Bluestone Backyard Makeover: Welcome to the Jungle!

This project is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Since the basement laundry room renovation a few months ago, progress has been a little slow over at ole’ Bluestone Cottage. I’m itching to get going on the finish work (the fun stuff!), but there are some hurdles to overcome first. Right now getting the insulation sorted out is the main priority—something that sounds simple but has required all this back-and-forth hassle between professional installers and the building department and inconsistent information and CAN ANYTHING JUST BE EASY?!

No it cannot. We’ve discussed this at length for roughly nine years. Get with the program.

So here we are in the middle of summer. My strategy is to get the house to the point this fall that the exterior’s in good shape and the interior is insulated and heated and ready for all the fixin’s. I’d really like to have this house occupied next spring, and I really don’t want to have a major exterior project hanging over me when that time comes! SO, while I’m waiting on these few interior things to materialize, and the weather’s good, and fall is just around the corner, I’m finally tackling…THE BACKYARD.

I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about the backyard? I don’t think I ever really showed it? Much like the front of the house, it was a complete jungle of overgrowth and trash when I bought this house, so it wasn’t really possible to take photos that show the whole space. It’s very small—less than 500 square feet!—which I find kind of exciting. It feels manageable in a way that my own much larger backyard doesn’t, and the volume of materials needed for any given improvement isn’t so huge. At the same time, it’s a real design challenge because you still want to include everything you’d want in a larger space, but don’t want it to feel crowded or busy or stupid. Challenge accepted? Great; you don’t have a choice.

By the way, should I be referring to it as the…rear garden? That sounds so much more sophisticated than “backyard.” I feel like that’s what Monty Don would call it.

This is one of the only photos of the rear garden I have from when I bought the house. Cute, right? There was this big storage shed back there, which I think partially collapsed after a tree fell on it. At the time I remember thinking it took up so much space and that the backyard would be so much nicer without trying to also use it as a storage facility, but I now understand why the shed was necessary. Because the house is small, too! The old shed held a wild assortment of toys and figurines and picture frames and stuff, but I’ve really tried to design ample interior storage space for that kind of thing. That said, with only a little tiny basement, there really isn’t anywhere inside the house for gardening tools or outdoor power equipment or snow shovels, fertilizers, seed, etc. This is fine for now since I just bring all that stuff over from my house when I need it, but eventually this house needs to grow its own wings and fly. So keep that in the back of your brain: STORAGE!

Anyway. The shed and its contents were disposed of years ago. And that’s pretty much where the progress in the back stalled until about a week ago.

DO YOU FEEL INSPIRED OR WHAT?! Yikes. What you’re looking at is the north side of the spaceThe back of the house is on the left, and a 4-ft walkway between that and the rickety wood fence provides access to the space.

So. Lots of old trash—the overgrowth conceals some of it but trust me it’s there. I swear this was just used as an unofficial dumping ground for a while. There’s an oil tank leftover from the house’s old heat system (which had been stripped out, presumably for scrap, when I bought it) a mysterious pile of sand, and just general mayhem.

(Related: if you’re local and need a perfectly good oil tank, hit me up.)

Moving ’round clockwise, the back corner is mostly obstructed by this big tree, which is growing RIGHT on the fence line. This tree was actually supposed to be removed back when I had some other tree work done, but I think a miscommunication resulted in it just getting some pruning. It’s a mulberry tree, which is both yummy and a total mess because those berries drop everywhere.

This is the entire view of the back of the property (it fits in one photo! the whole thing!), which is comprised of a tall chain link fence owned by the community garden behind it. I love having the community garden as neighbors but I always hate chainlink fencing, and since people come in and out of it all day, it makes the backyard feel very exposed. So keep that in the back of your brain: PRIVACY!

Moving clockwise, we have the other side. Here, we threw up a quick fence when I bought the house with some pre-assembled panels mostly to keep the neighbors from disposing of things by just moving them over the property line. Now they just throw things over it, I guess? In fairness I accept responsibility for this—I don’t think people are nearly so inclined to act this way when it’s apparent that a space is being cared for and this one hasn’t really been. So hopefully that won’t be an ongoing issue.

There’s also a nice maple tree! I like the maple tree. I’m guessing it wasn’t planted intentionally but it’s big and appears healthy and provides some shade, so I think keeping it is the right move.

Continuing clockwise around the yard…these “before” photos are gonna be a lot more fun with some “afters” to throw up next to them. I’m working on it!!

Annnnd, we’re back to the rear of the house. Do you have your bearings? So compact!

OK, SO LET’S DIVE IN. The first phase of any landscaping work is to clear, clear, clear. Clear anything and everything out that you don’t need or want. I’m so glad this space is small because this was a big job.

On the first day, I did a bunch of smaller brush removal and filled about 15 paper yard bags with debris. It took a while because I try REALLY hard to keep any bits of trash out of the yard bags, since the county composts and resells it to people (like me!) in the community. Nobody wants plastic in their compost!

For the Mulberry tree, I called my normal tree guy (whose prices seem high to me, but he’s in the neighborhood and a good dude), but couldn’t get a call back! I asked Edwin to help me with some other odd jobs for a few days, and we figured we could tackle it together.  

Except neither of us have a chainsaw.

SO I BOUGHT A CHAINSAW. I figured the professional tree removal would cost 3x as much as the chainsaw anyway, and I still wouldn’t have a chainsaw. Feel free to borrow this logic when you want to justify power tool purchases. It works for me all the time.

Small note: if there are structures nearby or the tree is big or there are any doubts or hesitations, hire the trained and properly insured professional.

I picked up the Greenworks Pro 60-Volt battery-powered chainsaw, and it is GREAT. Edwin, a straight man, likes to destroy things possibly more than he likes building them, so he tore it out of my hands and climbed the tree before I could take the tag off or fight him for it. He had the time of his life, I think?

So the chainsaw. I am genuinely impressed. We took down the whole tree on one battery and it had no problem getting through big limbs or even the base of the trunk.  It uses the same battery as my leaf blower and lawnmower and hedge trimmer, and I feel really good and grown-up about assembling this arsenal of high-quality battery-powered tools. I’m consistently impressed by their performance and expect to use them for a very long time!

And then I took this photo of ol’ Boondock, which is carrying most of a Mulberry tree in its bed. It took two trips to the compost pile at the dump and about $15 and the deed was done.

Many more yard bags and contractor bags later…

HELLO (almost) blank slate! I feel like now we can get a better sense of what we’re working with here. Don’t worry, I’m sure I will find a way to overcomplicate this whole endeavor.

Of course without the tree, it feels a little like a fish bowl because of the chain link fence. I think I have a plan. The community garden folks are thrilled to see the Mulberry tree gone, by the way.

In the foreground, there is an odd pile of large rocks and broken bricks and pieces of concrete. I didn’t have the strength to start dealing with that. Pls ignore.

Sadly the kitchen windows are currently boarded, but I’m working on that too. I’m working on, uh, a lot of things.

Here’s a rough sketch with dimensions so you can see where we’re starting. So! WHAT DO WE DO. THAT IS THE NEXT QUESTION. Remember, this house is not for me to live in, so this is a real question. What do people like to do in backyards? Obviously we are dealing with major size limitations.

Here are some things I’m thinking about as I lay awake every night (it’s getting annoying):

  1. New fence. Private, and uniform all the way around. I think this will make a huge, huge difference. I think horizontal cedar boards will make the space feel a little bit larger. I spoke with the landlord who owns the existing picket fence on the north side and he’s totally on board with letting me replace it with whatever I want.
  2. Storage. Not a TON, but enough for outdoor/gardening-related stuff. This isn’t on the mood board because I think I’m going to try building something custom.
  3. Place(s) to hang out. I’m torn here. Chairs? An outdoor sofa? A dining table? A bistro table? Some combination? It’s tricky. I want it to be cozy and a place that will actually get used. I like a classic Adirondack chair…and a small table and chairs to sip morning coffee or evening cocktails (or morning cocktails and evening coffee; you do you). Pretend you’re renting this house: what would you want? Lowe’s has a whole lot of options!
  4. Low-maintenance. This kind of goes along with storage and places to hang out, but I really don’t want to deal with trying to grow/maintain/mow grass back here. I have a low-key pea gravel fetish, so I’m thinking a combination of concrete paving, classic pea gravel, and mulched beds—things that theoretically have to be dealt with only about once or twice a year.
  5. Outdoor cooking. Nothing crazy but it should have a grill, right? Sadly fire pits are a no-no in Kingston, but grills are OK. I love a classic little Weber charcoal grill, and I’m intrigued by this newer design that makes the charcoal/ash clean-up easier. And it comes in cool finishes like copper and this dark green!
  6. Plants. You could totally go all Secret Garden vibe back here, but I feel like that would not work with the aforementioned practical priorities, so I’m thinking more along the lines of some nice mulched beds along the fence. Maybe some climbers on a trellis, like this one? Maybe some container gardening in some classic terra cotta pots? Maybe another tree? Also, those kitchen windows are gonna need window boxes, right? These window boxes seem promising, and I wouldn’t mind buying something prefab rather than turning that into another project.
  7. String lights, because what kind of monster doesn’t love a string light?

OK! Past experience has taught me that there are some very good brains out there reading this, so I’m curious what your priorities would be! Tell me what you think at once! I insist.


198 Comments

  1. Well, I can’t speak for Mont Don but I *am* English and I call them “front garden” and “back garden”. :) Yards are for industry and commercial things.

    • That’s so much more pleasant! Although I feel like calling this space a “garden” right now is…generous. Maybe it’s a yard with aspirations of being a garden??

    • I love that. You Brits make everything elegant!

    • I’m Irish and we call it a front/back garden too. Even if it’s completely paved over (like my front garden is, thanks to the previous owner). On a slightly unrelated note, you’ve heard of Monty Don!

      • I’m from Germany, where this would definitely be called a garden! And I’m sure, it will turn out really nice, once you’rd done with it. :)
        As far as my experience goes, a lot of people like a terrace/paved section for outdoor rating and lounging and a lawn for deluxe lounging, impromtu soccer games and the like. So that’s what I would do (if regular drought periods weren’t an issue). I’d also keep it to one seating area to maximise the space for visiting kids/dogs/soccer players.
        I always found caring for potted plants a bit stressful (the pots might crack, the soil might freeze/dry out), but I really liked the variability and flexibility. They certainly seem less daunting than huge flower beds. ^_^° So that’s a good idea for renters!

    • I’m Australian of English and Irish heritage and we call it front yard and backyard.

  2. If you aren’t planting grass, what will be the base of the entire yard? Pea gravel? Maybe some pavers?

    • I think a lot of pea gravel, yeah! Not covering the whole thing, but enough to accommodate a seating zone…like a patio, I guess? Conceivably I’ll drop in some big bluestone slabs from the front or side of the house—that is the house’s namesake after all!

      • I love this back garden! I have quite a bit of experience with big gardens and am more and more enamored with small ones!
        My experience with pea gravel is my big patio: it had been the base for a very large above ground pool, so it was a nice, deep, layer of sand. I covered it with two layers of weed barrier cloth, and then had a couple truck loads of pea gravel dumped on it. It made a fabulous, dry, beautiful surface. Just wonderful! For several years. Then the bits of dried leaves etc that accumulated amongst the little gravel stones became an amazing rooting compound for every single damn seed that landed on it. It became a nightmare to keep weeded and I eventually gave up and had a concrete slab poured. We laid maple leaves and ferns on top of the newly-poured cement and they left faint designs. It just needs pressure washing in the spring and looks terrific all the rest of the year.
        I was really pleased with how reasonable having a 3-4 inch thick, reinforced slab cost. The installer came back when it had cured and cut grooves in the slab to help prevent cracking – 3 winters so far. I live north of you in the Schenectady area and have had no cracking at all in either patio.
        I have been impressed with the tiny back gardens that Sherri and John of Young House Love put behind their rental duplex in Port Charles. They also had little storage sheds made for each side of the duplex.
        Good luck with your project, I always grin when I see that you have a new post. Thanks for all the work it takes to produce such informative, well written, chuckle worthy posts.

      • i agree about not doing pea gravel… think KISS.. and if you are only renting it out (not selling it) i would do something easy to maintain like a concrete patio or bricks (which is more costly but prettier). more in my full reply (i love a blank slate!) when i think a bit …

      • Sadly, my experience with pea gravel followed a similar progression to that of KathieB. Much as I love it I am looking for an alternative, although I think the combination of large pavers/fieldstone would mitigate the issue somewhat.

        As far as what the space will accommodate – my back deck is roughly half the size of your back garden (10 x 22). It has two “doorways”, one is the door from the kitchen and the second is the steps from the deck down to the yard. Both are located at one end of the deck. I mention that because like your back garden the traffic access points come from one district area, leaving the ready of the deck to arrange as I will.

        My deck has a small wrought iron dining table (30×48”) and four chairs, four wicker style casual chairs, one ottoman, two side tables, a 9’ umbrella and stand, a small gas bbq, and a plethora of large plant pots that hold my yearly jungle. I am from the school of the bigger the annual plants the better so many of my deck pots are quite large. My deck isn’t crowded, there is plenty of room to move around and plenty of open space.

