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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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?


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 5.18.15
    Sterling said:

    Ugh, I have to use rototillers for my job, they suck. Uniformly. Though that one looks older than we are, so that may have been part of the problem…ours are self-propelled, at least. I like the idea of putting the concrete chunks in the bottom of the planters, that’s a good reuse; I’m a little chary about putting the weeds/sod on top, though, even covered by the other soil. The last thing you want is endemic weeds growing up from beneath your pretty plants. I might be wrong about that being a possibility but I’m paranoid about that kind of shit. You’re brilliant, you’ll figure it out. Good luck!

    • 5.19.15
      Simone said:

      I second you on the weeds inthe planters. Especially with invasive grasses, they’re hell.

    • 5.19.15
      Tanya said:

      OMG, I third you on this – I just found this out the hard way myself, having put the old sod/weed mixture in my new vegetable beds – and when I say “new” I mean they sat with the sod on the bottom/good soil on top through fall and winter, and I thought it was ok, but NOPES, April showers brought weeds like what.

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you, you guys! Into yard bags and to the city composting program they go…topsoil isn’t THAT expensive and sounds like my solid plan was…not so solid. It made so much sense in my head! But weeds and grasses are pesky, determined jerks, aren’t they?

    • 5.20.15
      Pam the Goatherd said:

      It’s NOT Nigel’s fault! You need to apply some weed/grass killer to any green stuff that you want to get rid of about a week before you use a tiller. You are not alone in making that mistake, though. Many people think that tilling under grass and weeds will kill them and get them out of the way when in fact all it does is soften up and aerate the dirt so that the weeds and grass come back stronger and healthier than ever! If you kill the weeds/grass and let them brown down before tilling they won’t come back and they will naturally compost in place.
      As others have pointed out, DON’T put those weed/grass roots into your planters or you’ll have a major mess by the end of summer.

  2. 5.18.15
    Charlene said:

    I can appreciate your yard work hell. I’m doing some of the same in Vancouver, Canada. Slow and mostly steady, but the results somehow make it worth it. I love that smoke bush. I want one now.

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      I love the smokebush! The color of the foliage is really nice, and it seems to lose its leaves fairly late in the year and grow new ones early in the spring. I can’t wait for it to grow up a bit! And then prune it forever and rue the day I planted it, haha.

  3. 5.18.15
    Jill said:

    The picture of Mekko cracked me up. My husband and I have been DIY-renovating our home for approximately 8 billion years, and for any given project we tackle, the more physically taxing and stressful and hateful what we are attempting to do is, the more comfortable our cat seems to make herself on our bed. I’ll walk in there, exhausted and peeved, to grab my phone or something, and there she is, ensconced in the center of a giant pile of down comforter and pillows, in a sunbeam, looking as fluffy and happy and relaxed as possible. It is completely obnoxious.

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Ugh, RIGHT??? Same thing with the dogs. I swear they’re doing it on purpose.

  4. 5.18.15

    Just have to comment about your smoke bush – we’ve got one too, and it can get really big (and wild) if you aren’t careful about pruning it! Ours grew out of control last summer after we trimmed the ends of the branches (thinking that would keep it neat and tidy), so we cut the whole thing down this spring and we’re starting over to train it into a smaller bush shape:
    They are really beautiful, though – the colors in the fall are brilliant and amazing. It’s definitely been the showpiece of our garden during that season.

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      That’s so helpful to know, Laura, thank you!! I’ll watch it’s still small now but admittedly one of my perverse pleasures is aggressively pruning plants, so I’m sort of excited for that day to come. Ha!

  5. 5.18.15
    Kelly said:

    I just did this same project!! Our saving grace was renting a rototiller one size up from yours, self propelled plus the Home Depot rental truck that had a ramp. Easy peasy in and out! Plus – the tiller had a metal guard so we’d till a row, put it in reverse and drag all the loose dirt into a single pile. This made it so so so easy to clean up the excess.

    Like you, I have the random piles of dead weeds and grass mounds which have made grading way more difficult than imagined. And rocks. I am still raking it up but living with whatever I can get rid of tonight and I’ll just weed whatever grows after we hydroseed otherwise the project will last forever! To level it, I found this great video-I duplicated what he made and it’s working, slowly, but surely!

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Oh man, thanks for that link! I’m gonna try it. I definitely have enough scrap lumber lying around!

  6. 5.18.15
    Julie K said:

    Whatever you put down for a path, do the right thing and line it with garden fabric first. That will help keep weeds down in the long run, no matter what material you end up using.

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Noted! Thanks!

  7. 5.18.15
    Kamille said:

    No to the weeds/sod in the bottom of your planters. The roots of your desired plants will be fighting for nutrients used by the microbes in the soil to break down the weeds/sod. Plus, as the weeds/sod break down, that stuff will settle, and your plant and soil level will drop in the pot. If you can stomach it, put the green waste in a huge pile in your backyard and treat it with some compost starter to help it break down faster. You can even go over it with your lawnmower a bunch of times to break it into smaller pieces. The smaller the bits, the faster the composting process. Once it’s compost you can add it to your planters. If the plants you are putting in your big planters don’t need the entire space, you could fill the bottom with upside down pots or styrofoam peanuts (I know, they’re terrible) or something light — why make heavy beast planters even harder to move?

    • 5.18.15
      JJB said:

      About your planters, putting the weeds and soil over the concrete, not a good idea. Settling and microbes from decomposition, it’s not good for your new plants. As suggested, compost it, or find someone who may welcome your debris for their compost pile. Or, public parks or arboretums sometimes have public composting facilities.

      You are a glutton for punishment IMHO, but I sure admire your tenacity.

    • 5.18.15
      Cindi M said:

      Burn the stuff and spread the ashes, if your township allows. Otherwise, do yourself a million-dollar favor and dump it. For wire grass, for instance, if you have it, any tiny piece can form a new plant. And it dearly loves growing through mulch and topsoil. Good job so far. It is backbreaking, shoulder-wrenching drudgery but oh, it will be so nice in two years. Keep the faith! And thanks for the update. Ooh, and will Lowe’s duplicate your black fence with the recessed posts? That is the best looking board fence I’ve ever seen.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I spoke to the installation guy (Keith!) about duplicating the fence I already did, and he said it shouldn’t be a problem! Lowe’s subcontracts this stuff to local companies so I’ll be meeting with the contractor beforehand to make sure it’s going to be exactly what I want, because I’m anal like that and I really do think it makes all the difference. I think this time around I’ll try using joist hangers instead of L-brackets. They build everything on-site (no panels) and use pressure-treated boards instead of cedar, so construction is a little different, but I have high hopes and once I stain everything black hopefully you won’t be able to tell the difference.

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Kamille! These planters are going to be about 3’x12′ and totally stationary, but I do worry about drainage and how much soil they’ll require! I use packing peanuts in the bottom of my larger potted plants and it definitely helps with the weight and saves me a little on soil, so I may do that here, too!

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Kamille! The planters I’m talking about here are going to be about 3’x12′, so they’ll be stationary! I do usually throw packing peanuts in the bottom of my larger potted plants—seems to help (or at least not hurt) with drainage and definitely helps with the weight issue! I might do the same for these and save myself a little on soil and get rid of those peanuts!

