to weed it a bit in the spring when we actually get rain, but i don’t mind.

    good luck! can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

    • Nice! I’ll ask around about native ground covers. Honestly I’d be thrilled if my whole yard was creeping jenny or something! So pretty and it does well here.

  24. We installed T&G ipe on our porch / balcony. It’s gorgeous. You can let it weather to a nice gray, or you can seal it every year. I prefer it sealed. We let it go for a couple of years when we just got busy with other things, but it’s really easy to bring back. Here’s a post showing the weathered post, and the resealed:
    http://www.thirdstoryies.com/2013/05/27/project-backyard-step-one/

    It’s not particularly easy to work with – it’s super dense, and you have to treat the cut ends, predrill, use stainless steel screws, put some muscle into it – but it’s worth it in the end, and looks great against brick / stone / painted wood, just about everything in my opinion.

    I hope your backyard plans come along faster than ours!

    • Very nice! If you come back and see this, can I ask where you got it and what the cost was like? I keep hearing it’s super expensive but I have no idea what that even means.

      • It is expensive – that’s the con. Lot’s of pro’s though. Installation is costlier too, but we did the work ourselves, so that didn’t matter.

        We ordered it locally from here: http://www.stcharleshardwoods.com/ipe-decking.html

        I don’t remember the exact cost, and it’s been awhile since we did it, but it should be easy to track down a cost, and I’ll get back to you later tonight about it.

      • I checked in with a contractor who uses the product a lot. (Keep in mind these are St. Louis prices.) Ipe material runs about $12-$15 s.f. depending upon your thickness and width. The price does fluctuate a lot as the available trees are logged out of an area. Installation can run you $5-$8 s.f. on top of that.

        He did suggest an alternative that we used on another project I had forgotten about. It’s thermally treated poplar. (There are other woods available too.) Here’s one link for some information, but it’s worth looking into. http://www.woodworkingnetwork.com/wood-blogs/hot_for_iwf_thermally_treated_wood_127764978.html#sthash.SAXV7iTy.dpbs

        Soooo much nicer than chemically injected woods for exterior use.

        You might be able to get the look you desire, and the durability you need, at a more reasonable price point.

      • Thank you so much, Kristen! I’d do the installation myself so I’ll price it out and see where I land, but I do think Ipe is probably not an option. I’ll definitely look into the thermally treated option—never even heard of it so I can’t thank you enough!

      • Hi Daniel,
        I’m really glad that somebody mentioned the thermally treated wood.
        It was the first thing that i thought for when I read your plans for the porch last week. But I didn’t knew the English word. :)

  25. this looks great. i’m excited for you! dedicated refuse and recycling spaces are so important and i think the spot you chose could be swell. love the plans for raised beds! and a porch with a balcony and hurray for dogwoods. i love them too – spent my childhood in VA and have a soft spot for them. your pups are darling; and if i may, can you recommend shelters in the area? good luck with all the work! you are doing fabulous things.

    • Thank you, Kaet! I don’t really know anything about shelters in the area—both of my dogs came from Brooklyn (Linus from the mean streets and Mekko from Sean Casey Animal Rescue) and I just haven’t looked into it (because I would totally have 20 dogs by now if I did). I know my friend got his dog up here from the local ASPCA, but that’s about it!

      • Thanks Daniel! Will look into the ASPCA. I’m early into my search and your line about a puppy got me. Your sweet dogs are living the life with you, and will have a glamorous backyard to enjoy. Sweetness all around!

  26. Love the blog, the house is going to look fantastic…the work you guys are putting in is amazing! With the weeds and the pea/gravel debate, a layer of sand underneath the weedmat will help keep the weeds at bay for a few more years, but will eventually need maintenance as the leaf litter that gets on the gravel turns into soil in the long run. Compacted decomposed granite is also a good option as it really stops the weeds you can just top it up every five years, but if you have any drainage issues, they can exacerbate them, so ag pipe (I’m not sure what is called in the US) should be laid first.- anyway, good luck – I have really enjoyed reading all of the previous entries

    • Thank you, Matt! Definitely considering the decomposed granite now after several people have chimed in. This is part of why I love blogging! Hadn’t even considered it before. Hopefully drainage won’t be a problem when I get things graded out properly, so this might be a great answer for me.

  27. Hey,

    I love the plans! Exciting. Why not do the fire pit first? Then, rope offa section of the garden for camping and let anyone who loves your blog come camp for a weekend if they a. promise to bring some cuttings and b. agree to do at least four hours of digging/painting/weeding? Could be a super fun party!

    On a more sensible note – I have gravel in places and it is proving remarkably weed free with the layer of bigger rocks underneath. And, have you thought of stone for the porch floor? We often use stone for entrances in the Uk and it looks lovely, is really hard-wearing and you get to powerwash it back to it’s beautiful original state, which I think you would enjoy.

    Good luck with everything anyway.

    Kirsty

    • Ha! Maybe I will do that camp plan, haha. Time to start building the yurt!

      I hadn’t really considered stone for the porch floor…I guess partially because of costs but mostly because I think wood is just what’s appropriate to my house. All the original porches on houses of this era in the area seem to be tongue-in-groove wood, so I’m just trying to stay true to that!

  28. Um, you are thinking to do this all in one summer?! Best of luck! Your plans are awesome, but I am exhausted just looking at them. Possibly also because my backyard is a source of personal shame and I get tired just thinking about how to fix it. Anyway, I love your ideas for the planters but want to suggest that over time you might find the 4 foot width to be kind of irritating. I have 4×8 raised beds in my backyard and generally I love them but there is a pint in the middle that is just irritating to manage. I am 5’6″ with an average reach, so maybe you will not have this problem. But it’s annoying because I do need to get in them kind of frequently for the veggies and herbs. It would be less of an issue if they were filled with perennials. Good luck. I am motivated to get outside and work on my own garden!

    • Thank you, Laura! I may have to make the planters narrower anyway just for aesthetic purposes because I’m anal, so I appreciate that that might be better anyway! I’m only 5’7″ so we’d be in similar boats. :)

      I have no idea how much I can realistically do in one summer (both from a time and money perspective), but I’d love to at least get the fence in and stained, the planters built and planted, the gravel down, the fire pit, the brick area behind the garage, some taller trees planted near the fence so they can get growing, and at least the bottom level of the porch! Stuff like painting the garage and installing doors on it and moving any doors/windows on the house itself may have to wait, and the second level of the porch can always happen later on as long as the first level is built with it in mind, you know? We’ll see! I love to be totally unrealistic—it keeps me in a constant state of disappointment! haha

  29. Your plan is so exciting – swooning over all the black – it’s a wonderful background/balance for greenery and won’t show those obnoxious water stains from sprinklers that lighter fences do. Here in far north Texas, we use a lot of monkey grass ( mondo grass? liriope?) in tall or dwarf sizes – what’s so much better about it than say a creeping jasmine, which is vine-y is that you can set a mower low in the spring and mow it once, effectively getting rid of the brown ragged previous year’s leftover growth. Raking is easy too as opposed to a more vine-y ground cover, which tends to get pulled out of the ground. Surely someone near you is covered up with a leafy ground cover they’d like to share? And, highly recommend Daves Garden – great planting site with real world feedback according to location, climate, etc. Your blog is a fun, exciting adventure to follow and I look so forward to each installment. Thanks for sharing! (Love that you adopt, too)

    • Huh, interesting! I’ve planted liriope before as a border, but it’s never occurred to me that it could be a whole lawn! Thank you for the recommendation, too—I’ll check it out!!

