Posts Tagged ‘Landscaping’

One of our big projects this summer and fall was to revamp the landscaping (or start to) on the front side of the house.  Unfortunately I was totally remiss in taking real “before” photos, but this is the area in question earlier this spring:



The things we were seeking to change were:
– remove the bush in front of the front door, which as soon as summer comes, needs to be cut back every couple weeks to keep it from overgrowing the walk.
– remove the white flowering bush on the corner of the house.  By May it was starting to overtake the bay window.  By June, it was out of control.  Again.
– remove at least one of the azaleas.  There are two, right next to each other.  Red blooms in early May, pink blooms in late May, and they look terrible together.
– fix the general grassy messy look that we had going on as soon as the spring flowers (daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths) finish blooming.

In the long term, we plan to replace the lilacs too, but not yet.

…and… here we are in September:

So, no, it’s not super impressive looking right now.  But given some time, I think we’re headed in a good direction.

The bush at the end of the bed (in front of the front door) is gone, root ball and all.  We also dug out as many of the grape hyacinth bulbs as we could find.  They look pretty for a couple weeks in the spring when they flower, but it’s just not worth the mess they look the whole rest of the year.  We also dug up some daffodils and hyacinths.  Those we hung onto; not sure where we will put them.  Those we wouldn’t mind keeping.  Same goes for the daylilies.

Now even if the lilacs pinch the walk a little, at least the other side is clear.  Plus it seems a little more welcoming not to have a bush smack in front of the front door.  The mums looked pretty and festive for the fall.  We’ll have to figure out what to do about that part of the garden bed in the spring.

The big, white flowering bush on the corner of the house has been replaced with a gray gleam juniper, which will eventually get to be 5-7′ wide, and 15′ tall.  It’ll be a foot or two clear of the house at mature size, and will never encroach on the window.

It has a twin mirroring it on the other side of the house, to the right of the driveway.  There used to be an enormous, sprawling honeysuckle plant there.  Gone!  Hopefully the grass seed surrounding the mulch circle germinates soon.

The original red azalea we moved to the middle of the bay window, and two matching red azaleas went in flanking it.  Eventually they’ll grow together, without growing all the way against the house.

For its part, the pink azalea took a field trip to the backyard.  I didn’t hate it, I just hated it next to a red azalea.  Hopefully it survives the transplant to the side fence area.  (I swear, there are lilacs flanking it.  Baby plants are a theme around here.)

Our other recent acquisition was a Blue Prince holly, which we’d been in the market for:

It’s pruned a little roundly, and its leaves aren’t as deep blue-green as the Blue Princess hollies that we have, but it looked pretty healthy for spending the whole summer in a bucket at a nursery.  And on year end clearance at $20 (60% off!), it was a buy.  Next year (hopefully!) our female blue princess hollies will be pollinated by the new male holly so they will grow bright red berries.

And one more backyard activity for the weekend…

I mean, that’s what it’s for, right?

Happy Sundog!


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Over Memorial Day weekend (yes, this post is way overdue) we had the mulch delivered to be spread over the portions of the newly leveled backyard that will become landscaped beds.  12 cubic yards of mulch, to be exact:

The tarp was a cute thought, but no.

Before we spread the mulch, we treated the area that we’d be mulching with Round Up.  We hadn’t been super successful at growing grass back along the fence, but there was enough that it’d come through the mulch if we didn’t go the herbicide route.  We also had endless Virginia creeper vines and other weed varieties that we didn’t want coming up through the mulch.

We let it sit overnight before spreading the mulch over it.  The rest of the weekend was mostly a blur of landscaping rakes and wheelbarrows.

By the end of day 1, we’d made some good progress:

On the left side, the mulch ran all the way to the side fence and stopped.

On the right side, it ran up under the conifer (red spruce?) and stopped.

On day 2, we staked out the run up the left side ending with the area under the blue spruce:

We also removed the bulk of the honeysuckle bush next to the blue spruce.  This is a lousy photo of it, but it had these bizarre looking shoots going 4 or so feet above the height of the rest of the bush, plus it was big, messy, and didn’t bring much to the table.  So with considerable effort with a pruning saw, out it came, less the stump that’s still there.  Along that fence, we planted a pair of lilac bushes that we’d been given a while back, that hadn’t had a place to go.  They’ve overwintered twice on our deck – they must be extremely hardy!  Then in went the mulch.

We will eventually take the rest of that honeysuckle stump out.  We’d just maxed ourselves out for the weekend.

We also planted grass seed in the back corner in the areas that previously were not grass, but will be in the future.  The lawn will go a couple feet deeper to the fence than it used to (in theory).