  8. 5.18.15
    Lori said:

    Seconding what Laura said about her smoke bush. Those things can get huge. I’m a little concerned about how close you have it planted to the foundation. I have a different variety, and after 8 years of letting it do its thang, it’s officially achieved tree status.

    I am glad you’re rethinking your original pea gravel idea in favor of DG. That stuff is great. You might still want to cover tamped DG with a thin layer of pea gravel to help avoid obnoxious DG splashback on your pots and furnishings when it rains.

    My only advice for your front landscaping is to make sure that both sides of plantings feel visually balanced. Go across the street and stroke your invisible goatee/adjust your invisible monocle a few times when you’re laying everything out. The more foliage contrast, the better (flowers should be a secondary consideration). And keep in mind what it’ll look like in the winter– year-round evergreen structure is where it’s at!

    I can’t wait to see how it all comes together, and yay for Lowes saving your ass with the fence! Me and my neighbors decided to redo our shared fence a few months ago, and we got as far as buying all of the materials and staining them before we lost enthusiasm and the project ground to a halt. (Post holes. Ugh.) Hopefully we will recover our momentum before it’s 106 degrees for the next 5 months! Good times, good times.

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Lori! I’ll keep a close eye on the smokebush…it’s planted a couple feet from the foundation on both sides so I’m hoping thats OK!

      I definitely want to keep the gardens balanced, yes! The rhododendrons on the other side of the yard are throwing me, honestly…I feel like they’re just too big for where they’re located. I’ve looked into ways to prune them, though, so I might try that to bring the height down a bit.

      I feel you on the fence! just installing the section I did last year was a huge pain. Good luck!!

  9. 5.18.15
    Diane said:

    How to get rid of that weedy clumpy stuff. Use cardboard, time and Mother will do the work for you. Flatten some boxes (lots of) and lay them on top of the stuff that you are going pull out. Anchor with some of that old concrete to hold the cardboard in place.By the end of summer the weeds will die from lack of light and heat and nature will break down the dead matter. It will be much easier to dig up the roots and discard.

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Ugh, but I want everything gone by…yesterday!! I think I’m just going to tough it out…my yard isn’t THAT big! Hopefully. Argh. Yikes.

    • 5.22.15
      Marg in canada said:

      Oh but if you do that method you have a pile of garbage in your yard all summer… My mom tried that and (1) the hardy weeds all grew back the next year, and (2) she has never heard the end of her “Garbage Garden”!

  10. 5.18.15

    Sterling is right. I would not put the old weeds and grass in the planters. They will grow right up through the new topsoil. I would not put them in compost either for the same reason. Those seeds will not die and they will grow back where ever you put the dirt. Does Kingston have disposal for organic material?

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Yes, they do! A few people have brought this up so I think my plan is a no-go. I’d rather spend the money on soil upfront than pay for it in years of weeding later!

  11. 5.18.15
    Laura said:

    Grass in the bottom of planters is a no-go…unless you want planters full of grass! Does your town have a yard-waste/compost program?

  12. 5.18.15
    Kelly said:

    I highly, highly recommend “sheet mulching;” it is the easiest way to get rid of unwanted lawn and weeds, and it improves your soil in the process. I moved into a new place last year and sheet mulched a sad front yard of overgrown grass and weeds in the fall; I let it compost down through the winter and I’m now planting it out with perennials in the spring. You don’t have to dig or remove anything – it’s fantastic!

    • 5.18.15
      Ryan said:

      I was going to suggest a version of sheet mulching too. Find a spot in your yard to build up the layers of dead grass/weeds on the bottom. After the winter you should be able to move it into your big planters solving two problems (what to do with the crap you dug up, and how to afford filling up the giant planters).

    • 5.19.15
      Daniel said:

      Ohhhhhhh, that’s smart! I definitely have a back corner where I could dump everything…hmmmmmmmmm. Thanks!

    • 5.19.15
      Genevieve said:

      Yes to sheet mulching! No to roto-tilling!

  13. 5.18.15
    Amanda said:

    nooooooooooo grass in planters!!!! its a weed. it’ll be the scrouge of the next many years of your life. it just has to go-go.

  14. 5.18.15
    Catherine said:

    I’m so sorry about your sad rototiller experience. Our next door neighbors have a Mantis rototiller (the commercials often show sort of old people tilling their own lawns, and my elderly neighbor bought it based on that – it was too hard for her, but easy for us). It was super easy to use. We tilled a large area that used to be a horrendous mix of mulch, grass, flowers and weeds. It took everything. We didn’t rake at all and the whole 20ft by 20ft area took less than an hour to till. We threw seed on top and now it’s a lawn. Maybe look into a different machine??

    • 5.18.15
      Lindsey said:

      We just used a Mantis to pull up all of our delightful crabgrass before laying sod, and it was wonderful. Yeah, it was still some work, but we were able to get the whole yard done relatively quickly. It was self-propelled and no gear switching, so it was super easy to use. We rented the Mantis XL (it’s a little wider) through Home Depot for $35 for 24-hours, which turned out to be plenty of time. It’s small and light enough that I was able to load it into my Honda CRV without any help.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Jealous of your nice rototilling experiences!! Ha. Unfortunately the tool rental options up here are really limited (Lowe’s and Home Depot don’t rent tools in kingston!), but it’s helpful to know that there’s something out there that’s not so terrible!

  15. 5.18.15
    Kirstin said:

    For sunny areas you might look at Limelight or Little Lime hydrangeas. These are the paniculata hydrangeas with white blooms, but they will take full sun. I put both in last year (including when Lowes and HD had half price plants sales in October) and they are looking great. Limelight gets to be 6-8 ft and Little Lime is 3-5 ft.

    The progress on my house eerily follows work on your house. But my house is much smaller and from the 1920s, but has most of the same issues. Last year I had a bad Norway maple and about 19 overgrown yews and hollies taken down off the property. Not worth saving. I’ve been digging grass trying to get planting beds into logical places and put down a bunch of plants — plants swaps can be super helpful to supplement your budget. Other things that are doing well after planting from last year are a Knockout rose, nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ (catmint), hostas, heucheras, pincushion flower, iris, coneflower, shasta daisy. If you need a LOT of plants and don’t mind if they start small, I ordered a flat of 36 nepeta seedlings for $50 from Hazzard Plants (most places won’t sell wholesale but this place does). Order early in the season for the best selection.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you, Kirsten! This is really helpful. I do like a good limelight hydrangea. I wish I had planted them on the other side of the garden…I can’t remember why I didn’t (the other ones were cheaper, probably), but seeing my neighbor’s crazy full plants and tons of blooms makes me jealous!

    • 5.20.15
      Kirstin said:

      I should add that I’m zone 5b in western Massachusetts, so we’re practically neighbors. :-) Hold out until October for those sales. I think I picked up a Little Lime hyd. for $14 (nice, large size) and a blue Endless Summer hyd. for $10.

  16. 5.18.15
    Louise said:

    if you NEVER EVER EVER intend to move your pots then use the rubble for drainage. Also a great deterrent to garden thieves as they can’t lift the pot. I find I move pots a lot, sometimes they look better in a different spot, other times it’s because they need different light/shade conditions to what I originally thought. I use either broken up chunks of polystyrene I’ve recycled from packaging, or plastic milk bottles as lightweight drainage.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I should have been more clear—I’m talking about the big vegetable beds I’m planning to build, so they’ll be totally stationary! Although a few people have brought up that the concrete could mess with the PH of the soil. Argh.

