All posts tagged: Backyard

Workin’ on my Fitness…In the Backyard.

Last time I left things hanging with some grand plans and grand delusions of what shape my backyard might someday take, god willing and the creek don’t rise. I made mention of a rototiller rental that I thought would be my key to success.

The plan was to spend the weekend tilling and tilling and tilling and shuffling dirt around the yard. The objectives here were two-fold: firstly, to remove all the grass and overgrown weeds and garbage to prepare for my new lawn, and second, to bring the grading down in certain places and up in other places to address my serious grading/draining issues. I know I’m probably still going to need to bring in a few truckloads of fill dirt/topsoil to get things in really good shape, but my hope is that I can minimize that hellish task by working with what I already have first, and solving some existing issues at the same time.

ANYWAY. I’d get all that done and then it would be all clover-lawn planting and planter-box building and new-fence-installing and planting and planting and planting and admiring my gorgeous yard. This seemed so realistic and feasible.

As usual, I’m dumb.

rototiller

Ugh, this motherfucker right here. This, ladies and gents, is the rototiller I had in my possession for several days, rented from BlueLine Rentals in Kingston.

Not the miracle device I was anticipating. Not even a little.

First of all, this thing is heavy as all get-out. They loaded it into the bed of John’s truck with a forklift, with no instruction as to how I was supposed to get it out of the truck or back into it when I had to return it. I got it out with a friend, gravity, and a couple bloodied knuckles, and got to work.

Honestly, I should have just rented a small excavator for this party, but I had it in my head that the rototiller would solve my problems and I soldiered on. Here is what I learned, at least about this particular rototiller, which we will call Nigel:

1. Nigel needs to go over the same patch of grass roughly 5 times to even loosen said grass/roots from the underlying soil.

2. Nigel is unwieldy, heavy, and does not easily switch between gears, so this whole back and forth is a massive pain in the butt.

3. When Nigel has completed his work to the best of his abilities (not very well), one must then grab a rigid rake or some other tool of destruction to really remove the grass that Nigel was supposed to help remove. Harder than you’d think. I even broke my rake and had to buy a new one. I blame Nigel even though the rake was probably just crappy.

4. Because of the way Nigel is designed, you can’t really get close to the edges of buildings or fences or anything, so you still have to do a lot of hand-digging and shaking your tiny bloodied fists at the heavens for making yard work such a bitch.

5. When your time with Nigel is up, you’ll try and fail to get him back into the truck, at which point you call the rental place, where they tell you that it will be an additional $50 to get Nigel picked up and taken away. You are so exhausted at this point and have developed such disdain for this thing that you will pay anything to get it the hell out of your dustbowl of a yard.

So that’s pretty much how that went. Some progress was made. Not a lot of progress, but let’s talk about it anyway so I feel better:

brushpile

So one thing I learned a little too late in the game was that it’s best not to mix your excess soil with your torn up grass and weeds: it’s easy to dump and then grade out soil that’s been relocated, but major clumps of grass and weeds make it kind of impossible. So after Nigel did some half-assed tilling, I got in there and finished his job by pulling out and raking together large piles of brush. I then used old joint compound buckets to load in the brush and transport it to large 42 gallon trashcans that I scrounged up from around my construction zone of a house.

sideyardprogress

Even though my goal was to do the WHOLE YARD, I actually started with the side yard and the section of the front yard that I didn’t work on last summer. I figured starting more or less at the front and working my way back would be a good strategy, and I was also anxious to get all this grass and stuff up because I only want plants here. Picture the chainlink fence gone and a profusion of gorgeous flowers and evergreens and nice stuff and you’ll get the general idea because I have very few specific thoughts.

frontyardbeforerightside

You may recall that last year I did a whole lot of landscaping work on the other half of my front yard/garden, but didn’t really touch this side at all. In the meantime, it became even more horrible and overgrown and I didn’t even mow it once because it just felt like there was no point and I have no time in my life for pointless endeavors. Unless my whole life is just a series of pointless endeavors? Let’s stay away from that dark place. That’s what my Zoloft is for.

cherry2014

Last summer I dd a total of 2 things on this side of the yard. I planted this tree in the front corner (some kind of flowering cherry number, I can’t remember…), which I surrounded by bricks that had been salvaged from the inside of the walls of the downstairs bedroom. Naturally, now I want to relocate the tree…any tips on the best time to do that? It’s only had a year or so to take root so I figure if I do it in the fall (?) then it has a decent shot at surviving the ordeal.

smokebush2014

I also planted this smoke bush sort of in front of the dining room bay window to provide a little privacy screen and hopefully fill in to cover the PVC vents that had to be installed with the new boiler that are unsightly and sad.

smokebush

The different angles of these pictures doesn’t really show it, but the smoke bush is filling out nicely! Grow, grow, little smoke bush! Make papa proud. I’m just surprised when anything is still alive so I consider this a huge accomplishment.

