yard & garden, part 1: digging it out

04.03 moving mountains one shovelful at a time

click to see the full photo gallerySo we have a yard. Sort of. It's a nice size, not too big, not too small. But since our house sits on a slope, and the backyard is about nine feet higher at the rear (along the neighbors' fence), it's so steep back there that it's essentially unusable.

We do have some wonderful shade trees back there, though, and as soon as we moved in, we had an immediate idea for what it could be like. We envisioned something like a European courtyard garden, with terraces for plantings and maybe a fountain and nice little patio area for a table and some chairs.

Well, that's all very nice but something had to be done about that slope if we were going to have a patio and two terraces. The hillside needed to be dug out and shaped, obviously. Unfortunately, we have no access to the yard from the street or an alley or anything. Our house sits about ten feet above the street so it wasn't as if we could get a little Bobcat back there, let alone a backhoe or something to really do the job right. Which left us with just two shovels and a wheelbarrow.

At that point, most people probably would've thrown their hands up in the air and written off the backyard entirely. However, it must surely be apparent to you, dear reader, that we are not most people. So the weekend before Easter, while the ground was still muddy, we started digging. And in five days -- my hand to god, five days -- we had ourselves a respectable outline of our new backyard and an impressive pile o'dirt.

After that, we were ready to start building the first wall. Getting the first course of stones down involved a lot of heated words and long stretches of tense silence, but we managed to get them laid before outright war. We had enough stone to do two courses the full length of the first wall and to completely build out the first curve, which is where the barbecue will normally sit.

While we save up to buy more stone, we're building up the upper slope where the second terrace will be so that it's level with the bottom of the fence in the back. Hopefully, we'll be able to finish both walls before the summer is over and (fingers crossed) get the patio done sometime this fall. Over the fall and winter and spring, we'll gradually plant the two terraces.

Oh and that big pile of dirt? Whatever's left after we're done building the upper terrace will form the foundation of our raised vegetable garden alongside the house.

click to see full photo gallery