  17. 5.18.15

    I just love your blog. Seriously.

    That is all. :-)

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Hey thanks!

  18. 5.18.15
    Adrienne said:

    Great choice on the Earth Turf. Went to their website and it looks like the perfect lawn material…can’t wait to see how it all grows in.
    You are such a innovator and hard worker, I applaud you and your efforts!!

  19. 5.18.15
    Lisa said:

    My favorite always-interesting shrub is a Pieris Japonica. However, the leaves are a great shade of peach when new, which may not work with your palette. How about a fringe bush (goes to hunt for biology name, aha!) also known as Loropetalum? They have gorgeous hot pink flowers and you can find them with burgundy leaves. Nice to break up the expected hydrangeas and hostas?

    • 5.18.15
      Lisa said:

      Although Loropetalum might not be hardy enough for your winters:(. Californians are good at hardscaping recommendations but our plant ideas are kind of whacked…

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Pretty! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen those around here, but I’ll keep an eye out…

    • 5.19.15
      GD said:

      I have those as a hedge and am very allergic to them. They cause my skin to blister so my husband has to do the trimming.

  20. 5.18.15
    Donna said:

    Love, love, love your blog. No grass (and, really, isn’t it mostly weeds) at the bottom of planter boxes. You could try to compost it as long as you get the compost temperatures at the “cook all seeds” level. Doesn’t seem like you have time for that sort of close monitoring.

    The weigelas are very nice plants; the smoke bush belies it’s name and gets tall floppy branches with a great root system (needs to be pruned often to keep the top growth from getting out of hand) so beside the foundation might not be the best bet. Move those orange day lilies right along–but now that you know they do well, look out for other colors and pop them it (white, yellow, soft pink, burgundy and even purple can be had). It’s hard to dislike a plant that does well and doesn’t require a lot of attention. I buy mine at the big box stores when the planting season is staggering to a close.

    My favorite bushes are viburnums and oak-leaf hydrangeas and they come in all sizes from dwarf to giant. Great all-season plants although I favor the oak-leafs in the winter with their curling bark. You can fit these into a city garden or an estate garden and anywhere in between.

    I would be careful with your foundation plantings. That looks like a narrow space and you might not have the space for anything other than perennials and dwarf bushes–mainly because of root systems. I’m passing on my own cautionary tale–learned the hard way.

    Keep up the great work–can’t wait for your posts.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Donna! Definitely not planning anything too big too close to the foundation. Even the smokebush I think has more clearance than it looks like from the pictures, so I think it’s actually OK, but I’ll keep an eye on it! And I’ll keep an eye out for the oak leaf hydrangeas—so nice!

  21. 5.18.15
    Lane said:

    How about some dwarf gardenias for the front garden? They can take some sun and will provide some evergreen interest when the hydrangea and hostas are dormant. As mentioned above, I love loropetalum, too, for the same reason.
    We just had irrigation installed in our yard and the big dirt patches are our (long-haired, sigh) dog’s FAVORITE new places to lie. :(

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I’ll keep an eye out for the dwarf gardenias! Pretty!

  22. 5.18.15

    EARTH TURF. Pinned! Wish I had known about that before we began the game of Keeping the Grass Alive on our tiny front yard.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Well, it does say that you can overseed an existing lawn, so it could still be an option! Let’s see how mine turns out, haha.

  23. 5.18.15
    Bonnie said:

    I just finished clearing my whole lot of weeds that were 3 feet high (4 days of back breaking work). So based on what you said, I won’t be renting a rototiller but instead hiring someone to do it. Because the roots have to come out and I am definetly not up to the task. But I did want to ask you about something. You mentioned Nigel had to go over the area 4 or more times. I have read that over tilling the soil breaks down its structure and kills beneficial things like worms. Are you not worried about that?

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I didn’t really worry about that, no, but I also didn’t really know about that! I sort of doubt I was over-tilling, though…I think it was just a crappy machine. Anyway, I also took the whole soil level down several inches and distributed it into low spots in the yard, so the whole thing was fairly aggressive! I figure if I amend the soil before planting and give it a few years it’ll bounce back. :)

  24. 5.18.15
    Matt said:

    You should have used a sod cutter, to remove the grass. Then used a rototiller to loosen the dirt below. If doing a small area you can use a manual sod cutter or flat shovel to slice just below the root line.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Well NOW you tell me. Hahaha. Yeah, it looks like you’re right! I sorta knew I was using the wrong tool for this job once I started but I didn’t know that thing existed!

  25. 5.18.15
    Matt said:

    Hey Daniel! Talk about not needing a gym membership when there’s yard work to be done!!! :-)
    It’s looking great – full of promise – I really like your plant selection. About moving the cherry…late October/early November is fine (whenever it has lost most of its leaves) It shouldn’t have made too much root-growth, but if you know much top growth it put on, then it’s a safe bet to allow half that amount outside the old plastic pot edge when pushing the shovel into the ground. At any rate if you break some roots, just get sharp secateurs and clean the break and the tree will be fine.
    Also, don’t put the sod into the planters as it is likely to regrow through your new plants – best to just run a lawn mower over them and then make a compost pile out of them

  26. 5.18.15
    Mom said:

    Love that you named the rototiller Nigel. He sounds more evil that way. No offense to any Nigel’s out there. Also, I think Mekko needs a bubble caption that says, “I’d help you if I could Daniel. Really, I would.”

  27. 5.18.15
    Kati said:

    Why are you buying Boxwoods? They are so easy to reproduce.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I tried to propagate boxwoods from cuttings last year, and it was a total fail! I’m not opposed to ever trying again but for hedges and stuff, I’d rather just spend a little money on a larger plant that will mature faster than a clipping I’m trying to propagate, you know? I know it’ll still be years before they fill out into a hedge but it seems like a more solid start.

  28. 5.18.15
    Laura said:

    Ugh, rototillers. My parents used to turn a large part of the yard every year for their garden. We got to walk behind and pick out big rocks. Now that I am in Florida, I can turn my soil (sand) with a shovel. It’s still work, but not nearly so hard core.

    Please don’t layer your weeds and brush under you good topsoil. You will be so sad when the weeds come up from way down deep and you have to dig up those same plants all over again. I thought I was being brilliant when I did something similar and now I spend a lot of time cursing my former self and the evil climate that causes all the bad things to grow overnight. But the concrete as drainage is a great idea!

    What about lilacs for the front/side area? That’s nicely old fashioned and they smell wonderful. Irises, too, although they are a lot of leafy greens for a lot of the year. And peonies! These are all flowers I miss now that I am part of the northern diaspora.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      That all sounds nice to me!

  29. 5.18.15
    Jeanna said:

    Your stockpile of plants looks so good………….. can’t wait to see where you put them. And I still adore the bluestone.

  30. 5.18.15

    I second the recommendation of the Mantis rototiller. That thing is bad ass and not hard to use. It chews up everything, is lightweight, and not expensive to buy. There are edging blades that come with it too, for making nice straight, OCD edges on beds, along sidewalks, paths, and driveways.

  31. 5.18.15
    Melbournite said:

    Do you have the ‘Dingo’ movers in the US? Might be more useful that tilling everything. Easy to operate.