Let’s all ignore that I clearly need to repoint my foundation at some point and I just cannot wait for how much fun that will probably be. Yikes.

frontcornerlillies

The tree is also doing well but the bricks are not. This bricks were used as insulation because they’re basically garbage bricks (or “salmon bricks”) that were not fired hot enough or whatever else can go wrong with brick-making. Protected from the elements they’re OK but outside they basically crumble and self-destruct when exposed to water, snow, and ice. If you’re considering repurposing bricks, I strongly recommend seeing how they weather outdoors for a year or so, so you can pick out the bad ones.

Anyway, this whole area went a little wild with weeds and day lilies, which in my experience are hard to really get rid of. I don’t have anything against the day lilies but I’m trying to limit the color palette of the front garden to whites, purples, pinks, reds, and green foliage, so the hot-orange flowers that these produce have no place in this plan. ANYWAY, I dedicated a lot of time to digging up and salvaging everything I could and plan to relocate them to Bluestone Cottage down the way, where they will be adorable and hardy and cottage-chic. Or something. They’re free.

sideyardprogress2

Anyway, back to the side yard situation. After stupid Nigel did his stupid thing and I raked and raked and moved buckets and buckets of dirt, it was down to hand-digging out all the crap along the fence and the foundation and then leveling that soil out with a rake. I made sure to maintain some pitch on the ground so that water will drain away from the house and toward the sidewalk instead of vice-versa.

mekkoinyard

Mekko was zero help during any of this. Look at that lazy thing! Ugh. Dogs. Food, fun, lounging…they have it all figured out.

sideyardprogress3

Anyway, by the end of last week, things were finally looking like this! Which is so…hideous? But it’s progress because now there’s a foundation for the real stuff. Like in the front garden last year, the hard part is getting all the grass out and getting down to a clean slate, and then the fun stuff can start. I want fun stuff. This is not fun stuff. I love yard work in general but this sucks, frankly.

frontyardcleared

The front is looking good, too! YAY. So ready to throw some topsoil up in this ish and get some plants in the ground. What are we thinking? Hydrangeas, peonies…what else is there? I generally make my plant selections by wandering the aisles of garden centers, seeing what I like, and if it’s under $20 it’s a contender. I like to prepare for the possibility of everything dying so I don’t want to spend big bucks and then feel sad about it in a few months or a year. Someone give me a plan that feels kind of traditional and pretty and might provide year-round or at least 3-season interest. This area could probably handle plants that like full or partial sun. Not shady enough for shade plants. Ya dig?

brushbins

When all this was said and done, I had 4 of these massive trashcans FULL of weedy grassy messy root-y crap. It’s wayyyyyy too much to fit in my composter, but I think I have a plan?

bluestonepathbefore

The other area of attack was the bluestone path, which wraps the backside of the big living room, the other side, and the bathroom/laundry room additions. It’s a LOT of bluestone! My landscaping plan calls for a fair amount of bluestone, but not here (the path is sort of useless, and I’d rather give this space over to plantings). The challenge with this is that at some point somebody set or re-set all of the bluestone slabs in concrete. The concrete doesn’t bind particularly well with the bluestone or the foundation, so while I’m guessing this was an attempt to keep water away from the foundation, it seemed to be having the opposite affect by trapping water in the large spaces where the concrete had separated. Plus it’s ugly.

blustonepathprogress

I found that between a shovel, a sledgehammer, and my brute manly strength, I could separate the bluestone slabs intact while breaking up the concrete into manageable chunks, which also went into big garbage cans.

bluestoneremoval

It is not easy work, but it is kind of exciting. This path has bothered me for a while so seeing it go and admiring my new stockpile of bluestone makes me sort of happy.

blustoneslabs

Look at all that bluestone! These slabs will provide the path from the porch to the fire pit and probably two strips for the driveway I have planned between the porch and the garage. All in due time. I can barely move some of these pieces so I’ll need some assistance getting them into place. Lucky Edwin lives next door and loves to show off by carrying obscenely heavy shit.