        All that – you were waiting for me to get to the point weren’t you? – is by way of saying that your space can easily accommodate a lounging area, an eating/outdoor cooking area, some plant beds around the perimeter, and a small iteration of a storage shed without feeling at all cramped.

  3. Yay, this will be a cute little pocket garden when you’re done!

    I just feel like I should warn you, as a landscaper who does a lot of maintenance, pea gravel is in no way a low maintenance paving option, especially with trees around. It doesn’t matter if you put weed barrier under it, weed barrier works for like a year and then completely fails and also makes the pea gravel bed into a litter box. The better way is installing pea gravel 1/2″ deep over a compacted road base/decomposed granite base, and that’s a lot of work and you’ll still get weeds eventually. (Though maybe you can get Lowes to sponsor a flame weeder, because those things are fun and work great on pea gravel) My vote is to use salvaged brick if you can find it cheap for a timeless vibe and tumbled pavers, etc, if you can’t.

    I’d stick a shed in the north corner opposite the tree and make it cute with some paint & a light like your shed, and then do a big patio in the center of the remaining space. Smaller bushes & plants around the edges to make it feel garden-y. String lights between the shed and up into the tree to light things up at night.

    I can’t wait to see what you decide to do. I’m sure it’ll be cool!

    • Thanks Lori! I hear you! So I AM planning to do the install that way—thin layer of pea over compacted gravel (I think you may have taught me that in comments on another post, ha!), and am inclined to skip the landscape fabric because I’ve never had good experiences with it. Part of the appeal is definitely the low cost…people sell their salvaged bricks around here for too much $$ (and half of them disintegrate anyway!) and I’m working on a limited budget that the fence kinda blew right off the bat. I kinda figure if somebody wanted to install a more solid patio down the line, at least the base would be there for them to do it pretty easily?

      • Hahaha, yes, that was me. I swear I have pea gravel PTSD and it’s killing me watching all the other bloggers slap down weed barrier and pour 4″ of pea gravel on top and then blog about how great it is when I know that behind the scenes, people like me end up pulling the weeds and turds out of it after they give up trying to keep it looking good. I have to warn people! I can’t help it!

        One trick I have found is to use horticultural vinegar to hit up all the weeds every week or so. It won’t kill anything but the top growth, but it works fast and for annual weeds, that’s all you really need. And it’s important to not disturb your compacted base, and constantly pulling up roots will compromise that over time. Look for 20-30% acetic acid. I’ve found it locally at the farm supply store, but usually I’m lazy and order it by the gallon on Amazon and then just pour it into a spray bottle. And just to warn you, the smell will immediately make you crave vinegar chips, even if you’re not a person who’s super into vinegar chips!

    • We had a flamethrower weeder at our last house for our extensive patio/pool deck space and It. Was. Awesome. My favorite garden tool of ALL TIME BAR NONE. It’s just a hose and wand that attaches to a propane tank.

      • Blue stone pavers.. absolutely.

        A lean-to shed against the house with an interior drop down table to use for potting and/or entertaining. There when you want it, gone when you don’t.

        The back wall overlooking the community garden needs a window with functioning shutters. Usually, it’s open which creates a sightline to extend your space, you meet the gardeners and might get the odd fresh freebieinteract and it’s just friendly, and Bluestone Cottage is meant to be friendly. The gardeners go home eventually and you can hang on the window sill, checking out the glory if thise gardens, knowing you dont have to do the weeding or watering. And, when you need a little privacy…close the shutters. (And you get shutter dogs…i long for shutter dogs)

        Window boxes matching those on the house with solar fairy lights.

        Can I rent this place?

        That’s all I’ve got so far. Gotta go look at the pics again for more.

    • This sounds great and similar to what I was thinking. Also plant some bulb flowers to bring some colour

    • Yes! Especially the salvaged brick.

  4. Pea gravel & pavers would be awesome with a container garden, seating lounge & small self contained water feature. Thinking about the materials available when the house was built, decking or concrete will feel out of place. A good old fashioned wood picnic table fits the brief but they’re a bit eh on their own. Small garden beds would then be appropriate. A rockery would be stunning and age suitable as well. Pull up a couple Monty Don episodes somewhere for inspiration.

    • A picnic table hadn’t occurred to me, but that could work, you’re right! Intrigued by the rockery idea—do you think it would work on a flatter surface? I feel like I’ve only seen them as kinda mounds or as a way to retain a slope, but I dig it!

      • Ana White definitely has a picnic table plan if you want to take a crack at building yourself and therefore have some freedom for modifications. We used her kid version and it’s perfect.

        My 2 landscaping cents are that I’d avoid a lot of containers/window boxes. The renters in your mind are green thumbs. That may not be the case in reality, so I’d lean more towards plants and shrubs that won’t require daily watering all summer. If renters want to add pots, they can totally do that themselves and take them with them when they move. Just a little caution so that you don’t put a ton of hope and energy and money in to something that the eventual caretakers of don’t maintain.

        As always, can’t wait to see what you’ll do with this space!

      • Lifetime sells some benches that convert to picnic tables. (Just search lifetime bench on amazon)They could be a great flexible option for limited space. My mom has them in her backyard and they are easy to pull together for entertaining.

      • I vote no on a random rockery. We have one in our (otherwise flat) back garden, and it looks kinda odd. To be fair whoever put it there didn’t do an awesome job of designing/installing it, and there are some random bits of pipe round the back that make me think it was intended to be a water feature. But yeah, we’re gonna remove it at some point, because it looks out of place.

  5. Can’t wait to see the finished product! We have a similar sized yard and are desperate for inspiration.

    Wondering if you could just leave the existing wood fences as is (less waste!), and add a similar style to the back in front of the chain link, and then just stain it all black to blend together? Some sort of hedge in front of the back fence (along the community garden) could be nice as well! The previous owners of our house painted all our fences black to make the yard appear bigger and it really worked (note: do not recommend painting the fence! we’re dreading the day it needs to be repainted which seems so much more daunting than stain)

    • I considered something like that, but unfortunately that picket fence on the north side is in terrible shape and really wavy and weird down the length of it (about 60 feet), which is kind of a big deal because it’s only 4′ from the house! Lots of rot and damage (the wood isn’t pressure treated!) and the posts aren’t set in concrete…I think starting over is the best route here. On the bright side, BECAUSE the wood isn’t pressure-treated or painted, it’s considered clean lumber and can be composted with the rest of the yard waste. The fence on the south side is different and can just be taken down and the panels reused elsewhere. (I hear ya on the fence painting! If it’s practical to use a sprayer, DO IT! So much less work)

      • Wow! Great work so far! Already a huge improvement. I would put the shed along the north side, butting up to the east fence corner. I would make the shed large enough to store a bike, since winters are rough up there! Then I might put the grill on the on the remaining space on the north wall (if you have enough room) to keep it close to the kitchen. I am another one who votes against pea gravel…sorry! Maybe large concrete slabs to do a patio for seating? Good luck with your decisions! I am sure it will look amazing.

      • BIKE! I hadn’t considered bikes! Thank you for flagging that, Bridget!

  6. I get irrationally excited when you post a project. I haven’t read it yet, I came straight here to tell you. LOL

  7. Nicely done! Clearing out a space always feels so good. I know you know the Young House Love peeps – what they did in their tiny beach house back yard may inspire you to how fab a tiny backyard– err, garden– can be. Congrats, and I’m excited to see more!

  8. Love the progress already! I know you LOVE pea gravel but it seems like a nightmare for a rental – so much weeding (or round-up – not good either). I think pavers or old bricks (any laying around??) maybe with some bluestone edging or something with polymeric sand would be a better way to go. Truly no maintenance. Lots of hostas and stuff that grows big fast and limits the amount of weeding in the beds to a few times per year. Are you thinking about making this an Air BnB or a yearly rental (I cannot remember if you said this previously)? If the latter, then the tenants will have their own purpose. If an Air BnB then probably a lounging area with small table with 2 chairs would be sufficient for short term renters who likely will eat out most of the time anyway!

    • I didn’t really say because I honestly have no idea :( My preferred option honestly is just selling it (which was the original intent when I bought it), but that might be difficult financially depending on where the market is and where my costs end up. I think my second choice would be AirBnB—I’ve been a host before and actually really enjoyed it, and I think potentially it’s a little more $ than a yearly lease. I’m also honestly not sure I’m prepared to be a regular landlord or deal with the possibility of a renter trashing something I’ve worked really hard to make special and nice. That sounds disparaging to renters and I don’t mean it to be—I’m just not sure I can own a property with the hands-off approach a typical renter would expect from a typical landlord, if that makes sense. SO ANYWAY all of this to say that in EITHER the resale or Airbnb scenarios, which feel the most likely at this time, I think the best thing I can do is make the house (and yard!) as nice as possible, within reason, and furnished. Plus that final staging stuff is fun and motivating for me—making nice but empty spaces feels so boring!

      • Your ideas for wanting to do AirBnb rather than just rent it out don’t make much sense to me. Yes, you can make more money with an AirBnB, in places where people are looking to rent by the week (weekend only, which might be more common for much of the year where you are, given that your house is in a city, won’t necessarily yield more.) You would need to see whether AirBnB houses that are (1) very small, and (2) in your town, are actually rented out most of the time. But I wouldn’t bother….because:

        Because, if you don’t like the idea of renters not taking care of your place, why have many, many, many renters instead of one long-term one(s)? I think you are wrong to think of AirBnB renters as more likely to take care of the place – in my mind, as vacation renters, they are less likely to pay attention to what they do to your house. And you can’t screen and pick them as you can your long-term renter(s). Short-term renters (not through AirBnb) for like 3 months at a time could work in some locations, but I don’t think you are in a place that is in high demand for corporate rentals (but I could be wrong on that, not knowing your area that well – that could be worth looking into.)

        Plus, though you can potentially make more $ with short-term rentals, it takes a lot of work to be a host. And given how long you neglected this place when you were busy with other work and projects, as you tend to do, why add being a host to your life?

        I would suggest you rent it longer term to someone who likes the house, or possibly even as a second home to city folk who want an upstate getaway. But don’t do that as a furnished place. If you make it really nice, as you are, with a nice garden, then you will get a nice rent (for the area) and won’t be adding another job to your life, or adding way more people in and out of the house to not take care of it (and your furnishings). Rent to people who like the house, and these are people who will likely take care of it. Longer-term renters have much more incentive to take care of the house and maintain a good relationship with their landlord, as it is their home.

        I seem to remember you writing when you first bought the place about wanting to make nice place for someone(s) to live in. That is not what a vacation rental is. Selling it would accomplish the goal of having created a nice place for someone to live better than keeping it as a vacation rental.

        Whatever you do, you need to stop thinking of this place like a little dollhouse you will continue to play around with decorating and gardening – you have plenty of that to do at your own home. The idea with a rental, which will facilitate leaving time open to work on your house, is to spend as little time as possible maintaining a rental house. Finish it, and let someone else enjoy living there – shorter, or likely better, longer-term.

        And, if you can’t deal with someone living there and just decide to sell it, you know that you don’t need to furnish it. Yes, they do that in some houses to make then move, but I’m guessing that won’t be necessary in this house, with it being all new and recently redone – it’ll sell. The main things you want to convey in a renovated house you are selling with furniture are (1) will a queen (or king) bed fit here in this space? (2) will a decent-sized sofa fit here? and (3) is there room for a dining table and some chairs here? That can all be done (if it needs to be done) with just a few pieces of furniture, not necessarily new, to give potential buyers a real sense of the size of the rooms. Anything else for staging in a completely newly-renovated place like this (which likely will be very unlike and outshine the rest of what is for sale in the area) is a waste of money, time, and effort. (But then, there are also the blogging money, sponsorship, advertising publicity angles, which are a whole different thing I know nothing about that may be driving the decisions.)

      • I hear you, I do. I have reservations about all the options:
        Selling—that it won’t sell, or will take a long time, or I won’t get my money out because property values are low and renovations are super expensive. It’s a very strange property for this area and will take a very particular type of buyer, and I don’t know what the market will do.
        Long-term rental—lousy tenants (don’t forget, this house was absolutely destroyed by the previous ones, and unfortunately it’s a not-uncommon occurrence in this area), and frankly being a landlord sounds stressful and not-fun and it’s not something I have experience with.
        Airbnb—Frankly not an economy I really want to be a part of in a city where housing shortage is an issue—an issue, in fact, that I’m actively working on outside of the renovation/blog part of my life.

        At the end of the day, though, I don’t really see these options as radically changing one way or the other what I’ll do in the course of the renovation. I have absolutely zero interest in doing a cheap landlord-special renovation (I know that’s not necessarily what you’re suggesting), and that wouldn’t do me any favors if/when I do sell it. I don’t want to endlessly renovate and fuss over this house (or any house, really), but I do what it to be nice and a real place that people can enjoy whether they own it, live in it, or are just passing through.

      • I get that you may not sell right away because you may not get what you’ve put into it yet – but you probably won’t get that in 5 years, either – how much or how fast can prices go up in places that aren’t big cities, and where houses don’t cost that much to begin with? – the math necessarily limits the amount of equity you can gain fast where prices are low. So I see why you think you may need to hang onto it for some time – but if it’s for the place to appreciate adequately enough to make a profit on sale, that may be a really long time. You might be best off making as much as you can from blog-related endeavors and then just sell it immediately.