    • 5.21.15
      NestFan said:

      Doubt we have anything named Dingo here – the name immediately calls up images of y’all down under.

  32. 5.18.15
    Katie said:

    Be aware the wine and rose bushes can get huge very quickly! It only took about two years for ours to grow about five feet tall and wide, however they take fine to a harsh trimming but it takes easier to make sure you leave them lots of space! Also their flowers are pretty:)

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Good to know! I’m actually sort of glad to hear that…I’m hoping that some of the new stuff I’m putting in will fill out fast (especially where it can be seen from the street) so the house looks more cared-for in the short term while the slower-growers do their thing.

  33. 5.18.15
    Mary said:

    I had to laugh and cringe at your post, but I have been there. Finally decided I could get a second job on the weekend and hire out the heavy yard redo jobs—so much for DIY.

    One of my experiences is with day lilies. In my opinion, they have only one good feature–they do not die easily. They do:
    1) Multiply and need to be dug out and thinned every 4-5 years or so; or no blooms.
    2) After they bloom, the leaves get brownish and look horrible. Not good for front gardens,
    3) Most are orange.
    4) They are exceedingly hard to dig out.

    I am in the process now of getting rid of ALL of mine. I would think twice about using them except maybe in a sunny spot in the woods.

    I have had success with peonies, roses, and daisies (although they need to be thinned too but are much easier to dig,)

    Good luck.

  34. 5.18.15
    gretaclark said:

    Your yard looks so different than your last post! This is a LOT of hard work. Can you tell if it is now draining properly? Soggy lawns and leaky foundations would be easier to fix before planting. Mekko really looks like she is enjoying herself. That bare earth must feel cool. Dogs are so fun.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      We’ve had so little rain that I can’t really tell! I still have a ton of the yard to get to so I’m sure it’s still a problem, but better than it was particularly in the driveway space. I definitely want to get it addressed before the fence goes in or the lawn gets planted!!

      Luckily the foundation is shockingly watertight, but the mortar on the 1-2 feet above the ground is in poor shape. I’m trying to plan planting with the idea of repointing the foundation down the line—hardy stuff close to the house and perennials that will come back if they get damaged during the process. I’ve barely done ANYTHING to the outside of my house so there’s still a TON of work to do, but I don’t want to put everything on hold gardening-wise until it’s done, or I’ll be waiting to plant for another decade or something!

  35. 5.18.15
    Judi said:

    Where to begin with this comment? Let’s see”¦ First of all, I thought we were the boss because we dug up a 4′ x 20′ border (our back border adjacent to the front of our house, between our front porch and gravel steps; I’m sure you can visualize this, right?) by hand in a mere two weekends. As always, you have vastly outclassed us. We are planning on a Smokebush in said back border, along with some generally Highline-ish plants that are appropriate for our zone 4C Vermont weather, so I am thrilled to see a Smokebush in someone’s yard (other then, of course, Saint Martha’s), so I can see what it really looks like. Thank you for that. Obviously, your whole yard is all about me. (Continuing in that vein, we are looking at decomposed granite set in resin for a driveway in the future, so I’m anxious to have you road test that one, too!)

    I love your plan choices, and I don’t blame you for being frustrated with the daylilies. They are so Garris in that particular shade of orange. I just don’t get it ”“ there are so many gorgeous shades of daylilies; why is that orange the most prevalent? I love your plant choices, and I don’t blame you for being frustrated with the daylilies. They are so garish in that particular shade of orange. I just don’t get it ”“ there are so many gorgeous shades of daylilies; why is that orange the most prevalent? We are solving our own orange daylily problem by blending them with other daylilies in other colors (I don’t have a house renovation project other than my own to work on, so relocating them at this point is really not an option unless I want them to go away permanently, which I don’t because they remind me of my grandmother). We also learned last year that if you leave orange daylilies alone for long enough, they naturalize and change color. We now have these gorgeous hot pink daylilies, blending with the orange ones, that came from God only knows where. Hope you have the same experience at the cottage.

    Finally, and most importantly, the last person I heard using the expression “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” was my mom, who has now been gone for almost 12 years, and whom I still miss horribly.. You da man – you totally made my day with that one. Thank you. (By the way, where does a Jewish kid from upstate New York cotton on to that particular expression? My mom was Southern Baptist until she converted when she married my dad. Looooong story.)

    • 5.18.15
      Judi said:

      And pardon the typos. I was dictating on an iPad. Embarrassingly ugh!

    • 5.19.15
      Shadlyn said:

      My mom also used to say “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” I’m told that on one occasion, after she’d made that proclamation about some treat (a trip to the park, maybe?) my 3-ish year old brother went to the window to check for rain.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      My garden IS all about you! I love to be the guinea pig…

      Definitely check out some of the above comments about the smokebush. I do love it and it’s doing great, but it sounds like it’s going to take some attention down the line to keep it shapely and reasonably sized.

      And hey! I may be a Jewish kid LIVING in upstate new york, but I’m a Virginia boy! Admittedly I’m from northern virginia where people aren’t quite as fun with their turns of phrase, but I always have a soft spot for some good god-fearing southern expression. :)

    • 5.20.15
      Judi said:

      I apologize for calling you a Northerner. My mom was from southwest MO…practically Arkansas. So I have that weird Jewish/southern hybrid in my genes too. We’re probably related. Praise Jesus.

      Saint Martha has all kinds of pictures of fluffy, out-of-control smokebush blooms in her house in the June MSL. If that’s what they bloom like they can do what they want as far as I’m concerned. Say it with me…PRETTY.

  36. 5.18.15
    Maura said:

    I’m sorry for your woes, but I’m excited for your progress! I’ve been outside with shovels and rakes and a pickaxe (!) , so rest assured, that looks like a BIG step forward to me.

    Two of the plants I put in my shade garden this year might work for you. The first is an absolutely adorable hardy geranium called “Samobor”. It’s a smaller perennial, and I ordered mine online, so it’s such a little guy at the moment, but the leaves have a very nice dark variegated pattern, and ohmygosh its one teeny flower is such a beautiful purple. I can’t wait for him to get bigger. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of finding one specific variety, hardy geraniums in general are nice useful plants that come in different colors, look great in masses, and can tolerate varied light levels.

    The second plant is a dwarf oakleaf hydrangea called “munchkin”. Usually oakleafs (oakleaves?) are pretty big, but there are several varieties now that will fit in a smaller garden. The one I got has flowers that start white and fade to pink. All the varieties are known for great fall color. They can tolerate part shade/part sun.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you so much for the plant recommendations! So helpful!! A few people have mentioned the oakleaf hydrangeas and I’m definitely keeping my eyes out…

      good luck with your landscaping! The shovels and rakes and pickaxes are the hard part…it gets easier and more fun!

  37. 5.18.15
    beks said:

    Go to Amazon right now and order a ‘Contech CRO101 Scarecrow Motion Activated Sprinkler’ or you’ll have all the neighborhood cats poopin’ in your yard.

    You’re welcome.

