Posts Tagged ‘Yard’

Tomato garden 2014

Like every year, we planted our 2014 tomato garden along the sunny side of the garage.  Unlike every other year, however, this year the first 6 tomato plants went into the ground Mothers Day weekend – at least 3 weeks earlier than usual.  For most of a month, they stayed protected in a mini-greenhouse tube made of plastic and wire semi-hoops.

The early planting and efforts to keep them warm in May were in response to last year’s tomato harvest, which didn’t start in earnest until September. With frosts coming in early October, the tomato plants were a lot of work all summer for not much yield.

Here they are this year on July 19:


Today is August 1 – and checking in on our plants, here’s what we find:


The left-most plant is finally taller than I am.


The 6 plants nearest the front of the house/the door are obviously the ones planted in May.  The other 5 were planted in June, per usual.  The difference in the size of the plants is obvious – and we picked our first 3 tomatoes today.  They are not ready to eat yet, but they are orange enough to continue ripening in the relative safety of the window.  Planting 3 weeks early seems to have moved the harvest up by at least that 3 week margin.



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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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While we had the electricians in doing the wiring for the new fans, we also had a few little things done in the kitchen.

Previously, we’d had to string the power cord from the phone across the backsplash to where the coffee pot is plugged in.  Thumbs down.  So we had an outlet added on a panel with a dimmer switch, so the phone could be plugged in right near the phone jack.

The dimmer switch goes to the new lantern alongside the slider.  The deck previously had no light at all, so grilling involved a little guess work, and/or a headlamp.  The lantern has a 60w bulb, so the dimmer is probably overkill.  But if we ever want something brighter, we’ll have a way to tone it down for sitting on the deck.

The outdoor outlet below the lantern is also new.  It has no distinct purpose other than, “it seems like a good and potentially useful idea.”  We have an outlet on the back side of the family room, below the light, but it’s pretty out of the way.  (Read:  requires an extension cord for Christmas lights.)

The spotlight fixture is also new.  We just swapped that ourselves for the cheap and ineffective jelly jar light that was there before.

Not super exciting, but it’s a lot brighter.  We leave the switch (in the family room) on, and let it shut on and off with the motion sensor.  I think we need to angle it more toward the deck, but overall it’s been pretty useful at lighting up the yard.

The other electrical project was back upstairs:  we had a whole house fan installed over the stairs.

Fortunately, the house already had ridge vents and vented soffits, so we didn’t need to install more venting.  That might have been the only easy or fortuitous part about getting this done. First, just getting the fan was a hassle.  Very few stores stock them, and most places were charging upwards of $90 in shipping, and/or had multi-week delivery times.  A far cry from the giant box containing 3 ceiling fans that arrived via free super saver shipping from amazon.com!  We finally tracked one down at a more-or-less-area Lowe’s, but what a pain.  We also needed to figure out ourselves what specs we needed:  size, capacity (in CFM), belt vs. direct drive, etc.  (For anyone considering one, we went with 30″, 5700 CFM, belt driven for our 1860 sf house.)  The guys at Lowe’s looked at us like we had three heads when we asked them.

We also had some difficulty finding someone to do the installation, since whole house fans fell off the popularity charts with the rise of central air.  We ended up hiring two guys to do it; the electrician who did the other fans and fixtures wired it, and then we got a carpenter to do the installation.  In the intervening weeks we talked to a lot of people who told us it couldn’t be done because we have 24 inch on center trusses over the stairs that can’t be cut (true, but you can install around them), people who told us it was a ridiculous project because we already have central air, and people who told us they “just don’t do those anymore.”  All of which was super helpful.

In any event, it did finally go in, and there it is:

All that’s left is trying to figure out how to get at the marks on the ceiling and the walls left by the carpenter’s hand prints.  There are some on the ceiling around the fan, on the wall, and on the far wall over the stairs from the carpenter’s ladder.  I was disappointed by those.  Ah well.  In the summer we’ll be able to turn it on at night and replace all the stuffy air in the house with cool outside air in minutes.  That will be nice.

That wraps up our electrical projects.  With the exception of a little tree surgery work outside that will hopefully be done soon, it will be back to our regularly scheduled DIY around here.

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So, it’s been a while since I’ve visited Guin’s Yard.  Oops.  I’ve been a little busy this spring and summer:

In June I visited here:



and since February, I’ve been training to do one of these:


with some of this

<– in the middle.

My first tri was successfully finished a week ago today, although now I’ve done all this training, I’m planning to do 4-5 more races this summer, a mix of tri’s, open water swims, and road races.

All in all, I haven’t had much time for house projects.  Nonetheless, I did (finally) get around to finishing the cork wreath…  Ta da!

I’m pretty pleased with how it came out, although I didn’t anticipate that it would be so close to the color of the brick.

From any distance at all, it really kind of blends in with the brick facade of the house.  I bought some teal ribbon, and am considering a bow for it, just to see if that would help it stand out at all.

I don’t know about the ribbon… we’ll have to see.

In any event, I’m happy to have the project done, off the table, and onto the wall!


Dahlias are pretty.  Just sharing.  🙂

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