Backyard Landscaping & Fence

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

With Operation Curb Appeal coming to a close for the moment while we wait on the lawn to recover, the plants to fill in, and adding finishing touches, we moved our effort around the house to start work on the backyard.

When we moved in three years ago, we had an invisible fence installed and it works fantastic to keep the dogs confined.  However, with 2 two-year-olds in the house nowadays, we are in need of a place for them to play and burn energy without having free range of the neighbors yards and access to the streets.  Trying to corral three little ones with the baby starting to crawl and the two-year-olds being.... two-year-olds, is a bit exhausting to say the least and results in more managing and "No's" then actual play time.

While we waited for our backordered fence to arrive, we discussed the possibility of hiring a landscaper to do something about the grade of our backyard.  It's a hot mess of slopes, ya'll.  Our kids literally go sledding in our backyard during snowstorms.  Apparently, though, if you aren't planning to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a backyard retreat our nearby landscapers aren't all that interested in helping.

So guess who is now super sick of dirt?!?  THIS GIRL!  If I never have to hold a shovel again that would be perfectly fine with me.  Remind me of that if I get the gardening itch anytime in the near future....

Using over 18 yards of fill dirt and topsoil (seriously, 4 dump trucks) we filled in the lower spots at the bottom of the yard and also changed the main slope grade and location (thereby extending the flat area at the top of the yard by about 10-feet) by wrestling a bunch of big rocks into place to create a natural retaining wall of sorts.

We had great luck with the germination blankets in the front yard, so fingers are crossed that the grass grows as well and quickly here.  In the meantime, though, it's pretty funny to watch the littles try to walk over the netting... the younger two-year-old can't take two steps without tripping!  But those rocks are just too irresistible... climbing them is definitely the munchkins' favorite part of the makeover.

You can also see that the landscaping overlapped with the arrival of our fence.  The fence went in over the course of a week with some help from friends and we ended up finishing the fence and the landscaping on the same day!

We were all pleasantly surprised to find that the yard feels so much larger now that we have a clear boundary and the additional usable flat space.  The whole thing is still in its ugly phase, but there is some grass poking through the seed blanket so I have hope for its eventual recovery.  In the meantime, it is certainly more functional than it was just a few weeks ago and so amazing to be able to open the back door and just let the munchkins run wild.

And with that, we are excited to conclude our outdoor projects for the time being and are looking forward to enjoying them with the family this summer!

Happy summertime!


Borrowed Inspiration: Macrame Challenge

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

While up to my knees and elbows in dirt and landscaping, my favorite blogger, Ashley over at Domestic Imperfection, came up with a Try Something New challenge.  Seriously this lady was my biggest inspiration for creating my own blog, I've been following her since we both had half as many children as we do today, and somehow I have never tried one of her projects!  I'm not even sure how that happened.

So to make up for this colossal oversight, I decided that it was high time I joined in and got on board with her for this challenge.  I was actually really excited about the prospect of having a small, fun project to jump into after all the weeks of ongoing labor-intensive projects we've been committed to... and don't worry, I'll be back soon to finish sharing the outdoor progress!

Ashley's first challenge was macrame.  I have to admit, I had no idea this stuff was back in fashion, but when I started poking around Pinterest for some idea of how in the world I was going to get involved, I quickly realized that I loved the modern uses for this vintage craft and found several things that I am really excited to try.
I instantly fell in love with these macrame lights and thought something like this would be perfect for the entry way, which is still just as plain as the day I last posted about it.  Now that we have a stellar entry on the outside of the house, the inside of the entryway has jumped way up on my priority list.  But naturally, this would be a huge undertaking for a newbie like me and since I waited until the night before the challenge 'deadline' I had to keep poking for something more manageable.  I have a feeling I'll be back to this light idea in the future, though.

The idea I settled on was creating a fishnet-like weave around a bottle.  Except that nothing is ever simple and I didn't have a cool bottle laying around... one of these days I might become a wine drinker just so I can collect cool bottles!  I did have this large plastic jar in my stash, however (in a previous life it was a cheese ball tub) which I thought would be pretty perfect and needed a home anyway.  Bonus! - because it's plastic I won't have to worry about any of the littles getting ahold of it and breaking it like they did my 5-gallon antique glass milk jug!