While we were in removal mode with the honeysuckle, we also removed the “miniature” lilacs in the planter boxes on the deck:

As much as I love lilacs, these have been pretty miserable about 50 weeks a year for most of the time we’ve lived here.  (The other two weeks, they’re blooming.)  They were never meant to be contained in a space that small, so they were constantly growing onto the deck, into the grill, into the stairway, etc.  These pictures were taken in mid-May, by which point they were already overflowing their spaces.  The constant pruning effort isn’t worth the brief bloom.

So out they came!

For lack of any other amazing plans, I just planted some annuals, and will put in some herbs.  The planter boxes are in really rough shape, so it’s one year at a time.  At least I won’t have to keep cutting the lilac hedge back to keep it out of the grill.  As a bonus, we can see over them to see our hard work on the back corners from the deck now!

Since I’m writing this post a month later, we have a little perspective now on our efforts.  For one thing, I envy us our lush green May lawn.  It unfortunately got a little crispy while we were away earlier this month.  We’re also having some trouble with weeds coming up through the mulch.  It was predictable, but it’s annoying — some are almost as big as the hollies we’ve been planting.  Dealing with that is going to be an ongoing effort.  I guess that’s what happens when you reclaim what was growing wild and try to domesticate it.  The mulch is great though.  It makes mowing the lawn so much easier, and it fills in the low areas so we don’t get big puddles like we used to.  I hope that translates to fewer summer mosquitoes, and I know it translates to fewer wet, muddy dog paws coming in the house.

Next up, along with sporadic lawn projects, will be the half bathroom redo, which I think we’re finally going to start this month.  Hopefully I’ll get pictures of that up more promptly!

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This past week we had a tree service come in and remove the poplar and a maple from the back fence area, and take a few dead limbs down off the oak.  I have no good pictures, but it was a pretty great show while I had breakfast.  They used neighboring trees like cranes to support the tree being cut, so it could come down in sections.  I admit to being glad they were fully insured while I watched, though.

The poplar is the skinny white trunked tree near where the guys are standing.  It came down first, suspended from the oak.  Then one of the two maples behind the oak came out.  The poplar was fed into an industrial size chipper/shredder, but the maple’s carcass is still here:

When we eventually split it, it will make good firewood.

Once the trees were done, we spent most of the weekend clearing and leveling the back corner.

The primary subjects were the mound of dirt between the oak and maple, and the depression over by where Guinness is sniffing.

First the white pine came out.  We wanted to do that before filling the hole, so the stump would be buried.  It was kind of a straggler.  (The red spruce will eventually come out too, but not yet.)  Then we dug out the stones that lined the Forever Wild corner.  I was pretty disappointed when I realized those cute little stones were about the top 15% of much larger, heavier, and less cute stones.

See what I mean about the rocks?

Then came the leveling.  First I dug out the mound and moved most of it to a low-lying area to the left.  The fence had been gapping over the soil there, so leveling it out gave the advantage of filing it in to stop the gapping.  Guinness may someday get a 4-footed sibling, and we don’t want a puppy wriggling through.

Then we finally had to face it.  The 5 cubic yards of soil we’d had delivered.

The rest of the day involved a lot of this:

and a lot of raking with the landscaping rake to spread it.  By the end of a longer day than we’d expected, we’d spread about 4.5 of the 5 cubic yards.  It looked pretty good!

Even after 4+ cubic yards of soil, the hole is still a relatively low point in the yard, but now it follows the curve and isn’t so extreme.

It’s hard to believe all the area that’s not covered in grass used to be essentially given up to wild and useless.

Fully exhausted, it was time to sit back and use our highly technical low spot finding device.  An hour or so later… there it is.

Sunday morning it was back to the wheelbarrow for the last handful of runs.  We extended the soil out onto the grass a little more to fill in where the puddle was forming, and filled in a couple random holes and depressions in the yard. There was a small celebration when the driveway got to this point:

We threw grass seed down on the areas that are supposed to be grass, and planted the four hollies across the back fence line, about 4.5 feet off the fence, and 8-10 feet apart.

The weekend was a HUGE amount of work.  We are both exhausted and sore.  It’s sort of disappointing that for now, it isn’t very exciting to look at:

But with a little mulch and a few more plants, I think it will look pretty good.  And one of the unexpected benefits to having had some of the trees removed is that I now appreciate some of the mature trees that we have a lot more:

Before, it was hard to notice or appreciate the oak because it got lost in all the scrub.  So, hi there now!  I can’t wait to put a hammock between the oak and the maple.

And with that we sign off for the week with just a few pictures of spring in Guin’s Yard:

Guinness likes the smell of spring.

and so do his people!