    • 5.19.15
      zkc said:

      Perpetual lurker here– I worked at a local greenhouse every summer during college and figured I could throw in some advice. The most economical way to buy perennials, I think, is to visit the greenhouse every few weeks and see what’s on sale. Perennials usually go on sale toward the end of their bloom time, so if you buy a few of something on sale/blooming that you like every few weeks, next year you’ll have a beautiful garden with something always in bloom. I know we’re all suckers for immediate gratification, but lesbehonest: they’re not gonna look great until next season anyway, and this way you can save some cash. A local hardware store in my hometown also had a great selection of “damaged” stuff– we got mulch for over 50% off because of a tear in the bag. See if anyone near you does anything like that.

    • 5.19.15
      Shadlyn said:

      This is genius! Thank you so much for posting this tip – the price is nice, but the idea of having something blooming all season is absolutely amazing!

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, zkc! I’ll definitely keep that in mind. I have NOOOOOO problem buying stuff that looks a little sad and on sale (in fact, those “chardonnay pearls” in this post were some of the last things hanging out in the garden center LAST fall, I never got them in the ground, and miraculously they STILL came back this year!). And yes! They don’t advertise it, but one thing I’ve learned is that if a bag of mulch is ripped or torn at Lowe’s, it’s half price!

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Ha! I think the cats have learned that my yard is not a safe place, what with my dog that would KILL ALL THE CATS if it were up to her.

  38. 5.18.15
    Southern Gal said:

    wow such hard work! i too rented a tiller when i turned the crapyard into a garden. it was much smaller and easy for my 5’4″ to handle. nigel looks really old and heavy. poor you.

    as for the tree moving – i would check with a nursery but i have always used the rule of two seasons before the winter to let the roots settle in … i would move it in the next few weeks before the consistent hot weather sets in.. you dont want to move a tree in the heat of july although i have moved all kinds of things (but not my camellias – they get planted by end of may) and they survived.

    another idea – with that front garden and the long side one – suggest leaving a path of some kind at the back of the bed closest to the house so you can get in and deal with the plants – not your bluestone but some bricks – i find two set together and a space in between makes a nice path

    looking forward to more updates.
    ps. boxwood IS very easy to propogate…

  39. 5.18.15
    Heather said:

    Adding concrete to the bottom of the planters will not improve drainage. It seems counterintuitive but it was proven 100 years ago. See more here:

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Interesting! A few people have also mentioned an issue with the concrete affecting the PH of the soil. Still sort of wondering if it could HURT, though…the planters are so big that I’m thinking of the concrete more as a way to fill some of the space for free that would otherwise be filled with soil I’ll have to buy, transport, move, hate everything, etc. My gut still tells me that putting a layer of it at the bottom is FINE but it’s possible I should listen to the more experienced gardeners in the audience and just pitch it. Sighhh.

  40. 5.18.15
    Megan said:

    i die reading your posts. Thank you for that. I’m in a 1940’s house in Michigan and love using purple coneflower (Echinacea purpura) toward the back of my beds. Mine gets about 3ft high and has multiplied over the years. It’s native to NY, too. Can’t wait to see your update on the other side from last year!

  41. 5.19.15
    Cindy said:

    My shoulders and back hurt just from reading this post. Hats off to you, my friend.

    Also, that pile of bluestone is gorgeous!

  42. 5.19.15
    Alexandra said:

    You’ve got so much hosta! If you ever feel the need to thin it out, try eating it. It’s very similar to spinach, and totally safe to eat.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      WHAAAAAtTTTTT. I’ve been growing hosta my entire life, basically—never knew it was edible! That’s nuts.

      I do have a lot of it!! I don’t even really like it (this variety, anyway…I like the ones with the really big, bluer leaves), but it’s one of the few things that the yard came with and it’s so hardy and easy to deal with. Last year I took it all out of a section that was maybe 5 square feet, split it all up, and still had somewhere around 30 (!) LARGE plants to spread around, which was definitely a nice way to fill in the front on the cheap. The ones in the picture were pulled out of the back and there isn’t quite as much but still a lot. I don’t even know what I’ll do with it all yet but I’ll find places…SO much space to plant!

    • 5.20.15
      Katrina said:

      Holy Shit! You learn something new…didn’t know Hosta was edible either.
      Face palm.

  43. 5.19.15

    So much hard work! My boyfriend and I just bought a house and I spent all of Saturday mowing the front lawn. Ugh, it took forever because it was an overgrown jungle mess. I want to dig it all up and put in a native plant rain garden so I’ll be in your shoes very shortly! I’ll have to look into that clover lawn for the back yard though, that sounds like heaven!

    One note on the concrete in the bottom of your planters: There’s a wonderful PBS gardening show called Growing a Greener World that had an episode about garden myths and adding big rocks to planters to improve drainage is a big one! Because of surface tension, water doesn’t flow well from the fine dirt particles to the big cavities between the rocks, so essentially your’e just making your planter smaller. For the best plant drainage just fill the whole thing with dirt! Plus, I’d be worried about the concrete taking up space your plant roots might need to spread out nicely. This does leave you with the concrete problem though… maybe you can just bury it in a big hole under your fire pit?

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      If you can wait a bit, take a look at the sheet mulching suggestions above for dealing with your unwanted lawn! It wasn’t really a good option here because ripping up the grass was kind of secondary to dealing with underlying grading issues, but it might work out for you?

      I don’t know about the concrete! I feel like the planters are SO big that realistically I wouldn’t have more than a few inches of concrete in each one, which seems like no biggie? Mostly I’m just being a cheapskate because I don’t want want to haul it all to the dump and pay the disposal fees for it—they charge by weight and that shit is HEAVY!

  44. 5.19.15
    sara said:

    You’re working hard but you’re also so lucky to have a garden-I wish I did! So I don’t really have any advice except that if you have a spot in the shade, hydrangeas love that. I don’t know why but that black fence of yours instantly made me think of blue hydrangeas to pretty it up!

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Sara! I might bitch and moan but I do feel really lucky to have all this outdoor space to contend with. I didn’t realize how much I missed this stuff while I was living in NYC and didn’t have the option!

  45. 5.19.15
    Jemma said:

    Wow, that stuff about putting stuff in the bottom of planters. It must be true because some clever gardening people said so, but my brain can’t accept it. Does not make sense. The advice saying don’t put grass in them does though. Maybe hiring a skip (dumpster?) towards the end of the clearing work is the way forward.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I know, I know! My heart says DO IT but my brain says LISTEN TO THE SMART PEOPLE and it’s causing me major distress. I have to go lay down.

  46. 5.19.15

    Hmmm I am so glad I read this as I was about to hire one in June as I had convinced myself it was going to make leveling land and hard landscaping a dream. I am now thinking of going old school and just digging by hand. Have you ever used a turf cutter? I am wondering if this might be the way for me to go.
    Bon courage with the rest of the garden. (I live in Paris so I am not just saying French stuff for no reason)

    Take Care

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I haven’t used a turf cutter, but it sounds like that would have been a much better option for me!! The soil in kingston is pretty sandy so once the sod is up it’s pretty easy to move around. Oh well!

  47. 5.19.15
    Joe said:

    Great choice with the smoke bush, they are amazing, hearty and beautiful. Careful that you didn’t plant it too close to the house. The one in my backyard is probably 20′ tall, or just make sure to trim yearly.

