As I shared a couple of weeks ago, this is the year we get our yard looking more presentable. Not only were the beds overrun with weeds and filled with plants I had no affection for, but things were just looking messy and untidy. The black plastic borders were popping up, grass was creeping into the beds, certain spots along the hills were eroding, 15-year-old landscape fabric was ineffective and exposed, bushes and trees needed to be pruned, and the area under the deck was a dumping ground. I have been largely avoiding all of it for the better part of almost three years. It just all seemed like too big of a project.
My renewed energy from a mostly-healed shoulder and our collective cabin fever from being under stay-at-home orders since March became the perfect recipe to get our whole family out in the yard and working together.
In the weeks proceeding our big family workday, Jeff and I have been working in the yard in the evenings…pulling out old perennials, cleaning up the trash, pruning bushes we’re keeping, and power washing. The boys have helped with spreading the big pile of rocks, digging up some bushes, hauling rocks from the border of an old flower garden, pulling weeds, and cutting up fallen branches to burn. And I’ve been planting and planning.
Earlier in the week, Jeff and I ordered mulch in bulk and some rocks to use for terracing the sloped areas to reduce erosion in preparation for the workday.
This year is about cleaning up and sprucing up. It’s not about tackling ambitious plans to completely overhaul these garden beds. It’s about making things look tidy and putting plants in the ground that I actually like. In future years, I have some ideas for expanding the beds, but I wanted to keep this first phase fairly simple and straight foward. There was plenty of work to do without inventing more. We also have to redo the deck in the near future and would like to add a larger patio with a firepit down the road, so we were keeping those things in mind as we made decisions about where our time and money would be most beneficial.
The back garden bed was fairly simple. We pulled out the bushes that were there (I’m not even sure what they were) and replaced them with Annabelle hydrangeas…
We also removed the plastic edging, extended the bed a few inches with an edger, and added new landscape fabric and a fresh layer of mulch.
I decided to keep the rose bush for now. The flowers aren’t really my taste, but it adds some nice height next to the patio. Eventually, I’d like to curve the bed and add a small flowering tree or bush there… Something that will provide a little privacy and shade, but won’t get too large.
For now, I pruned the rose bush and put some fertilizer on it. That’s the first bit of attention this bush has received in a long time and it’s already looking so much healthier! We added a few rocks between the bed and the patio to hold the mulch in place.
See those happy little buds?
Oh, the patio was such a mess. Jeff and I have made a pact that random stuff is not to be tossed under the deck. It needs a home or it needs to be donated, recycled, or pitched. We have made so many trips to the recycling center over the past few weeks to drop off brush and trash.
Here is how the patio looks after the family workday…
We are still planning to prime and paint the cement patio since it’s splattered with the reddish-brown paint that was used on the deck.
I purchased a couple of weather-proof wicker rocker/glider chairs to put down there and we’ll string cafe lights from the ceiling to make it a nice place to sit. It’s shaded almost all day, so it’s a perfect place to enjoy the outdoors.
Here’s another view before…
…and during our workday…
Marshall was doing some pull-ups and Jeff and Calvin were toasting marshmallows for smores over the burning brush and branches while I was slaving away.
The neatnik within me feels so relieved when I look at that picture now. The deck is still an issue (oh, that horrible paint), but everything else is neat and tidy.
The other side of the patio was one of the biggest problem areas in the yard. This corner would become a forest of weeds every summer, filled with trees the size of small weeds…to the point where I would apologize to our neighbor on that side when I would saw her. “I am so sorry about my weeds! I know it looks terrible and we’ll be working on it soon. We’ve been focusing our efforts on the inside of the house!” She assured me she wouldn’t judge my weeds if I didn’t judge hers. She was battling some of the same issues with gardening in 15-year-old rock beds that I was.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been splitting the hostas and making more of a border along the edge, mixing in a few sedums for a variety of texture. I also used the power washer on the lattice and we all worked together to build up the ground with extra rock and topsoil behind the retaining wall.
Here’s how it looked after some of the initial work, but before the power washing…
Over the course of a few days, I did the power washing, put in some plants, and added new weed-blocking fabric…
I put a limelight hydrangea to fill the corner. It looks a little silly at this point, but I’ve read that they grow pretty quickly, so it’ll hopefully fill this corner nicely on its own in just 3-4 years. I had considered putting some vines in on the lattice, but I really don’t think it’s a good idea to have plants around the mini-split unit that cools and heats my studio. I think it’s best to leave that area plant and weed-free and just allow the limelight to grow and hide it all.
Before putting the mulch in, we terraced the sloped area a little with some natural edger stones. We debated getting some more retaining wall stones that matched the ones we have, but 1.) we couldn’t find an exact match and 2.) we don’t really like those stones, so it doesn’t make sense to buy more. We envision having this area professionally redone when we do a patio down the road, so it made sense to keep things simple and use stones that we like, so we can reuse them in other places when/if this area changes in the future. If we do leave things as-is, the stones will be less noticeable as the plants mature.
We also left the black edging in place along this bed since it helps prevent erosion. We did build up some sod against it and will spread some new grass seed in the fall. We’ll eventually remove it and figure out something that’s more our taste, but we were both hesitant to remove it and just edge it. We weren’t sure that would hold up to the heavy rainstorms we can get here in Rochester. (PS – Did you know we’re at the very northern end of tornado alley? I didn’t know that until we moved here! We can get some pretty violent storms, though.)