SO, my thought is this: rather than paying to dispose of all this concrete (HEAVY = expensive disposal fees), I figure I can break it into small-ish pieces and throw it in the bottom of my massive planters, which seems good for drainage? And then on top of it, I can throw all the old sod and roots and crap from elsewhere? And then on top of that I can throw about a foot and a half of high-quality topsoil, and the old sod and crap will compost itself? That way I’ll have to buy less topsoil? And my veggies and herbs and stuff will still be so happy and fine and productive?

To me this seems like a solid plan. Now tell me why I’m wrong. I’m sure I’m probably wrong.

Speaking of wrong, by the way, THANK YOU for all of the input on the backyard plans!! This is why I love having this blog…I totally would have forged ahead with the pea gravel plan and it sounds like I would have been so sad and so sorry about it down the line. I’m trying to source decomposed granite now which sounds so much nicer to walk on and much less prone to the whole weed issue. I didn’t even know about it, and now I’m convinced! My readers save me once again. I love you guys.

SO ANYWAY. That’s about all I have to show for a week of work, which sort of sucks. I was hoping to be a lot further by now but it wasn’t in the cards, and frankly I think the rototiller kind of slowed me down and cost me a whopping $267 for my troubles. Live and learn, folks. Live and learn.

plantstockpile

On the bright side, I have a nice little stockpile of plants ready to put in the ground! Some will go in the new front yard, some will go in the other half of the front yard I worked on last year (update on that forthcoming…it’s doing better than I expected!), and some I have no plans for but will figure it out. There are a ton of hostas I dug up from various places around the yard, buckets of daylillies sitting in water and ready for transport to bluestone cottage (hoping to do it after the gas line is run in case they need to trench…it’s SUPPOSED to happen by the end of this week!! But I’ve learned not to hold my breath…), three plants called Chardonnay Pearls (which sounds like a stripper name), three Korean Lilacs, three Polka Weigelas (pink flowers!), three blue star junipers (shrubby, creep-y evergreen thingies, I guess), and three Wine and Roses Weigelas, which have purple leaves and pink flowers. I also picked up 10 Dwarf English Boxwoods (I like to stock up when Lowe’s has the $7 guys in stock! Boxwoods are so expensive otherwise…), AND a white Dogwood for the center of that circle of bluestone I mentioned last time. I know that sounds like a lot but for all the planting I have planned, it barely scratches the surface!

OH—and my lawn came!! I ordered a 25 pound bag of EarthTurf, which is a mix of clover and grasses and science and magic that’s supposed to give me a pretty, eco-friendly, dog-piss-resistant, drought-resistant, self-fertilizing, delicious lawn. I’ll report back because I’m super curious about this whole thing.

SO. Olivebridge Cottage is pretty much eating Monday-Friday for me, but I figure if I can spend a couple hours in the yard everyday after work and then put in some more hours on weekends, I can bang this shit out in time for the new fence!! I just found out that my friends at Lowe’s have come along to bail me out again and are down to do the install for me, which is HUGELY exciting in my world considering DIY-ing this much fencing by myself would probably take me the rest of the summer and/or kill me. Hopefully I can get it scheduled in the next few weeks and then it’s just going to be YARD INSANITY and I cannot wait. I’m already so tan and my arms look bangin’ so with any luck I’ll have abs or something by August.

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.

The Asphalt is Gone!

It’s a story I end up telling a lot.

“What brought you to Kingston?”

“A house.”

And it’s true. We came up here with some friends for a weekend in late December, fell completely in love with Kingston, got drunkenly curious about real estate listings, saw one for a house around the corner from where we were staying, and trespassed on the property the next morning on our way out of town, just because we were so curious. I remember spending the drive back to Brooklyn and the rest of the day fantasizing about buying it, imagining how easily (HAH!) it could be restored, and how fun it would be to live in this amazing little city I hadn’t even heard of the week before. I thought it would be a passing thing, that maybe the next day or the day after, I wouldn’t wake up and go to bed completely obsessed with a vacant house 2 hours away that I’d seen for all of 10 minutes. And then I did something stupid: I bookmarked the listing on my internet browser. It was kind of like having a song stuck in your head—you can either try to avoid it or just give in and listen to it on repeat. It couldn’t hurt to just check in on it every few hours or so for weeks on end, just to see if it had sold or was in contract or something. Where was the harm in that? People check Perez Hilton all day at work and don’t go out and try to purchase a celebrity.

