All posts tagged: front yard

Front Yard 2015!

fencebaptista082015

Last summer, I put a lot of work into carving out a front garden in the space on the left side of my house. There’s a little over 30 feet of yard there, just hanging out next to the front porch. My lot is pretty wide for Kingston—75 x 100 feet—and one of the challenges with it (aside from shoveling in the winter) has been figuring out how to effectively use the space while balancing the need to maintain original features like the low wrought-iron fence and keep the dogs contained and give the backyard space some privacy. The best solution that I could come up with was to install a 6-foot tall fence about 20 feet behind the original low wrought-iron fence and dub that area a dog-free front yard, like so:

1beforebefore

The problem was, all I had was a bunch of grass and weeds, a huge clump of hosta, and two scraggly rhododendrons. I know there are more economical and soil-enriching ways of eliminating grass than just digging it up (sheet mulching is pretty cool and makes lots of sense!) but in this case part of the goal was also the bring the level of the soil back down. As it was, the entire bottom of the wrought-iron fence was below-grade and rusting, and the sidewalk was being overtaken by surrounding soil and grass on either side. Excavating the entire area down a few inches was a huge pain in the butt, but I’m really glad I did it!

frontyard2014

I worked on the garden in a couple of phases—starting near the new tall fence and working my way toward the sidewalk. I threw down a path made from broken pieces of bluestone from the backyard, and put enough plants in the ground to make it presentable enough without spending much money.

hostahedgepostplanting

Because I transplanted and split the hostas during the summer, they did not do particularly well. I sort of saw that coming so tried to remember that in a few months they’d die back, and then this spring they’d be like new plants! Some plants are more finicky than others about when they can be moved and split, but I’ve always found hostas fairly indestructible.

Anyway, I think that’s kinda where we left off?  This spring/summer I planned to do more work on that side of the yard than I really have, but I’ve done a few things. Mostly, though, nature’s done the heavy-lifting and it’s starting to kind of look like a garden or something! There are still a million things I want to do and change (I’m sure there always will be), but even the way it is now makes me pretty happy. I feel like I’ve done something good for the house and the street, and I’m excited to see it develop as the years go by. Gardening is funny because it feels so low on the priority list during a major renovation project, but it’s also the thing that takes the longest time to mature and start to actually look good.

edgingprocess

After living with the space between my sidewalk and the wrought iron fence planted and mulched for a year, I noticed that the mulch tended to get spread around onto the sidewalk by wind and dogs and probably people, so this spring I decided to take action! I’m not really a fan of black plastic edging in general, but it seemed like the best solution for here. The sidewalk stones are pretty irregular so something too rigid wasn’t really an option, and I figured that I could bury it fairly deep and keep it looking as minimal as possible. Plus, it’s cheap!

Using a small spade, I dug out a 6″ or so trench next to the sidewalk to create a channel for the edging. It took a while and was no fun.

front-edging

Here we go! I don’t love the way it looks, but it’s very functional and looks…fine? Nothing gorgeous but it does keep things neat and tidy. This was back in May so the hostas were just getting going and I’d just mulched.

hostas08205

Here’s the same area a couple days ago. The hostas are all done flowering for the season but the foliage is still nice to have around, and it’s nice to see them all full and happy after last year! There are honey locust trees in the strip between the sidewalk and the curb…if you’ve ever lived near one you know those tiny leaves get EVERYWHERE and are kind of impossible to keep out of flower beds and whatnot. I don’t really care, but I feel like the creeping jenny kind of gets lost because of it and would be better off somewhere else.

hostahedgeinspo

I took this picture of a house a few blocks away because I think their hosta hedge would work really nicely in front of my fence. It’s the same situation—a bunch of hosta planted in front of a low metal fence—except they spaced them much closer so they don’t really read as individual plants, which is SO MUCH BETTER than what I did. I don’t want to screw with the hostas again before they’re done for the season, but in the fall I’ll transplant the creeping jenny elsewhere and split all of the hosta and plant them much closer together so that it’ll look more like this. When they mature, hopefully they’ll cover the plastic edging and it’ll all look very lush and nice and it’ll be great? I’ll let ya know.

rhododendroninbloom

Anyway, the rhododendrons bloomed back in May, too! The rhodos in front of my porch are old and nicely established, but they’re also weirdly tall for their location and look sort of scraggly to me most of the time. They’re quite nice for the few minutes a year when they bloom, though!

dyingrhodo

It really seemed like the smaller of the two rhododendrons bit the dust during the winter. I thought it was my fault, but my tree dude who took down the big maple in the backyard said that last winter was just so cold that a lot of people’s rhododendrons died. I came *this close* to cutting it down and digging up the stump, but then…

rhodoresurrection

That mo’fo’ came right back! It got all this new growth and even bloomed and it was sort of amazing and impressive. Good job, plant I don’t even really like!