  30. Tongue and groove KDAT wood. KDAT stands for Kiln Dried After Treatment. http://betweennapsontheporch.net/9-great-features-for-your-screened-in-porch/

  31. I just want to throw another glowing review to Armin- we use him for the million year old sycamore in front of our restaurant (Joshua’s) and he is faaaaaaaantastic. You sir, are doing God’s work in beautifying your little part of Kingston- even if it’s not happening as fast as you’d like!

  32. I would suggest looking into HB&G Fiberglass columns for your porch posts. Its hard to tell from old post photos but I think you can get a very close match to those on your front porch. Going fiberglass is maintenance free and when they’re painted out they look just like wood. I love the idea of clover for the yard. My dogs have all but destroyed any grass in my area. We are redoing our condo’s postage stamp yard this summer and I hadn’t considered clover. Great suggestion!

    Thanks!

    • Thanks, Lucas! I priced out getting the columns through Pacific Columns and they’re a composite material—I don’t think they’re fiberglass but similar idea. Anyway the company has been great so far and all the custom options are great so that I can get the closest match possible—feeling pretty good about it!

  33. First, I love you (of course), but I also love your readers! How wonderful are all of these comments?! So many helpful voices!
    Second, I also hate azaleas. They are a$$holes.
    Third, you are such an inspiration! I am reworking a house this summer and you remind me to set the bar high for details, details, details. So very curious about the clover lawn, too. I want to do that with my new lawn, but we have sandy soil and 1,000 hours of sun and I just don’t know.

    • I know! I have the best readers! The advice I’ve gotten just from comments particularly about landscaping/gardening has been invaluable. *hearts*

      And thank you! Good luck with your house project! Look into the clover lawn…it actually sounds very suited to what you’re describing! http://cloverlawn.org

  34. This looks so good! Love the black! Can’t wait to see all of this happen. May I suggest a row of five green or white hydrangeas along the side of the garage? I know that’s getting ahead of things but, they look great all summer (when you’ll be out back), they require very little maintenance, and are a good cut flower. Best of luck with your plans!

  35. Ok, now for the yard, yes. Check with Armin about the dogwoods. Virginia’s state flower is Cornus florida. There are lots of dogwoods and they’re all wonderful but most are shrubs and btw would be much better than forsythia: 4 season interest, erosion control, can soak up excess storm water, habitat with shelter and food for birds. And they don’t become a rat’s nest of overgrowing stems, catching every bit of trash the wind blows in. Can you tell what I think of forsythia, which I USED to love? Another great four-season shrub/small tree is Serviceberry (Amalanchier) which is the white flowers we see in the woods in Virginia before our big-flowered dogwoods bloom. And Serviceberries taste like blueberries.
    Good luck with all your plans. The porch will be wonderful! Puppy-ish older dog would give Mekko a playmate and not necessarily destroy your woodwork while you’re away during the day. And if you’ve never seen a tree-climbing competition, put it on calendar. We had it here in Richmond and there’s nothing like it.

    • So helpful, Cindi, thank you! I’ll look into the shrubby dogwoods and serviceberry. I do like forsythia but I totally hear you and I also don’t love plants that look scraggly for large portions of the year. And I didn’t even think about the trash thing…my neighborhood tends to be kind of litter-heavy so I definitely don’t want a trash-trap.

      • I believe it is the shrubbier dogwoods which are native up here in the northeast. Very different than what I grew up around in NC — the flowers are not nearly as dramatic and they don’t reach tree size, but the red branches and shape provide year-around interest. Red Osier is most common, I believe, but I have seen a “yellow twig” version too that is gorgeous.

  36. I LOVE seeing chain link fences die! Just yesterday I informed my neighbour that she would be seeing me leap over our shared one to spray paint it black before I fully disguise it with a row of 8 foot cedars on my side. I mean, as much as I enjoy the direct view of her busted, fully shingled brown shed with a colourful Mexican ceramic wreath on its door…it’s been 7 years, and I’m friggin’ itchy.

    Also, try boiling tap water and carefully pouring it on weeds. They shrivel up overnight like Wicked Witch legs and are about as planet/dog-friendly as you can get.

  37. beware pea gravel where you walk. My neighbors covered their paths with it and found the smooth, round stones just slide around and they sink into it – sort of like walking on soft sand. So use a crushed gravel or something not round if it’s somewhere you’ll walk.. They haven’t had trouble with weeds but I think they dug down a few inches, then spread landscape fabric, then stone dust before the gravel.

  38. Go for the clover lawn! It’s great for the earth, great for the bees, great for the dogs. My lawn right now is a mixture of bluegrass, fescue, clover, and a few dandelions for good measure. It’s drought resistant, easy to care for, greens up early in the spring. Clover is great and very old-fashioned so it would be perfect for your house. The guy who invented RoundUp apparently apologized when he invented it because it kills clover; at that point in history everyone wanted to keep some clover in their lawns because it is good for the grass!

  39. The black fence will MAKE the yard…love that. I’ll be in Rhinebeck in June and I’m mighty tempted to make a side trip to Kingston …not stalking at all! ..seriously though it’s going to be amazing. Don’t forget lilacs..love me some lilacs.

    • Do it! I’ll show ya around. It’s just a hop skip and a jump away!

      Lilacs! Good call. I always sort of forget about them but they are lovely and smell great!

  40. Another big no to pea gravel. No matter what you do weeds grow in it, plus the stuff is slippery as all hell and escapes its borders. Go with crushed gravel. It’s way prettier and easier to deal with.

  41. DH says that yellow pine (not white pine) would probably be your best bet in terms of affordability, though it will need to be stained or treated with preservative. He says that oak would be better, but probably out of your price range. Yellow pine should be fairly easily sourceable. Personally, I’d do bamboo, but then I like Asian-looking things. (On a totally obscure tangent–have you seen the new Plyboo? I love it! Maybe it would look good in the house you are designing for your friends?)

    This is probably not a helpful comment, but we get most of our wood from Dad. Dad bought a used portable sawmill and made friends with the local tree removal people. They would bring him the trunks of the trees that they couldn’t bear to mulch, he would saw them into planks and put them in his (homemade) kiln, then when it was dry, the tree removal people got the “pick of the litter” and he got the rest. The sawmill is a bit pricey, loading the kiln is annoying, but the resulting lumber is free and beautiful. I have a kitchen of cherry laurel (you can’t buy cherry laurel lumber because it is murder to cure properly–it pops and bends–but cured properly, it is a lovely hue and very stable). Dad has magnolia and (believe it or not) crepe myrtle wood planks (he lives in Florida where even the shrubs grow like trees). A small portable mill and small kiln might be worthwhile since you already know the tree guy–it’s a good holiday present if your family goes in together for expensive holiday presents.