Then the price dropped. And I did another stupid thing: I called the listing agent. Just to find out what the hell was so wrong with this place. Just so I could stop thinking about it. Surely the foundation was crumbling into the ground or carpenter ants had whittled all of the wood framing down to unstable toothpicks or something really bad that would just put the whole thing to rest.

But it all sounded fixable. And it was just a two hour drive. And we weren’t doing anything that Saturday. Would we like to come for a walk-through? Sure. I guess. Why not.

Remember that thing I said about seeing it first in late December, though? There was about 2 feet of snow on the ground. Snow has a way of masking certain flaws and making everything very charming. By the time we actually came for the walk-through, it was the end of February. The snow had melted. The house was still more or less the same, but the yard looked significantly less attractive than I’d imagined it when all you could see was a blanket of white.

Asphalt. So much asphalt. Almost the entire yard was covered in asphalt.

At that point I was way too obsessed with the house to let a little blacktop get between me and my future home, so I ignored it. We’d cross that bridge when we got to it. No biggie.

Now that we’re over a year into home ownership, though, and it’s summer, and I have outdoor projects on my mind…I really wanted the asphalt to disappear. I know lots of readers thought I should make lemonade out of these lemons and cover it with this and build that and just let it be, but I might not be accurately portraying just how much asphalt there was. Especially once I built the fence to create a separate front yard from the backyard (which I’ve been doing some work on, yay!), we were left with a relatively small area of grass and a vast majority of our backyard covered in asphalt.

Before4

What. A. Disaster. Not only was the snow covering all this asphalt, it also covered an old foundation behind the garage—part of a never-realized plan to extend the garage, apparently. The foundation was a total mess…it looks like the previous owners wanted to extend it a certain distance, then decided to extend it even further, then never quite finished and just threw a bunch of cinderblocks into the center of it and ran. I tried to get in there a couple of times to clear the weeds and see if we could use it in some way, but it was just a losing battle…so instead it just became a weed jungle. So charming.

Before3

Anyway, I guess the previous owner had several cars AND a boat at one time, so I’m sure all of this pavement seemed like a decent idea at the time. We only have one car, though, and no boat or any reason for the backyard to be paved, and there was really just way too much of it for any kind of creative solution to remedy. If we didn’t have dogs it might be another story, but even though I don’t really like grass and I don’t want any in the front of the house, I do want the dogs to have a nice big area of grass in the back that they can run around in. Dogs love grass. That’s just science.

Before5

Because the asphalt runs within a couple of feet of the property line on two sides, it really limited our landscaping options. The back of the yard faces this house, and the other side faces a rental property in the front and a commercial business in the back…all of which I’d like to get a little privacy from with some taller trees and planting, but it doesn’t really make sense to do any of that until the fence is replaced and the asphalt is removed.

Aside from all of this, the asphalt is just such a bummer. It’s totally ugly, it wasn’t in good shape, it doesn’t serve a functional purpose, and it just makes the house and garage and whole backyard look and feel really sad.

So there. That is my whole defense. I wanted it all gone. Clean slate, fresh start. I briefly considered leaving an area next to the garage for parking, but I’d so much rather do that with a couple strips of bluestone with some groundcover surrounding it or something other than a huge bed of pavement. Even parking can be charming if it’s done right, you know?

bobcat1

I wasn’t quite sure how this whole removal process would happen, though. In the earlier, stupider days of homeownership, I thought maybe I’d rent a dumpster and jackhammer and do it all myself.

This was an insane plan.

Then my plumber, Carl, mentioned that he owned a backhoe. It makes sense, given that he has to tear up streets and sidewalks and stuff sometimes, so I half-jokingly asked if he wanted the pleasure of removing all my asphalt. And he did. So I let him. Just like that! I really love Carl—he’s done all of our plumbing work at the house, and he’s super great to work with and reasonable and just an all-around awesome dude. I’m so happy he was up for this, even though it really doesn’t have to do with plumbing at all! What a guy.

