The yard… Ugh. What can I say about the yard? We bought the house last fall and the grass was not much to look at. I assumed that spring would bring a lot more green. All I can say is nope. Big ole cup of N.O.P.E. It was as though our entire front yard had been salted, then compacted, and then sand blasted for good measure. I am not certain I have ever seen soil that poor outside of depression era photos of the dust bowl. The first photo I took, we had at least raked the debris from the yard in preparation for attempting to grow some grass.
It was during the raking, that I discovered the thrilling fact that our yard was chocked full of rocks, and rocks, and then some more rocks. Think new construction lot at its finest.
Here is the thing they never tell you
They never tell you that a blank canvas of a yard can be intimidating. We had nothing… Not even real grass. So, imagine, you have two people who both like to garden, in completely different ways, faced with the possibility of doing absolutely anything in the yard. Sounds like a dream right?! Except for the part where we got in a ‘heated discussion’ over bed layouts. Or the honest to goodness fight over organic versus non-organic. Sounds ridiculous right? It was ridiculous, so ridiculous, we made some final decisions, found a tree we liked, and asked to borrow a truck from a friend to pick up mulch. Because the first step is always to buy a 15 foot birch with absolutely no plan! So if you want to follow our dubious planting advice keep on reading!
- Massive tree
- Lots of mulch
- Free Plants/seeds/etc
- More Mulch
- Grass Seed
- Clearance section of big box stores
- Patience (You can substitute arguments here instead)
Step 1: Buy a ridiculously huge tree, with no way to transport it, and no real plan for planting it.
To our credit the tree was an amazing deal. We loved the bark, we loved the idea of having A TREE at least. While running by the hardware store we also happened upon two yoshino cherry trees. We though the silver bark might look nice with the white of the birch. Plus 3 trees!
Step 2: Pray someone is stupid enough to help you transport it…
Oh by the way, can we get some mulch? Needless to say we had a good friend who not only helped us transport the tree, but get truck loads of mulch. Notice the ‘S’ on loads? Honestly, I have lost count of how much mulch we have used.
Step 3: Spreading mulch
Apparently, Adam has not lost track of how much mulch we used. 7 cubic yards of mulch… That is close to 3500 lbs of mulch hauled with trucks, in bags, via camels. Okay maybe not camels, but we have been hauling mulch all summer long. On the first weekend we used 3 cubic yards to make the basic beds. In a perfect world we would have had all the beds prepped with cardboard or newspaper underneath the mulch to smother the grass. However, we were flying by the seat of our pants, so we simply piled it on. Our aforementioned friend also helped us spread the mulch along the sides of the house, under the back deck, and make the nice arching and kidney shaped beds around the new trees. I was called upon to climb/crawl under the front porch to place the mulch. Pro tip: Call before you dig. In North Carolina simply dial 811. Every utility will come out and mark the lines for free. Marking the lines allowed us to plant the trees without cutting the cable to the neighborhood.
Step 4: Continue to rely on the kindness of strangers
It took most of a weekend just to complete stage one of yard transformation. Stage 1 simply involved mulching, planting trees, and planting a number of freebie plants. I put the call out on facebook and an email at work asking for anyone who was dividing perennials, had left over seeds, or just had extra plants they wanted to get rid of to let me know. I would show up shovel in hand and get the plants. Surprisingly I manged to snag a number of free plants: Lemon balm, strawberries, leaf mulch, 50+ seed packets, ornamental plum sapling, redbud sapling, various bulbs, daisies, etc. It was an amazing amount of plant love from the community.
Stage 1 Complete
To be fair, we also assembled raised beds, put in a trellis, added soil to bare patches, and seeded grass. Basically lots of manual labor.
If I had only known then what I know now
Beds are great, grass is great, vegetables are great, but that is not really enough to hold down a landscape. We truly lucked soon after the beds were placed. We went to one of the big box hardware stores to pick up something (probably mulch) and walked past the clearance plants. Lo and behold they were marking tons down. I still do not know how we managed to get what we did, but we got close to $150 of annuals and perennials for $30. Finally we had something to put in the beds! Which I thought was a great plan, until I realized that I actually had to plant all of them. Which leads to:
Step 5: Collecting over time
The rest of the landscape has been a complete work in progress for the entire summer. Dig, plant, weed, seed, repeat. We picked up a beautiful Japanese maple at the WNC herb festival, worked on a chicken coop/castle (post TBD), added stepping stones for the boys. The usual lawn maintenance and gardening work. We have added a number of perennials such as blueberry bushes, blackberry vines, passionflower vines, various herbs; some gifted, some bought. Apparently, yards aren’t built in a day. Pro Tip: Find a local rock seller. A single flagstone can cost $7-$11. We got ours for about $1 a rock from a local stone dealer.
Stage 2: Complete
As the summer has progressed we now have grass for the boys to play in, vegetables for eating, and flowers to admire.
I can not stress enough that time and water are really what it takes to totally transform a yard. The hardscapes and beds have given it the frame work, but it will be a few years before all of the plants have matured enough to give a truly lush landscape. Still I am quite happy to enjoy my hard earned squash, listen to my happily clucking hens, and run my hands through the fragrant lavender.