    DH says that you should probably watch a lot of YouTube videos on how to prepare ground to go under the pea gravel. There is a way to do it–but it is tedious and involves leveling and compacting the soil, maybe adding a layer of sand and leveling and compacting that, adding in decomposed granite and leveling and compacting that, adding in the weed block, and then adding in the pea gravel within a stable border of stone or blocks. If not done correctly, the weeds are horrid and the gravel spews everywhere. But, the problem is mostly labor–you might want to do a small area (like in front of a door) to see how laborious it is before deciding.

    Petfinder.com is good for finding shelter dogs–you can get a pretty good idea of the personality of the dog and all his/her various quirks so that you can suit the babies you already have with the baby you get. But, really, I’d wait until Linus passes. Elderly dogs are brutally expensive and time-consuming (and heart-breaking: been through that three times–once with a golden retriever in a house with stairs–very sad). Unless the baby is a grown dog already potty trained and not a puppy, personally, I’d wait a year or two. Maybe I’d wait a year or two in any case. But, that’s me.

    Korean grass (or Japanese lawn grass) can be really lovely. You can Google some images–it can be manicured if you want, or it can be left to grown long or bumpy (depending on which variety you get). It’s a zoysia grass, but some varieties are good in cold weather, drought resistant, and slow-growing (so it needs little maintenance). Native grasses, though, are lovely. It might be worth asking the local university horticulture department if they give advice out in your neck of the woods (ours consults with state residents as part of their outreach).

    If you have a place that makes granite and marble countertops nearby, you might see if they give away their breakage. We went to our local countertop manufacturer, and they gave us a whole pallet of breakage (you have to take the whole pallet–they just want it carried away). Some pieces are tiny (the size of large gravel) and some are big (the size of a coffee-table top). If you are patient and sift through what you get, you can find pieces (and shape them, which is really tedious) to make pieces that can be stacked up in layers to make a fire pit. You might give the little pieces to someone with a rock tumbler who makes jewelry. We used some of the big pieces to make a floor for the greenhouse. Free is lovely. In fact, if you sift through it, you might be able to piece together enough black for the front of your fireplace (though, again, shaping it is a bear).

    I like the black; DH is a hater. Sorry for the long post and boring you–but this is DH AND me, so we tend to be even more verbose in combination. We both particularly loved the plan for the second-story deck.

    • Thanks, bean (and DH, too!)! This is really helpful. I think given all these comments I may nix the pea gravel altogether for decomposed granite or some other alternative.

      I’m gonna convince DH on the black…just gimme a little time…:)

    • Your Dad is sooo cool.

    • Daniel might not even need to get a mill and a kiln to get the effect. A number of tree service owners do it. Google urban lumber. You can get all sorts of cool varieties of wood, depending on what grows in your neighborhood, and sometimes they have huge slabs

  42. You said you want a puppy, so of course my brain skipped ahead and parsed rental rototiller as rental rotweiler, and I thought you must just want to give your insurance company all the heart attacks.

    • Ha! I would LOVE a rottie…lived with one once and he was SUCH a sweet, timid cuddlebug. So who knows! I figure if I already have a pit (and kind of can’t imagine not having a pit), maybe I’ll just get all the bully breeds at once.

  43. Ooooh noooo — don’t put in gravel! I just paid a small fortune to have a contractor take a backhoe to scrape out an old driveway through my front yard. It was an inch of weed covered debris that had accumulated through the previous owners neglect, on top of three inches of white landscaping rock on top of another three inches of pea gravel. Major disaster area!

    Not that you would ever neglect it, but gravel is the opposite of low maintenance to keep it looking good and stop weeds and dirt from setting. And even worse, it gets stuck in shoe treads and then tracked in the house to scratch up your beautiful wood floors (speaking from experience on that one). Have you considered setting pavers or bluestone and seeding around them with the clover? There are some beautiful ideas if you google images for “stone grass driveway”.

    I’ve reseeded the newly scrapped and leveled strip with Dutch white clover – I’ll let you know how it turns out. Can’t wait to see your project unfold!

    • Yikes! A lot of people are bringing up concerns with the gravel so I’m definitely looking hard at other options! I don’t want something that’s just going to look good for a week and then make me crazy forever, and I REALLY don’t want anymore backhoes in my hard after all is said and done!

      The bluestone idea is what I’m thinking for pathways and the driveway, but I think the expense would just be too enormous to do the whole area I’ve specified for gravel, and maybe not the best plan from a drainage perspective.

      Yes, please report back about your clover!

  44. I am so overwhelmed by the energy you have!! Bottle it! Also it is time for a blog name change. Sad, but fantastic day!! Also I was thinking about you all alone in that big old house. You need hose guests!! Host guests like a bed and breakfast each weekend and give em a taste of working on a beautiful old house!!

    • HA! I just might do that. :)

      Seriously though, I’ve been so swamped that I’m kind of loving the peace of living here alone, and using any time I do have off to just chill (and by chill, I mean clean, write blog posts, answer emails, clean some more, tear some vinyl siding off my house, weed the front yard, mulch, blah blah blah!). I don’t think I need to add a B&B to my life right now!

  45. We have bins a similar distance from the house – except it’s probably more because to put them out we have to wheel them back past the house again. It works just fine. We have a recycling station outside the kitchen because the recycling tends to be bulky, but we don’t tend to make much rubbish in the general way. If we ARE, it’s packaging or something we can just put in a bag as we unwrap, and then take it out when we’re done. My partner wanted to move the bins closer to the house when we moved in, but the only place to put them is RIGHT in the entry way, whether you’re arriving by car or foot, so I vetoed it, and he mentioned the other day that I was right (ha HA!) and the walk out the back isn’t that far, anyway. That’s where the compost is, too, and I just make sure that goes out every day. I do it in the morning, while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil. No dramas.

    I LOVE the black. I am actually regretting not being able to paint our fence black, but it’s too expensive and complicated and also I live in Australia where we regularly have weeks of 40C weather and everything would fry, probably. I love the way it recedes and makes the garden look like an inviting jungle.

    I’m so excited to see what the backyard ends up looking like! And looking at the plans for removing the mudroom etc made me breathe a sigh of relief. It feels like untangling a terrible knot or something – the house is so covered up with no-good additions, I feel sure it will be relieved to be back to the shape it should be.

    • Thanks for the input on the trash situation, Kate! I can’t imagine it’ll be so hard to keep up with…like I said I’m outside with the dogs all the time (they’re never out there unattended) so I feel like it should all be pretty easy to manage.

      I actually used an opaque black stain on my fence, not paint! The idea is that the stain looks more or less like paint but still allows the wood to breath, and there’s nothing to chip or peel over time. It’s been really great so far! So it could be an option for you, unless the concern is that it would generate so much heat that it would impact adjacent plants.