I don’t think any of us realized how intense the removal would be. It took four days, I think…first with the small-ish backhoe you see above. Mostly they broke up large portions and put them all in a pile. It was incredibly exciting.

Underneath the asphalt was a TON of gravel, which I wasn’t really anticipating. I guess that’s how it’s done? News to me. Instead of leaving me with a gravel backyard instead of an asphalt backyard, I asked that we excavate down a bit further to remove a lot of the gravel. Some gravel I can deal with, but not to the point that you can’t even see the soil. That was not the point of this whole exercise.

meonbobcat

At the end of Day 1, Carl let me play around on the backhoe for about 45 minutes while he and the crew mocked me relentlessly for being so confused by all of the levers and buttons and stuff. Eventually I got the hang of things and I got to feel really badass and cool for a while. I didn’t want it to end! I know this action-packed shot might look like a skinny confused kid with bad posture messing around in my backyard, but it felt exactly like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. Here is a more accurate depiction of events:

aliens

Pin away.

bobcat2

Next came this second backhoe. It was bigger and more powerful than the first. They started to tackle the pile we’d made the day before and load it into a dump truck. I wasn’t allowed to drive this one.

We thought it would take maybe 6 loads of the dump truck to clear the yard. After a while everyone lost count, but the final tally was somewhere close to 20. Insanity.

bobcat3

The final day of work involved THIS. It was so awesome. I definitely was not permitted to operate this thing, but it was pretty amazing to watch. It cut through the asphalt like butter and was just generally the coolest thing that’s ever happened.

This is when I told the neighbors I was building a pool.

After all the removal was more or less completed, they worked on compacting the newly-exposed soil and grading the yard out and making everything look less like the post-apocalypse.

garageafter

Anndddd…DONE! It’s so weird to see the back of the garage like this! Now you can really see where the window is missing, which was relocated at some point to the laundry room. I’m tempted to say that a long (longgg) term goal might be to put a couple of french doors on this side of the garage and a fire pit/conversation zone situation in this area. Could be kind of amazing? Maybe a pergola of some kind?

There’s about 5 feet of space between the left side of the garage and the fence line, which I think I’d like to pave with salvaged bricks and use to store our garbage cans and compost. It’ll be nice to have them out of sight! That will free up the space on the other side of the garage for some plants, like maybe a simple boxwood hedge or something. As I mentioned before, to replace the old driveway I’ll probably install two strips of bluestone and some ground cover like Creeping Jenny. As you can see, the old gate is ENORMOUS (much bigger than it needs to be) and falling apart, so replacing the fencing on this side of the house is next on my fencing hit-list. Not only will it be a big functional improvement, but we’ll also have replaced all of the chain-link facing the street, which I’m really excited about. Old busted-up chain-link fencing is also a huge bummer.

after2

As for the rest of the cleared space, it’s just so exciting to have this blank canvas now! I think replacing the rest of the chain link with wood fencing will go a longgggg way toward making the backyard feel more private, and adding some tall trees along the fence line will also help immensely. That building you see in the back is a commercial business—it’s not like it’s super busy or anything (despite their enormous parking lot…), but getting some more separation from it will still be really nice. I think most of this area will likely end up just being grass for the dogs, but I do like the idea of doing some kind of really long raised bed in the back for a vegetable/herb garden.

Anyway. Big dreams.

Before that stuff can all happen, though, we need to get some fill dirt! I didn’t even think about this beforehand (I know, I know…) but removing 20 dump trucks of material is…a lot of stuff. Unless we want to end up with a pond in the middle of the backyard when it rains or snows heavily, now we need to get fill dirt brought in and grade out the land. The last thing I ever really envisioned paying for is dirt, but I’ve been assured that I will be hugely sorry if I don’t just bite the bullet and do it before trying to do any landscaping/grass-planting, etc. It’s pretty much the most boring thing I can imagine, but that’s how it goes sometimes!

I’m not exactly rushing to do the fill dirt thing while I’m working on digging out the grass and weeds and crap in the front yard. It’s nice to be able to just fill a wheelbarrow and dump it all in the newly excavated area in the back, and might even end up saving us a little bit in the long run. If we have the dirt, we might as well use it, right? I don’t want to buy a bunch of dirt and then end up with more dirt and nowhere for it to go. That just seems unwise.

And now I’m writing a blog post about dirt. Awesome. I’m so cool and trendy.

Back to Top