Our house sat uninhabited for 10 years before we bought it. Prior to that, an elderly gentleman lived here for 30 years. To say that the landscaping had been neglected is a bit of an understatement. When most people buy or build a house it comes with at least an outline of landscaping. For us, we didn’t start at zero with a clean slate. We’ve had to work from negative ten, working hard to get through piles of bricks, gnarled tree-grown chain link fences and oodles of weed tree’s to get to a bare, blank canvas.
Normally when we do a blog about a completed project we take a look back all the way to the beginning and do a quick tour that recaps all the work. I tried taking that same approach with this post about the landscaping, but it was just tooooo long. So, if you weren’t following the blog way back then or you want to remember what we did, check out this post about the first attempt to clear the out of control plant growth, then this one about how we did it again one year later, this one about our first big progress during spring break, and this post about our chicken coops. But after all that work, our front yard still looked like this…
…..and we were really excited about it! We finally made it to zero – a blank canvas.
We did add plants to some areas of the backyard and in front of our then-new picket fence, but we didn’t want to go crazy planting anything near the house because we knew we had so much exterior work to be done that anything we planted would probably just be in the way or damaged.
After the porch was rebuilt along with other major exterior work last fall, we were finally ready to get going on our vision that we had been waiting SO patiently to complete. Trust me, we had been dreaming, sketching, and planning landscaping ideas for years!
One of the biggest barriers to our plan was the awful driveway. This was ripped out last fall by the same crew that rebuilt our porch. We were happy to see it go and haven’t missed it even once in the 6 months since it’s been gone.
They also ripped out the old sidewalk and replaced it with a nice brick path and stone steps, but then it was finally our turn to finish it off with the landscaping.
Fast forward to March and a global pandemic. Suddenly we had a little more time to work on the house. Once we completed the stairs and initial work on the playroom, we turned our attention to the landscaping.
We ordered a whole bunch of flagstone and sand…
…then started digging.
Our old driveway actually went all the way down the length of the house into the back, taking up a solid 1/3rd of the backyard (the entire area without grass in the picture below was covered with concrete).
We worked on the flagstone on and off for about 5 days. It was a pretty tedious process of moving sand and heavy stones, puzzling pieces together, and keeping everything level.
But we mostly enjoyed the work… beautiful spring weather, good podcasts, and creating something from nothing. Not an awful way to spend days in quarantine.
After the path was done (we probably should have done a whole blog post about that) we were impatient to get some green in the side yard, so Amy split off sections of our gigantic hostas and planted them in this new area. We were thrilled at how this looked – even with heaping mounds of dirt and just a few little plants.
Side note: It reminded me of this scene from the movie Dick and Jane where Jim Carrey’s lawn has been repossessed by the bank and he attempts to fix it by stealing patches of lawn from a golf course and neighbor’s yards. It looks awful – but to him, the next morning, it looks amazing.
That’s how we felt throughout the whole process we were working on our yard. Amy and I beamed with pride at our glorified mud pit and some rocks.
At this point we had to stop on the landscaping and wait. Amy had meticulously researched and designed the layout of the landscaping and ordered an obscene amount of plants online, but because of COVID they were taking a long time to arrive. While we were waiting, we built some simple garden beds for the sunny side of the house. We had been waiting to do this until after we painted the house, but we just couldn’t wait any longer and…COVID.
Then we moved on to the next project – replacing the front fence. We never painted or stained the old one, so it had deteriorated pretty quickly. Plus, now that the driveway was gone, we needed to extend it along the whole front yard.
We just primed it for now, but we will probably end up painting it a cream color. Still not sure. The white looks pretty classic.
Lucy enjoyed this project because she benefitted from the discarded pieces of fencing.
While we were building the fence, we also built an arbor where the new path transitioned from brick to stone.
Then the big day finally arrived – our plants were here! Amy is the one who did the plant selection and initial placement, but we ended up moving a few things around as the creative juices started flowing. We enjoyed selecting and arranging plants way more than I thought we would. It definitely appealed to our creative side!
One of our big concerns about introducing so many plants to our yard was keeping them alive. I mean, plants aren’t cheap! We did our best make sure we got plants that could withstand truly hot and sunny conditions in the front yard. Also, we decided to try using a soaker irrigation system. These are relatively cheap, allow for programmable watering times, and use water much more efficiently than other options.
Once we felt like we had everything where we wanted it, it was time to mulch – 9 cubic yards of it!
We aren’t completely done with landscaping. Yes, we did do a ton of work this spring, but it will take time to see what works and what doesn’t, move things around, etc. Plus, now it’s really past the prime planting season anyway. So let’s take a look at where we are!
Eventually the front of the porch will look drastically different as these plants grow. Right now everything is the same size, but there are several plants and bushes that will end up getting pretty big and create strong “anchors” for the other smaller, decorative plants. We will just have to use our imagination for now.
In front of the fence we made sure to select heat tolerant plants – so we planted cone flowers, daisies, sages, asters, and speedwells. For an old neighborhood with lots of trees, our front yard gets a TON of sun.
We did buy a lot of stones to scatter around our property and are pleasantly surprised at how big of an impact these have on the overall aesthetic.
Now that our front yard is bigger (no driveway!) our new stone steps seemed too small, so we added some rocks and plants make them more of a focal point and also to soften the sharp transition from hardscape to grass.
One of my favorite areas of the new landscaping is the arbor – it creates such a nice entrance and transition to the more shaded part of our yard. It also makes the side yard feel just a little more magical and peaceful, removed from the sun and noise of the street.
One of the perks of having our side yard go from being an old driveway, to a nice stone path and garden, is that we have a much nicer view from inside the house! Our view from the piano room and dining room used to be of broken concrete, a parked car, and/or trash cans. But now we get these little views in each window…
The side yard is still pretty bare for now – we spent most of our attention on plants for the front half of the house. There is currently just a lot of mulch here, but we did plant myrtle ground cover that will eventually cover most of the area.
The backyard did already have a lot of plants that we had previously added, but this year we created this new path and mulch beds in the middle of the yard. We also planted a small magnolia bush/tree that will eventually grow (slowly) and fill up that island area.
“Before and after” pictures never get old, so let’s look at a couple to see how far we’ve come!
We love the idea of eventually getting to the point where we don’t have much (or any) grass in our yard, but that could take us a while to get there. And as our plants grow and our ground cover spreads, we will have much less mulching to do. We also want to plant a small shade tree or possibly a couple small ornamental trees in the front yard near the sidewalk. For now, we will just enjoy what we have and keep adding a little bit each spring and fall. We are officially plant people; often seen surveying and checking in on our plants daily and weeding on our way to the car.
I’ll end this post with our favorite new view of the house. I was wondering why we never took pictures from this particular angle before and just realized it’s because the old driveway would have made this a much less attractive view. This has definitely become our house’s good side! She’s a beauty!