Thursday, June 11, 2009

Back Yard

Warning!!! This is a long post, with a drawn-out tour, of work I've been doing in my back yard. I use at least two swear words. (If you hear me tell this story in person, I will curse like a sailor.) I blatantly and unapologetically discuss how much things cost. It is, by far, the most annoying post on the planet.

Over the last two weeks, I have been doing a lot of yard work. Not at Runner Susan levels, but quite ambitious for little ol' me, working by myself over about 25 hours. I never took proper 'before' photos (bad habit!) but you'll have to picture weeds, dirt, and YUCK everywhere.

Now, this is what you'll see standing on the back stoop, looking left. The weather has been schizophrenic, but we spend every sunny moment hanging out here with our meals.

This is the patio table from the opposite angle, where you can see the simple double layers of bricks that I brought in to keep the mulch in it's section, and the patio clean. It was looking pretty ratty before I swept and made the deliniation! This is a good angle to see that I had some brick issues. First I bought 200 bricks. Then, I returned 125 bricks. Then, I re-bought 45 bricks. And now, as you can see, I'm about 8 bricks short of a full two layers. That's not annoying, or anything.

From where I took the picture above, you can turn right and be looking directly into the 'play yard'.
The little house is under my bedroom window.

The sand and water table and sandbox are very popular. I used shredded redwood (also called 'gorilla hair') in this area of the yard because it's so soft for standing on in bare feet.

There's also a clothesline that stretches across this area. It's the only place now in the yard (now that the pool is up) where there's two places to tie the line off. The boys love it when a sheet or duvet cover is hanging on the line! It turns the play yard into a little cubby hide away, and they are in heaven.

The little gate goes behind the house and into the side yard, which is where my winter garden used to be, and where my potting bench and lawn mower now live. Let's call it "industrial space". Why I own a lawn mower, when I have no lawn, is beyond even me.

The is the waterfall and pond that is right next to the play yard.


In the pictures below, you can see the hill behind our house. This represents the most dramatic changes, even though I know it looks like a whole lot of nothing. Actually, it's very accurate to say "a whole lot o' nothing" is a HUGE improvement. Tall, dead weeds. A half dozen decrepit, leaning, half-dead pine trees were felled, chainsawed, and hauled away. I had gotten an estimate to do this work, and at four thousand bucks I was feeling like maybe I was destined to wake up with a pine tree in my bed when it finally gave up the ghost and took a tumble down the hill and into my roof.

But then my sweetie-pie neighbor downed them with his chainsaw (for zero dollars) and I hustled with smaller pieces, hauling and stacking and dumping. Then I hired some labor (a few hundred dollars) to come in take down the biggest stumps and logs. That's all seasoning in the sideyard, as of now. I've been showering my neighbor with homemade cookies, breads, and eggs from my mom's chickens, ever since. It's hard to say how long it will take to make four thousand dollars worth of banana nut bread, but he refuses to take payment, so I'll keep trying.

This hill is deceptively steep. I've had water and electricity run all around it (when I had the waterfall/pond/raised patio project done last fall) so it's ready for something besides two plastic chairs! My cousin gave me a book, Gardening With a Wild Heart, and with such inspiration, I am planning some native plantings, a butterfly garden, some fruit trees, a few paths, and some groundcover for the hill area. I'd like to keep the 'seating area' at the top there, with some stairs going up to the back fence (wouldn't a little gate be so sweet there, so we can go into the parks land and trails behind our property? Yes, I think that's perfect.) From those chairs you can watch the sunset over the bay, from San Francisco to Coyote Hills in Fremont. It looks really spectacular when you're enjoying a glass of wine and holding hands with your husband. It's a keeper.

So, keeping on with the tour, I'm taking these pictures by backing away from the play yard and toward the side fence. The patio is raised about 30 inches or so. I love this patio! I love to sit on my second hand furniture (the whole set was purchased off craig's list for 200 bucks!) and watch the boys in the pool, knit or crochet, and enjoy the koi fish in the pond and the birds playing and bathing in the waterfall.

When you get to the fence, watch your step because there is a huge stump and a wooden ladder hanging on the fence. I used to have one of those fiberglass, green ladders hanging there, but the real ladders (6 and 12 feet) are now stowed elsewhere, because they are u-g-l-y. This old-fashioned wooden ladder makes me happy; it makes me think of my family. I come from a family of laborers... of painters and insulators and mechanics and tinkerers, and that wooden ladder reminds me of my connection to all the 'do-ers' of the world.

