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Side Yards: Exploring the Potential

While the side yard is often ignored at homes or kept to a simple path, we've fallen in love with finding the beauty in all parts of the places we've lived, big and small.

  • Top Left: At my first home, after my husband and I joined forces, we made both borders of our house into unique little sanctuaries. On the shadier north side, after the deceased neighbor's house was torn down and turned into an obnoxious 3 story 'tall-skinny' 5 feet from our property line, taking down the laurel privacy hedge and turning it into a fence, we decided to make good use of the area and plant part-shade and shade-tolerant plants, from fuschia to huckleberry to snowberry and more.

  • Top Right: When we downsized from the farm to the city, there was literally nothing growing on the side yard leading to the back gate. Brambles covered the border between us and the nextdoor neighbor, so I covered up the ground with coffee bags and mulch the first winter, then in spring planted hollyhock, nicotiana, rhododendron, cistus, red-twig dogwood, azalea and more to bring life along the path leading to the side gate. That and my two favorite birds (an old gift from my husband when we lived at our first home), made the morning light something really special in an extra small piece of the city...

  • Bottom Left: Back at the first house, on the south side of the property, the driveway originally was an exceptionally long one, leading to what I gently referred to as the "Model T garage" (basically, the original shed with the carriage doors that was everything from a workshop to a tool shed to bike storage to where we brooded our ducklings when they first arrived). But after it was broken into and both my mountain AND commuter bikes stolen, I knew things had to change, and the next year when we got married, I hired contractors to remove the back half of the driveway and extend our south fence to the edge of the house, with a gate that added both back yard privacy AND security. Blueberry bushes, roses, and aster lined the path, enjoying the sunshine that side offered.

  • Bottom Right: On the farm, side "yard" isn't a particularly accurate term, since we lived on 5 1/2 acres, but I always considered the section of the property that the driveway enclosed to be the technical front, side and back 'yards', with our separate enclosed vegetable garden beyond that along with the other cross-fenced pastures. On the south side - between the garage and the driveway that led around the house and back to the barn - I planted iris for the spring and mammoth sunflowers with aster and other wildflowers that went nuts during summer.

So now, in our Skagit Valley digs? Larger than a city lot but still hella smaller than the farm? Well, we've got space on the south side along the house with gravel and a once grassy section that's adjacent to our driveway, unfenced, unused, and totally an area we'd rather grow things than mow...particularly with the great sun that hits this particular area!

So when the neighbor decided to significantly shrink her huge rhody you see on the right side of the listing photo (below left), I knew that was my cue to get crackin' on our half. I covered our half with coffee bags and mulch, and got to planting. So far I've put in a red crape myrtle, white star magnolia, lavender Australian mint bush, orange/yellow azalea, and a pink rockrose. Eventually, smaller plants will be added in, but the largest of the shrubs to create the foundation are now in.

Along the house, you can see all that amazing summer sun! So we've decided to try our hand at grapes, something I've wanted to do for over a decade and finally have what looks to be a good spot for them. For now, these Concords are in pots with a trellis I mounted on the wall , and we'll see how they do. We're contemplating what else to have growing on this area - perhaps something hardy and tall as well like hops, or perhaps an espalier tree like the Asian pear combo we were lusting after at the nursery today? Along with that, while the enclosed garden in the front yard was designed to be drought tolerant, I still would like to have a smaller rain tank to take care of this side yard (and take advantage of that downspout!) where the plants do need more regular watering, so that's in the plans as well...

Decisions, decisions. But no space will be left unused, that is for sure!


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