Lilac bloom is a pretty pleasant time to pick to be outside all weekend hauling dirt!

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Last Christmas, a very good friend who happens to be a landscape architect, gifted us with a landscaping plan that he prepared for our lot, using the original lot survey, the existing fence, a few mature trees that we’re keeping, and redoing almost everything else.

Our yard currently has a serious case of things having overgrown their spaces, or having been planted in too small a space for the variety’s mature size, so there’s a lot to remove.  The landscaping plan will be implemented in phases over the next bunch of years, a few parts at a time.  One of the first is the back fence line.

When we bought the house, the back property line was sort of a mess.  There were (are) a few nice mature trees, but the rest is just kind of wild.  It’s everything the developer didn’t bulldoze (back in 1985), and the previous owners left it that way.  Although the real estate listing photo makes it look like there’s nobody behind us (overexposure FTW!), there are houses back there.

As trees have died, and as we’ve realized that we were unnecessarily ceding the back 10 feet or so of the property to no man’s land (which became more evident when the fence went in), we’ve started removing things.  Last summer we cut down a bunch of “volunteer” trees that were scrawny and badly located, but the stumps were left behind:

So this spring we’ve been working on clearing that back corner out so we can start moving forward with it.  We took the stumps all the way down to ground level, raked all the leaves out, and removed the pile of rotted firewood stacked between two maples (it had rotted even before we moved in), removed the dead varmint in that stack of firewood, and cut down the one maple that we felt ok about doing ourselves.

Yesterday’s starting point:

and Ending point, ten or so lawn & leaf bags later:

Ok, so let’s not lie.  It’s still kind of a mess.  But at least it’s a mess without piles of leaves, and we can see where the contours are that we need to level out a little.  We can also see the rows of stones that make sort of a line of demarcation:  probably the old owners “mow up to here” line.  Those need to come up.  But the amount of land that we’ve cleared out is probably almost as large as the entire backyard at our last house!

We have an estimate and are just awaiting a call back from the tree surgeon to schedule:  The poplar (right most in the above photo, growing at an angle) and the maple up against the fence (leftmost tree inside the fence) are both coming down.  The oak and maple in between are staying (and hopefully holding up a hammock someday).  Once those are down, we need to even out the ground a bit, mulch, and start planting.  These hollies are the first four of many that will line the back fence:

The plan is that they will grow tall enough to give us some year-round privacy from our rear neighbors, although we’ll need some patience for that.  The yard is going to be a lot of work, but we look forward to having something a little more planned and a little less forever wild.

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This weekend, with some help from our friend A and his chainsaw Nibbles, we dug our front yard out of the arborical cave it was fast falling into:


Despite last year’s pruning, the larger maple in front of the house was getting tough to mow under again, so we wanted to take it up a whorl of branches.


The other red maple (next to the driveway) needed to come out entirely.  It didn’t get the pruning it needed 20 years ago, and the resulting triple trunk didn’t lend itself to corrective pruning at this point.  One of the three main branches also had a (remarkably lucky for us) fall this winter:

which left the remaining branch cracked lengthwise, and only half as thick.  We’ve been concerned that a wind or ice storm would bring the other half down, and that we’d be less lucky with where it fell the second time.  Plus, it was getting annoying picking the leaves out of the Subaru’s sunroof when low-hanging leaves got closed in.  So, regrettably for the tree, it needed to come out.

Nibbles took care of that in short order, and laid waste to the trees:

"Hey, there's a house back there!" - Neighbors

In retrospect, doing it the day after a Friday night local high school graduation was probably poor [lack of] planning on our part.  Multiple neighbors on the street (including next door and across the street, oops) were having parties for their graduates, so cars were going by and trying to park around our mountain of tree limbs all day – but at least we were done with most of the sawing by lunch time, and had the yard cleaned up (more or less) by 3pm or so.

A took the bulk of the useable wood home to split, dry, and eventually use as firewood.  There was enough to pretty much fill the bed of his truck.  The smaller stuff stayed behind for the town to pick up (we’ll have to call them on Monday, given the large volume…).  The yard now looks like this:

Not bad.  We still have a tall, mature tree in the front yard, which I like, but it doesn’t hide the house anymore, or take up the entire yard.  When the scars age a little from the removed branches and it grows a little, it should look just fine.

We still need to grind the stump of the maple that came out, and decide what to plant in its place.  Part of that decision will hinge on whether the existing bush stays.  Lilacs are front runners, because they won’t grow so tall that they shade the tomatoes – a side benefit to the tree coming out.

Speaking of the tomatoes…

Here’s hoping for a good year!

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