        My point was simply that you should look at local city AirBnB carefully, as you may likely do better financially with a long-term rental than an AirBnB, given the size and location of your place. You will certainly work on it a whole lot less. I don’t get why you think being a landlord of one property is a lot of work – all of my landlords over the decades barely did anything – and the kind of stuff they did do was stuff that is easy for you (replace a dead fridge, fix a leak from the roof, etc. – and you should have very little of any of that sort of stuff, given you’ve just renovated the place carefully), or why you think that AirBnB-ing is not a whole lot more work than being a landlord – it is a part-time job with unpredictable hours – you have to constantly clean, maintain even little stuff (like scrapes in the paint, etc., which you wouldn’t do for a tenant), fix bigger problems immediately, and be constantly marketing and dealing with new renters – none of which you have to do as a landlord.

        I don’t understand why are you worried about long-term renters trashing the place. You have a huge network – you can rent through that to responsible working people. You can rent to people you can be sure won’t trash it – would say, a school teacher, trash your place? Highly unlikely. Sure, if you are renting a crappy looking and poorly maintained place, you may get crappy tenants, as likely was the case with the previous rental. Your place, however, will look great. You can hand pick your tenants when you rent through word of mouth rather than
        using a broker or advertising (or word of blog, in your case.) With your network, you’d have to use spectacularly poor judgment in renting to get renters who would trash your place.

        Same goes for selling it – with your network, you can probably sell to someone looking to move up from the city – someone looking for a higher-priced, nicely-renovated place, or a weekend place, or to an upstate person who has the money (or earnings) to buy an already-renovated place, rather than the average local first-time homebuyer (I say first-time because the house is small) who is looking for a place that is lower-priced because it could use some renovation but is livable, if not pretty, for now as is. The people looking for renovated places are willing to pay more and are a different category from those looking to pay less but willing to do renovations over the years they live there. Some people (like me, when I was buying) work too much and know they will have neither the cash nor the time after purchasing to do any renovations themselves (or just value doing other things that working on the house in their free hours), so they pay for a place already renovated. (But they aren’t looking to buy your furniture, so I’m not sure why thinking that nicely furnishing a place for resale makes sense – there’s a reason people pay staging companies for properties they feel need to be staged to sell – they take their furniture away again, so you don’t have to sell or store it before closing on the sale.)

  9. I agree with Lori. Pea gravel is a mess. Not at first, but soon after. I like all of her ideas and only wish you could do the fire pit. Oh well, can’t wait to see what you do!

  10. That’s a great start.

    New fencing all around is necessary but care will be needed not to end up with a prison exercise yard – the reason I prefer hedges, but you don’t have room for hedges here. The solution may be climbing plants of a low-maintenance variety.

    I’m with Lori that a solid surface for most of the area would be best – this is an outdoor room more than it is a garden, and renters are more likely to wield a broom than they are to weed.

  11. Too cute! I love a small rear garden, who doesn’t? Smart thinking to keep it low maintenance, and maybe eliminate the need for a mower entirely? Or at least make it doable to mow the front with an old-times push mower. Sorry I don’t remember what the front yard situation is like.

    About the shed, it seems like there’s an opportunity to build a combo shed/outdoor space that could double as an office, guest cottage or music studio. I really want one for my backyard but it’s low priority so if you do one that I can live through vicariously until I can make it happen, that would be cool.

    • Yep yep! There is some grass in the front but I think that might change. And then the only grass is the little curbstrip between the sidewalk and the street, which is definitely manageable with a string trimmer or an old-fashioned push mower (which I actually have! and never ever ever use!). I love that idea for a shed doubling as additional living/work space, but I think that’s just too ambitious (time, money, and space!) for back here. I do love spaces like that, though!

  12. Agreed with Sandy and Lori! Pea gravel is awful. Not just the weed issue, it sticks to shoes, gets in the house and ruins wood floor, not to mention hurts like heck when you step on it in bare feet.

  13. Love the fence and the string lights! Hate the pea gravel! (I don’t hate pea gravel in general, but pea gravel + tiny, alley-accessed space = glorified parking spot.) As a renter I’d love some sort of small raised bed I could put seasonal herbs or veggies in.

  14. Are you totally committed to no grass or grass-like area? Personally, I think a back garden looks cozy with a little area of something green on the ground – could be creeping thyme, or mini clover, or one of those no-mow grass mixes that grow really slowly. Maybe something like this (but smaller, of course): https://www.3dpoolsandlandscape.com/backyard-transformation/

    I LOVE the idea of the horizontal cedar fence. There’s a house in my neighborhood where one was recently installed and it looks so neat. Also I’m sure you already know this but whatever you do, don’t plant Virginia creeper. It’s pretty and would cover a trellis quickly, but my neighbors planted some to cover a fence several years ago and it’s a constant battle to prevent it taking over our house. And yard. And garage. Not worth it.

    • I definitely want greenery, I just don’t think grass! But I love the idea of ground creepers—I planted a bunch of creeping Jenny at my house years ago and ADORE it. ALSO, 100% HEAR YOU on the Virginia Creeper!! I’m from Virginia, and the fact that anyone would plant that nightmare intentionally still confounds me. Ha! My neighbor has it too and it’s a battle every summer.

  15. Or, instead of pea gravel and hardscaping, you could consider ground cover that can be walked on but doesn’t need mowing. Something like moss, chamomile, creeping thyme, creeping jenny. Just look for lawn alternatives/ground cover. Could be really nice in part of the yard.

    • We have a stepping stone path with creeping Jenny and I love it so much! Highly recommend.

    • Oh, that’s a great idea! :)

    • LOVE this idea as well. It would be more welcoming than solid hard surface and still relatively low maintenance.

      As a former reluctant landlord, I’ll just warn that window boxes and containers are maintenance nuisance. Once renters let my 5 year old juniper topiary die, then complained when I replaced it with something smaller and cheaper. We found long term tenants much less stressful than short term. Weekend rentals inevitably screw with your life.

      Looking forward to watching your progress. Best wishes.

  16. The view of the church will be brilliant!

  17. I have no ideas for you but I wanted to say I’m super psyched that you are tackling another project. Can Lowe’s just sponsor you forever? Seriously, your big projects motivate me to tackle those tiny, annoying projects that I put off forever.

    • What a job clearing all that! There are so many angles to such a nice space! I am assuming you can place the shed up against the fence? For gardening supplies I would use very shallow storage, more like closets. Then they can be divided in smaller units and break up the horizontal lines of the house and fence. Think a row of small beach-huts… I would have a large central circle of hard surface, and sheds and shrubs around it. A focal point on the diagonal that you see when you come in from the side. Also, connect the side garden with the back, same paving, flooring. Cannot wait to see what you will do with the space!

  18. I think some tropical hardy plants would make a huge impact, fargesia (in pots so it doesn’t go wild), fatsia japonica and a large tertrapanex Rex would be amazing. I am in the UK so not 100% sure the names are the same in the US. Other than that a place to sit, a place to lounge and a place to grill sounds perfect.

  19. I have pea gravel right on dirt (obviously you have plans for better install) and I hate it. Nothing sits flat! Weeds are a huge problem! (See – bad install). It can get stuck in shoe treads and travel places!

    I also came to suggest moss or something similar. (I wish I lived in a moss-friendly climate!). Glad to see I’m not the only one. I swoon for sting lights.

  20. I share your love of pea gravel as does Page Dickey, an upstate New Yorker, who by the way has a book (Embroidered Ground) about her yard that you might love?! She talks about what works and what doesn’t in a round about and beautiful way.

    We rented our house out for a year last year and the picnic table got broken, the person we hired to mow did not. This is to say get something durable for furniture but not so expensive that you don’t care if it gets broken and put plants in that can be salvaged if the proper care isn’t taken for whatever reason. Oh! And invest in good top soil for the beds- seems like a no brainer but it’s a game changer.

    And real quick here are some full sun plants I love and require no thought: Day Lillie’s (so many more than orange) lavender, bee balm, a rambling English rose for the chain link, autumn joy seedum, cone flower, black eyed Susan, honeysuckle. I LOVE GARDENS!!!!

  21. If you’re planting a second tree, you’re going to have such lovely shade. I would do less hardscaping in favor of mulching and putting in shade loving plants like hostas and periwinkle. You can totally nestle in some seating right on the mulch over some ground cover, secret garden style. free standing porch swing maybe? Cute garden benches? Adirondacks? And then a smaller hardscaped type area for the grill. What are you using for the path on the side of the house. It’s going to be so beautiful whatever you do – I love when you have a new update on the blog :)

    • Chiming in hoping to amplify the concept of another tree. Maybe even two more trees. As an avid gardener who has seen 3 70-year old trees die recently in my Northern California neighborhood, and who reads, as many of us do, about the increasing dangers of climate change, I say, please, please, please plant trees. Native species if possible.

      Some research suggests that planting trees is actually the single most impactful thing an individual can do to help the planet. Also they are beautiful and cooling and quite spiritual to have around.

      Then I agree, I’d put in large stone pavers for the seating/eating area, and shade plants in beds/borders traversed by paths of either pea gravel over decomposed granite, or more pavers.

  22. Well I live in a concrete box in the sky and know nothing about landscaping, but a friend planted some arborvitae in her backyard as a privacy screen against the neighbors, and they grew really wide AND tall, really fast. Filled out to form a complete wall of green. I believe there are different types, so you’d have to ask someone who knows. Anyway, it is year-round green and offers full privacy. Might be an idea for in front of the chain link fence.

    • Arborvitae were the screening tree of choice for our neighbors in MN – I don’t know how much they cost, but they worked great.

      • Personally, I despise arborvitae trees. I had two that were planted too close to the 2 front windows in my house, one window for each bedroom and were 2Ft taller than the eves and growing into said eaves and did NOTHING to my curb appeal, so one weekend in Sept 2016, went to Harbor Freight and bought a $12 doller pruning saw and cut those things down, leaving the root, and base of the trunk that I want out and may have to do it myself this summer but that did SO MUCH to the front of the house, that and removing the painted OSB on the front porch that’s rotting as a result of said OSB panels.

        they may be great for fence privacy, but I’m not having them in MY yard. :-)

      • I like an Arborvitae! I’ve seen a lot of situations where they look great and it’s definitely something I’m considering. They’re generally fairly inexpensive—like $50-$100 for a 5-foot tree, maybe?

  23. Oh snap, this is totally my jam right now as I live in an apartment and have lofty goals for outdoor plants while I continue to fill the apartment with indoor plants to the point where it resembles a jungle. I JUST LOVE PLANTS.

    Anyway. I love your front garden and I think you could totally get away with just copying/grabbing things from there to fill in here. Plus, it’ll save money! You could transplant some of the hosta and those hydrangeas that never really did well (I think?) and those daylilies that aren’t that great. And then for interest and color during the winter, I love what Kim and Scott have been doing and peppering in evergreens. I also live in Chicago and I think the climate is similar enough that you could take a look at their most recent garden update to get ideas. A lot of creeping blue rug juniper with a little boxwood or arborvitae hedge behind it and a horizontal cedar slat fence (a la Deuce Cities Henhouse) behind that would look so so so amazing.

    Also you do you and get you that pea gravel. I like the slate blue color of gravel and I think it’d be great here since it is BLUEstone cottage, after all! By the way, how is your front garden looking? 2019 garden update time?

    • Yes, totally!! I think I can source most of the plants from my own garden and the front of Bluestone which I’d like to make some changes to anyway. And yes I owe a front garden update—it’s been largely neglected this year but things have really filled in nicely and it looks like…something! (and thank you for the pea gravel support, haha! This is not the first time I’ve brought it up but kind of forget how much people LOATHE it. I JUST LOVE IT SO MUCH JUST LET ME HAVE IT PLEASE. I guess I also feel like if it’s not working out it’s hardly a crisis—you already have level ground and a stone base for pavers!

  24. It all sounds good to me and I can’t wait to follow along.

    You’re going to save those broken bricks and big rocks for something, right? Someday? Somewhere? LOL !

    • Haha! Big rocks: yes for sure. Busted concrete and broken bricks go to some guy who needs free fill. Full bricks get saved for…something! someday! somewhere! :)

  25. Apologies if you’ve already discussed this, but have you considered turning the cottage into an Airbnb or are you still planning to sell it? I think it would be the perfect little rental (and would require much less storage inside ;) ).

    • Both options are on the table! My feeling is that I’ll renovate it pretty much the same either way, so it’ll really just be a financial decision when it’s closer to completion. It’s an odd house and I’m not sure what the right move will be!

  26. I always love your writing and seeing your plans and progress!! This is exciting! Two (annoying) safety thoughts: if you think a young family may end up living there, pea gravel can be a choke hazard for small children, so you may want to consider that. Also, you might want to invest in chainsaw chaps and a protective helmet if you plan to do a lot of chainsaw work. My husband uses them for work and it really helps reduce injury.

