yard & garden, part 4: landscaping

05.06 - 07.06 the landscaping equivalent of breast implants and botox injections

click to see full photo galleryOur poor, neglected yard. With all that we'd been doing on the inside of the house, we just didn't have time to deal with the outside. Sure, we've accomplished some big things out there -- digging out the back yard, putting up a gazillion retaining walls, and putting down a veritable mountain of gravel -- but there were still big piles of dirt all over the place, stacks of bricks and other detritus the PO left all over the damn yard, and the weeds...well, they'd declared victory and instituted a military dictatorship over the rest of the plants.

You thought we were exaggerating, didn't you? Notice how there aren't any landmarks, so you can figure out what part of the yard the picture is from? It was like a jungle expedition back there -- blink and something big and slithery was liable to snatch you for its lunch.

Once the house was painted, we suddenly felt the burn to get the yard whipped into shape. We had a goal to push hard the work we wanted done by the end of June, so that we'd have the rest of the summer to enjoy it and hopefully avoid most of the heat. Our goal? To get all the dirt piles spread around, the garden beds installed and planted, the remaining gravel spread, the last of the retaining wall stones used up, the entire yard covered with newspaper (for weed barrier), and then everything barkdusted like mad.

Before we could do anything else, we needed to deal with those infernal dirt piles. What dirt piles, you ask? Why the dirt piles left over from the Big Dig. See, even though we'd reshaped the entire back slope, built up a planting bed along the back fence, and created a big "outcropping" in the southeast corner where a shed will eventually go, we still had lots and lots and lots of dirt piled along the southern side of the house, the only place we had to put it. And that's also the only place to put the two raised garden beds we wanted, which meant all of that dirt needed to be moved. Again.

So, we started building up berms along the southern property line, and shaping the back slopes some more, and building up the beds along the front and side of the house. But all of those places could only take so much dirt and as I said, we still had LOTS of it. The front yard was a good candidate, but of course it already held two large piles of leftover gravel that were to be used for the area around the garden beds. In other words, in order to move the dirt so we could build our garden beds we needed to move the gravel where the majority of the dirt was going to go but the gravel needed to go around the garden beds and AAAAGGGHHH IT'S A MOBIUS STRIP OF SUCKTACULARNESS!

We started digging down through the pile where the garden bed walls would go, kind of sculpting the pile, since we would need some of that to fill the beds anyway (although a lot less of it than we thought) and we didn't want to move any more than absolutely necessary. That allowed us to put the raised bed walls, basically building the garden beds around this big chunks we'd carved out. (More about the garden beds here.)

What followed was weeks -- WEEKS YOU GUYS! -- of serious agony and drudgery. Because not only did we have to move all that dirt at least two more times and if you count the TWO TIMES we already moved it from the aforementioned BIG DIG, then that's AT LEAST FOUR TIMES THAT WE MOVED ALMOST SIXTY-FIVE CUBIC YARDS OF DIRT AND THAT'S OVER SIX DUMP TRUCK LOADS MOVED FOUR TIMES AND CAN SOMEONE PLEASE STOP ME BEFORE I DO A KEYBOARD SMASH THAT BREAKS TEH INTERNETS? There is not, literally, a single square inch of our property that didn't see the business end of our shovel.

And because we had to put the dirt in the Totalitarian Nation of Noxious Invasive Weeds, we were invading their sovereign borders and war was declared. Both sides sustained heavy casualties and we considered carpet bombing with the A-bomb of garden warfare, commercial weedkillers, but cooler heads prevailed and we were able to avoid mutually assured destruction.
(Okay, guys? I'm the one that wrote that and even I'm a little freaked at how closely that analogy fits.)

So little by little, we moved the dirt and the gravel and spread it all around. We also had to rototill the front yard and planting beds to get rid of the grass. And then we placed newspaper all over the damn place for weed barrier, which may or may not have gotten us reported by our neighbors to the White Trash Hotline, but which has the multiple benefits of being good for the soil (the cellulose gets broken down and incorporated into the soil), the environment (recycling all those newspapers), organic (no nasty plastic or manufactured blankets that leave plastic bits in the soil forever) and oh yeah, FREE (Sal had access to big bins of newspaper from the bakery every week, so we had as much as we could possibly need, which is a good thing since we ended up needing the equivalent of the entire New York Times circulation to cover our yard).
The main downside is that because you're supposed to put the newspaper down in thicknesses of 6-7 sheets, unfolding it all and counting the right number of sheets takes, like, an inordinate amount of time. Not just because it takes so long in and of itself, but because you have a tendency to get waylaid reading an interesting article that catches your eye. Oh, and little tip if you decide you want to do this: wetting down the newspaper in sections after you've laid it down helps keep it in place until you can sprinkle some dirt and hay or straw over it to hold it down.

We had plenty of gravel leftover from last years' big gravel haul to not only surround the garden beds, but also to reapply it in all the areas we'd put it down before. Which was a good thing, since the heavy rains over the winter and our neglect of the leaves, not to mention our neighbor's work on the fence along the north side of the house, where he'd dug post holes and covered a lot of our gravel with dirt on that side, all contributed to it needing another light layer.

We reused the bricks throughout the yard to line walkways, as well as the railroad ties that were all over the yard to hold back some of the berms. Using what we had on hand...that's resourcefulness, my friends. And also laziness -- we didn't want to have to haul that crap down the stairs to get rid of it. (Although I really love how they look and that they give our yard a kind of worn, old-world look. Yay for reusing old stuff!)

Finally, all was in place, the yard was contoured and shaped and raked and graveled and ready for the finishing touch for the summer: barkdust! For those not familiar, it's the mulch of choice here in the Pacific Northwest and it has the additional advantage of hiding problem areas and making everything look so much better even when there's nothing planted. It's like drywall texture for your yard! But even before it was barkdusted within an inch of its life, it looked pretty damn good, if I may say. So if it looked that good with just dirt, imagine how FANTABULOUS it looked after it was barkdusted. (Actually, you'd don't have to imagine because we've got, yes, more pictures.)

Now that the yard has been whipped into shape and it's all been barkdusted, we can stay on top of the maintenance and enjoy the yard even as we begin planting (which we won't start until next spring and fall). Eventually, most of what you see will be filled in with various plantings and ground covers, but that'll take a few years to get everything planted and then for everything to establish itself. In the meantime, we've got a yard we can finally be proud of and that's every bit and nice as our newly-painted house.

click to see full photo gallery