      I can’t WAIT to get that mudroom GONE. Unfortunately (or fortunately, ha) the house has several additions, so one of my big goals with the house overall is to try to work toward unifying the architecture a bit so that the whole house looks more cohesive. Luckily they were pretty smart about things so aesthetically the house only suffers REALLY badly from the back (which you can only see from my yard, pretty much), and I think removing the mudroom and doing the porch will help connect things and eliminate some of the awkwardness back there. The side is a whole different story and a whole helluva project, but at least the front is pretty. :)

  46. I’m pretty sure that the native range for Dogwoods includes NY State, so that sounds like a great choice for a new small accent tree. Also, a few people have listed problems with pea gravel such as migration, heels sinking in, etc. You just have to make sure that you buy angular gravel (of any size, not just pea) so that it grips together and compacts a little. Then it is walkable and you shouldn’t sink in. Lots of decorative gravel is sold in rounded forms like river pebbles. It looks great in areas where there is no foot traffic, but it will never compact because it just rolls off itself. DG isn’t better or worse, it’s just different. I think DG gives a more modern look to a garden, and pea gravel is more traditional. I’m also in the west, where people often use warmer brown tones of DG and it tends to look a little like compacted soil and therefore less formal. Again not good or bad, just a design choice. I’ve also read that East Coasters like to use crushed oyster shells for driveways and paths. Maybe that’s a little more coastal than Kingston? http://www.gardenista.com/posts/hardscaping-101-crushed-shell-seashell-paths-and-driveways

    • Thanks! I do think oyster shells tend to come off kind of beachy/coastal and to be totally honest I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an application in real life that I really liked! I think if they were more finely crushed it might be something I’d consider but I’ve always seen it where there are lots of big chunks mixed in with little chunks, and for some reason I find the identifiable oyster shells kind of unappealing—although it does look great in those photos!

      I do really like the DG option though in a light color…I do want something that’s going to look kind of traditional (and maybe a little formal!) to help balance the more mod planters and stuff.

  47. Love the plans and all the black. I would personally go with grass or brick (not a pea gravel fan at all). I can just see huge hydrangeas along the porch and garage!!

  48. Plumber and his team of chain smokers! Hilarious

  49. Okay, I don’t have much input for this, but I just wanted to say how awesome you are and how far you’ve really come along from a reader’s perspective. I started backreading your posts beginning 2010 and came across how you would dream of your own lovely kitchen, or decanted raw ingredients in an actual pantry, and I can’t help but smile. And maybe a year or so from now this entry about your backyard will already be reality and it’ll be just amazing :)

    • Aw, that’s so nice, Kari! Thank you! Did I really mention that stuff?? I never really read old posts but maybe I should…haha

  50. Like many others, I’m not a fan of the pea gravel. It never settles, it’s squishy to walk on, and super noisy. Better for art than walkways. I think it’s best left to dedicated Zen rakers of gravel.
    I have had experience with the white dutch clover lawn, and I liked it. With all the soil disturbance on your lot, I strongly advise amending the soil so the clover gets off to a good start. Or talk to your neighbors to find out who sells rich, weed free topsoil. If your clover doesn’t get off to a vigourous start, you’ll have to contend with a lot more weeds. I can attest: the scent of a nice lush white clover lawn is heavenly, and if you get lazy about mowing, it’s maximum height is 8-10″. If you let it blossom and go to seed, it will be even more lush.

    • Thanks for the input on the clover! I actually just found a place that sells inexpensive topsoil by the truckload so I will probably go with that for amending the soil…I do want to get it off to a good start!

  51. wow! backyard plans! and such a nice long newsy post!

    love everything. and am envious that you have such clean slate ….my wee garden is 9 years old this may (but as a tenant i have less freedom in things like hardscaping projects – like tearing down the chain link fence at the back wall and painting the old wood fence behind it!)

    as much as i love it now i would love to have the time and money to clear out parts of it and redo. or a new garden to start with!

    tree/shrub suggestions – lilacs and CAMELLIAS! yes you can grow them here … camellia forest nursery – has a line of cold hardy breed just for the northeast! am getting ready to order a few more to fill some spots after a major purge. hydragenaes are great. also boxwoods and other evergreens – in the last two DREADFUL winters, its been a small comfort to see the evergreen poking thru the snow drifts! rhododendrons, wieglea, japanese pirius, vibiurnum – oh there are so many wonderful shrubs (so much less work than perennials!)

    i can see a wonderful series of plantings of various shrubs and evergreen and small trees along that fence with the bad view! with maybe a small strip of garden bed in front for bulbs, perennials and some annuals = not a full fledged English perennial border but with lots of interest.

    onward!

  52. It’s wonderful that you are so young and full of energy and good ideas. I will enjoy watching all the changes as they happen.

    I love your plan to sow clover. Mixed with a couple varieties of grass (and, as Hillary said, some dandelions, chickweed, plantain, violets, etc., which will turn up on their own) clover-containing lawns are far healthier than those green velvet carpets full of chemicals. The nitrogen-fixing nodules on the clover’s roots feed the grass, the dandelions’ deep roots pull up minerals from the subsoil (and the greens are delicious to eat) and the earthworms will mix it all up nicely. You will not need to fertilize. You WILL have clover flowers, no matter how often you mow (they just flower on shorter stems) but they smell so sweet! And bees are good for your garden, too.

  53. I have an area of Leptinella squalida planted in my garden, in stead of lawn. It looks really nice, you don’t have to mow and it feels great under your feet. I don’t think it has very high demands, soil-wise. It is, I think, originally an alpine plant, there are multiple varieties, green to red-ish. I have planted it more than ten years ago and it is still going strong. No maintenance whatsoever.

    • Oh, that’s beautiful! I feel like I’ve seen it around here, too…I’ll look into it. Thanks!

  54. #pinterest thanks I needed that. I actually laughed out loud. That’s a very ambitious plan. But I like it. I’ll bring the lemonade.

  55. A particularly witty post today Daniel! Loved reading it and look forward so much to seeing it all come to life. I have no lawn advice because my new lawn has gone all to shit but I wish we had gotten something hardier and creeping like couch grass so the dead bits would fill themselves back in eventually instead of just staying dead.

    ps, what is that thing that looks like a square of tiny picket fence outside the mudroom?!

    • Ha! That was my “herb garden” last year…the stupid fence thingies were just super super cheap and kept the dogs out. There’s a little garden bed there that appears to be pretty old (the inside is lined with bluestone and then they went and poured concrete around it…cute…), and I think that was probably its original use, but I want way more space! I did have basil, mint, parsley, and cherry tomatoes all summer and well into the fall though—so it’s not good looking but it was great to have those fresh herbs!

      • If the super cool circular bluestone bed is lined on the bottom it is likely a fish pond –same size as the one i know of at a rural family house in CT I suspect was landscape designed by Henry Austin–who was a design contemporary of Andrew Jackson Downing.

  56. Paint all the things black! Black is just so gorgeous! Paint the garage, do it today!

    I really like all your plans, especially the ones where you plant lots of trees with very pretty pink blossoms. Such a shame about that japanese maple though. They are such handsome and elegant trees, and shockingly expensive when you have to buy them. That being said, have you considered also planting some japanese maple again? My absolute favourite breed is Osakazuki, the most stunning red foiliage. You could plant some along your border along with the purple sandcherry, perhaps?

    Tear down that mudroom! It must go! Do it right now, even before you paint the garage!

    About that porch however… I really don’t want to rain on your ideas, but do you really need it? The idea of stepping outside from your bedroom with a cup of coffee is super charming, but consider this: You will be making your coffee in your kitchen. Will you be taking it upstairs again? Maybe you will just take it to your front porch or just walk down some steps from your kitchen into the garden with your coffee cup? You could use those stacked bluestones and pave something…

    About that fire pit – do you remember Morgan’s blog The Brick House? Sadly, she doesn’t blog anymore, but it is still up, and she had some really nice ideas about flower beds, gravel and fire pits. Her Pinterest page is also full of the most gorgeous stuff. Admittedly it’s all a lot more modern and for a much hotter and dryer climate, but still worth looking at?