  27. I’m mostly done re-doing the patio of my townhouse. It’s Roughly 15’x30’. We ended up with an eating zone (grill, dining table w/ benches, umbrella) and a lounging zone (L-shaped seat wall, Fire pit) and patio lights (not a monster). It was important to us to have an actual table for eating then we fit in whatever seating we could around it.

  28. I can’t wait to see your ideas; a morning that starts with a Mangattan Nest post is always a good one.

    I’m thinking about storage; you’ll probably want something large enough to store your chairs/table/sofa or whatever you decide on, during the winter. No room in the adorable basement, for sure. What about a corner shed with doors facing the entry path for easy access? And then raised beds along the back fence with trellises and climbers underplanted with ferns, hostas, epimedium, etc. fragrant honeysuckle? Lots of great things for morning sun and afternoon shade as it appears you’ll have.

    I love pea gravel but with that maple tree, I think it would be a maintenance nightmare. How about aggregate pavers with creeping thyme growing between? Some of them are fragrant when stepped on, which would be nice. And a tiny burbling fountain/birdbath would be perfect. Sigh. Let me know if you want some help and I’ll come over from Oregon. Practically next door!

    • Yes please, how soon can you get here?!?! :P

      • I’m serious …. I’d come in a heartbeat. If I’m a gardener and a serial remodeled, it’s not stalking, right? My grandkids can provide references, and I grew up on a ranch in Montana, so I’m well acquainted with hard work. Plus I love dogs. Can I come visit and bring my work gloves?

  29. We can’t have outdoor fires either, but I highly recommend an outdoor propane firepit. There is nothing like the comradery of sitting around a fire late into the night with drinks in hand. They don’t throw a lot of heat, so they’re great for ambiance even on warm summer evenings. You can get fairly simple, portable ones that are easy to build into a more permanant looking structure if you like that look. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through your adventures; disasters and all! Whatever you decide will be beautiful!

    • A propane fire pit—there’s an idea! Thanks, Becky! I forgot those existed but I agree—some open flame for ambiance is just so nice!!

  30. I’m so excited to see you finish this space. I’m getting some real Young House Love Pink Beach House vibes from the backyard from the size and being surrounded by fences and trees. I wouldn’t put too much back there furniture wise, as whoever rents it might be bringing stuff. But I love the idea of the concrete pavers and pea gravel and lots of plantings in mulched beds. Kind of feels like a Brooklyn courtyard patio. Maybe a small grassy patch for dogs (if you’re going to allow them)?

  31. Ok. I’m from the west coast and currently living in the mid-west. I don’t see why any landlord has to provide furniture for a back garden for renters or lighting or storage. If you truly are not going to live in the space, then just make it a clean slate,. Maybe provide some potted plants for open houses and then take them with you. I’m an older adult so I would rather rent a home with no pea gravel for sure footing. I would rather have pavers or brick or decking. I don’t know what is best for your climate there. If the trash bins are located outdoors all year round, then I would prefer cement to walk on to get to them and also to wheel them out to the curb on trash day. I love the idea of horizontal fencing however for costs, perhaps just feed those white slats that get woven into the cyclone fencing to create privacy. If it’s truly a rental property, then let the renters have the propane gas bbq or weber or not. If you wish to provide a fire pit made of stone than do so but don’t feel obligated . Fire pits are not for everyone. If you’re thinking this property would be an airbnb then yes, you should provide something in the backyard for people to enjoy it. But do not invest in expensive furnishings. As an older and shorter adult, I do not like to sit low and the chairs you mentioned do sit low and are hard to get out of. Again I don’t know your plans– rental as an airbnb for people to come and enjoy your town. Does it have beautiful Fall foliage to enjoy? Or is the home to be a rental property with annual leasers? If it’s the latter, let them provide themselves their own furniture and potted plants. Have them ask you as a landlord if it’s okay to plant in your dirt, plant x,y, z. Just my two cents. Always a pleasure to read what you’re doing, Daniel.

    • Ah, sorry, I should have been more clear! Landlords definitely don’t typically provide furniture here except in rare instances that an apartment comes furnished. So I’m thinking more along the lines of staging the house for resale OR short-term vacation renting.

  32. I vote for very closely spaced 18″ aggregate (or smooth) pavers, the cheap ones that cost under $2 each, for a large patio and walkway surface. We had them installed along the side of our house as a walkway from the side garage door to the driveway and also as what I call a “garbage plaza.” We can store all the various wheeled garbage cans there, roll them easily, have turning space (b/c the handle is strangely located above the hinges), and stash some outdoor stuff there as well, all screened by a big shrub and out of street view. I love it more than anything else in our yard.
    Where will your tenants store garbage cans, and how will they wheel them to the curb? That 4-foot area next to the house needs to be paved!

    • Sounds like we have the same garbage totes, haha! I think these will be stored in that side path space, closer to the street. I considered trying to fit them in the backyard but they are really huge—they take up about 20 square feet!—and wheeling them from the back of the property to the front seems a little inefficient anyway. They’re tricky. I hate them but they’re required by the city, and there aren’t size options for smaller houses!

  33. Would you consider a wildflower garden? Lovely and colourful. good for pollinators and very low maintenance. Just replace every year, or put in the kind that reseeds itself and call it a day. I just put on in this year, a bit late so it’s only starting to flower now, but I’m delighted with it.

    • Wait. You may not love your wildflower garden in a few years, unless you’re into high maintenance and you LOVE to pull weeds!

  34. I see others have pointed it out, but you have to see what John and Sherry of YHL have done to their pink beach house backyard, as well as their rental (the duplex) yards. Maybe minus the hot tub. ;)

  35. I am thinking storage and seating can do double duty. We purchased one of those deck/yard storage trunks in the heavy duty poly-something for our kids’ sports equipment. It has a locking lid, but it was for whenever their friends came over and you could grab a basketball, etc. There are definitely nicer ones now that are benches when the lid is closed. I have also looked at square ottoman-type seats that can hold bags of charcoal, or empty garden pots over the winter. When possible, get something that will multi-task for the renters.

  36. I can’t wait to see what you do!
    John and Sheri just did their tiny backyard at their beach house and it turned out pretty fabulous!
    Wasn’t sure if you’d seen it.
    https://www.younghouselove.com/beach-house-backyard-patio/

    PS…. your blog posts are the only one’s I read in their entirety. :)

  37. I have a balcony in Paris – not a garden of any kind – but we have two seating options we love : 2 chairs + a bistro table to have breakfast / cocktails and 2 folding fabric chairs (I do not know what they are called in the US) from the 70s we bought at a thrift store to lounge in and read (we do have great made in France loungechairs from the brand Lafuma but I’m sure you americans have even better ones!). This proved to be practical in our tiny space because the lounging chairs are folded most of winter time / when we don’t use them so we can pretend we have a bigger space while our metal bistro set is always out.
    I do love the ideas above for :
    – climbing plants instead / on top of fences
    – concrete floor with leaf patterns instead of little stones (I imagine walking on those barefoot and do not like that idea)
    But I’m sure you will end up doing MAGIC to this space. Can’t wait.
    Marie from Paris

  38. how exciting – keen to see this come along! could you do some sort of grid patio with a bog-standard concrete paver and put a groundcover/creeper in between? so you get that balance of greenery/lawn look with enough hard surfacing for furniture/walking on etc etc. not really familiar with the climate you have there but i’m imagining it could be pretty low maintenance for future tenants. regardless, everything you touch turns to gold so i have no doubt whatever solution you go with will be stunning :~)

  39. I’m excited to see what you do with this space! I’m from the South and the idea of having a non-grass backyard is pretty foreign to me. Is this because the grass wont come back after a very cold winter? As a dog owner my main question would be, where’s my dog supposed to hang out/do his business? But if this is a rental then maybe you’re imagining it as a pet-free space so that would be a non-issue.

    • We have grass up in the north, haha! I think certain varieties you might be used to in the south indeed aren’t hearty enough to survive our winters, but there are still lots of grass options. :) I guess my feeling is more that the space is so small that I don’t want to give it ALL over to a lawn, but I also don’t want some annoying little patch of grass that has to be mowed and maintained—like, it just doesn’t seem worth it?? And if it’s for a dog it’ll just be a patchy half-dead mess anyway, because grass doesn’t like dog pee. So my answer to the dog question is more like…if you’re looking for a house with a yard for the dog, this probably isn’t it. That doesn’t mean the dog couldn’t do its business out there, but it’s certainly too small of an area to rely on and I’d imagine any good dog owner would walk their dog a few times a day if living in this house.

  40. If you haven’t done so already, please check out Younghouselove’s beach house duplex backyards. They have adorable small sheds, and even outdoor showers. The yards are tiny and oh so sweet.

  41. Oh this yard content is making my day!! I cannot WAIT to see your fencing solution. Yesterday the tree people we had contacted removed 6 gigantic laurels on either side of the yard about three months early by accident (surprise!) and now I’m left with a chain link wasteland and no solution in place. I think of you and Monty Don as my home and garden guardian angels, so this is perfect.

    • oh gosh were they dead or diseased?

      • They were just wayyyy too huge for the space (I think the previous owners thought they’d be small shrubs) and apparently they’re considered more or less invasive here because they grow so aggressively and the seeds are so easily dispersed. Still, it’s been a shock to go from laurel forest to nothing in one day.

  42. I have a tiny, semi shaded, *rear garden* that I’m trying to pull into shape in Toronto, and I have so many thoughts!
    -Beds around the sides, patio-ish space in the middle. If you go with pavers/bricks/slabs of rock, irish moss is a hardy and super low-maintenance filler. Bonus: it’s soft on feet (unlike creeping thyme which gets leggy and scratchy by the 3rd year).
    -Plant drought tolerant perennials in beds and pots. Bonus points for bee and butterfly-friendly stuff. Astilbe, bleeding heart, echinacea, hostas, day lily, daisies, milkweed, honeysuckle, and yarrow have all worked well in our beds.
    -Real terracotta plant pots dry out super fast, if you’re committed to the lewk, get good plastic replicas to avoid watering constantly.
    -We have that baby Weber and it is super easy to use and clean. Def recommend. Picnic table would be excellent b/c it eliminates needing a small prep-table for the BBQ as well as having a cafe table for eating off. Adirondack chairs have big footprints, but are actually space-savers b/c, again, they don’t need side table(s)!
    Can’t wait to see what you decide on!

  43. I’m surprised no one has mentioned a hot tub yet. For me at least, nothing turns a small backyard into a true hangout zone where I can spend time in all weather like a hot tub. I think your future renters are likely to be adults without kids given the size of the place, and that’s hot tub kind of people.

    I’d make sure you have a plan for speakers for music too. Whatever outdoor outlets and such you might want for that.

    • You ain’t wrong! But alas a hot tub is a pretty expensive ordeal and just isn’t in the budget. Speakers I think will be portable bluetooth if any—this house is wedged between two other houses and I think broadcasting loud music is probbabbbblyyyyyy not the more neighborly move, haha.

  44. That is SO. MUCH. WORK! Well done! If this is a rental (or even an Airbnb-type situation), I would argue that you don’t need a grill … it might be a controversial stance but every long-term rental I stayed in required the tenant to bring their own grill (if it was allowed).

    I would echo others’ comments about Young House Love’s backyard remodel. I like that they don’t have grass in the teeny back yards and could see it working really well here! (And is hopefully less upkeep.) They also looked into custom vs. pre-fab shed situations and had some good info on that.

    Depending on the look you’re going with, the Faux Martha did a great backyard makeover with a horizontal slatted fence that was also gorgeously treated with a shou sugi ban technique. Hers is also grass-less and might provide some good inspo although is a more modern take.

    The Grit and Polish recently did a pea gravel/stepping stone “patio” in their garden and it turned out beautifully. You might check it out to see more about the install and look in a larger space. It would also still allow for drainage in the yard.

    You got this!

  45. Second and third (maybe fifth?) all the people who said Creeping Jenny. It’s a delightful bright lime green and SO low maintenance. It does fine over our Central NC winters (not as harsh as yours) and in our sweltering summers.
    Hostas would be lovely too. Also agree with the thyme.
    What about clover? There are versions you don’t have to mow, it’s great for pollinators, and it’s supposed to be very good for the soil.

    • Yes, yes! I LOVE creeping jenny! Although I noticed today that most of mine got fried this year with the heat and semi-drought we seem to be going through. Definite yes to Hosta because I have a TON of it to get rid of and this shady yard is the perfect place. Sadly I haven’t had great experiences with clover but maybe there are better mixes out there than what I used, which DEFINITELY needs to be mowed and never really filled in like I hoped.

  46. Okay! Normally I am diligent and read all the comments but this time I’m just posting so sorry for any repetition. I have a 12′ x 12′ deck that is my only back garden, the rest is communal parking space. Sigh. I love my little space dearly, but it’s just a little shy of perfect so I think about this a lot. We have a Weber propane grill (because charcoal is cute but futzy and that means we won’t actually grill as often.) We have a table that can seat six with comfy chairs with an umbrella and use it ALL THE TIME, for eating and hanging out, I’ve even used it as a desk. Gets way more love than the actual indoor dining room. I started with a cute cafe table and two chairs and it made me sad/mad very quickly because of space limitations when eating anything bigger than a granola bowl. We also have a bunch of herbs in pots, lights and some hanging ferns.

