Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Yard Projects, Appreciating Mulch

After the bathroom project consumed our summer 2014, we were gung ho to finally tackle some of the yard projects we had been putting off for awhile, as in years.  We repainted the outside of our house in the summer of 2008 and so were spending a lot of time outside.  It was during these hours in the hot sun, scraping and sanding old paint off our house, that I realized I hated most of the landscaping.  We had done very little to it at that point besides maybe some weed pulling.  So one night while Matt was working, I started tearing out plants.  My Dad randomly showed up to help me scrape/sand/paint (wherever we were in the process) and found me tearing out day lilies.  Then we went back to the house but the fire was lit in me to do something about the landscaping I had spent weeks in, around, and over.

Fast forward a few years and nothing much had changed.  I had torn out most of the plants/bushes and moved a few things but we had never gotten around to actually planting new.  One flowerbed had become our (occasionally successful) garden.  Another we had completely eliminated.  But all the beds around the house were just half full at this point.  I read some article somewhere that said that houses with good landscaping were more likely to be broken into so I just decided our bad/lack of landscaping was our theft deterrent.

Actually finishing the yard has been a very slow project over the last two summers especially.  In fall 2012 we had a stamped concrete pad poured to replace paver blocks.  That was a HUGE improvement.  HUGE.  I had been spending 1-2 hours a week weeding between all those blocks (and had stopped all together once we decided we were replacing it, which is why it looked like this).  There was one summer I was able to kill all the weeds with weed killer and sand but despite trying the same method other summers, I never killed them all again and would be out there, hours.  It sucked and I hated it.

Fast forward through one adoption and a bathroom project to last summer when we decided we should finally, 7 years later, finish the yard projects I had started in a fit of frustration when painting the house.  It's been slow.  I am much more confident in my indoor decorating skills than outside landscaping, and don't have the best track record of keeping plants alive.  But we were going to try.

This is approximately our starting point, although if you know my house well you will notice the bathroom window has not yet been removed which means this picture pre-dates the bathroom project (also, a tiny Luke playing near the flamingos) but this is basically where we started a year ago, bathroom window aside.

Now, I am not saying our backyard is amazing or Pinterest worthy or any of those things BUT we have made big improvements so far this summer and through last summer.  Last summer I made a list of all the projects we wanted to accomplish:

-paint AC unit
-paint other things on the back/side of the house
-transplant hostas
-transplant daffodils 
-transplant lillies
-plant garden (annual thing but still made the list)
-extend garden to old recycle bin
-plant in morning glory bed
-make Luke's play area
-plant tree
-trim bushes (needs to happen more than it does)
-sell patio set & umbrella
-edge sidewalks
-plant by gas meter
-hang birdfeeder
-edge morning glory bed

None of those are difficult things and about half should be happening regularly anyways...but they weren't.

Highlighting a few of those projects:

Extending garden to old recycle bin

This picture was obviously taken at a very different time of year but it was the best I could find (shocking with my semi-obsessive picture taking).  Our trash bin originally lived next to the garage door.  When the city changed to the one cart recycle program we moved our recycle bin there since we use it more.  But then I got tired of looking at it through the kitchen window so I wanted to move it back by the big garage door.  That was easier said than done because we had to tear out our dying lilac bush and level the area before putting down pavers and moving the bin. 
Then had to add move edgers to expand the garden to cover that area.  Fast forward to last week and we now have a pot of mint and a raspberry bush growing where we used to put recycle!  Big improvement!

Sell patio table & umbrella
We had been talking for years about Matt building a picnic table for our "next house" but then realized how much longer we want to live here, how old we'll possibly be when we move, and started wondering why we were waiting?  So Matt made a giant, and very heavy, picnic table, finishing it in the middle of a BBQ we were hosting.  (We're great at planning.)  We sold the old set on Craigslist for about half of the cost of this table which made this relatively inexpensive for such a giant thing.  In this picture it is half-way through being stained & sealed which is the state it has been in for a few weeks.  It'll happen eventually!  It's been wonderful having a larger table for eating, having people over, some food prep, and planting flowers.  It gets a lot of use! 

It wasn't on the list but Matt also made these Adirondack chairs.  A double he's made five of now (three have been given as gifts) and we added an umbrella hole to ours which makes for some pretty wonderful backyard sitting (about to go put it up and watch Luke in the sprinkler soon!).

He's also made four of these smaller chairs, again two for gifts (to our godsons) and two for our yard.  Before he made our double seat I sat in these A LOT to watch Luke play in the yard. 

Having a handy husband is the best. My list of things I want him to build is pretty much never-ending.