It sounds like Rhododendrons can respond well to fairly aggressive pruning, so I think I’m going to attempt to get these guys growing lower and fuller over the next few years.

boxwoodhedge

This is not a good picture, but I started a boxwood hedge last year that wraps the porch and stoop foundations. These were little $7 boxwoods from Lowe’s (“winter gem” variety) so it’ll be a few years before they really fill in and start to be hedge-like, but they’re doing pretty well! I think it’ll be a nice traditional element to ground things, and it’s nice that they stay green year-round. Grow, boxwoods, grow! Several people have told me that propagating boxwoods from clippings is super easy, but I gotta say I tried it last year and it was a total fail. I think I’ll just stick with buying the cheap ones.

2frontyard2014

Anyway! Here’s an idea of how things were around mid-summer last year. All thin and limp and sickly. I value these qualities in a man but not in my garden.

frontyardspring2015

And here we are this spring, just after mulching and stuff! Everything I was sort of worried about by the end of last summer came back! The hydrangeas in the back are happy and all the hosta grew in nicely, although I think I’m going to move all the hosta to the “hedge” and out of the main space. Too much hosta.

frontyard082015

And here we are a couple days ago! It’s been a dry August (the whole summer, really) and I’m still not in a great watering habit, but nevertheless things have been filling in and doing OK. It’s fun to see how much growth happened in a couple months!

beardediris

I think I may have been too aggressive with splitting the irises, but they did all return! Only a few of them bloomed, but the ones that did were really pretty. These were transplanted from somewhere near the garage last year—I’m glad they survived! I love irises—I hope to add a lot more in different varieties over the years. The flowers don’t last that long but the foliage is nice and sculptural too, and I like that they’re a very traditional plant.

falseindigoinbloom

The false indigos are doing REALLY well. I think this is one of my favorite plants now! There are two, and I’d say both of them have at least doubled or tripled in size since last year. The flowers are so lovely while they last, but I love that the plant maintains such nice minty foliage until well into fall. They love the sun and don’t really seem to need any extra water, either!

falsoindogo

1bleedingheart

The bleeding heart comes and goes pretty fast, but it’s such a pretty early bloomer. The entire plant is spent by about mid-July so I just cut them back to ground level and forget about them, but they’re so pretty while they’re in bloom and the foliage is nice until it dries up and dies.

1lilac

I always kind of forget that I have lilacs in the front yard! They’re right next to the fence between my property and the neighbor’s and they’re super top-heavy so they kind of flop down into the neighbor’s yard. I pruned them quite a bit last summer and this was the first spring that I’ve seen them bloom! I’m going to try pruning them more in a couple weeks and see if I can get them to fill out next year.

2sedum

Those three little clusters in the foreground are autumn joy sedum, which are fun to watch over the course of the summer! Above is how they looked back in May…

sedum

 

And here’s couple days ago! Autumn joy indeed! It’s nice to have that bit of color low to the ground.

peony

The peony I planted last summer came back nicely (I think it had a total of one flower, though), and a couple little tiny peony plants sprouted up adjacent to it. I think maybe I planted bulbs last year but I honestly can’t really remember—I planted a lot of bulbs but I definitely did it way too early and none of them really came in. Ah, well. Better luck next time!

wineandroseweigalias

This was labeled a “wine and roses” weigela. I planted three of them in a clump sort of in the middle of the yard and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next year. The foliage has a lot of deep purple in it and I guess they’ll have little pink flowers and be 2-3 feet tall and wide.

 

oakleaf

The most recent addition to the front are a couple of oak-leaf hydrangeas I picked up on sale at Adam’s. I’d never heard of these until a few people suggested them in the comments last year (thanks, guys!) and I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for them ever since. I dig the foliage on these guys. I’m pretty sure they won’t bloom until next year, but I’m glad they’re in the ground and getting comfy.

1bleedingheart

Is that enough rambling about plants? I know the garden has a lot of filling in to do and it’s looking pretty hodgepodge (probably because it is!), but I’m counting the fact that stuff is alive and mostly doing well as a victory regardless. I think if I just keep futzing with it and adding a few things every year, it’ll start to take shape and really look like something? That’s the whole plan so I hope it works out.

What kind of plants would you add to this space? Plant suggestions are always welcome!

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.

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