    I *wish* we had space for a chaise longue and a few comfy outdoor chairs and a bit of grass (well, clover actually. But same effect.) And that’s it! So 500 sq ft seems plenty big!

  47. Check out Young House Love’s backyard at their beach house- they got a lot of functionality in a small space

  48. hi Daniel,
    I have no suggestions but I have a question for you. I live in an old, landmarked building in Manhattan, with 6 foot casement windows. They have been painted and pocked with putty over the decades…I don’t think there is a lot of real wood there, as I discovered when I tried to strip some of the paint.
    The wood around each of the small panes is looking pretty ragged…and it is taking forever to try to sandpaper by hand.
    Would the Dremel you recommended some weeks ago have a sanding attachment…and would work on my windows. I have a DeWalt drill but I think it is much too powerful. I asked at the Lowe’s here but the salesperson was not sure.
    What do you think?
    ,Many thanks,
    Ellen

    • Sorry for the slow response! Without seeing the windows I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask, but it sounds like a chemical stripper, heat gun, or manual scraper would be a more effective way to go than a sander, and would protect the wood better as well (it’s easy to get carried away with a sander, particularly on delicate mullions). The Dremel Multi-Max 50 does have a sanding attachment, it just doesn’t sound like it’s really the tool for this particular job. Feel free to email me some photos if you want to discuss further! 6-ft casements—sounds pretty!

  49. This tiny back garden has so much potential. I’m glad that there is already one tree for shade and I think it would help soften the corner if you can put in another or a larch bush (lilac?) where the mulberry tree was. We also have a chainlink fence at the back, although it has those wood slats in it, and currently I’ve been tying my blackberry and raspberry canes to it to provide privacy (maybe you could put in berries? the community garden people could encourage them on their side of the fence too) but want to do a horizontal wood fence that is attached to the existing chain link structure. In a rental I did a temporary one to raise the height of a shared 3′ fence that my dog liked to hop over and just zip tied the panels to the fence but I’ve found there are lots of bracket options to attach wood to the metal posts for my next version.

    I think you can go far with some hostas and lavender and such perennials planted around the perimeter and since there’s no door on the rear of the house a trellis between the kitchen windows with a rose or clematis would help bring that wall into the garden. I’m not sure that Lowes will have any but if you can find “own root” roses in your area they are great for low maintenance because you don’t have to worry about the graft dying after no one mulched the base in the winter. the house next to us used to have dozens of roses put in the the former owners but after being a rental for over 10 years most of the roses have reverted to root stock and are rangy wild things with a few dark red blooms.

    • I like all of this! And yes, I do think the corner where the Mulberry was would be nice with another tree or large shrub, totally. I’ll be posting how I tackled the fence so stay tuned! :)

  50. Younghouselove recently did two tiny backyards. I loved the backyard you did in Washington or Virginia a while ago.

    • Haha, good memory! It was Washington DC, and I’ll admit to going back to look at my own blog post because I thought that turned out pretty damn well and it wasn’t too different in size! Of course part of me is like “GET CREATIVE AND DO SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT!” but we’ll see how far that takes me. I like what I like! :)

  51. This may be my first time commenting Daniel, but you asked, so… fellow Northeasterner here (western MA) so similar seasons. I’ve been dreaming about our own outdoor spaces lately. We have a small “side-yard” that looks to be roughly the same as what you’re working with. Right now, it’s taken up by a large outdoor play/swing set for my girls, but they are getting older, so thinking of the future… I too, am on the pea-gravel bandwagon and I think your plan is a solid one (Lori apparently taught you a thing or two LOL). I like the idea of some found stones sunk in the ground as a “patio” along with the picnic table idea (check your dump), a few Adirondack chairs and creating some “zones” – so, cooking zone, relaxing zone, gardening zone (with one or 2 raised beds). Definitely do the string light thing! You should check out Young House Love’s blog, they recently did the back yard at one of their SC BnBs and it’s cute! Maybe skip the hot tub tho? Cannot wait to see how it all turns out. Man, ol’Boondock sure came in handy too :) My FIL has an old beater Ford next door that we’re constantly borrowing for dump runs.

  52. I will join the chorus of pea-gravel haters. I HATE IT. The weeds are incessant once the bits of soil and such accumulate, and I also find it very annoying to put any furniture on top of. Very uneven and unpleasant to move a chair on pea gravel. I just put in porcelain 24×24 pavers in my back garden that look like golden white natural stone, and I literally can’t even tell they’re not stone if I put my nose down to it. I loooove them. They’re about $6/sf. The company is Arterra. I installed them over sand with a little room between (moss powder for a green checkerboard!) for drainage.

    For plantings, I highly suggest spirea bushes, which grow huge in no time and make bees/butterflies SO happy. Also a big fan of catmint, which gives the same gorgeous feel as lavender but is far better for NY State climate. I’ve been experimenting with climbers, and if you don’t need it to be evergreen, I have been utterly charmed by my new white clematis. It pops so beautifully against, well, anything, and the spent buds are these wonderful Dr. Seuss spirals that I like as much as the flowers! Totally no maintenance.

  53. So here’s my two cents from a newish blog reader…this will be a rental home, yes? In that case I would shy away from providing any sort of actual furniture back there (chairs, grill, etc), a) for liability reasons, in case someone manages so set fire to something etc while using *your* grill, b) so that people have fewer things that belong to you that they can potentially destroy, and c) so that there’s less to get stolen, since this house seems to be in a developing neighborhood with occasionally iffy neighbors. I’m probably excessively cautious with these sorts of things, so take that all with a grain of salt. I think maintenance-free as possible in every way is the way to go (someone above made a very good point about pea gravel actually being a maintenance nightmare – totally true – I loathe the gravel in my own yard with the fire of a thousand suns). I echo some of the suggestions above that mention using things like pavers, wide covering plants like hostas, and just enough storage to be useful.

  54. Window boxes are lovely, but how about a bar/countertop surface below one of the kitchen windows? Could be a nice pass-through. And I second the propane fire ring, or better yet, natural gas! They have one at bar height on the patio at my favorite little gay bar in Seattle (Pony) and it’s so fun to sit around on a nice evening. Don’t forget a natural gas stub out for the BBQ – tenants and homebuyers love them, and if you Air BnB you’ll never lug propane again. Put in a locking gate to the community garden if they’ll allow it! And some fun ways to look at the garden while still maintaining privacy – Window sashes with shutters? One-way glass? A speakeasy from a 1920s door? And lastly, don’t forget some outdoor lighting on the side and back of the house when you’re rewriting. Maybe a switched outlet for the string lights? And plenty of outdoor outlets for chargers. Lastly lastly – upstairs window overlooking all this and the garden! Lastly lastly lastly – some covered space (awning? Pergola with canvas?) for a little shade/shelter.

    • Huh, I never even considered a natural gas stub-out! I’ll ask the plumber…interestinggggg.

      I’m so torn on the upstairs window, but I think you’re right. It’s really hella weird that there isn’t one there and I can see it being s’cute. That room has windows on either side of the house, but those views are kinda lousy. Hmmmmmm.

  55. Definitely agree with the comments about keeping it renter friendly. You kind of have to assume they have never touched a plant in their life and may not want to do it either. Plant either VERY low maintenance things or keep it to basics and some container/potted plants that aren’t as permanent. Also assume they don’t have the right tools so unless you are providing them, it’s rare that renters will have any garden tools. Paved or hardscaped with a few planting beds around the edges and maybe a window box would be fine.

    As for seating/ambiance, stringing lights from the shed to the tree is great! And I’d lean more towards something like picnic table or something larger than a cafe table to seat more people since it will be much more usable. Cafe tables are fine to have on like a porch, but I have found very little use for them past a coffee cup. As a renter, I’d be thrilled with any outdoor area and having a larger table, some plants or the options to add some potted plants of my own and maybe space for a hammock or glider love seat I could buy would be ideal. I wouldn’t really want to come home and do yard maintenance every day or have to invest in big outdoor tools like a lawnmower/snow plow and such for a place I’m renting and may not be in next year.

    Keep it simple! Make it easy for you and potential renters to maintain, add some privacy and call it a day!

  56. I agree with others who have mentioned this. Pea-gravel no matter how it is installed is anything but low maintenance and it isn’t very nice to walk on/in as well. For low cost maybe look at decomposed granite instead. It is much easier to take care of and also walk on.

    Can’t wait to see what you do with the place.

    • Ya know, I really think decomposed granite is just not a thing here??? I have looked, I have asked, I cannot find it. The closest thing seems to be stone dust which I think is just bluestone, but it’s not pretty like decomposed granite and definitely grows weeds. I find this very upsetting because I love the look of decomposed granite!

      • Lowes has decomposed granite. I checked the Lloyd’s Lowes website (https://www.lowes.com/pd/40-Pound-S-Multiple-Colors-Finishes-Decomposed-Granite/999904113), and they have the 40 pound bag available for pick up (in your new pick-up).

        I’d send you the link to the blog I put up for the house we bought last year and are still working on, because it might make you feel better, but I don’t know that I’d want anyone else following the link. It was a very expensive and foolish purchase, and I wouldn’t want to look that moronic in front of others; though I still like the location . . . the yard is way worse than yours. It has a mulberry, also, which produces fruit.

        But, yes, decomposed granite from Lowes is the direction I would go in. I like this picnic table, because it would be easy to store: https://www.instructables.com/id/Flat-Pack-Picnic-Table-From-1-Sheet-of-Plywood/

      • Well, okay, the site went from saying it was available for pickup to saying it wasn’t available for pick-up or order after I looked for different colors. Very strange–it might worth asking the store manager, though, as perhaps there is an issue that could be worked around. I did check the other major home improvement store, and they ship to everywhere but AK GU HI PR VI (did not mention NY), so I think maybe shipping in is a possibility (just maybe not Lowes).

  57. So many comments! I didn’t get through them all, so hopefully these are new suggestions.
    1. Storage shed – something wide but not deep, with barn type slider doors. Like 2 or 3 feet deep and 8 feet wide with doors on the long side. The slider doors make it easy to open up and grab tools and maybe even tuck a mower in, if needed. Put it up against the house (maybe between the windows) so that no on is tempted to put a grill too close to the house. Many people damage their houses and sometimes start house fires this way.
    2. Renter friendly seating – What about building an L shaped bench in one corner? You could make it loungey or more upright and pair it with a dining table. World Market has great inexpensive outdoor tables.
    I’m sure you already know, but Yellow Brick Home has done a great job with their fairly small yard! I like how they lined the edges with raised planter boxes and then kept the center as pavers. Whatever you do will be great :)

  58. Thought I couldn’t love this blog more and then you name dropped Monty Don… well done, sir.

  59. Are the kitchen windows located such that you could make one of them a door for direct access to “rear garden?” Might be used more if it’s more accessible!

    • No not really, but if you look at the sketch at the end of the post, there is a kitchen door right around the corner on the side of the house!

  60. I think Karen’s back garden at The Art of Doing stuff would be a great inspiration for yours: https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/backyard/

    • I was just going to suggest Karen’s yard or the backyard of the Pink House from Young House Love! I think the Pink House might have similar dimensions and they also snuck in a shed (with window boxes!). I’ve also been hearing good thinks about micro-clover as a grass alternative, but alas I’m a city dweller so I have no real experience with it.

  61. Oh – also – I have had pea gravel over high quality landscape fabric around my garden beds and on a path to my composter for over 10 years now and they are the lowest maintenance yard areas I have ever had. I just rake it every fall and pull up the occasional weed. I love it. Much less weeding than gravel over compacted sand (which we have on a driveway) Just makes sure you use the really good landscape fabric like the nurseries use.

    • LIANNE THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO HEAR! haha! I’m always amazed how divisive pea gravel is. WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE LOVE THE SAME THING I LOVE?! Thank you for the vote of confidence. :)

  62. What about a fabulous pergola in one corner, big enough for a patio table and four to six chairs, or for a built-in covered gas fire pit that can be used as a table when covered and chairs around, with Clematis or honeysuckle growing over. I love wisteria, but don’t plant it anywhere near a wall or gutters or a fence, as it will grow and pull them apart over time. Large pavers with spreading steppables planted between across the rest of the yard. A 2’*6′ raised bed somewhere, 12″ deep so it’s deep enough to grow tomatoes or carrots or whatever the renters want to grow on a small scale, or planted with perennial herbs like rosemary etc. I’d speak with a local garden centre to see what they recommend for low maintenance perennial plants and maybe a planting scheme. Whatever you plant, start with big then medium then small – trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals. If there isn’t already, add a hose bib somewhere convenient to the raised bed so the renters can set a soaker hose on a timer, or water by hand. We added a hose bib to the front of the house near the garden while we were renovating the inside of that corner of the house because the only other one was on the opposite side of the front door, so we couldn’t run hoses on a timer without leaving the regular hose sprawled out across the entry to trip us every time we went in or out. If you’ve got access inside, consider installing an irrigation system that will water automatically – you’ve got such an open blank slate that it will never be easier than right now to put one in.