    Anyhow, keep going! As always, I can’t wait for more blog posts from you.

    • I don’t NEED the porch (or the backyard, or the garage, or or or), but I want it! I think it’ll be a welcome addition to the house as well as add value (not that I’m all that concerned about that at all, but of course it’s hard not to think about), and help sort of unify the front with the back, and give me some entertaining/outdoor dining space that will be fun fun fun. As for upstairs, I just love the idea of it! It seems sort of decadent but also totally doable and not all that costly, in the scheme of things, and will help sort of define that room as a master bedroom rather than the odd space it is currently. I also have a sort of ridiculous half-baked idea about putting in the tiniest hidden coffee station ever when I renovate that room so that I can literally roll out of bed and brew a pot…which I’m well aware is totally ridiculous but doesn’t stop me from wanting it!

      • Had I known you had actual plans for an actual coffee station up there, I would have never called the plan into question!

  57. Such hard work to get that clean slate, it must be so nice to finally be able to build and plant something! I love kitchen gardens, I am wondering if that wall could maybe be the perfect sport for some espalier fruite trees? And mayby an espalier walkover-apple hedge? I think Rhubarb, and raspberries would be nice in the border against the fence, and maybe some lollipop blackberries to bring in a bit of flair!

    It be lovely to sit on a bench against the warm fence, look at all the nice greenery. And maybe a workarea to rinse the veg and cutoff leaves for the compost? I know you love your sketcup but I would like to recommend the gardena draw tool, much easier to ad trees and stuff and it does look a lot prettier =) One can save the scetches and return to them. http://www.gardena.com/uk/garden-life/my-garden/

    There is a cheaper alternative for gravel that gives a traditional look, the size used for boule-courts! Very difficult for weed to grow in, looks super, sounds nice to walk on and also, you can play boule on it! It is the 0-10mm fraction, cheap and easy to pour. We put it on under our pergola social area outside the orangerie. Works like a charm. I would combine it with some Hee lounge chairs in yellow for a really relaxed look =)

    • OOh that gardena tool is great! Thank you Louise, Those Hee chairs look super and are probably more comfortable than the Bertoias. Nice!

    • Thank you, Louise! I actually kind of hate SketchUp for outdoor stuff so I’ll play around with that!

  58. I’m sooooo excited!!! I think the space is going to look so great and I love the fact that you have divided the areas to serve a different purpose. I wondered if you have a timeline that you set for yourself as far as each section of the project? Will the fence take the longest?

    Either way, I cannot wait to see the progress and will continue stalking the blog!

    • Man, timelines for my own projects kind of freak me out! It’ll kind of have to be the same approach I’ve used for the inside…it’ll happen as I have time and money to do it. I do want to get a lot of this knocked out this summer, though, but I honestly don’t know how far I’ll get! We’ll all find out together!

      Hopefully the fence will actually be super fast…it’s a LOT of fence and I’m one person so I’m pretty sure I’m hiring it out this time around. Pros could have it knocked out in a couple days and it would take me weeks and weeks of horrible labor to do the same thing. That section in the front was enough fun to last me a while! Ha

      • I hope your neighbor is sharing the cost of putting in the fence?

      • No, but that’s A-OK. One neighbor is a shitty landlord (not even worth asking, he sucks) and the other to the rear is super nice but in our discussion about sharing the new fence instead of having two, she didn’t offer and I didn’t ask. Aside from being ugly, there isn’t actually anything wrong with that section of chain-link (other sections are falling apart, but that’s a different story), and I don’t think it’s reasonable of me to ask her to help pay for an upgrade to my property, even if she’s reaping some benefits from it. I’m sure there are many, many things she’d rather spend that money on, and I can’t blame her! :)

      • Eeks… was hoping that you get to save a little cost, but I guess you will survive! Can’t wait to see that mud room go, please do it this year! Do cherry trees grow well in your region? They are so beautiful in spring.

  59. Sounds fab. My one concern is the upstairs porch/balcony. How fancy will you really feel if you’re looking at and being looked at by the commercial property next door? Perhaps you can screen it somehow with plants?

    • Eh, honestly I kind of have to not think of my house too much in terms of its surroundings…I live in a neighborhood with TONS of potential but many of the properties are not well maintained or weirdly renovated at least on the exterior and that sort of just comes with the territory of living where I live, at least right now. The good thing about that commercial property is that it’s VERY low traffic so aside from the building itself being ugly, the few people coming and going from it don’t bother me at all. I kind of think of it like a good faith investment in how this neighborhood could look…the view won’t be anything spectacular now but maybe someday. :)

  60. Our landlady might not be totally happy about it, but we seeded a ton of clover in our front and back yards when we moved into our rental house five years ago. The soil is pretty bad, grass didn’t want to grow (but dandelions love it!), so I researched ways to remediate the soil somewhat, came up with clover. It smells great in hot summer weather, needs almost no mowing, green and lush and soft, and now grass seed grows and sticks around much better than five years ago. Also, the bees need help, and they love clover.

  61. You fancypants! I love everything about these plans and would also like to suggest that you block any black paint haterz because nothing makes greenery look more gorgeous than black paint!
    Also, we need to write some historic grants or something so you can have tons of money to make all of these dreams come true. We all need that to happen.

  62. You may make us wait for a new post, but you never disappoint when they come around! This is going to be amazing when it is done! I can’t wait to follow your progress :)

    I’m pretty cheap when it comes to lawn care and I’m not a huge fan of dumping lots of chemicals ($$$ ones too!) on grass, so I’m thrilled to discover the concept of a clover lawn. I was just pulling some dandelions from the front lawn yesterday and was musing how green the patch of clover was, and how that must be why Ireland is so green… And then I see this post! I went straight to Amazon and ordered a bag of clover seed for the backyard. We already have decent – but not great – grass everywhere, and it seems from my limited research that clover and grass work well together to handle trampling kids.

    Also I am confused about the garage. Is there a garage door facing the alley? Why do you need bluestone for the car if the car would just go right into the garage from the alley? Is it for guests? I will go look at the comments to see if you already answered this.

    • I did go up and see your response about the garage. Yes, get that fence done! And put the extra furniture in a room in the house! You have a few extras of those ;) So excited for you!

  63. Having the little fence for the entertaining area/garden beds is a great idea! Our dogs discovered that eating one bite of almost ripe tomatoes right off the vine was their favorite thing, so we’re having to put in a fence now.

    If you’re up for it, a fruit tree could be really fun in that little spot. Something that is easier to keep small like a peach or plum would be lovely and productive. Though dogwoods are so classic and have such a great, architectural shape!

  64. Ahhhh…. Outdoor space That mythical thing I have always longed for and never achieved. In the mean time, I am gonna have to settle for a window box.

    This is awesome Daniel,
    I look forward to seeing this progress along. Pea gravel is always a tasteful choice and will never seem dated, but the concerns raised are real. I remember pea gravel getting stuck in my shoes as a kid and wrecking havoc on the floors.
    The clover is a lovely idea and super beautiful, I hope you don’t have to deal with hundreds of bee’s endlessly poking about.

