Monday, May 24, 2010

Backyard Project

We've officially been in our home for 5 YEARS now - amazing! Our first summer in the house was spent painting and putting in a perennial garden in the front yard (the house was surrounded by grass - there were no shrubs or plants, except for a huge hosta and an iris randomly placed in front). Since then, the front garden has been tweaked every summer (removing plants that didn't do so well, adding in lots of new ones, including a bunch from my family's farm in southern MN, and generally just watching the plants grow and start to really fill in the space).

The backyard had been neglected; with the exception of the fire pit that we put in, we really hadn't done much with it. It was also just grass up to the deck and garage - no shrubs, etc. There was a plot of rocks that used to have a picnic table on it (the table moved with the previous owners and the rock plot has now been overgrown with weeds and grass - to be tilled up this summer!). One year after moving in, we brought home our little chocolate lab puppy, Jonas, who grew into the enormous, fence-jumping, hole-digging, crazy dog that I've blogged about before. Jonas resides in the garage and backyard, but we, being the ignorant puppy parents that we were, decided to try to do some landscaping the first summer that we had him. We dug up alongside the side of the garage, laid weed tarp, planted a few hostas, and covered the area in mulch. It was all good until Jonas got too hot in July and decided the best place for shade was right alongside the garage, so he started to dig. And dig. He discovered that the weed tarp was really fun to rip up (it made a big mess as it pulled mulch and dirt up with it) and the hostas must have been pretty tasty because he annihilated all of them (or so we thought). We cleaned up the mess, but gave up any more landscaping for the rest of the summer.

The following summer we decided to tackle the project again - this time with river rock instead of mulch, thinking that at least he wouldn't be able to dig that up. To our surprise, one of the hostas survived his brutal attack and came back. We put in a cedar plank border and filled in the area with river rock, leaving the hosta in place, but adding in 2 big cedar planters, which we filled with annuals. We also dug up the area in front of our deck, added a cedar border, planted a couple of rose bushes, and filled it in with rock. Although Jonas seemed to leave everything alone, the rock became overrun with weeds (we hadn't laid weed tarp this time because we were afraid it would be too enticing for him...) and ant hills. The rose bushes didn't survive the winter. Last summer I dug up the pitiful rose bushes, planted Annabelle hydrangeas (white hydrangea shrubs, basically) and a random cranberry cottoneaster, which I'm still pretty skeptical about, and tried to keep the weeds down among the rock.

So, Jonas is now 4 years old, and although last summer we put up a tall chainlink kennel to keep him contained while we are gone (he kept jumping the fence and one particular neighbor didn't like that) our backyard is still a disaster. We decided this spring that our goal for the summer was to reclaim our backyard. We started by replacing the side door on our garage (the previous door was a weird homemade wood and metal contraption that was rotting away and had a chunk of plywood nailed over where the window had been because the window shattered a couple of years ago when the frame rotted out). Luckily we had help from David's dad to put in a nice, metal door, complete with frame, which makes a huge difference in the overall appearance of our backyard.

Our plan is fairly simple (see really rough schematic):

We had a large dirt patch in between the gate to the backyard and the dog kennel, which needed to replaced with something durable. I also wanted to put in a perennial garden - in front of the deck where I had planted the hydrangea bushes and cottoneaster among the rock. But we needed a plan for the rock - we didn't like what we had, but we didn't want all of the money we had already spent on it to go to waste. We headed to Home Depot and purchased some free-form rock pavers to act as stepping stones inside the gate. These will be placed inside the gate, in between the front fence and the front of the kennel to create an entry to the backyard. Then we will move the river rock from the side of the garage and the area in front of the deck to fill in around the pavers, creating an entrance. If we have enough rock, we're going to create a free-form path to the fire pit. The areas that currently have rock will be covered with mulch to create a softer appearance, and weed tarp will be used under EVERYTHING.

Not-quite-before photos (imagine a large patch of dirt as the actual before shot).

Rocks being added to the area in front of the gate.

A shot of the rock entry and the mulch side. There is a single fern here because we're leaving the front corner open just in case Jonas decides to dig here again (it's his fave spot in the heat).

We're not entirely sure how Jonas will do with the mulch yet, but since he is contained during most of the day, we're hoping it'll keep him out trouble and out of our landscaping! We've moved the big cedar planters up onto the deck and removed all of the cedar planking. The sole-surviving hosta is still alongside the garage, but will be joined by ferns that I obtained from the farm. Meanwhile, I've already started planting perennials among the shrubs in front of the deck.

Jonas hasn't bothered the mulch here yet, so here's hoping he's outgrown that bad behavior (granted, he has a humongous hole INSIDE his kennel, but I'm going to not dwell on that)!

I'll post more pictures as things progress, but that's what is keeping us busy on the weekends these days!

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