    • Also, I’m anti-pea gravel. I saw somewhere that the best way to hang string lights is to run a length of cable, anchored at both ends, and secure the lights to the cable so the cable supports the weight of the lights rather than the wires inside spring the weight, as it is supposed to prevent stress and interior breaks in the wiring and help them not get damaged in a high wind and probably a couple other things.

  63. Our national treasure Monty Don is known over the pond!? This has made my day.

    I’d be trying to balance a bit of nature friendly with low maintenance renter friendly vibes, tricky I know – pollinator friendly flowers? Bird/bat boxes?

    • Sarah, Netflix carried “Big Dreams, Small Spaces,” and many of us on this side of the pond fell in love. Then I stumbled on “Garden Rescue,” and from there, followed Charlie Dimmock way back to “Ground Force” and binge-watched. SO good, all of them. (Not so keen on “Love Your Garden” with Alan Titchmarsh et al.)

      • ohhhhh…I don’t think I watched Garden Rescue or Ground Force yet!! This is exciting. I also didn’t love “Love Your Garden” but did watch every available episode, hahaha.

  64. Any chance you can access this from the back of the house??? Always having to walk around from the front is such a pain. Even spiral steps from the second floor makes for a dramatic entrance and a nice place to put a patio or small deck. I know MONEY is an object.

  65. Hello and so love to read you blog. Sorry if this seems a little off the wall as a suggestion but:

    Is there any way the back yard could be accessed from the back of the house? I don’t know what that layout looks like but if it would allow for a back door then perhaps a storage shed with front and back doors created at the end of that 4 foot walkway. The back side could be yard things and the front for trash barrels and the bike.

    • Interesting! It’s a good idea, but the kitchen is itty-bitty as-is so adding another doorway just won’t work. I do like the idea of the double-sided shed!

  66. I don’t know about cost or maintenance issues (apartment dweller myself), but for use I vastly prefer a wooden deck to any kind of stone or gravel. It’s flatter, which makes it easier to move furniture around etc, and much less hard and cold to walk on (I’m a barefoot kinda gal). I also just think it looks frendlier. I agree that for longer term renting I’d expect to provide my own patio furniture, grill etc, and would prefer as few plants as possible that require any kind of maintenance by me.

  67. We never have a sit-down meal outside. We’re always eating but never a proper meal. So I vote for lounging chairs and a coffee (cocktail?) table. xx

  68. Love it! I’d do a low deck (almost ground level) coming off the kitchen door, then curve it as it comes into the backyard, to open it into a wide seated area underneath the maple (shade bonus). I’d make deep enough coming off the house (from the kitchen door) so that there was maybe only 1/3 of space for a garden in the north east corner. The depth would also allow for somewhere to put the bbq under one of the kitchen windows, and to build some storage in the south west corner (lean to on the house with an old door? just for rakes and stuff, but not huge). Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  69. Even in a space this size, I would kill for a clothesline. (Or is that not a thing in the USA? I’m from Australia where line drying is the norm.)

    • Ha! It’s *kind of* a thing but not especially—we are a country of electric dryers for sure. But they are available and cheap so no need to kill anyone!!! I’ll just pick up a retractable one at Lowe’s!!

  70. I’m assuming you mean long-term rental (AirBNB is a whole different thing, where you’ll be there maintaining the place frequently.) As a long-term rental, not only will you not want to be there, your tenants won’t want to see a lot of you. Add more trees or bushes that will grow large – for privacy and shade – I liked the lilac bush suggestion. Others that will flower, like the lilac will, or just have pretty leaves, would be a nice touch (red color leaves, variegated, or evergreen which is pretty year-round). No furniture – as a renter, I’d want to provide my own, not be stuck with yours. (Unless you are furnishing the house, too – but why would you for a long-term rental? Then it would be an AirBnB thing, or a corporate or vacation rental – an entirely different thing. As I renter, I want to provide my own furniture, inside and outside.) I wouldn’t want pea gravel anywhere, and also would prefer some decking rather than pavers – easier to sweep – if I were you I’d use Trex or something similar synthetic for easier maintenance than pavers and sand.

    I would also want some grass, as I would assume a lot of renters would. Are you going to allow dogs? As a dog-lover, I think you’d have a hard time saying no. So they’ll want grass to let the dog out to do their business. Maybe there will be a child – you can’t legally say no to them – and if I had one, I’d want some nice green grass for them to play on – kick a ball, play with the dog, or with a parent – hell, I don’t have a kid and I’d still want some grass for me to lie down on, stretch out, read, or get some sun. (A back yard of pea gravel would not tempt me to rent the place AT ALL.) It isn’t that hard to grow grass – especially if it is only part of the yard. Just provide a simple old-style non-electric push mower with blades so your tenants can trim it every so often if they feel inspired.

    If there is room to stash the mower somewhere (and there likely is, in the basement, near the door, on a hook), I wouldn’t even bother to provide a shed. Many renters won’t use the yard at all, or very seldom, just to sit out in sometimes, or eat out in sometimes. Those that do want to use the yard a bunch will want to arrange for furniture as they want. Same with things like string lights – all you need is some lights stuck on the back of the house to provide basic light – those who want an atmospheric outdoor dining room will supply their own strings where they want.

    Think about whether you will allow grilling. Look up local law and see if there’s a requirement that fires not be within x feet of a building. If the yard isn’t big enough to easily do it legally, don’t allow it. If it can be done, let them provide the charcoal one of their choice, but be sure they know the law, and know about fire safety, and put it in the lease (a lot of people don’t, and can start house fires when disposing of charcoal.) In a bigger house, you could provide a gas grill, but I wouldn’t for this tiny house. (If you are thinking of resale soon, and have natural gas inside, maybe put in a gas line for an outdoor grill – but that doesn’t mean you need to supply a grill for renters – leave that up to any discussions you may have later with specific renters.) Don’t put in a fire pit – that’s just asking for people to leave hot embers around, to get burned on, or to blow and start fires.

    Put in only plants that are no maintenance. You don’t want anything that will require more than a 1 time a year visit or so (for say, pruning or mulching) by you. If they have a green thumb, they’ll ask you if they can plant some stuff in the ground in the areas that will have dirt by any plants you put in, or they will grow stuff in containers. You don’t want to provide any plant container stuff – plants in containers dry out more than plants in the ground and need more water and maintenance. You don’t want stuff you wish your tenants will maintain, as they might not. You should provide a hose and ask them to water the grass and plants and trees sometimes in the summer when it is hot and dry, but don’t be surprised if you have tenants who don’t do it if they aren’t the sort who are into maintaining the yard and plants – some people are, some aren’t.

    Given that your rent will probably be high for the area, given how much you are putting into this house, it is kinda likely you’ll have transplants from NYC, or people who work a lot, or second-home renters from NYC or nearby there, and they may not be around enough (either gone working a lot, or not there except weekends if second-home renters), and may not have time for a lot of yard maintenance. So, make it the blank slate someone suggested, attractive, with some greenery and fencing and some light on it – where it will be fine if they do nothing else but plunk down a small table and some chairs, or with space for them to do more (like planting, grilling, outdoor decorating) if they are the sort who want to. (You could also leave the shed idea for discussion with specific renters who will might want a lot of outdoor furniture and stuff if they will need more space to store it all – but don’t assume it will be needed before you have renters.)

    • I also like the idea (but have no experience with) alternative low-growth green ground cover instead of grass (in which case, no mower necessary!), so long as it isn’t so delicate that I couldn’t put lawn chairs on it, sit on it, walk on it, etc.

  71. If there is a possibility of renting to anyone with kids….forget the pea gravel. It will get thrown around, and it hurts bare feet…

  72. I am currently trying to design an even smaller back garden (25 sq meters) behind a terrace house in Brighton UK. It’s a second home, so we really want to keep the price down but make it pleasantly useful at the same time. So I am thrilled that you are doing this. I have no problems stealing ideas.

    I love the look of pea gravel, but I’ve heard it’s not really low maintenance. Could you, instead, find enough bluestone pieces locally to create a kind of crazy paving/ patchwork effect at least for the central area where tables and chairs might go ? Then use mulch or pea gravel around the edges.

    Our space will be used much as you describe yours We are looking at climbers to cover the walls with green, with a few reliable shrubs in strategic corners. I’m looking for things that are fragrant when they flower, but low maintenance. I want a small fernery in a shady corner, but mostly paving.

    We are going to use a little prefab shed, painted prettily to house gardening tools, furniture and a ladder we can’t fit in our flat.

  73. A practical consideration re pots — terra cotta and ceramic pots may spontaneously shatter in very cold weather.

  74. Centipedes LOVE to hang out under low decks in the summer, then come inside for the winter. And, centipedes can live for TEN years! So, no to a deck. No to the pea gravel, because it will get to be be a maintenance nightmare. As someone pointed out, eventually, the leaves that don’t get cleared away will turn into compost, then you will start to see a lot of weeds. And, as someone else pointed out, it gets stuck in shoes, is hazardous for kids, and makes it difficult to moves things around. So, generally impractical. Large concrete patio blocks are easy to maintain, and very suitable for a small area. A colored, stamped concrete patio may be most economical, but with the tree roots under it, maybe patio blocks are better. A small bistro table with comfortable chairs, along with a couple lounging/sunning pieces. A trellis, a few large pots, and of course a few strings of lights would complete the look. An attractive storage shed would be great, and a FEW shrubs would be enough. The maple tree is enough, you don’t need another tree.

  75. Daniel,
    I have an idea and it came from Apartment Therapy of all places, Dabney Frake’s own backyard.

    She redid it and the idea is much of what I’d suggest you do Bluestone’s backyard as the dimensions of yours is very similar to hers, though she has her garage opposite the house, whilst yours is a chain link fence to the community garden but the size of each is I believe similar and the usage is exactly what to do here and I believe many of the ideas there may well translate well at Bluestone, but in the end, do what works best and just use her backyard as a springboard to at least a direction to move towards.

    https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/next-level-outdoor-makeover-of-a-bare-lifeless-backyard-244160

    Check it out and good luck!

  76. How are you using this property? Are you thinking of renting to possibly long term tenants or short term Air B&B? If renting, don’t over think this. Most tenants will bring in their own future (our current tenants brought two grills!) and may not treat anything you provide with the respect you hope.

    Put a small, but nice, shed in the corner (have you seen Young House Love’s beach house backyard?)

    Do some hardscaping – a patio area that can fit a grill and a good sized table with 4 chairs.

    A new fence is a great idea, it will make the space cozy and private. I love the idea of some climbing plants along the fence, especially if you paint it a dark color like the fence at your house.

    Landscape with some relatively low maintenance plants so you don’t have to constantly be over there gardening and mowing, as most tenants can’t be relied on to do the work. Stay away from grass if you can, and maybe opt for a low ground covering plant. Same goes for the front of the house.

    Love the idea of the lights, but be sure to put them on a timer as some people have a habit of not turning lights like that off and it can hurt your electric bill.

    Looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Love all that you do.

  77. I’d put in a flagstone patio, grass, boxwoods, shrubs, pencil holly and some white flowers like nicotiana, cosmos, physostegia, and phlox around the perimeter. Maybe a small Wolf-eye dogwood tree in one corner. Some lady’s mantle. A couple large containers of evergreen shrubs or topiary in the corners of the patio. A couple inexpensive white Adirondack chairs. A horizontal black painted wood fence on three sides. A small white shed in another corner. The grass can be mowed with a manual no-fuel push mower. The push mower takes up almost no storage, is easy and fun to use and is practical for a small space. I’d pass on the gravel in a small backyard. Greenery is soothing and magical.

  78. Being Australian, where it’s all about indoor/outdoor living, that back wall of the house with two tiny windows and no doors directly out to the backyard really kills me. Would you consider putting french doors there? I suspect not given you’re working with a tight budget… but it would be so freaking lovely to open out the house to a lovely courtyard living space in summer.

  79. I would use trellis to cover the back fence. I think a solid fence would make the space seemed more confined. Trellis would hide the chain link and give privacy, but you would get a lovely bright green light coming through from the community garden beyond. You could plant a fast growing but non invasive evergreen vine like star jasmine (trachelospermum jasminiodes) against the trellis. Star jasmine has the added bonus of beautiful sweetly scented white flowers in summer.

  80. Adding my voice to the no-gravel chorus. My current house is surrounded by a ton of it, some with landscaping fabric underneath, some atop sand. All of it is a massive pain in the ass.

    A suggestion for backyard plants that can withstand neglect from renters: old roses, like Mr. Lincoln (gets huge; roses are deep-red and fragrant) or Lady Banks (climbing rose, only blooms once a year but green and lush). These don’t need any fussing over or special treatment. they’re drought-tolerant, too.

    Always love posts from you!

  81. Hi Daniel, My advice would be don’t try to over program the space and fit everything that a “normal” American backyard would have. It is small, but the front garden is about the same size or bigger, isn’t it? Although you are working with Lowe’s and a budget on the back garden right now, think long term and plan to tie the two gardens together. Pull some plants that you use in the front to the back, use consistent materials in the two spaces so they feel like two garden rooms, and remember that you can add privacy to the front garden through hedges and planting as well as fencing, to actually use that space in the future instead of it just being an ornamental area leading to the house. Additionally, think about the flow of the space. Having herbs as close to the kitchen door as possible will increase the ease of actually picking and using them in cooking. The same for the bbq grill since frequent trips back into the kitchen are usually required. Additionally, it’s really nice to have some sort of counter or table near the grill to hold plates, sauces, tools as you grill. Looking forward to seeing the end result.