    Have you thought about Sharon Roses? I think they are a hibiscus, they grow fast and thick so you can keep them as singular trees or let them stay full to create a solid wall. They are a bit of a weed, their offspring are hearty and they all have very deep roots which are great around houses to protect during heavy rain fall, but terrible if you ever want to move them. You’ll be pulling babies up for years.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Joe! Definitely watching the smokebush carefully…I didn’t realize they could get that big! I seem to recall the tag saying they maxed out around 8-10 feet. I guess we’ll all find out together!

      I have a few rose of sharon tree/bushes in the backyard that were here when I bought the house! One was ENORMOUS and I pruned it into much more of a tree shape…it’s alright. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of them because I don’t find the foliage particularly pretty and they bloom for a very short period of time, and YES—THE BABIES. I am CONSTANTLY pulling them up—the yard is literally covered in them if I don’t weed. But they are big and established and nice enough, and apparently appropriate to the house, so I guess I’ll be all zen about it and let them do their thing. I can’t say I’ll be planting more though!!

    • 5.26.15
      CHRIS UEBBING said:

      I vote for the no more Rose of Sharon. I don’t see the appeal.

    • 5.29.15
      Daniel said:

      I second that vote!

  48. 5.19.15
    GD said:

    Just a note, concrete will raise the PH level of the soil in your planters. This could cause issues based on what type of plants you put in them. Please do a bit of research to save yourself grief and $$.

  49. 5.19.15
    nella said:

    Hollyhocks are pretty and old-fashioned. I’d be leery of even putting the weeds in a compost pile. We’ve had lovely dirt from compost, but always very healthy weeds come with it.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Oh, thank you for reminding me! I love hollyhocks! That would be a great thing to layer in on both sides of the garden, I think.

  50. 5.19.15
    Cassie said:

    We like to use recycled plastic bottles (with the top on) at the bottom of our large planters – take up a ton of space but don’t weigh anything ;)

    Also, I second the sod cutter recommendation if you have more of this work to do :)

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I have so much of this work to do! I might try it. I wish there were more tool rental options in kingston…I’ll see what I can scrounge up though.

  51. 5.19.15
    Cheri said:

    It has been said but I have to add my bit on the weeds and grasses at the bottom of the planters business: DON’T. Just don’t. It WILL become a never-ending nightmare with the solution being more back-breaking work when you decide the only thing to be solve the mess is to empty the planters and start over. Grasses have an incredible ability to grow through anything and even the tiniest piece of root has an eternal life. I am now tiresomely obsessive about removing said debris when I work my gardens. Love the updates and your plans and progress. Really impressive!!!

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I hear you loud and clear, Cheri! Thank you!

  52. 5.19.15
    Eileen said:

    Ah, I see someone else finally mentioned the PH issue with the concrete”¦.definitely check that before causing large headaches in the future. And NO WEEDS in the raised bed boxes. Otherwise you will have boxes of weeds. I also try to avoid putting weeds with roots (or seeds) in the compost, because they just seem to thrive there as it seldom gets cooking hot.
    The day lillies you are digging out are called “ditch lillies” (for good reason, they’ll grow anywhere) and noxious around here (mid-Atlantic). There are, however, other cultivars that are well-behaved and very pretty colors. They’d add a touch of drama to the beds.
    Good riddance to bad Nigel! ugh. Scary big uncooperative machines”¦.

  53. 5.19.15
    Kristin said:

    That kind of yard work is no fun. We regraded our entire backyard, and even though it’s small, it’s neverending work. Then we discovered a layer of bricks about 12″ below grade – they had settled and dirt and weeds and grass had grown over them. So the tiller was useless, and we had to extract those bricks by hand, and it’s like removing bricks from cement. So much fun.

    But hey! We found buried treasure. Two old diamond rings – I thought they were costume jewelry, but we had them cleaned and checked and they were the real deal! So keep your eyes peeled. :)

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      What! That’s crazy. All I’ve found are, like, cigarette butts and old dorito bags. Here’s hoping!

  54. 5.19.15
    SLG said:

    Send all your daylillies my way! To each their own, but to me they are a symbol of summer. They are such a burst of color all down the roadsides here in the mid-Atlantic, and their stubbornness means that all the highway department mowing in the world can’t keep them down. And since I’m not a great gardener, I appreciate a plant that multiplies in spite of me.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Ha! But you can go take as many as you want from the roadsides!! As much as I don’t really like them for my yard, I think they’ll be cute for the cottage. That house can handle a more playful kind of garden than I feel like mine can.

    • 5.20.15
      SLG said:

      Ha! I may or may not have picked dozens and dozens of daffodils once from the side of a highway down here in Northern VA (thank you, VDOT). I might just have to grab some daylillies now.

  55. 5.19.15
    ash r said:

    I second the suggestion of limelight hydrangeas since they bloom all summer and are not as picky as the standard hydrangea. Also they look great with boxwood. You could also play around with inter-planting herbs like sage and lavender since they are cheap. And if you wanted to add more purples salvia and Allium bulbs (planted in the fall) would work. I have also tossed old onions in the garden or chive seeds because they are cheap and I love the purple flowers. Good luck! It looks great.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Wait just a second…do you mean to tell me that if I throw an onion in my garden, it will grow a big beautiful purple flower?? I had no idea. Totally going to try it. I love your other suggestions, too! Thanks!

  56. 5.19.15
    Hani said:

    I’ve learned that whatever I estimate a home task to be– it takes roughly twice as long. Also, in my mind a crew of buff men performs whatever task I’ve planned while lounge and drink wine.

    Anyhow! I strongly recommend thinking not just about pretty when you gussy up the side yard– how about some milkweed or butterfly weed to help out the local insect population?

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I’m down for whatever! Between the clover lawn and the butterfly plants my yard will be insect heaven!! Ha

  57. 5.19.15
    Bailey J said:

    Glad you got your lawn delivered but i’m too late to make a suggestion! i know there was a lot of concern over bees and clover flowers and your darling pups. An alternative could have been Yarrow. When trimmed, they basically look like little fern leaves and when left to grow they produce flowers, but it’s not like the short, quick growth ones with clover. My folks have a nice patch of yarrow in front of their lake cabin and i love how soft it looks! But… you have your lawn… maybe this could help someone else considering a grassy alternative!

  58. 5.19.15
    Lori said:

    I cannot read all of these comments because I am tired. So redundancy disclaimer.

    1. All of your pretty new plants? Their empty pots make the best, lightweight filler for the bottom of planters.

    2. Since you’re doing a looooot of landscaping, obviously you’ll buy a bunch of some plants at a time, but I like to go to Lowe’s weekly to check out the “orphans” (clearance plants). You can find great deals on slightly sad perennials that are perfect after some care for $1, $3, and $5. I just got a lovely pink rhododendron today For $3.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Lori! I do the same thing…I always head to the clearance section first to see what’s up. Right now they seem to just have a bunch of annuals (homie don’t play that) and azaleas (which I have learned to hate because they seem to hate me) but I’m there all the time so hopefully the good stuff will start going on clearance soon!

  59. 5.19.15
    Debbie in toronto said:

    Buddy, I’m exhausted just reading this.

    Just spent the day doing my garden but you my friend are a beast!

    Be careful of your back with all that digging.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Ugh, this feels like spa time after working at Olivebridge! I hauled like 30 gravel-and-mortar filled cinderblocks the other day outta that yard and felt like my body might actually just crumble into a pile of dust.

