It occurs to me that most of you have probably never seen the front of our house or our front yard. Since moving here in late 2013, our only focus has been on improving the back yard. Oh, sure, I mow the front every week, but really, no one ever goes there. I’m not sure Handan even knows where it is. In fact, she refers to our back yard as the front yard. Confuses the hell out of me when she does that.
So while the back yard has seen its trees cut, the lawn extended, a new fence, a raised-bed vegetable garden, a pond makeover, landscape walls around all the beds and the pool, a new deck, a patio extension and currently, a small greenhouse with running water and electricity, the front yard has gotten basically squat. Oh sure, we ripped out most of the old shrubs (mostly leggy rhododendrons), and we did a couple of Big Whoop makeovers on the lamp post and the mailbox, but mostly it’s been put out of mind while we work on perfecting our backyard oasis.
Out of mind, but not forgotten. This was going to be the year that we tackled the front yard, but new projects keep creeping up that have drained our annual project budget (dining room makeover, laundry room makeover, the greenhouse project, and more). So we’ve again back-burner’d the grand plans in favor of some smaller steps.
Let’s start in the front yard and work our way to the back. Along the way, I’ll show you what we’re working on and what’s in the pipeline. C’mon then. Summer’s almost here!
Our back yard is pretty big, but the front is even bigger. When we moved in, the lawn was picture perfect. But I knew bupkis about lawn care, so I just mowed it once a week and thought that was good enough. Fast forward a few years, and the front lawn had turned to an unholy mix of grass, clover, crabgrass, moss, ULOs (unidentified lawn objects), hardpan and misery. Two years ago, we started with a lawn care service to fertilize and spray for crabgrass and weeds and ticks. It has helped enormously in the backyard, but only a little in the front.
The sides of the driveway are basically dirt. I’m pretty sure I killed them by oversalting the driveway in the winter. But without the salt, it’s tough to get up our driveway. It’s as steep as that annoying hill.
Those yellow strips on the hill are all new dead grass this year. That hill used to be the lushest part of the front since it faces mostly north and it receives a lot of underground runoff. But this year? Surprise! Here’s a big chunk of death! Have fun with it! See the white lamp post? Yeah, we never got around to painting the rest of them black last year. There’s always this year, though, right?
Here’s a panoramic shot, for those who enjoy such things. Click the pic for a bigger version.
Moving up towards the house, we enter the mini oak forest in the center of our lawn that is currently sucking up all of the water and leaving none for the grass. When I was young, I used to think that all trees were great. Yay trees! Save the planet, kiss a whale and wear tie dye, man! Then I grew up. And now I understand that oak trees are good for one thing and one thing only: burning in a big open fireplace. How do I hate them? Let me count the ways.
- In the spring, their pollen falls and forms a hideous yellow/green powder-coating on absolutely everything outdoors.
- In the summer, they suck up all the water because they are greedy assholes that never learned to share.
- In the fall, they develop 23 billion acorns and proceed to carpet-bomb the lawn.
- Later in the fall – practically in the winter, after all the other sensible trees have divested themselves of their leaves – the oak tree will finally deign to drop its enormous load of dried foliage. While other men carouse by firelight drinking ale and making merry, I toil away in the yard trying to clear the infernal oak leaves in a race against the first snowfall.
- Their big stupid leaves are like sails, so clearing them in the late fall (when it’s always windy) is the very definition of futility.
- During the cold of winter, they see fit to drop their weak sissy branches all over my lawn like an inconsiderate boor who clips his toenails all over the carpet (I’ve never done that, I swear!)
So up in the oak forest, we have three “landscape beds.” I think when we moved in they had landscaping. Now they have rogue pine trees and stupid oak suckers trying to grow from long-ago chopped oak trees. Seriously, they never give up! Here’s one of the beds. This one has been overtaken by some weird green stuff. That weird green stuff has basically taken over the far side of the front lawn. I have no earthly idea what it is, but it apparently eats weed killer for breakfast, because in the 2+ years we’ve been getting the lawn service, this crap has only gotten worse.
Here’s a closer look at the hideous infestation. Do any of you have an idea what it is? I’m starting to fear for my family. I think it’s plotting to take over the house. The attack will most likely happen at night…
The second and largest “landscape bed.”
And more little green
Hey look! A bonus dandelion! A few more, and I can make a salad!
Here’s the last bed. Do you see that cluster of brown-tipped sticks in the upper left quadrant? Yeah, that’s an oak bush growing from the charred remains of an old oak stump. Charred remains, people! I filled that stump with gasoline and oil a couple of years ago and burned it like a 17th century witch!