I also didn't have any twine on hand, so I further substituted with a thick yarn and went with it.  Embrace the Crazy Life and keep moving.  Substitutions are the name of the game around here (except when it comes to baking soda and baking powder... Once was enough for that!)

The older munchkins thought Mom had gone a little nuts as I sat at the kitchen table cutting string and tying knots around this container, but once I finished up they all oohhed and ahhhed over it so I guess I avoided the loony bin for yet another day.

I followed this tutorial and was able to complete the whole thing in about an hour and a half.  Because of my previous disappointment with wrapping bottles in twine (which is totally my only reason... it had nothing to do with the fact that it was late the night before the challenge day and hubby had already gone to bed before me), I chose not to wrap the bottom or the mouth of the container as the tutorial showed.  The indentation on the bottom worked out well for using the alternative method of tying off the strands without worrying about it sitting on the knots.

It's obviously very plain, but soon it's going to become the vase for a very colorful display I've had in mind, so the plainness is going to work just fine.  Once the landscaping is done, I'll be back to show you how it turns out!  And maybe to revisit that chandelier idea...

Lesson of the day: Don't be afraid to try something new or to substitute what you have on hand for recommended supplies!  Even if it doesn't turn out as epic or shiny as the pinterest version, just embrace it's uniqueness and call it character!  

If you have done any macrame projects of your own, please share them with me and Ashley!  Also, be sure to follow her blog for details on the next Try Something New challenge!

DIY Tall Tapered Planters

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Over the last couple weeks we took a sledge hammer to our front steps and completely reworked our outdoor garden.

We are still in love with it!  We keep walking out there just to look at it and marvel at how awesome it turned out.

However, we aren't thrilled with the total lack of color and life we have going on right now.  We have so little green left!  We have always loved the raspberry color of our front door, but with all that brown being so prominent right now, it was making the door look brown, too.  We clearly need some color.

I have been admiring these tall, tapered planters for a while but the ones I have found commercially are a) expensive b) not quite as large as I wanted and c) made me question how stable they would actually be.    When I finally stumbled across these DIY plans, I knew these were the ones.  

I had originally planned for two of them to stand on each side of our new steps, but because of our color situation we decided to add a third one on the other side of the garage to pull the color all the way across the front of the house.

We also added a small paver pad here so we would have a place to sit the third planter.

All in all, these planters cost us a bit more than the $20 the original poster quoted, but that's probably because we didn't have scrap fence posts laying around.  They only took a few hours to build, not counting waiting for the glue to dry.  As you can see, hubby used an abundance of glue... I'm not sure if it was really necessary to the structure, but it did help to fill the gaps where some of the boards are slightly uneven and the excess sands off easily enough.

We followed the plans here with just a couple of variations.  

First of all, we chose to use 1x3 and 1x2 furring strips for the corner trim instead of ripping down fence pickets as they did in the original plans.  Because of this the side with the small trim is about 1/4" thinner than the overlapping side, but it's so slight that you can really only see it when you look straight down on the planter and I figure that's not something that will happen often.  Keep in mind that furring strips are not pressure treated for outside weathering, so if that concerns you, don't go this route.

Second, we chose to put the 2x2 supports lower inside the planter and towards the center so that the black pot insert will sit on the supports instead of hanging on them.  The black insert seems pretty sturdy, but it's a big pot and we weren't comfortable with the idea of all that weight hanging on its ledge.  I really don't want the pot to crack and/or go crashing down into the planter - I have enough messes to clean on a daily basis and have no need for extras!
*In this picture you can also see my laziness shining through... It's true, the inside of the planters are a disaster with incomplete paint and dried glue still oozing through the cracks

Third, the pots that we found had no drainage holes.  If I haven't told you before, my thumbs are not the slightest bit green.  It took the first rain for me to realize that we needed to add some ourselves.  Save yourself a bit of trouble, and make sure your pot has drainage before you fill it.

To finish the planters, I painted them to match the new, lighter raspberry color we chose for the front door.  