  65. Hi Daniel,

    Such a great feeling when I head over to your blog and there’s a new post – I love the way you write, and the content is always interesting. A couple thoughts on this post, take them or leave them:

    * Both my mother and I love gardening and at this point have, I think, given in to the clover that is slowing (or maybe not so slowly) taking over the grass at our respective homes. It’s beautiful, hardy, and attracts bees – something I love, but that may not be for everyone. And its invasion is kind of impossible to resist, so why fight it?

    * Pea gravel. Like everything, there are pros and cons. It’s lovely, and can alert you to the presence of someone you maybe weren’t expecting. It also gets everywhere, and can quickly become a huge litter box for neighborhood cats (maybe less of an issue since you have Mekko and Linus?). My newbie landscaping project at work involved *a lot* of pea gravel, and I won’t use it again if I can help it. Decomposed granite is something I’ve become a fan of over the last few years. Perhaps that could be an option for you?

    Looking forward to seeing all your plans for the yard and the back of the house come together!
    ~Christine

  66. You know, Daniel, I love you complete lack of projects on your plate combined with excessive amounts of relaxation and waxing poetic about said lack of projects and relaxation.

    I mean, really, you do need to figure out what to do with yourself, or you’ll just languish away from all of that nothing-doing.

    ;)

    Seriously, dude. I’m tired reading your projects. And I’m a freaking busy body with too many projects — moving back to another country, getting rid of everything except two boxes of personal stuff, starting a new part to my business, getting into fund raising because I found that fun so obviously I should do it a minimum of 30 hrs a week, still doing the mom and loving wifey thing. I think I should start an animal rescue in my apartment and I’m considering taking a nurse-midwifery course (i am not a nurse yet, so, that’s basically a ton of education).

    Also, I have a walnut Broyhill Brasilia china hutch that needs a a really good home. And, I don’t know if I have a buyer. I grant you that I”m about 9 hrs drive from you, but. . . you know. . . I think you would love/respect/treat this piece right. So, drop me a line if you are interested. It really does need a good home.

    • Ha! I’m tired too, believe you me! :)

      That’s very kind about the china hutch! I really don’t have a place for it, but thank you so much! I’m sure you can find someone who will give it lots and lots of love, though—those pieces are beautiful!

  67. Hi Daniel love your blog so much! It’s so interesting to see your yard plans as it makes me think of all the things I can do with mine as well. I also have the horrible chain link (picture your typical Queens neighborhood) but new fencing is so expensive and very difficult to DIY. Do you plan on installing it yourself? And speaking of expenses, how do you budget for all this stuff? I tend to throw it all on a credit card when the feeling strikes but that’s been known to get me into trouble.

    • Thanks, Patti! I don’t really intend to do all of this at once—not enough time, not enough money!—so some of these are short term goals (the fence, mostly out of necessity because there are places where the dogs can slip out, and I’m not going to throw money at fixing something I just want to replace!) and some are more long-term, like the double-decker porch and moving/replacing windows and doors and all that! The way I try to budget is mixing up expensive projects with inexpensive ones. So for example, for the past year or so I’ve basically been on the paint-and-joint-compound plan—redoing the dining room and living room and pantry came with lots of time and labor but very little money because that stuff is cheap, so that gives me time to save! I have a separate checking account specifically for house renovation projects, which just makes things easier for me to put money away every month—and if I need to bail myself out with some of it if I haven’t gotten paid enough or whatever, sometimes that just has to happen. So anyway, I’ve been squirreling away money for a while knowing that I wanted to tackle a big project this summer. There are several to choose from (bathroom! floor refinishing! tearing off another addition! the list goes on and on) but the fence is taking precedence, and stuff like the planters and gravel and even a lot of the plants shouldn’t be too expensive so I’m hopeful I can swing it and at least get the foundation in place for more stuff down the line.

      I don’t think I can stomach doing the fence by myself! I’ll demo out the old fence and stain the new one, but I think I’m hiring out the actual install this time around—fencing isn’t cheap no matter how you cut it, and having done the section myself last summer, I know it’s time-consuming and not super fun and physically challenging to DIY, and next to impossible without help. The quote I have for the fence came out to a little under 5K for everything, which is the majority of what I have tucked away for the house at this point, but it’s gotta happen and I was prepared for a number around there. That’s kinda all I’ve got! I’m trying to dial my credit card debt down so I really don’t want to charge a bunch of stuff if I can help it, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do and answer for it in interest!

    • And a good SAFE fence for pups is just a must in my book. I am an anal gate-locked-checker, drives my hubs a bit crazy, but I’ll lock it behind me even when I KNOW I’m going back out it. But with a good safe system, once you feel confident in it, you could put in a doggie door and let the pups go in and out on their own. If you have a digger, lay chicken wire in front of the fence, and then grass will grow up and you’ll never see it, but they will stop digging when they reach the c/wire. Simple but effective! Hope you don’t have jumpers!

      I love all you have planned, but ..that ..deck — oh my!

  68. A couple more cents worth: A section of my side yard is covered in something slightly bigger than pea gravel. It was sold as 3/8 in. Delaware River rock which I chose because it has a gray tone. Not a big fan of pea gravel yellow. It has not been a huge problem with weeds, more with some of my plants that seed and wander into it. It is over an area of very compacted soil that is (I suspect – having encountered it every time I tried to dig into that area) over an old gravel driveway. I put down a layer of landscaping fabric at the time which I regret now because it pokes up in odd places and is harder than hoo-ha to re-bury or pull out! I love the gentle crunchy noise it makes when walking on it, it’s less scritchy than pea gravel, and it’s perfect as an early warning system if someone’s coming. It is also big enough that it doesn’t get stuck in shoe treads. It is a bit hard on tender bare feet. But I figure I’m just a wuss. As to clover: I tore out the weedy grass on the hell strip in my front and put in a “dry stream” of various rock sizes. The clover came from somewhere and established itself and this spring has gone so bonkers that you can’t see the rocks anymore…it’s just bobbly green. It does tend to dry up and look forlorn in the heat of the summers here (DC area) since I don’t water it….

  69. I painted my raised beds black. They look fantastic and don’t actually absorb as much heat from the sun as one might think. With beds that size, there’s a LOT of dirt in there to dispel heat. One thing I’d advise it to consider an automatic drip watering system in your install. Ads a bit of cost, but makes maintaining the beds SO much easier down the line. You just go out there and harvest all your vegetables, not have to deal with watering every single day.

    I’m so not a fan of clover, but there not-invasive varieties that are better. Put in something like this other than grass for your lawn, and cut your summer water use down.

    http://www.bluestem.ca/enviroturf.htm

    You know, ’cause you’re kind of a little bit busy. Love all the plans!