Obviously oak trees are wise in the ways of witchcraft, because that trial by fire gave birth to a bush that burns me to the core every time I look at it.
We were planning on making over those beds this year, but first we need to thin the oak forest. As I mentioned earlier, our project budget has been worn about as thin as my socks, so the front beds will likely lay fallow another year. But if we have the time and energy, we’ll probably wade in and clear out some unwelcome life forms and maybe throw down some mulch. Baby steps.
Okay, moving on to the front landscaping around the house. Here’s full frontal shot of the house.
And here’s the left side. We had removed all of the original shrubbery and replaced it with a Japanese maple, a couple of hydrangeas and something else that may or may not be a rhododendron.
The alcove in the center of the house used to hold some sort of flowering tree that never actually flowered. It was an odd choice of tree for a space that is always in the shade! The tree was good for one thing and one thing only: growing above the roofline of the house and forcing me to climb a ladder to trim it. We made the gut-wrenching decision to chop it down last summer. Nah, I’m just kidding you – it was the easiest decision we ever made!
As you can see, I haven’t reached this far with my spring cleaning yet (thank you, oak trees). I hope to by this weekend. The mound where the tree was now holds the beginnings of a pachysandra bed, though we may need to remove them in order to grind the stump and plant something new there. That’s my office window back there. I’m sitting there right now as I type this post for you. Hi!
So here’s another question for you wise and erudite readers: what should we plant there? It needs to stay small, and it will almost always be in the shade (it gets a small amount of morning sunlight). Each of you has more gardening knowledge in your pinky-toe than I have in my whole body, so let’s hear some suggestions!
Oh, also check out that lovely mold on the house. Classy, right? Fortunately, it’s easy to clean. I just cleaned a bunch off of our vinyl fencing with a mixture of TSP, liquid laundry detergent and water.
Over on the right side of the house, we have the driveway…
…which is currently blocked with cars and trucks and trailers and dumpsters.
The side yard on this side used to be a perfect little slice of lawn. But the deck project last year pretty much killed it with the dumpster, material storage and the crushed rock I had delivered. Fortunately, as of yesterday, the crushed rock is gone! Now I need to start rehabbing my yard.
That’s Rich Lee’s truck of Lee Home Solutions. He’s the guy that built our deck, and he’s helping us with the electrical and plumbing in the laundry room. Currently, he’s running electricity and water out to our vegetable garden area. It’s a bigger job than I thought.
It started out innocently enough…
But things escalated quickly…
Let’s go back to the left side of the house and head through the fence gate.
This little patch of lawn was intended for the dogs to do their business.
It was once lush and green, too. Now it’s a wasteland. Oh, but the dogs barely go here. Why would they, when they have the entire back yard? What a couple of red-haired jerks!
This is the area where the second set of deck stairs leads. I had to add a bunch of topsoil and grade the landing last fall. Then I planted some grass, but it didn’t take very well. I’ll try again this year.
When we built the deck, I had to jury-rig the downspout around the corner. This has caused the washout you see in the picture below.
We’ll fix this issue by digging a trench down the slope to the chain link fence. We’ll then bury a perforated drain pipe on a bed of stones. Hopefully, that will solve the problem.
Here is our side garden.
We haven’t cleaned it or mulched it yet, but hopefully we’ll have it squared away this weekend. With a little work and some more nice weather, it will get back its glory.
The deck project spurred all sorts of little projects last year. For one, I lined the pool area with landscape bricks. I also added them to the back of the deck. They help keep the crushed stone from being kicked into the yard. This year, I still have a little more to do.
Moving towards the back, this is Handan’s little garden by the shed. This and the side garden are 100% Handan. She did all of the work in planting them, and she maintains them. I’m always here to help – I’m not a jerk – but so far she just says “Nuh” whenever I offer my expert landscaping services. Probably because I have a hard time walking through such a densely-packed minefield. Every other step seems to produce a crunch or a snap that requires yet another, “I’m sorry, my babes!”
Turning to our right, our pond area garden is doing great. Handan and Barish did a fantastic job cleaning it out last weekend (or the weekend before?). I’m waiting for a new filter for the pond, and we haven’t finished mulching, but it’s the one area where everything is on track.
Did I say everything? Oh, except for one
little huge thing. Somehow (and we really have no idea) our sassafras tree died last year. We left it alone and hoped it was just taking an extended nap. But we can’t hide from the truth any more. The tree done died.