  82. I am constantly impressed in what you do with all the spaces you work on. It’s always fun to see the result and the way there!

    With the backyard, I’d probably avoid anything that requires true care. I very much get the desire to actually design it and make it super nice, but this isn’t a place you are creating because someone who has comes in with a vested interest asked you to, but a place where you don’t know if the people who’ll live there will care about it at all. Some people just aren’t inclined to spend much time in their garden, much less on it.

    Around here, landlords don’t provide any potted plants, patio furniture or similar stuff (unless it’s a house with several units and they also live there and can care for it and use it). But that may be due to regional difference, and since that different region is actually a whole other country on a whole other continent, who knows how differently things are handled here from US standards :) (it’s Germany, in case you are wondering, which you probably weren’t but now you know anyway).

    You have no idea if the future renters will take care of plants you provide, so I’d stick with hardy bushes for the perimeter and let them sort it out themselves otherwise. And if fire pits are a no by the city, it probably wouldn’t go amiss to note that in the rental contract since renters may not know city ordinances and I’m not sure how much of a problem it could make for you as the owner if they go and get a fire bowl (are they called that?).

    Many people have already chimed in about the pea gravel, so you are already warned. I’d keep away from it, because even the solutions given with vinegar and fire, much as I love the latter, would mean spending quite some time in and on an area where someone else lives. I’m not sure if, as a renter, I’d be too happy if my landlord needed to do that kind of yardcare more than once a season, especially with the smell involved with the vinegar.

    I’d probably put in at least some grass, tbh, because to me it’s just a nicer place to lounge on than slabs of concrete which also keep heat so very much, though some stable place for outdoor furniture is also appreciated. Also around here there’s been a lot of awareness recently about not sealing off too many surfaces for environmental reasons, and to keep some plants and grass for the bees and other insects. But I see how that’s also impractical again from the care standpoint.

    One thing I personally would find awesome are raised beds, like hip-height, for flowers/veggies/herbs, but that’s again something that may be totally superfluous depending on what renter goes in.

    This got a bit long and meandering, so my bottom line is that this is a space that you design not for it to be complete, but for it to be a useful blank slate for renters that can survive any level of care they may or may not be willing to throw at it. Anything you put there should be something that is practical, static and has a long lifetime so you won’t need to replace it or be aggravated because they broke it. I’d go with shed, pre-hung string lights, hardy bushes around the perimeter and then floor cover of your choosing.

    You can still style it nicely for the photos :) but I wouldn’t provide all kinds of items for renting it out (unless you are planning on an Air BnB, then basically everything I said is moot).

  83. Daniel, you are a marvel! I can’t believe the projects you take on and how consistently great they turn out! As you keep reminding us readers, you want to keep this simple. So – Keep It Simple. A nice fence is a great start. As others have pointed out (and it’s been my experience), renters will not necessarily care for plants so throw in some groundcover and call it good. Here in the Midwest, landlords do not provide patio furniture so not sure why you would unless that’s a done thing in your area. Here’s a question – will you allow your renters to have dogs there? If so, grass in the backyard would be lovely for the canines. And it would be lovely for the humans, too. Isn’t that one of the beautiful differences between renting a unit and renting a house – there’s a back yard! (Or garden, if you insist. Again – Midwest…..) I know whatever you do, it will be beautiful. Just Keep It Simple. Love you!

  84. Are you going to be selling or renting or living in as the answer to these questions would guide how much money and time I put into this project. Grass yes, gravel no.

  85. I’ll give my two cents, as a potential renter type of EXACTLY a place like this.
    Brick pavers with moss in between is way more appealing than pea gravel or concrete. Grass/dirt in a garden that small is just not worth it. Bushes around the perimeter are nice but not necessary. Also, terrified of and allergic to bees, so if I saw a place that had flowering plants, I’d probably be less like to rent
    No existing furniture because I’ll likely want my own.
    No grill as I would TOTES buy my own.
    Definitely a shed for storing stuff.

    I think a pretty blank slate is the best way to go personally.

  86. Daniel, this is a very late reply but in my quick scroll of the comments I did not see you address anyone that brought this up, and I feel like you are letting your life goals (just doing! less anxiety!) blind you to a very, very important question:

    Whither Mekko?

    Here’s what a renter or potential owner wants: a tastefully staged place that LOOKS like it could hold a shinier, more sophisticated version of my life, with less stuff in it (but don’t ask me what I’m getting rid of, that’s a problem for later and not part of the new space fantasy) and a Charming Outdoor Space with Natural Light where I will Breakfast or Dine or Sip a Fancy Beverage (a lot fewer times than I think I will) and also a place I can turf out my hound to pee in relative security when I am groggy and un-caffeinated because the dog is definitely a morning person.

    Don’t make a pea-gravel nightmare that will hurt poor puppy’s feet, potentially murder any future toddlers, and means a renter/future owner could never – even while deathly ill from bad sushi food poisoning – just let the dog into the backyard to take care of business unless they want to be washing and disinfecting gravel. Pea-gravel is reviled because it is dumb and high-maintenance and bad for creatures like dogs and babies and attractive to free-range cats who will definitely shit in it. You are the only person you should install pea-gravel for. I know you love to redo a project a year later, but when a realtor tells you that you need some grass or families/dog owners will not buy your beloved money pit, you will not love undoing two types of compacted gravel. Go apologize to your dogs and then please install a pea-gravel, covered sandbox for yourself in your own yard, you lunatic.

  87. Ooh so much potential. A seating area is a must, even if its just a small area with pavers where you could put chairs and/it a table. A small (maybe tall, narrow) shed for tools in a corner might work. Some storage benches would be great for smaller things like pots, fertilizer, small tools, etc. Low maintenance and low mess plants are a must too. I would suggest some, but I live in AZ, where low maintenance means cactus and agaves, which would not be happy in NY. :) Btw: you have totally sold me on the cordless leaf blower. I loathe dragging a giant, knotted cord around. How long does the battery hold a charge when not in use?

  88. Make sure that there is shade (mabe the maple will be enough?). An umbrella or retractable shade/awning of some kind?

    Nothing worse than trying to enjoy your third late morning cocktail while pretending to read a great work of fiction only to have the hot Hudson sun beating down on you.

    Or is that just me?

  89. Instead of a fence replacing the chain link, how about a row of tall storage cabinets about 18″ deep all across the back of the lot? Lots of storage, easily accessible, blocks the community garden from view each way, and would allow you to hang stuff on the doors for decor. Maybe hang string lights long the eave. You could have one cabinet that locks to hold landlord stuff, and the other cabinets that would hold tenant’s stuff.

  90. Hi Daniel,
    So many have commented that I wasn’t sure whether I should add my two cents but here goes.
    If you rent the property, keep it simple, nothing fancy. Your tenants will supply any outdoor furniture so the only thing you might want to do is some type of concrete patio. The surface can be scored, pebbled, or set with bluestone. A storage shed for you/ them is an excellent idea as well. Trash can placement needs to be obvious. Low maintenance planting that needs minimal care is preferred. But really, keep it simple.
    If you decide to Air Bnb, that is a different story. People look for cute, maybe a little quirky. Your staging skills will come in handy. Someplace comfy to sit is a must. A more colorful garden will have eye appeal, but again, keep it simple. If you decide to sell, that is a different story again. I’m not familiar with the Kingston real estate market but I think your curb appeal is so much more important than the back yard. Again, keep it simple. Looks like you need to decide what you want to do with the property before you put too much into the back yard. Good luck, I will be watching!!!

  91. I know I am a bit late to the party but here is my suggestion:
    Build a small shed with doors facing the 4 foot walkway on the side of the house, maybe build it from the same cedar as the rest of the fence for continuity. Then I suggest you build raised planters on the portion of the fence that faces the community garden with a bench in the middle a la Yellow Brick Home and their patio area. Then your tenant can add a table and chairs in front of the bench if they like to increase seating. I would continue the raised planters onto the right hand fence with a space to place a grill between them.
    So, it would go like this: shed, raised planter butted up against it, built in bench, corner L shaped planter, grill, raised planter. I’m not sure if that will be too much work but I think it would be really cute with pavers of some sort and leave you a grass free area.

  92. Oh honey. I KNOW how it is to want to spread the gospel of good design; to help the property realize its true potential; to show all those developers/landlords/philistines who rely on vinyl siding and speed moulding how it SHOULD be done. I know.

    But, speaking as an experienced landlord, this is your business and you’ve got to be more efficient and ruthless. That doesn’t mean stooping to their level (good design is no more expensive than crappy design!), but it does mean only spending on what is absolutely necessary. I can’t remember if you are planning to rent out or sell, but the prescription is the same for both:
    – NO PEA GRAVEL!
    – No shed. If renting, it’s will be yet another thing to maintain and repair; you do not need to provide every possible convenience to your tenants. If selling, if the back garden is cute, few will notice the lack, and it’s certainly common enough to add one’s own after purchase.
    – Replace only the fence that’s falling down. Replicate the cheap stockade from the other side (it’s an accepted style that many people are fine with, and easily repaired/replaced).
    – You CAN also do that fence along the back, but instead, consider buying the strips that can be diagonally woven into the chain link for added privacy (chain link fences are indestructable, plus you’d be creating a no-mans-land weed strip in between the two fences)
    – Leave a 2-3′ strip along the rear property line, planting a mix of shorter and taller grasses for softening and added privacy…
    – … merging into semi-circle, symetrical planting area around the existing tree and the opposite corner (where you’d plant an additional small, ornamental tree)
    – Pave with Inexpensive, but large-ish concrete pavers over the entire remainder, but the key is creating a proper base layer. This should be your biggest expense, not the fence. Also, create a defined grill spot along the fence (about where the oil tank is now), using different size or color pavers. You don’t want a tenant to put the grill up against the house.
    – Finally, I’d install two very well anchored posts 8-ish feet apart in the rear planting bed, and also properly mount (ie. in studs and with waterproofing caulk) a row of stainless hooks across the back of the house 8 or 9 feet high. These will be the attachment points for a triangular sailcloth and fairy lights and prevent tenants from improperly putting holes in the exterior.

    Essentially, you are creating a courtyard, not a garden. It’s useful, charming, and low maintenance.

    • I just wanted to expand upon my contention that you *shouldn’t* build a shed, since I’m clearly in the minority of your commenters. I think most of them are here for and really appreciate your outstanding design sense — and I do too!! — but I also appreciate your work ethic and courage to be a self-employed designer/contractor; THIS is the very important aspect that I want to nurture and guide here. A shed is a major expense that doesn’t need to happen. You are a business, and you can make your property(s) very appealing without providing every amenity.

      I read more comments and realize now that your plans are either to sell outright or to AirBnB, which, to my mind, makes a shed even more of an unnecessary expense.
      – If you sell outright, the lack of a shed may give a few potential buyers pause, but won’t affect either the market value or market interest; a buyer’s mental calculus will be “I sure wish there was a shed. Guess I’ll have to put one in.” Put bluntly, whatever some future owner wants to store outdoors isn’t your problem.
      – If you AirBnB, you will be doing the maintenance and there is absolutely no reason to duplicate tools when you live a few doors away. Durable patio furniture can be stacked and covered for the winter. If you want to provide bikes, let them get wet in the summer, then put them in your garage for the winter.

      You want to create a low-maintenance courtyard, that can be charm-ified with easy care edge plantings and furnishings (especially if this is an AirBnB). It sounds weird, but a key feature will be permanent mounting points for a sunshade and fairy lights; the sense of enclosure that a semi “roof” brings to an outdoor space can elevate it from nice to magical in the evening. I have complete confidence that whatever you choose to do will be beautiful, I just want to encourage you to remember to be smart about it too. Good Luck!

  93. Lots of thinking on this… i primarily want to suggest ideas based on what Scott and Kim did in their back yard https://www.yellowbrickhome.com/our-planter-box-garden/
    1 planter beds with seating along the north fence and east.
    2 no pea gravel… bricks or pavers
    3 shed/garbage cans/recycling
    shed- because you need to store a mower and snow blower; i would put it at the back left corner of the house… on the southeast corner and that way its NOT the first thing you see as you walk up the alleyway and it allows you to create a space on the back of the house also for the Garbage Cans and Recycling bins… that alleyway doesnt seem big enough for cans and recycling bins and things will get wet with no roof … so i would put the shed against the back left corner and then next to it the space for the cans/recycling. and maybe enclose it with lattice fencing (cheap and easy to use) so that hides them
    4 patio of bricks/pavers big square in the middle (with the planter boxes/seating along the north and east sides.
    5 south fence – maybe one planter box but it will depend on the shed doors opening out. maybe that would be the place to leave paved for a grill to be.
    6 fences… i kinda agree with the poster above who says get that the stuff that covers the chainlink fence. and then plant all kinds of vines – Clematis (SO PRETTY) and HONEYSUCKLE! they both will take over the fence in about two years… and you never have to do anything after that except trim to contain it from escaping to the other fences. for the other two sides – i know you have to replace the one along the alleyway but maybe the other one is not in bad shape. i couldnt find a photo of the whole south wall in the after photos.. but piecing together from the befores.. it doesnt look that bad

    the reason i am pushing planters is because the soil is probably not worth spending the money to make it good – you would have to cart in so much top soil and get a roto tiller and i mean you would need to go down a good foot and really should do 1.5 over the whole yard to make that earth any good for growing anything… that is a LOT of top soil and work. A planter (with open bottoms – not closed) would use SO much less and a good mix of good earth and topsoil (like what YBH did) would be cheaper and less work – and they are easier to maintain… and then you can pop plants in and out – perennials will love it – and its would be a LOT less work for tenants and you.

    so your big expenses would be the long fence on the north side, planter boxes, brick/paver patio and the shed/garbage/recycling storage area.