  60. 5.19.15
    Janet said:

    I can’t stop laughing!!

  61. 5.19.15
    bean said:

    I am jealous of your bluestone–very jealous. So jealous that I am a fashionable chartreuse with envy. I am rarely fashionable, so I guess I should be pleased. I am wondering if you were planning on using the weeds/grass because of “lasagna gardening”? People say it works well, but my understanding is that weeds/grass will come right up through the layering if one isn’t careful. Well, that’s what I read–haven’t tried it: It sounds worth looking into, but the cons might be worth keeping in mind.

    I think that maybe a layer or two of manure (if it isn’t more expensive than topsoil–chicken manure is cheap around here, practically free) might be helpful to build up the lawn if it won’t mess up the ph of your lawn soil. It smells really bad if it hasn’t been properly treated, but I’ve seen it used to good effect to lower the cost of adding topsoil and to add nutrients (though it probably will burn your lawn if too much is used). I wouldn’t use the concrete in the planters because of the ph issues mentioned above–I’ve had to line some of my planters which are made of concrete because of this to neutralize the ph.

    Sometimes, farmers like chunks of concrete. They put up big signs around here–“free dump.” They are usually looking for concrete to help create a run-off barrier. I don’t know if they do that in NY, but if they do, then the disposal problem is mostly just the labor aspect (and gas). If you know someone who lives in the boonies, you could ask if they know of any free dumps. (Do you have boondocks in NY? I see that you do sometimes say “good Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise,” so maybe you do?)

    I like daylilies. They grow on the side of the house where nothing else grows–and they are really pretty once a year. It’s better than bare ground–I think they will look lovely at your other cottage. But, the bluestone? Very, very jealous.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Yeah, my thing with the weeds/grass was definitely inspired by the lasagna gardening thing. I was hoping that if I put it on top of the concrete and then covered that with cardboard and then threw a really thick layer of topsoil on top, it would compost itself and be fine. I’m planning 4 large planter boxes so the rebel side of me kind of still wants to try it with one…just to see…

      It’s possible I could find someone to take the concrete for free…usually you see signs around looking for fill dirt but maybe…

  62. 5.19.15
    theresa said:

    Love the beautiful flagstone pieces, you have a great plan for them! Re the concrete remainders, I live in California, and as many of us have removed (or are removing) thirsty lawns and plants, broken concrete chunks make great stepping stones among the mulch and DG. Around here, we offer them up free on Craigslist, and usually they are gone pretty quickly. My experience with DG is, be sure to put down some landscape fabric first; weeds happily come up through the DG layer and are a big pain in the butt to hand weed.

  63. 5.19.15
    Lindsay said:

    Hey, my 2 cents. I’ve been in my house for almost 14 years and if I could go back in time and change some of the “foundation” plants here’s what I’d choose (ps I live in basically the same area-outside of Philly). I too used to buy the sale plants but I think it’s worth it to spend a bit more to get what you really want; unfortunately this usually means buying in the fall when the nurseries are clearing shit out! Anywho, I wish I had planted the following: Eastern Redbud-a beautiful native tree and not too big, winterberry-LOVE seeing those red berries in the dead of winter; Oakleaf Hydrangea-screw Limelight, it’s overrated; and Magnolia Grandiflora-the one with the big, glossy leaves that florists sell at Christmas for wreathes-has wonderful year round interest. And the person who said to propagate the boxwood is on crack-I too bought those tiny little boxwoods when we first moved in and I finally have a “hedge”……can’t even imagine how long a sprig would take!

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you so much, Lindsay! Taking notes for sure!!

      I think propagating boxwoods makes a lot of sense if you already have a hedge and you’re just looking to sort of fill it out, but yeah…starting from scratch with only clippings and fragile root systems just seems like way too much for me. I’d rather buy the $7 boxwood and have to wait fewer years for hedge-times!

    • 5.20.15
      Gaidig said:

      I’m a Georgia girl, and I love, love love Magnolia Grandiflora, but you can stop beating yourself over not planting it. It does best in the deep south. Philadelphia is well out of its range. I do know one very experienced farmer who has one growing in the Philadelphia area as a specimen tree, and the thing looks so sad and scraggly because it’s just too cold.
      On the other hand, I now live in the Detroit area, and we have a Chinese magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana), which is stunning when in bloom.

  64. 5.19.15
    Ariel Kravitsky said:

    Daniel, I’m casting my vote for an as-is house tour. It’s been too long!

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      You know, you’re right! I’ll try to put something together. It’ll be two years in a few weeks, so that seems like the right time!

  65. 5.20.15
    Malia said:

    I hope this doesn’t ruin your possibly DIY fire pit plans (it ruined mine!), but I coincidentally spoke with the Kingston FD today. They said we can only use those manufactured types of fire pits–not ones we build ourselves. Let us know if you find a reasonably priced, non-hideous one.

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      That is GREAT to know, thank you for telling me!! I didn’t really have any solid plans for the fire pit but knowing that DIY is not an option definitely helps narrow down my ideas! I’ll be on the hunt for something good-looking…it must be out there…

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      Maybe I’ll just blow my entire budget on this.|1&pl=1&Ntt=fire+pit#img

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      I guess the 36″ one is under 1K…STOP IT DANIEL STOP IT

  66. 5.20.15
    Alexis said:

    I just have to say that this was one of your funniest ever posts, and made me totally appreciate the team of guys I hired for a very reasonable (ie: actually ridiculously small) fee, who came and ripped out all the invasive English Ivy we had taking over our garden. Much better than shaking tiny bloodied fists at the sky!

  67. 5.20.15
    Melinda said:

    I think Lowes and Home Depot both have 1 year warranties on their plants so long as you have the receipt, tag, and carcass (ha!).

    • 5.20.15
      Daniel said:

      That’s true! Unfortunately I’ve been bad in the past about keeping that stuff organized. Now I know better!

  68. 5.20.15
    Adriana said:

    That amount of tilling and shoveling and raking and removing was insane. Anyone who has ever done anything like that knows it was a HUGE amount of blood, sweat and tears. Amazing progress. Seriously, pat yourself on the back and give yourself a big hug.

  69. 5.20.15
    Joann said:

    Before you put a tree in the circular bed check to see if it is still paved on the bottom. The original fish pond I have referred to is about 1.5 foot deep and bowl shaped along the sides.

  70. 5.20.15
    Celia said:

    Your writing is fantastic. I truly do not envy your rototiller experience, but it was hilarious.

  71. 5.20.15
    Nicolette said:

    I cant wait to hear about the lawn. I am in drought stricken California and just bought a house! The front has some weird grass/weed mixture that is still somewhat green and the back is a desert land. Curious how it turns out for you and I might have to give it a shot!

  72. 5.20.15
    Gaidig said:

    I think your weed idea will be fine, as long as you smother it sufficiently. If it isn’t able to reach daylight for a year or more, it won’t poke through.

    The biggest thing I regret about my front yard landscaping (the back doesn’t really exist, other than the raised beds) is relying too much on perennials and deciduous shrubs. I really need some evergreens and some winter interest. The yard looks so sad in the winter, and winter lasts a long time here in Michigan. I’m thinking about adding some juniper or arborvitae in the back of my beds as a tall element that will last all year.