  70. Just because I figured after 156 comments, you really need one more opinion. I can’t help it though because I totally dig your blog and needed to tell you about our overlapping situations. I am two years into working on my first house. The very first thing I did was take out the chain link fence, the very first weekend after I got the keys, before I even moved in. It changed the entire appearance of the whole property, in the best way ever.
    Second, I am painting an old/newly remodeled outbuilding black, and will paint the house white. I think the contrast will be great, and was excited to see that you have similar plans.
    Third, I am here to advocate for pea gravel, even though you’ve gotten a lot of negative comments on it. It really does a great job of blocking weeds, if you keep up with some maintenance, but nothing crazy. I think one key thing is to have a thick layer of it (like, more than 2-3″, more like 4-6″), so any weeds that do start growing are easily pulled since they’re just rooted in the gravel, not in the ground below. And, whatever you do, DO NOT use weed fabric underneath. That will be great for a couple of years and then it will start to break down and you’ll have bits of it popping out and breaking off. and if you try to rake your gravel to neaten it up, you’ll catch pieces of the fabric in your rake, and if you try to hoe any stray patches of weeds, well, you can’t because you’ll rip up the fabric, and it will generally be a nightmare.
    Fourth, I also have an unusual double lot in the middle of a city, but mine is waaaaay bigger. Imagine 15,000 square feet of bare dirt to figure out how to deal with, and grass is not an option since I’m in the desert. Gravel and cactus (aka: desert landscaping) to the rescue!
    Thanks for having such a rad blog and writing such detailed posts with your whole thought process. Definitely one of my very favorite blogs; you’re doing it right. :)

  71. In regards to moving the kitchen door from the kitchen to the laundry – DON’T! But seriously. I live in a house where the only access to the back garden is through the laundry and I hate it. People always have to walk past the mess that is in there, we can never shut the door on all the mess/the noise that comes from the machines because the dogs might be coming or going and if we have people over they have to go through there. PLEASE DONT DO IT. From experience it’s the worst. Keep the door to the garden in the kitchen, it’s just so much nicer to move through. Laundry mess just needs to stay hidden. I’m also living with my siblings and parents so we would have a lot more laundry than you but I just can’t say how much I hate having to walk through the laundry haha. But everything else looks awesome! So excited.

  72. Since I was curious to know what decomposed granite looked like, I went on google image, damn, there are also decomposed bodies there!! I love your plan and the way you think, go black!

  73. I have a bastard lawn and think it’s A+. Lawn mixes used to have clover added because clover fixes nitrogen and is generally good for your soil, but I have no idea how a 100% clover lawn would do. Since I’m in Austin, TX, my philosophy is that whatever wants to grow with little imput from me, that can be mowed into something that looks nice, is good to go. So I have a mix of clovers, sedges, mints, lawn grasses, and it’s cool.

    One word on pea gravel– keep the pea gravel to a decorative layer on the top of your hardscape. The deeper you go, the more the neighborhood cats will love you. It’s pretty gross. Plus, deep pea gravel is a PITA to deal with if you have knee issues or wear heels. The way I install it is to lay down thin layers of decomposed granite, level them, run a plate compactor over the top, and then add a thin layer of pea gravel at the very end. (Sometimes I will start with a layer of tamped rough gravel, since that’s cheaper and it’s solid and won’t wash out.) Then you get a solid surface and still have the classic pea gravel look, and it’s easy to rake out any leaves and stuff or use a leafblower. PLEASE do not use landscape fabric. That stuff is the worst. Most seeds come from above, and after a few years, there will be enough dirt on top of your landscape fabric for things to grow from the top, and they’ll grow right through. The landscape fabric you buy at big box stores is crap that disintigrates. Cardboard works better if you really want a weed barrier. Save yourself the hassle of having to remove cheap weed barrier in ten years, because trust me, that stuff is the devil.

    P.S. A fun thing about having a nonflammeable permeable hardscape is that you can use one of those propane torches to weed it. You know you’ve always wanted to play with fire. ;)

  74. We don’t technically have a clover lawn but our lawn happens to be about 50% clover and it is great! The grass looks super lush and thick where the clover grows and it definitely helps smother out any weeds. It feels great to walk on too and for myself I love it when the clover blooms.

    Also, I REALLY like where you’re going with all the black! For the back of the garage where the fire pit will be I think it would look gorgeous if you did a set of big oak french doors. I’ve always been a fan of black and oak together.

    Oh, and we have some areas of pea gravel and my husband layered landscaping fabric, then a thin layer of stone dust and then finally the pea gravel and the only weeds we get are the occasion errant acorn that gets buried and sprouts. Very easy to quickly pull up.

  75. You can also dry-stack bricks to make a raised bed — just line it with plastic edging to keep the moisture in. I’ve used mine for several years.
    I enjoy your writing and projects – thanks so much for sharing!

  76. Hi Daniel. I’m on year 7 of renovating a 1902 Victorian and have been on the joint compound/wood filler financial “diet” for the last year, as well. I can’t wait to get to the paint part before July and humidity take over. We have a 2-family and finished the upstairs apartment 3 years ago and have been taking our sweet time with downstairs. Anyway, I actual read parts of your blog out loud to my husband to prove that there are other people out there like us! He laughed at your line about living in a house that’s a cross between the city dump and the inside of a vacuum cleaner. I liked the “mental scaffolding” analogy.
    For the backyard, can you find a sponsor to help for costs? I love the look of cobblestone and they have cobblestone that’s in meshed squares. You need to be on Yard Crashers.

  77. Wow to Everything, but especially that double-decker porch! And lovely to see the dogs again. I didn’t know that about a clover lawn. I hope you write more about it. Of course, I could look it up myself, but I like the way you write.

  78. Hey Daniel, Great updates… When I saw this ad on CL, I thought of you: http://newyork.craigslist.org/wch/fuo/5001019295.html

  79. We had awful chain link around our small backyard and when we replaced it with a wood fence we left the metal posts and cross beams in place and used them to attach the wood section. Much easier installation. We don’t see the metal parts, they are on the outside.

    Can’t wait to see how the backyard progresses. Having a comfortable outside space makes all the difference. I have 2 raised planters in my yard made of stacked 4×4 cedar. They are beautifully weathered dark gray and last for years. I was told not to stain or paint wood that is near edible plants.

  80. Hey from Mpls!
    I diligently read through all the comments for a couple reasons. 1) unlike the azaleas, your readers are NOT a$$holes, and tend to be quite helpful, 2) hilarity, 3) I don’t want to be the one who comments and misses that someone already addressed the issue, and 4) did I mention the hilarity which makes my morning coffee so much better?!

    Anyway, I want to ask about the garden beds – staining or painting them. In my last house, I built 4 4×8 monsters and desperately wanted them to be black. But I knew that I would mostly be growing food, and could NOT nail down a solution that made me feel comfortable that nothing toxic-ish would leach into my garden soil. Have you figured this out? Am I overly worrying the issue? I’m about to embark on new beds in our new house, so wanted to see if anyone had a clue.

    Also, lots of ways to put food up besides canning. I HIGHLY recommend a bit ol’ freezer if you don’t have one already; it’s the best cheat around.

    Love the plans. Love your vibe. Carry on, sir.

    • You can line the interior of your beds with plastic. That’s what my old roommates did when they realized how toxic the treated lumber they had bought was. Using a big thick black plastic sheet was the recommended thing we found to do for treated lumber beds. Just be sure to poke holes in the middle of the plastic where it touches the ground rather than the wood so that the bed can drain.