    Plants – you can do annuals for now until sept when you can plant perennials for next spring if you want to. Perennials are more but they will last longer and be less work for you/tenants. in sept you could do some evergreens to anchor the boxes – but you would have to watch them in the winter – it would be too soon to get roots – so likely wait til the spring for those – but if there is a good sale then you could try. i wouldnt put anything new in after mid october well before your first frost date (check it).

    i am jonesing to work on something like this blank space… cant wait to see what you decide!

  94. ETA that obviously with planter boxes and pavers you may not need the mower in the back yard but i think you have grass in the front yard … so that is why the mower is in there! also excuse the typos… ugh i found an ‘its’ that doesnt belong. i wish there were edits for comments. sigh

  95. So many things! First. There is a damn mulberry tree just on the other side of the fence from my driveway and I want to cut it down so bad! The berries destroy my car and my neighbors couldn’t care less. We recently cut every single branch that was hanging over our fence and the tree looks terrible and more than half of what is left is dead. Neighbors still don’t care to cut it down. Please note it provides zero shade for them so I don’t get why they are holding on. Second. I have a 7500 sq foot lot with a 1100 sq foot house so that’s a lot of yard. It’s all dirt and I am totally overwhelmed. I hired a landscape designer and she did plans for the entire property including a plant shopping list for $1200. For anyone who is totally overwhelmed, I would highly suggest this. Third. Young house love built a super cute shed in their beach house backyard. Check it out! And take it from them, string lights make everything cuter. Lastly. If I had a small yard I think I would want 2 bigger loungey chairs for me and my partner and a table I could fit as many people around as possible (even if that means benches). I want to be able to invite lots of people over but still want something a little special for myself. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!!!

  96. If you’re renting, I feel like built in benches and planters like Kim and Scott did on Yellow Brick Home would save space and there would be less potential damage. Renters may have their own outdoor furniture to bring in as well. If you give a good base it could look amazing and keep the seating to the edges. Maybe bring in a custom table to use with the benches and it would save space too.

  97. can you recommend a power washer? used any that you like, are easy to operate?

  98. I’m excited to see what you do here! FYI, if you don’t either have the mulberry stump ground, or treat it with something to kill it, it will sprout new, luxurious growth for years. It will be a constant battle.

    • We had some incredibly invasive trees (walnuts and kentucky coffee trees) that kept sprouting after being cut and finally had really good luck with cutting, and then IMMEDIATELY drilling a number of .5″ holes down into the stump, then painting the cut and filling the holes with round-up. This is the only way I’ll use round-up, but other than grinding the stump, it’s the only thing that works. (immediately because you want the chemical to be drawn down into the roots along with the sap, and that starts to happen right away)

  99. Noticing that lots of people are recommending doing something similar to YHL. Much as I love what they did, I’m kinda hoping you channel the old grandpa of the laundry room. Would love to see something repurposed. Old oil tank becomes a bbq? Build shed out of your stash of old wood and building materials? Use the old concrete and stones in patio? What would Grandpa do? He’d make a space to drink his morning coffee or his post yard work beer. Simple, frugal, and a nice space to be in. You got this!

  100. Hey Daniel! Finally, a post I can actually help out on. I’m a student landscape architect, just finished my first year of an MA in LA so, I may be able to offer you some advice.

    Firstly, pea gravel sounds great, as does a low maintenance garden. If I were you, I would probably want another tree to add some height to the space, possibly offset from the maple (which I love btw) on the other side of the garden. People shy away from putting trees in the middle of a space, but what about a nice multistem towards the back of the garden that could shelter some form of storage, and also provide a quieter area? Or even two trees close together (they will keep each other smaller as they fight for nutrients and light). I would go for a light canopy tree in comparison to the maple which is probably a little denser. Maybe something like a rowan, or betula, cherry birch are beautiful and will provide ample year round interest.

    For plants, you should go with perennials and grasses for key low maintenance. Lavender mixed with Mexican feather grass? Ferns (for shady/wet areas if you have them?) Check out dechampsia, stipa gigantic (for height) black mondo grass for lower areas? I wouldn’t plan to mulch anywhere without plants because even with a weed barrier below mulch breaks down and you’ll eventually grow weeds on top of your barrier, and really you should have plants as they will outcompete weeds once established. You could look at some echinacea, anemone, aster, thistles, euphorbia. etc etc. I don’t know the garden very well to give perfect recommendations. Another idea would be instead of mulch to grow festuca rubra creeping grass with perennial flowers. Its a perennial deciduous grass that grows to about a foot tall and dies back in winter. It requites no maintenance, apart from the occasional brush and is lovely.

    In terms of climbers – YES! I believe every fence and wall should be covered in plants.. Ha! I would be thinking climbing roses, climbing hydrangea, different types of Ivy? Wisteria? There are so many options. I have a trellis fence and I’ll be opting for climbing roses, ivy, hops (for beer making in my tiny urban courtyard garden haha), passionfruit plant, blackberries and kiwi plant.

    Other key things I would mention is, consider the sun, how it affects the garden in winter, the fact that the garden is east facing means morning sun will be much nicer. I’d also stick to a colour palette for planting and make sure you match it up with the front garden so it connects. You also want to ensure that your inside connects with your outside. Thresholds are very important, as are edges.

    Hope that has given you something to think about. Can’t wait to see what you decide to do.

    Meeka.

  101. Have you considered growing pretty climbers over the chain link fence for privacy instead of building a timber fence. Much cheaper than buying lumber, and an opportunity for scent and colour (think jasmine, honeysuckle, wisteria, even roses). Another plus for me is that plants climbing up a structure somehow give me a sense of a world beyond the garden, rather than the visual full stop of a wooden fence. Just a thought… Keen to see what you decide. Whatever it is I bet it will look great. :)

  102. corner built in bench with storage cubbies built in. lift the seat type to store all the outdoor things. depending on funds you could even add an outlet or two inside for charging of power tools.
    making a separate area for dining, cooking, and lounging always makes a tiny space feel bigger. providing planting beds that have some year round plantings inside will keep the space looking great all year. the renter can (or not) add their own flowers in between these depending on their interest. large pots or containers are also a nice touch.

  103. We bought a round table, a couple little side tables, and a bunch of chair in that black metal mesh about 20 years ago. They still look great! Of course, before we even used them my husband sandblasted them and spray-painted them with black Rustoleum. But still. They are comfortable, don’t blow around like plastic furniture does, and can stand out in the weather year-round. (Remember, some patio furniture needs to be stored indoors over the winter; Bluestone cottage does not have space for that.)

    Might I suggest a deck raised 6″ off the ground and made of those miracle wood & plastic boards that look real? Zero maintenance (except for perhaps a once-a-year power-wash), and you never need to worry about the weeds coming up through the pea gravel. Leave a 2′-3′ margin around the edge of the garden for plantings.

  104. Have you seen the renovation Young House love did of their pink beach house? Great ideas for a small backyard!

  105. Looking good! My thoughts (you DID ask!) on seating…. Bistro tables look amazing and cute but really are not all that comfy to sit at, ever. I would rather have two nice Adirondack chairs on a slab (gravel gets weed and hurts bare feet) with a little table beside me. And, you want nothing plant/yard wise that takes a lot of maintenance because some people just aren’t into it. Decking or nice stone slabs, some nice flowering perennial shrubs on the edges, pretty lights on the fence or something. Perfect.

  106. I am not sure that defining areas will last long with no upkeep that you can count on. I would count on kids and dogs trying to use the space also. Someplace they could play safely without much worry. Just bare dirt covered with whatever they put on playground areas would be a good start. Maybe some non poisonous plants in pots. As much shade as you can provide, everyone loves pergolas. I know you could make it look good, somehow. And practical.

  107. I’d love to see a paver path (bluestone or slate)/ patio with beds to the edges that add some curves to the yard. Can you do a gas firepit like so? https://www.lowes.com/pd/Bond-Canyon-Ridge-20-in-W-50-000-BTU-Stone-Look-Composite-Liquid-Propane-Fire-Table/999978856

    Its not much different that a gas bbq and would give a cozy little focal point.

  108. Hi Daniel, looks like you’ve got a plan and I’m sure it will look fantastic. I do have a suggestion for hiding that chain link fence, Black Lace Elderberry Shrubs. I purchased 3 -1 gal. pots of these cool plants at Lowes about 3 years ago and they grew full sized 12′ tall and 5′ wide by the second year. Good privacy screening even in the winter because the branches fill in rather nicely and you can even prune them into a smallish tree (think Japanese Maple). They get fantastic pink flowers that smell amazing, they do get a small edible fruit but I’ve yet to get a taste because the birds pick them clean very quickly. I did snag a dozen blooms and made Elderflower Cordial following Monty Don’s recipe and it was tasty. The new ferny leaf growth comes in blackish green and its a really good natural privacy screen. I’ve pruned them 3x this year already and they are well over 12′ tall. So for $60-$100 give or take with quantity, inflation and availability you could have yourself a nice natural privacy screen and we know you love black as an accent color. These versatile plants also thrive in sun, shade, drought and floods. Looking forward to seeing the finished product, all the best!

  109. Because of my first (so sadly missed; I lost it, can’t recall the title and so can’t replace!) beloved gardening book I am a big fan of parterre gardens. What if you did sth like that using boxwood or some other compact, slowish growing thing? The seating (for a rental/when you don’t know the configuration of the potential human groupings) could be a small handful of chairs and a couple little tables. Light metal (in case your renter is a weakling like me these are easier to move) that can stand being outside year round. Maybe for a touch of fanciness or blissness there could be a water feature, for the soothing sound of it.

  110. Since the yard is so small and there is no storage, there should not be any grass ! Even a reel mower (and a place for it to be) is a PITA.

    A somewhat inexpensive solution to the chainlink fence is to hang up privacy screening. Most of the stuff is semi-sheer, so I made my own. If you use a UV resistant canvas, like for awnings, it should last for years. You can buy a grommet setting tool for cheap, or take it to a shoe/leather repair type place and they can set them for you. If you’re not the sewing type an upholstery shop could whip up some privacy screening to your specs. Sunbrella fabric comes in many colors and some patterns. Places like Big Duck Canvas sell a small selection of acrylic canvas in colors, and also 72″ wide waxed heavyweight canvas. Just ziptie it to the fence through the grommets, trim the zipties, and it’s fine.

    I have a commercial neighbour with a very ugly fence/garbage/etc. The absolute cheapest UV resistant material is recycled billboard tarps – which are solid black and completely opaque on one side. The sizes vary, but the one I used was 14 x 48′ feet. It weighed almost 40 lbs ! This is the absolutely cheapest material to be had. It’s super tough and reinforced between the layers. While it is vinyl, it is not super shiny on the black side. You can buy them online for about $ 60.00USD for that size. Other users have said that it has excellent UV resistance and will last for years outside. They are easy to cut and sew. The only hassle is where to lay it out to cut it ?

    If you will be renting, then eventually selling, it may not be worth the expense of building a fence around the entire perimeter ? The chainlink looks like it is in good condition and straight (as well as being tall) so this may be a bonus for a future renter/buyer ?

  111. Oooh, I’m so excited to see what you do with this space!
    In my experience, if you can keep the yard maintenance to an absolute minimum it will always look fresh. If greenthumbs move in they can add more. Use plants that grow in local parks and other peoples backyards and thrive with the rain water they receive. Larger plants and flowering shrubs will give a more established feel, are hardier, and provide a better focal point than many small plants.
    There’s nothing more sad than dead plants in containers and they need much more water and care than those planted in the ground.
    If you still want some containers, plant shade plants, I have some huge ferns in pots, that grow back beautifully every year.
    If it gets cold there, avoid terracotta, I love them but when we moved to a colder climate they all cracked. Glazed ones have been are good though.
    Best of luck with whatever you do, I’m always so excited to read one of your reveals.

  112. My backyard (it’s a rental) is about the same size and it edged in mulch and lariope which is great because it’s a very low maintenance and only needs to be cut down once a year in the winter but still provides green. I would do some sort of paver area to hang out in and definitely do the Adirondack chairs for seating. The plastic ones everyone seems to have are great and not easy to destroy. You could mulch around the tree and plant flowers if you want

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