Plant in morning glory bed 
Matt made me that trellis for, I believe, our first married Christmas.  It's had morning glories growing on it every summer since.  I always collect the seeds and also always buy an extra packet or two, just for some color variation.  With that and all the seeds that fall and replant themselves...we end up with a lot of morning glories.  I should thin them out but I never do.  The more morning glories the better!  We transplanted some balloon flowers and lillies here, along with another hydrangea.  And added mulch.  For many years the morning glories were the only things growing here!  Which, they are tied with tulips for my favorite flower so that's a great start but they were getting lonely. 

Make play area for Luke

Before this, Luke's sandbox was on our patio and his slide somewhere in the yard.  We had to move it to mow which isn't a big deal (it weighs about one pound) but we wanted a dedicated area for his stuff.  We also had a pretty empty flower bed around the corner of our house that had gotten little attention. I tore out one bush that had survived all my purging 7 years ago and then put in all the edgers while Matt was taking care of a drainage problem by the garage.  I killed the grass and then it sat, for about 3 months, before we finally covered it with mulch.  More than one person asked what killed our grass there...it was me.

Luke's play area has a shredded rubber thing we bought at Menards.  It's similar to what you find at many playground.  Behind it switches to regular mulch.  Now Luke's slide and sandbox have places they can live all spring/summer/fall (the former goes in the basement over the winter and the latter fits under the jet ski in the garage).  Much better than having sand toys and sand all over the patio!!

I really hate to admit this but we lived in this house for 7 years before putting down any mulch.  SEVEN years.  We finally did some in our front beds while tiny baby Luke slept on porch.  Last fall we did a little more and this summer we've done A LOT more.  It's AMAZING how much better it makes every single bed look when it's not bare dirt and weeds.  We really need to do this AT LEAST every other year instead of the every 3-7 we currently have going.  Maybe saying that on the internet will make me stick to it?

There's mulch under where my blueberry bushes live (in pots so they can move with us some day...I may be overly optimistic about how long I can keep them alive, although two of them I've had for two years!  My goal is to add one more every year for the foreseeable future.)

Part of the reason so much mulching got put off until this year was that we wanted to re-do the edgers in the front and along the north side of our house.  Those are the forgotten flowerbeds we don't see much and so they don't get much love.  Luckily, they are mostly filled with hostas which are VERY self-sufficient and I really appreciate in a plant.  

Last week we finally finished that edgers project, which Matt had started 5 years ago when he tried to make the current ones work by flipping them.  It worked for awhile but now they are going to be craiglisted.  Then we could do a lot of mulching.  And mulching makes everything look SO MUCH BETTER.  Infinity better.

This also fulfilled the "plant something by gas meter" to-do.  And "paint various things on the house" which included this gas meter.

These hydrangeas are are also pretty self-sufficient which bodes well for their long-term life.  I've planted two and we had two already.  I read that the pink or blue blooms are determined by the acidity of your soil but we have a pink one and a blue one growing right next to each other.  Which I really like!  But doesn't make sense?

Then the front of the house edgers/mulch project also included pulling the beds back to make them less deep.  I could never figure out how to fill that much space and so we made them shallower by about 18 inches which is super awesome.  (That's grass seed in the front, just planted two days before I took these pictures so no grass yet.)

The middle boxwood there has actually survived me moving it from the backyard to the front seven years ago!  I think we bought and planted the rest. 

I would like more flowers here but am still thinking of what I'll do differently for next summer.  I don't have good luck with flowers so I need something short and easy.  Luckily, Lowe's will let you return dead plants within a year...something I've been taking FULL ADVANTAGE of this year.  Just fyi.  I have a few more I should take back too.  Planting them before a late frost (when we were in NYC and couldn't bring anything inside) and then being gone over a very hot and dry weekend didn't help, I'm sure. 

Our yard isn't amazing but it has made some big progress over the last few years.  It's not done, no space ever is.  Possible remaining to-dos:

1) Finish staining/sealing the picnic table.
2) I'd really like a peony bush although I don't know where or how difficult they are to keep alive?
3) More berry bushes (I returned a blackberry bush I killed this year.)
4) Luke's been requesting a swing so...need to figure out a place for that.
5) Add more flowers, especially in the front.
6) Add more color to the back, maybe painting one or some of the Adirondack chairs a color besides grey? (Matt said they all needed that first because it would seal them too.)

I think that's it???  I'm sure we'll come up with other things but for now it feels good to have gotten through our initial to-do list and make some big progress!!  We can now enjoy the yard while Luke runs through the sprinkler and not just feel like we have to work the whole time!!

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