    On another note, I love the red flowers that my quince bush produces! I think it would go well with your color palette. I haven’t been able to harvest any fruit from it yet, but it certainly has lovely flowers.

    Many of the plants in our garden are edible – hence the lack of evergreens since last year’s harsh winter killed off the large rosemary bush. We have low bush blueberries as front yard landscape plants, rhubarb, and a bed of asparagus I am trying to establish, ostrich ferns for fiddleheads, daylilly flowers and young shoots (if they are the original orange kind, H. Fulva – some hybrids aren’t), and of course hostas have been mentioned here already.

  73. 5.21.15
    RT Boyce said:

    I really like this book:
    for the tried-and-true advice on planning a garden with visual pow and strategies for how to afford all the plants you want – but unfortunately for me, all her specific plant recommendations are for New York state. Of course, for you, they would all be spot on…
    So, even though this book from 1993 has way-outdated nursery and catalog recommendations, I would heartily recommend it. It’s funny and encouraging. In fact, I need to get another copy since I gave mine away to my mother.

  74. 5.21.15
    s said:

    I stumbled upon you blog earlier this year and have been delighted by it. Just wanted you to know that you have reader in India.
    Best wishes,

  75. 5.21.15
    Rona said:

    My muscles are aching just thinking about how much work you put into your yard here!

    Just a note on the concrete – sometimes fly ash (industrial residue) is mixed in to concrete. This can contain heavy metals and other toxic substances that can leach into soil and water.

    Also, seconding all the people mentioning about the pH.

    As always, a new Manhattan-Nest post made my day. :)

  76. 5.21.15
    Tina said:

    As a beginner myself, I just started attacking the long forgotten flower beds in my 1952 Cape Cod and holy fuck, I’m pretty sure I found a remnants of a homicide gone awry. But besides that, moving soil, de-weeding, and ripping out tree roots that don’t seem to go to a tree I am sort of having fun. What I love the most about coming here is how honest you are and totally willing to own up to mistakes. Hindsight, man. I hate it.
    This also may add to your yard frustrations, especially since you already bought your plants, but definitely look into going native when adding shrubs, flowers, trees, etc. It’s really worthwhile for our ecosystem to start putting the right stuff back into the ground. It also brings food and nectar sources back for bees, butterflies, birds, etc. I sound like an 80 year old lady wagging my finger, but trust me, there are beautiful species available for our areas.

  77. 5.21.15
    Bonnie said:

    What a fabulous update! I’m sorry about the rototiller. My parents used to rototill a garden every other year or so — this was back in the ’50s — and even my mother could work it, so I guess they’ve changed a lot since then. Nigel sounds horrible, and they totally should have warned you about the extra $50.
    That was interesting about the crumbling bricks. I have one loose brick that crumbled over the winter (and many that did not), so I guess “salmon” is the answer to that mystery!

  78. 5.22.15
    CeCe said:

    God love ya, I’m exhausted and slightly anxious from just reading about your lawn misadventures. Good luck, I love your blog and wish I had 1/2 your energy!

  79. 5.23.15
    melissa said:

    As always, worshipping you and your motivation. Good ol Bob Vila suggests cardboard to eliminate the weeds…

  80. 5.23.15
    Cindi M said:

    Daniel, can you stand another suggestion? I was reading a posting this morning about ragwort as a ground cover and checked their link for finding native plants, They have a lot of info for all ya’ll New Englanders?! Anyway, don’t know if any of them are near you but might make a nice Sunday drive into the country.

  81. 5.25.15
    Jenn said:

    Put a layer of cardboard between your weed layer and your dirt layer in those planters.

    And try Japanese Anemone for all late season blooms in whites and pinks. Low bushy foliage, very attractive, with tall flowers that wave in the wind. One of my favorites.

  82. 5.28.15
    Zoe said:

    Can’t wait to see your garden plans!

    My $0.02:

    I know spirea can be so common, but mine are behaving so nicely, I just love them. Cut them to the ground every other year and you have these delightful little mounds of pink flowers. Lots of options too on foliage and blossom color.

    Hardy geranium/Perennial geranium = YES. You basically cannot kill them but they stay contained an doffer the most lovely light pink or purple flowers in the spring.

    Allium = DOUBLE YES. Plant behind your boxwood hedge and you will feel like a king in the spring when they bloom. SO GLORIOUS.

    Hydrangea. Just be picky. I personally don’t like endless summer because they get really droopy. I like the ones that have big moppy heads and grow on stiff wood (wait. wait wait wait a minute). But, hydrangea are ugly in the winter, so plan accordingly. Also, my limelight didn’t make it through the winter, so that sucked.

    If you have space for some moundy heaps, Lavendar Grosso is also lovely in that I haven’t seemed to kill it yet and it is nicely behaved. Grosso and Provence are the two types that have survived best in my garden. They technically need full sun, but mine have been okay with part sun. I think you can usually find hindcote and munstead at Lowes, but those varieties haven’t been as great for me. Also, the plant is not totally great/boring for winter interest.

    Heather. People love heather for winter interest, you can get it on clearance in the spring I think…that’s when most bloom.

    Knockout roses combined with grasses and/or butterfly bush is lovely as well. But probably not for your front yard, more a back hedge type situation.

    That’s all I’ve got. Mme Martha is really the best source for all things Garden and Mighty.

    • 5.29.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you, Zoe! All helpful suggestions!! And yes, Martha’s gardening books are my go-to…even though she makes me feel like a lazy, inadequate troll of a person.

  83. 5.30.15
    veronica said:

    I don’t know what kind of rototiller Nigel is but ours (a troybilt colt FT) kicks butt. We use it over sod, swamp grass, knee high weeds, etc. It takes 3 passes to get all the grass pulled up and the soil turned over, but when it’s done we can rake the turf debris out and have loose soil up to 6 inches down. Perfect for grading/gardens/whatever. I had wanted to rent one but hubby convinced me to buy…. Best money we have ever spent.

    • 5.30.15
      veronica said:

      I should add that while it can be hard to keep on track it’s not the bucking behemoth you were complaining of with Nigel. Also two guys (or me and my hubby) can load it in and out of a pickup truck without a problem.

  84. 6.6.15
    lisa and tate said:

    Missing some updates on your blog… missing you. Hope this absence is because you are healthy and working on all three houses.

    • 6.7.15
      Annie said:

      Yessss, missing you. What’s new please1

  85. 6.7.15
    georgia said:

    Hope everything is OK Daniel. We are looking forward to any news.

  86. 6.8.15
    AnnW said:

    Missing you. Hope you are working hard and still enjoying the weather. Hope the dogs are happy.

  87. 6.9.15

    Hope you got some planting done before the rain. I sowed my lawn with the white clover 2 weeks ago & it’s sprouted & happy.

  88. 6.15.15
    Jennifer I said:

    Maybe free cycle or craigslist the concrete? It is a completely recyclable material and perhaps someone in your area has a use for it and will come haul it away. I listed carpeting once that someone came and took away. I couldn’t believe it. It is true, one man’s trash can be another’s treasure.

    • 6.18.15
      Daniel said:

      That’s not a bad idea, thank you! I sometimes forget that people want weird stuff like that sometimes. Although now I really want to know what that person did with used carpeting…

  89. 11.19.15
    Stephanie said:

    I’d love an update about how the Earth Turf is working!