Thursday, August 12, 2010


Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration.
-   Lou Erickson

To see the transformation of our backyard, check out the album at:

Eight years ago we bought our fixer-upper house. We bought it "As-Is." Most of our friends bought adorable houses with newer kitchens and a simple landscaped backyard. When I sent out "work party" invites, most friends had no idea how badly we needed them. I didn't need friends and family to help me paint a wall. I needed muscle and emotional support and anything and everything we could get.

Every single room in our house needed work. As soon as we rebuilt our bedroom wall (it had dry-rot), the roof started leaking into the new wall. The windows were crank windows and the neighbor cat would climb through it when we opened the windows to get a breeze, I financed windows through SMUD after only a week. We didn't have air conditioning, a dish washer and we had a barely working harvest-gold oven stove top. The toilets leaked and had rotted the sub-flooring. The kitchen sink didn't have a working garbage disposal and the bathroom was ant infested because the previous owner did her dishes in the damn bathtub. The house was stained yellow from all the cigarette smoke. The yellow and green shag carpet made me break out in hives the day after I yanked it out of the house. I yanked it out all by myself. Pedar had gone to Home Depot (again) for something and I was so sick of the smell and nothing was clean and I was beginning to lose it. I started pulling the rug and it pulled away from the little tacks so easily. I just went and pulled it all out. It felt so good!

We cleaned, repaired, painted and worked every single damn day and night for a long time. But what bothered me even more than the inside of our house, was our very scary backyard. 

The front yard had a dead tree that was leaning and a dead lawn and other little dead trees on the side. Pedar pulled the dead trees out. He installed sprinklers and we rolled sod. My friend Todd and I built the path to our front door and then we got free trees from SMUD. I added flower beds and made it look pretty. The front yard was somewhat doable. 

The backyard was a nightmare.

In the backyard we had two huge, overgrown mulberry trees, 2000 square feet of crazy cement paths that led to no where. We didn't even have a back fence. We had strange structures that had to be torn down and removed, like a four door aviary and a dark room. We had sheds and leaky faucets and just pure craziness. The previous owner had a shopping cart filled with lava rocks and boxes filled with old paint and chemicals. We first trimmed the trees and filled up huge dump bins with garbage and branches and old wood. We then built a back fence and paid for two side fences. We then had to pay for cement removal and a tree removal. Pedar wrestled with crazy tree roots for awhile and then he hired a guy to help remove the rest. Then we started planning. 

We planned the front yard and carefully drew a picture of what we wanted it to look like, so we did the same with the backyard. We even drew a picture of a little dog romping on the beautiful green grass. 

Pedar put in over nine hundred feet of pipe and created three sprinkler stations. We began working on the backyard in 2004 when I was pregnant with Casey and we were spending money on a lot of other projects, so at the time we could only afford to put in the sod and spread some bark around. 

When Casey was six-months-old, I strapped him in his bjorn and started digging holes and buying plants. I have dug almost every single hole in the ground in our backyard. Pedar hooks it up to water, that is our deal.

I knew I wanted to create a "secret garden" feel in our yard. I wanted to hide the fences, so I planted photinia along the length of two of our fence lines. Our neighbors each have added on to their houses, so I wanted to create some privacy. I planted hopseed bushes along the length of the other fence line. I created three sitting areas; one under the liquid amber tree, one under the mulberry tree and one under the crepe myrtle trees. Pedar built a beautiful garden fence and we created a vegetable garden area. I looked at plants in median strips and researched what plants survived on little water and lots of heat. We bought an entire pre-planned garden from High Country Gardens. 

I admit that I still have not learned how to set-up drip systems, which is pretty lame because I buy all our plants. I hand-water a lot and use soaker hoses until Pedar can catch up. Pedar has installed drip-systems throughout most of our yard. 

I try and buy all drought tolerant plants. I ask a lot of questions at nurseries. I love POW nursery in Wilton. The folks at POW nursery have been so helpful. If I tell them what I am thinking of planting or ask for ideas and tell them about the area of the yard, they always give me ideas and suggestions. I have more luck with their ideas than my own!! I have bought a ton of 1 gallon plants and just fed them and babied them and watched them grow. We don't have the money to buy big plants and enjoy instant gratification. We have had to buy tiny plants and baby them to live and grow!

In the Spring and Summer I spend about thirty minutes a day in the garden, sometimes more. I have a weed problem along the back fence I have been struggling with. I have plans for more plants and more drip systems, but this is the first year where our garden beds look full and happy. I hand water at night when it is really hot and I am learning to feed my plants three times a year. Plants can not survive on water alone. They will not be as strong, healthy, beautiful or large unless you feed them.

When our neighbors moved and didn't take their play-set with them, I walked over and introduced myself (with cookies and a plant of course!) to our new kid-free neighbors and offered to buy the play-set, they gave it to us....WOO HOO! Some other neighbors gave us old stepping stones and bricks that I used to create a path and an area to set the benches on. Pop-Pop Jim built a beautiful sandbox that now sits under the mulberry tree, a perfect shady spot to play. We finally bought a nice patio set this summer. Unfortunately our patio covers ripped in a storm this past winter, so we are hoping to build some kind of patio cover soon.

I am lucky because Pedar enjoys working in the yard too. It would be very hard to manage without his support. I would rather pull weeds and visit a nursery than go to a movie. I love seeing my work bloom. I feel a responsibility towards the plants that I have put into the ground. In a way they are like my children. They need me to care for them and love them. 

We have hosted dozens of parties and barbecues in our backyard. I no longer dread getting up and looking out my bedroom window. I love gardening. Who knew? I love helping people plan their yards. I love digging holes and beautifying a space. I feel completely at peace and happy in our yard. I look forward to learning about new plants and planning new gardens and yes, learning all about drip lines.

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