While I would never have chosen to paint these such a bold color on their own, I think it works really well to bring out the color on the door and the subtle red in the house and paver bricks.  It will also offer a great contrast to the greens from the garden (once the greens fill in that is!).

 They certainly added a splash of color and interest!

I knew I wanted something tall and evergreen for these, and I was so excited to find this really cool spirally ornamental grass!  It was love at first sight.  It's called Big Twister Rush and I already love it, so once it fills out a bit it should look all the better!

Front Yard Raised Bed Garden

Monday, June 12, 2017

Operation Curb Appeal is in full force this month!

When we rebuilt our steps and sidewalk last week, we pulled out the bushes on both sides of our old steps, leaving us with the magnolia bush that I typically refer to as "the monstrosity on the corner."

I get compliments on this bush every year in early spring because the blooms are gorgeous, but I think it's stupid because it blooms before the leaves even come in for the season, the blooms dry up and then it's just this crazy green bush the rest of the year that seems to double in size annually, no matter how badly I butcher prune it every spring and fall.  I have been waiting to yank the last of these bushes out since we moved in here three years ago.  Most of the prickly stuff and filler plants that were originally planted here got pulled out the year we moved in and it had been just these three bushes ever since.  Until I was ready to replant the garden, I didn't want to lose what little bit of green life we had out here. Apparently I think ugly bushes are better than bare dirt.

But now it was time for them to go.  Anybody sad?  No?  Good, me neither.

Once the monstrosity was out, we could actually see the shape of the existing garden.  Originally, the garden was a sort of kidney bean shape that was pretty symmetrical, and by all examples on the internet, apparently a common garden shape.  While I liked the general outline of the space, with the new steps and pavers in place, we needed to redesign.

Because the yard has a few high spots and low spots, we wanted something that would work with the contour and provide a clean transition from garden to lawn.  I wanted a flat paver mower strip, but Andrew's practical arguments won (basically because I refused to dig any more and all that dirt in the garden right now is the same rocky fill dirt that makes up our entire property) and we went with a low raised bed garden built with wall blocks that match the pavers.

I really thought the steps were going to be the biggest piece of the front yard work, but it turns out I was wrong!  Getting this wall laid out, pieced together, leveled and such was a major exercise in overthinking and overdoing.  Andrew and I both earned some muscles and headaches for our trouble and in the end we managed by just embracing the crazy and letting go of our perfectionism.  Because it took about a week longer than we had anticipated, we also had plenty of opportunities to get the whole family involved!

Then I sort of failed to get any decent after photos because, well, we haven't really gotten to a clean stopping point.  But here is the progress so far!

I love the way it continues along the line we created with the pavers and swoops out, as well as the combination of curves around the straight edges of our new entry steps.  I maintain that a paver strip would have been a whole lot easier to install, although the wall definitely adds a pop to the dimension of the front of the house and it does look really nice around the slight slope of the yard.

The length of the bed is about 14 1/2' from the landing to the outside edge of the circle.  The circle diameter is about 6' and the narrowest portion near the steps is 3' deep.  We planted it with ornamental grasses, astilbe, a bleeding heart, ferns, hostas, and ground cover.  Once these establish, they should spread and grow enough to fill the entire space.  The tree is a Fragrant Fountain Japanese Snowbell and will max out at about 6' tall, making it rather perfect for this small space and I anticipate it being a refreshing upgrade to the Magnolia Monstrosity.

As you can see, we also changed our minds and used the extra topsoil we had from filling the garden to even out the yard enough to seed.  After having a disaster spread over the front of our house the past couple of weeks from these hardscape projects and both of us missing all the green, we agreed that we didn't want to wait on the settling afterall.  We laid down a layer of topsoil, spread seed heavily over the whole thing, and laid down the germination blankets.  We will still likely need to add some soil here and there as things settle over time since we sped up our timeline.  The yard still looks like a disaster, but at least now it is on its way to mending and we're that much closer to the yard Andrew's been waiting for!

Widening the Front Steps

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

For the past couple of years we have spent all of our time and energy working on projects inside the house.  Andrew has tried every spring so far to convince me that we should hire a lawn care company to help turn our pathetic patchy weed-scape into a luscious green lawn worthy of being seen in the same neighborhood as those of the beauties that surround us.  We're talking real first-world lawn envy.  Every year, I have said "next year."  