  81. Landscape Designer here. Another vote for some other form of gravel than pea. I’m not opposed to the texture of pea gravel, but I think something more uniformly gray would suit the black and white palette. For any kind of gravel area, though, (and there are several beautiful options other than DG) *really* compact the entire area beforehand. The biggest mistake people make with gravel is they don’t compact the subsurface. It’s what leads to weedy, mushy, cat-littery pathways. And equally important, enclose all sides with steel edging (1/4″ looks the best, if you can swing the price).

    Other bits of unsolicited opinion:
    -Consider a vine or flowering ivy (fig vine, trumpet vine, honeysuckle, wisteria?) for the side of the garage facing the porch. You’ll want something lovely to look at, but a row of boxwood shrubs is bit too formal for a garage. You could tie the plants to cable wires to continue the modern/colonial thing you’ve got going.
    -Nellie R Stevens are beautiful, large hollies for screening anything and everything, and they would fit the style of the house.
    -It looks like you only have a few feet between the veggie garden and the back property fence. With that in mind, you may want to consider vines along the fencing (Boston Ivy has great fall color) and a traditional shrub in front of it (white English Roses, white Hydrangea, etc.) This would create a perfectly classical background to any kind of funky/modern styling you do in the yard. OR you could alternate an everygreen ivy with a creeping white rose. That would give you year-round interest without requiring much attention.
    -Your model looks like you will have to walk down a few stairs then take two steps and walk back up the stairs to get to the covered porch. That’s going to be a pain. If it were me, I’d extend the door landing to align with the covered porch, and then run the few steps down the entire length of the porch. That way you could walk from the door the covered porch at the same grade, and then move down to the lawn from any point on the porch. If you started the treads 1′ off the columns, it probably wouldn’t take much more out the lawn than the current model, and the steps could serve as extra seating during a party.

    Awesome job! Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

    • Creeping fig? That’s awesome! I didn’t know such a thing existed. Does it actually produce figs? And it’s ok for NY? Would it be hardy for Detroit area, too?

  82. Maybe this has already been addressed: Cypress was the go-to wood for drip cap on our cedar sided house. I understand it’s easy to work with and lightweight. Maybe would work well for your porch. On the existing 16 foot gate, our experience has been every once in a while we wish we had an big open access to our backyard. Over time things need updating, cut down, whatever. It would be nice to be able to get a truck back there.

  83. Danielle, I just realized now looking at these pictures that you appear to have an attic with a window? Is that true? Maybe you talked about it elsewhere and I missed it, but do have any plans for it? I have always been SO charmed by attics (probably a “The Little Princess” byproduct). Any who, yard work is so fun! Can’t wait to see how it turns out. :)

  84. Sounds and looks like a great plan! I will read all the comments here but I did want to put in my two cents I think it’s really important for you to select the right wood for your planters. Treated wood contains arsenic so you need to be sure that you get like cedar that’s going to be resent to weather and it’s not going to be a problem for the food you plant.
    I had a pea gravel driveway and I would recommend against it because not weeds but the pea gravel will get stuck in shoes and then we will track it into the house and that was a problem.

  85. Dwarf magnolia. Just sayin’.

  86. Please consider using some native plants/shrubs instead of forsythia. There are a lot of really lovely options out there that are better for your yard and nature!

  87. If you ever go to Adams Fairacre Farm on 9W look at the house above it. (that long private driveway leads to that house). Besides having some 60 odd acres, it has the columns and you might notice one missing. (head there was/is a honey bee hive) Okay I don’t know why I am telling you all this, but no one ever looks up there and its a nice Greek Revival home

    • I have looked up there and I have noticed!! Ha! That place is amazing…I hope they get their column back!

      • I went in there on Sunday. It is amazing. 6 bathrooms, old chandeliers, marble mantle, fountains in rooms, i lost count of the bedrooms. Beautiful space but in need of much repair.

  88. I read every comment! Now I am on complete overload. Just get your car in the garage and sit down!

  89. Please check out the cons of pea gravel. We had it and hated it, our dogs would get them stuck in their paws, they would fly around into the gravel free area, fall leaves were a pain to rake. We eventually took it out and laid irregular bluestone.

  90. Two things that I emphatically beg you to please consider:

    Get an extremely good quality landscape fabric for the planter bed/firepit area. Something like this (I swear by this brand, been using it for years, and its absurdly effective!): http://www.lumiteinc.com/products/groundcover

    Secondly, please do not use pea gravel, as it shifts so much when walking on and its a pain in the ass to deal with (like chairs sinking into the pea gravel). Either pave in that area, or use Breeze/Crusher Fines–which compacts beautifully and doesn’t shift and move about. Its the material that is used on all national parks trails, compacts well (weed seeds don’t settle in like they would with pea gravel), comes in a variety of colors. http://www.americantrails.org/resources/trailbuilding/BuildCrushFinesOne.html

  91. I say YES to your black fence, and YES to your black garage. Yes all ’round! (Except to the pea gravel, it’s so sinky. You’d get a killer calf work-out, but is it really worth it?)

  92. Daniel – your yard is going to be so amazing! I’m especially excited for your planter situation. You should look into square foot gardening, that would be a great way to organize your budding vegetable garden! Run some drip irrigation tubing through it and BOOM so easy to care for.

    I am about to move to Tennessee in a few weeks and live in a house with a backyard! I’m considering building planters myself – or amassing a truly extensive collection of bucket gardens. I might get chickens too (why not go wild?)

    Congratulations on your future puppy! Mekko and Linus always look so happy in your pictures, any pup would be lucky to join your pack.

  93. Love the blog – I’m also deep into backyard reno! But I have to say I HATE pea gravel. We inherited some in our yard, and yes, it is WEEDY, even with weed barrier under it. Also, it migrates, especially with dogs. We’ve found it all over the yard, and it’s in an area we don’t even walk through.

    As for 4×12 planters, that’s not as much space as you’d think! We made two 4x8s this year and I already want two more! I’ve heard you can only really plant one full-size tomato plant per 4×4 plot.

    Happy gardening/landscaping!

    • Amelia, You can plant tomatoes with 18″-24″ spacing. I usually plant five in one 4’x4′ bed.

  94. the modernist master architect frank gehry is a big fan of chain link fencing and other humble materials.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=frank+gehry+and+chain+link+fence&hl=en&gbv=2&tbm=isch&oq=&gs_l=

  95. This is totally unrelated but I just came across it and immediately thought of your blog, less as a “you should do this,” and more “you’ll laugh when you see this.”

    http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20304816,00.html

    A GREEK-REVIVAL STYLE DOGHOUSE.

    Unnecessary brilliance.

  96. Loving the blog, as usual. You are amazing at visualizing & then getting it done…inspiring stuff. Random question, any tips for giant, wall mounted mail boxes (in white)? Long shot, but you seem to be kind of a shopping guru. Any tips appreciated!

    • Hmmm. There used to be a canadian company called 2213, but I think they’ve gone out of business!! Not really something I’ve had to look for (I have a mail slot…) but I’ll keep my eyes peeled. :)

  97. Clover is terrific-drought tolerant, manageable height between mowings, great for pollinators.
    Your plan for the boxes set on gravel reminded me of these on the blog “Needled” (Scotland):
    http://katedaviesdesigns.com/2015/05/12/potential/
    Good luck!

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