I’m hoping the border of hostas and sedums will help slow erosion, too.
On the studio/garage wall, I ripped out all of the lilies and replaced them with more Annabelle hydrangeas. These get pretty intense afternoon sun, so I’m hoping they’ll do okay. I am giving them lots and lots of water, but I notice they wilt before any of the others I planted.
Anyway, this was another bed that was just a mess of weeds and I am just not a fan of orange lilies. They are very popular around here and you see them everywhere! I tried to give them away, but I didn’t have any takers. My neighbors all had their fill of lilies.
We also pulled out the old black edging, dug a new edge, put down the weed-blocking fabric, and added new mulch.
We also built up this area and added some stones and plants to hold the fill dirt and new mulch in place.
Again, we kept the black plastic edge in place around the corner to hold everything in for now…
I love this hedge. It’s the most visible when we turn on our street and pull up to our house and I’m excited to see it grow and fill out.
The price difference between the 2-gallon plants and the 6-gallon ones was only $15, so I decided to go with the more mature plants. They aready do a reasonable job filling out the space and will look even better as they grow.
In the front, I did a bit more planting, putting impatiens down in the shady area and wave petunias in the sunny spots. (I swear, I thought those were “impatients” until the moment I typed that last sentence and couldn’t make the spell check happy!) I also added a firework clematis to the trellis to see if that one is happy there.
My sweet autumn clematis didn’t come back on the trellis, but the other one did. I don’t remember what it’s called, but it will have larger white blooms. The firework clematis has very pale purple blooms and they seem to bloom at different times, so we’ll see how they do together. That spot doesn’t get a lot of direct sun and it can be pretty wet, so I think that’s why things struggle in that corner.
The sweet autumn clematis on the porch post is doing great, though! It is growing like crazy this year.
I also planted some phlox. My neighbor has some in her yard and I’ve admired them for weeks. I love the little bell-shaped flowers and how they look a little wild as they spread.
I put them on either side of the porch steps and by the garage, so we’ll see how they do!
I’ll share more about the edger I used in a different post, but I also edged the front, added some weed-blocking fabric along the grass, and put down some fresh mulch.
Jeff pruned the bush and we did more edging, put down more weed-blocking fabric, and more mulch! You can see a theme, here.
Jeff wanted to remove the bush altogether, but I talked him into leaving it until we’re ready to replace it. I’d like to extend the bed in that corner and plant a small flowering tree (maybe a white lilac) and surround it with hosta or something along those lines. I’ll probably relocate the peonies.
Speaking of, they are doing so much better this year with that bush pruned way back…
They are just about ready to burst forth!
One funny note… If you notice brown spots in our yard, there is a good explanation for that. Poor Jeff was waging war on the weeds in the lawn and bought a dandelion extractor. He spent hours removing hundreds of weeds and then followed up by spraying the weeds he didn’t pull. Unfortunately, he used weed AND grass killer instead of just weed killer. I pointed it out, but it was too late and we’ve watched and laughed as brown spots appeared all over our yard. I’m sure we’re not the first people to do that and, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a very small thing. I am looking forward to it growing back in, though!
Anyway, on the last side of the house, we did the same thing… fabric and mulch. I also transplanted some hosta over to this side and we added stones to hold the soil and mulch in place.
Again, we kept the plastic edge in place for now…
We’ll probably widen this bed down the road and add in some taller bushes to hide the AC unit, but this is the least visible side of the house, so we kept it simple. Clean it up, make it look nice, and call it done.
We added a couple of stepping stones to the spigot and I installed a hose-splitter, so we could have one hose for watering the back and one for the front. Not having to drag the hose all over the yard has been a treat!
Speaking of, does anyone have a good recommendation for hose storage? Something that winds the hose easily and stores it?
This is where we ran out of mulch and rock, though! So, we are going to pick up a few more bags of mulch and a few more edger rocks and we’ll get this finished up.
We all worked hard for several hours that day. My boys hauled over 50 bags of mulch down those hills and carried rocks to where we needed them. We were all dirty and sweaty from head-to-toe. I even had to shake the mulch out of my hair before washing it. But it all looks so good. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start and it is a vast improvement. And the best part is that I really care about the plants that are in the beds. I take a stroll around the house at least once a day with an empty bucket and pull up the start of any weeds, clean up leaves, deadhead the flowers, and make sure everyone gets a long drink of water.
Jeff will ask, “How is everyone doing?” and I’ll give him a report on all of the plants and flowers.
It feels worth my time now, because I want to see all of the plants growing and healthy. I want to keep a short account with weeds and rubbish, so it stays looking tidy. And I’m really enjoying the time outside, feeling the sun on my face, appreciating the clouds, finding amusement in the chipmunk family that has been living around our house.
The weather is supposed to be delightful over the next couple of days, so I’m painting the patio today and we’ll string lights, set up the chairs, and finish things up tomorrow and Saturday.
Thanks to everyone who’s given me suggestions on expanding the beds, plants that are good for zone 4, etc. It’s all been so helpful as I planned for the work we were going to tackle and in planning for the future.