So this year, we’ll cut it down and plant two trees in its place – probably a weeping cherry and some other flowering beauty. I’ll be posting again about the pond and garden later this summer when everything is in bloom. Maybe by then, we’ll have some new trees to show you!
Heading back towards the fence, we get to Fruitville. Our trees are all doing well this year, but the pears still aren’t blooming. I think they’re still too young and small. Our apples, peaches and cherries are all looking great though. Last year, we had dozens of peaches hanging from the tree, but they all fell and rotted, one-by-one. It was heartbreaking and frustrating. In the end, we only had one peach to eat. It was fantastic. This year, I hope they don’t all fall off early again.
And here are some close-ups of the flowers.
As usual, our grapes are budding late. Every year I panic that I killed them by over-pruning during the winter. And then they roar back to life and try to overtake the yard. Aggressive little buggers. This year, I hope I don’t lose the crop to black rot like the previous two years.
Moving on to our vegetable garden. I planted some of my garlic last fall and some this spring.
Last year was my first garlic crop, and I’m hooked! I just ran out in March, and wow, what a difference between mine and regular store-bought. It’s like the difference between a soft kiss on the lips and a punch in the face. I planted more this spring to ensure I have a year-round supply.
Overall, I’m shifting tactics this year in the garden. I used to be all about the hot peppers. Last year I had two full beds dedicated to peppers – 1 1/2 beds of hot, and 1/2 bed of sweet. But besides my Flakes of Hell, which I make by dehydrating and crushing a hot pepper blend, and my ground smoked hot peppers, I found I wasn’t using my fermented hot sauces as much as I thought I would. This year, I’ll only have one bed of peppers – mostly sweet. I’ll need to replenish my Flakes of Hell, as they only last a year, but I may be able to sneak another year out of my smoked pepper. It’s still plenty hot, and I have a ton of it left.
I’ve started a bunch of radishes early.
Not because we love radishes so much. They’re okay, but what I’m after are the greens. Later this spring, I’m going to tell you the best way to eat radish greens. You’re going to love it!
I’ve transplanted two of my three rhubarb plants. I’ll transplant the other just as soon as we clean out its new home.
Since I took the pics above, one of the rhubarbs is teetering on the brink of disaster.
I think he’ll pull through, though.
The gray area in the picture below is where the greenhouse will go. We bought it three years ago, and it’s been sitting in a box in the garage ever since. I’m happy we’ll finally be putting it to good use!
We noticed that our first two raised beds were looking a little tired, so we decided to build three new ones in front (and raise them even higher) and use their planks to raise the beds behind them.
We’ve already started dismantling this one and transferring the soil to the bed behind it.
I’ll issue that project as a separate post and tutorial. Making raised beds is pretty easy if you have the right tools. We’ll show you how it’s done, hopefully next week.
For the past couple of years, I’ve seen a lot of creeping Charlie trying to take over various parts of of our yard, especially around the pool and the vegetable garden. I’ve been pulling it out around the pool, but we decided to let it do its thing in the garden. Not only does it make an attractive ground cover that prevents other ugly weeds from sprouting, but it has awesome purple flowers that the bees love.
I think we’ll just let Charlie keep on creepin’.
Well, that’s about it. With the warm weather finally upon us, I’ve been keeping the doors open almost all day. And in the past two days, I’ve already had to catch and release three hummingbirds that have wandered in for a closer look at what I’m doing.
I now keep a large butterfly net next to the door. It helps a lot. The guy pictured above was the first. I tried trapping him against the window with my hands. He panicked and flew up to the ceiling where he spent the next 20 minutes in non-stop flight. Eventually he exhausted his energy and landed, and then he was easy to catch. Don’t worry, he perked right up when I took him out.
With all the work we’ve been putting in to get the yard in shape – every night and all weekend – it’s good to sit down to a dinner cooked on the grill. One of the first things I did when the snow melted was to get my kamado grill up and running.
It still had a full load of charcoal from last year.
These pictures are from its first use of the season, but it’s been in use almost every night since.
And the happy guy grilling with it.
We’ve since moved the grills to their new locations as we’re slowly shaping up the patio and deck area for the summer and the big New Deck Reveal post. Stay tuned for that – we still need more greenery, an open pool, and I need to build more furniture before I’ll have the opportunity to write that post.
I hope you like our little stroll around the yard. We still have a lot of work to do, but the end is in sight. Slowly but surely, we’re crossing the items off our checklist. Soon, there’ll be nothing left to do but sit on the deck and drink rum and martinis. I look forward to that day!