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Before + After: Transforming a Backyard, Sustainably

So this was today. A perfect 75 degree day in May, the garden pushed into overdrive due to the summerlike temps of the past week, and all feels right in the world. My roses are blooming, with two of them - Mister Lincoln and Double Delight (planted in honor of my dad and my gram, respectively) - thriving so much more than the prior year, and everything from the mock orange to the orange ball butterfly bush to the alliums in full bloom, with the summer flowering plants hinting that they'll be here soon enough. You know, the gladiolas, the coneflowers, the hyssops... and even the early stages of sunflowers and cosmos planted by last year's fallen seeds around the yard.

But what's even cooler than this? Seeing how it USED to look! Dang! Below you'll see the two photos from the listing, and two shots (minus the wide angle lens) below that I snapped of how those perspectives look today. Talk about what can be accomplished in 18 months, y'all!

It's pretty crazy what we were able to accomplish since moving in that gray October day in 2021! Here were some of the biggest pieces of the project:

  • Deconstructing the Carport - We were having the roof on the house replaced anyhow, so I had the team also deconstruct the carport. My original idea was, once the shingles and plywood were taken off, to paint and repurpose the beautiful old wood frame of the carport (it was built in 1950) into a pergola over the concrete pad, but those vertical 4x4 posts? Three of four were nearly completely rotted out, so the whole thing came down. But EVERYTHING was reused or donated - the white vertical planks and the plywood became the roof and sides of our duck house we built behind the shed, the shingles were recycled by our roofer, the 2x4's framed the new cedar fence between us & the neighbor, and the gutter was donated on Craigslist. Pretty rad, eh?

  • Adding Privacy - When we moved in, literally the first week I started on the fence. As explained in my earlier post how I built a cedar fence using the frame of the original chain-link fence, this gave us the much-needed privacy we craved and a much, much more natural vibe to the whole back yard...not to mention was ridiculously easier than predicted (and a fraction of what contractors wanted to charge us to replace it!). And with the neighbor's landlord clearcutting the entire backyard in early '22, eliminating the original privacy of the place? It's a good thing I did it!

  • Eliminating the Lawn - Coffee bags, coffee bags, coffee bags! The local coffee distributor in Renton gives these away by the pallet-load, I learned from a neighbor, and are PERFECT for not only tamping down grass you want to kill, but also helping with erosion control on slightly slopy yards. Once that was done, we were lucky enough to have a neighbor down the alley offer up the rest of their free ChipDrop load of mulch that they'd received far too much of, and that covered it up for the winter.

  • Removing Weed Trees - Yeah, that li'l plum tree was a BIG nightmare, and those things put out suckers we don't like plums! So I rented a chainsaw (instantly regretting that we'd sold ours upon selling the farm) and the husband took it down, cut it up, and gave it to the neighbor as a thank you for giving us all that mulch mentioned above! He also cut down two holly 'weed trees' and pulled out huge ugly bushes, while I yanked out a boatload of English ivy and grapevines that had come over from the neighbors, and all of this brought sun that freed the gorgeous old California lilac from the horrors it'd been through for far too long. Since then it's grown exponentially and is clearly a happier shrub, as you can see below!

  • Replacing a Retaining Wall - With the original one built incorrectly and without treated wood, it'd turned to mush, so I studied a million websites and instructional videos then installed it in half a day and bam! What a difference.

It's all about infrastructure y'all. Beyond that, everything else was focused on planting, planting, planting! Paying attention to where the sun falls, installing the 250 gallon rain tank, adding artistic elements, going vertical, and of course noting what plants our ducks would treat like their own personal salad bar and NOT planting those (geum and cistus both went out front along with checkermallow and other soft-leaved flowering shrubs), were the most important tasks for me as a gardener.

And so, so worth it. While I have lots of tasks still on my list, the heavy lifting is done and I am SO enjoying the fruits of this project!

The reward? Always in the bloom!

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May 19, 2023


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