So.... he finally held me to it.

While hubby was having his lawn envy, I had a wishlist of other curb appeal projects.  Since some of our landscaping dreams for the front of the house included hardscape items that would tear up the lawn, we decided to get those out of the way first.  

The front yard had a few trouble spots that we wanted to fix: the entry, the garden design, a depressed area in the center of the lawn, and the absence of a tree.

We planted a tree a few weeks ago, which crossed one thing off our list.  It's a Pink Flowering Dogwood and I am so excited for this baby to bloom!  It should blend into the Bradford Pears that fill the front lawns of our neighborhood in terms of size (eventually), but I'm so excited to see the pink flowers against all the white in the neighborhood.

As far as the steps, we wanted to make them wider so they would match the width of the existing landing, which is about 6'.  As it is, most people don't like using our front door because of how narrow the original steps are, and these awful bushes on either side encroach into the already narrow space, making it a tight squeeze.  Besides that, the builder slapped them in without much prep work and the angle is terrible.  It feels like you are walking up a huge incline even though the ground barely slopes here.  If we leveled the area, we would actually have space for two steps versus the original one, making the entry even more spacious and comfortable.

Researching our options for new stairs was rather overwhelming and unfortunately we realized that most stone options were not easy to come by in our area, especially in the 6' width we were dreaming of.  We also considered repouring the steps from concrete and covering them with brick or veneer, but that proved to be just as overwhelming and eventually led us to settle on the fact that increasing the size and opening the area up would be amazing regardless of the material we used.  Plus, making the concession to do plain poured concrete steps lowered the cost of the project and made it easier for me to convince Andrew to recreate the sidewalk with pavers!

Thankfully, my dad is a pretty handy guy and a super hard worker, so between him and our oldest, AJ, the bushes came out and the old steps and sidewalk got busted up in about an hour.

Then the real work began.  In order to lay the pavers we had to dig the entire area (plus about 6" on each side to allow space to work and place the edging) to a depth of about 7".  This was the most labor intensive part of the whole process and please take me seriously when I say it was a lot of hard work.  If it wasn't for my dear old dad, we never would have gotten past this point.

The silver lining was that it also created a lot of dirt.  Since the dirt had to go somewhere, we decided to dump it into "the hole".  This large sunken area right in the middle of our front yard was another item on our wish list to fix.  Since the opportunity presented itself, we decided to use what we had and fix two problems at once.  In the end, we had more than enough dirt to fill in the hole, another area that had needed filling, backfill around the pavers, and we still had a couple wheelbarrows to dump elsewhere.  It never ceases to amaze me how much dirt fits in such a tiny space.  Of course, we realize that we will need to add more dirt to this area once this settles, but I intend to purchase some nice topsoil for this later in the year once the fill dirt settles a bit on it's own.  I have had enough tamping for now, thanks, nature can just take it's course and we will deal with the half-brown lawn for a few months.

You can really see what a mess we had in our yard during this process!  It definitely motivated us to keep the project going and finish it up as quickly as possible.  Hubby built our form and my dad filled it in and did the finishing work on the concrete.  Because the day we poured was so sunny and hot, my dad was convinced he needed to build a shade to block the sun and prevent the steps from drying too quickly... I'm not sure that's a thing, but he's a quirky guy and I'm not one to look at free help too critically!

Once the steps were poured, we laid in paver base, tamped like crazy, added leveling sand and finally the pavers.  After the digging was done and the steps were poured, which took four partial days of work, Andrew and I spent about 10 hours in one day on the pavers themselves, but that included some downtime for dinner and kid stuff.  (We hired the older kids to babysit the littles so that we could make this happen, normally we wouldn't have had so much time for both of us to work!)

We absolutely love the transformation!!

Of course, pulling out the ugly bushes and piling a bunch of dirt in the middle of the yard left us with a whole lot of brown and barren-ness, so the garden will be the next thing to tackle from our list.  We need some color!  We definitely have more work to do for our curb appeal, but this was a huge stride towards our goal and probably the biggest thing on our list.  Now we have the focal point with which to build everything else around!  

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