The stump is to make habitats for the critters I love to lure into my yard. I took some native habitat and gardening classes through the local parks department, and they said to make sure there was water (check!), food (check!), places for lizards and snakes to bask on hot stones (check!), and places to hide from predators, like felled tree stumps (check again!). Now that I've enticed all this wildlife into my yard, I live in constant fear that my cat will show up with a lizard in its mouth. That's happened before, but I'm hoping to chalk it up to one stupid skink, and not an ongoing issue.

This picture is taken from the patio (not far from the table) and facing the fence. The first huge vegetable bed has cucumbers, eggplants, yellow squash, a pumpkin, and some herbs (basil and marjoram come to mind). The second smaller plot has tomatoes. Grape tomatoes, pear tomatoes, roma tomatoes, and 'just tomatoes'. It's a lot of tomato going on. There's a wee sage plant in there too. All other herbs are in the 'kitchen garden' in a plot under the kitchen window in the front yard. I brought in a yard of composted soil for the veggie beds. I made the beds out of reclaimed materials, found hither and yon in the travesty that was my backyard.

Backing out of the yard, and down by the garage, you can now see what amounts to a labor of love. I sheet mulched the entire flat ground surface of my back yard. This involved cutting and placing carboard over every square inch of exposed terrain. Then I brought in 2 yards of brown mulch. I had to bring in the composted soil and the mulch up the driveway (it's on a hill) and into the backyard, one wheelbarrow at a time. I did the same thing with a half yard of the shredded redwood for the play yard. I will say this: It was big job. Un bien gran trabajo, no? I will also say this: There are muscles, in your ass, that will demand retribution when you punish them with 8 straight hours of pushing these loads up a hill. They will not go quietly. And now I have nothing else to say about all that.

I suppose someday I'll need to decide what this flat part of the yard will look like. My cousin had me laughing with her good lawn-bad lawn post! It's so true, there are some haters out there when it comes to lawn! I don't care for it, but mostly because I don't mow it, water it, or fertilize it, so it always looks like crap under my careless rule. This sheet-mulching is such a lovely transition choice. It's cheap (I spent about a hundred bucks for the mulch, dirt, and bricks), it's fresh feeling and clean looking, and I want to concentrate my energy and resources over the rest of this year on getting the hill area nailed-down. This mulch will hold up fine, and next summer, when I'm thinking about what I want to happen in the valley, the cardboard will have composted into the soil, and the mulch can be rototilled under, and I can move on.

Oh, did you catch this? This is 'the pool' I keep talking about. It's no joke, my friend. Fifteen feet in diameter, four and a half feet deep. Easily entertains all during pool parties and birthdays. It's...not quite my asthetic, am I right? The big, blue, plastic eyesore? It's not on any native plant list that I've ever seen! I had it up last year, when the yard was a total disaster, and now that things are looking up, I actually debated with wether it should be installed for the season. It would have to go right where my biggest clothesline was residing. In the end, I decided that yes, it needs to be part of our lives. The boys get constant enjoyment from it. They use it every time there is even 5 minutes of sun. I'll stop putting it up when they've moved on to other things. In the case of my boys, I'm thinking "other things" will be college. And that's fine by me. I've made my peace with The Big Blue Blob.

Behind the pool, barely visible here, I'm seeing now, is a huge butterfly bush that I transplanted from my friend's house to my front yard, and then from my front yard to my back yard. He's a trooper! He has big purple blooms right now, and the bees and butterflies line up at the non-stop buffet all day. You can also see here the stoop of my shed, my bucket of extra clothespins, and the lifejackets I make the boys wear in the pool. It's not that they can't swim (or even stand) in the water. It's that they need help getting them on. And the, "Hey mom, can you buckle this?" ritual alerts me that they're heading in to the pool, and I like to be present ~ at all times ~ for this occasion.

Backing out of the yard, towards the side gate, you can see the garage on one side and the shed on the other. The shed is more like a wee wooden barn, at 10x12 feet. The garbage cans have extra composted soil and...I think one is empty.

The metal can has bird seed and pumpkin seed for the squirrels.

Just before you leave my yard, you can peek behind the shed and see that I completely and totally cleaned out that mess, too, and moved the half-cord of oak firewood and the aforementioned ladders to their new home.

Okay, and if you've read this far, you can't say I didn't warn you! :)


  1. Can I come and live with you? I LOVE the pond. LOVE IT. I need to find a place to put one right after the vineyard goes in.

  2. Oh, you definitely need a pond! It would be so lovely in your yard...I'm thinking you could put Donkey's rock right in the middle of it, and that will *really* freak him out!

  3. Gorgeous! Soooo different from when you first moved in.

  4. I have one thing to say about the slope--coyote bush! Well, and maybe wildflower seeds planted this fall so they can get the winter rain and spring up in the spring in a gorgeous riot.