What a Difference A Year (or 2) Makes

Next weekend I’m having an end-of-summer backyard party, and it got me thinking about how much my outdoor space has changed in the last 2 years. Some of my guests haven’t been here in a year or more, but really, anyone who hasn’t been around since spring will be surprised at the additions and changes.

I find that often when I’m looking at my yard I’m making a mental list of projects still to tackle, or staring at a plant and willing it to grow faster. But as I looked back through some old photos, even I am a little stunned at how much I’ve accomplished in just under 2 years.

With a reeeeally long wish list, I knew I needed to pace myself to avoid burnout, not to mention bankruptcy. In October 2011, I started with just the north half of the front yard, ripping out the grass and the photinia shrubs that flanked my front steps. I had already purchased a couple Japanese maples and rhododendron bushes, and a friend helped me select the remaining shrubbery. After getting those in and planting spring bulbs, I called it good for the season. By spring, the front yard was starting to take some shape, but all I could see were the spots I needed to fill.

Last fall I planted about a dozen peony roots, moved some fuchsia bushes that were much larger than I expected, and decided I hated how the lemon thyme looked after a year… so out it came. This spring I added more flowers, and planted creeping red thyme as a ground cover and walkable path. I’m still deciding on companions to plant in front of the peonies (ideas, anyone?), so there’s a bit of a blank strip there. Boy, I can’t wait for those peonies to mature!

At the same time that I was working on the northern half of the front yard, I tackled the side yard. Even though it’s on the north side of the house, it gets quite a bit of morning and late afternoon sun, so a variety of plants are doing well there. Currently I have two Japanese maples, a variety of ferns, hostas, fuchsias, hellebores, sarcacocca, lilies, astilbes, and a row of camellia sasanqua ‘Setsusgekka.’ The plan is to espalier the camellias along the new fence this fall (all the way to the eastern edge of the yard), creating a lush green wall with white winter flowers.

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The two front flower beds were left blank for a year and a half, so I was excited to start working on them this past February. Each side features a camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’, daphne bholua, and Limelight hydrangea, plus azaleas, fuchsias, lillies, peonies, dahlias, English daisies, and low growing rose bushes. I recently added star jasmine vines on both sides of the handrails and, even though they’re still very short, the heavenly fragrance wafts up the stairs to greet guests.

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By far, the biggest transformation has been out of sight of most of my neighbors, in the backyard. When I first moved in (summer 2009), the backyard sloped down from the alley on the west toward my house, as well as downward from south to north. The ground was so uneven you couldn’t sit in a chair without teetering on the brink of a humiliating spill. There was no fence separating me from the alley, and the yard was overgrown with blackberry vines and dandelions. I forgot to snap any “before” pictures, but trust me: an oasis it was not.

In 2010 my big brother came to the rescue to level the backyard, bringing the south side down 2 feet, and the north side up by 2 feet. (I had to install 4 steps to get up to my backyard!) While he was there, he removed the ancient plum tree that hung perilously over the roof above my bedroom. Unfortunately, the only bit of usable shade went with that old tree. The backyard gets absolutely fabulous sun, which is great for vegetables, but not for afternoon relaxing (at least not if you’re a fair-skinned sun wimp like me.) Soon after everything was level, I had a stone patio put in. I still couldn’t hang out there until I got some afternoon shade, but it meant less grass to mow, which was nice.

Besides the leveling and new patio, the back went pretty much untouched until last summer, when my uncle helped build my raised vegetable beds. I planted a couple of (very troublesome) Asian pear trees, and some vines that I had hoped would cover the chain link fence that separates me from my neighbor on the south (they haven’t). And then again, the backyard was ignored until this year, when it got a huge facelift.  I’m most excited about the new pergola, which one day will be covered with fragrant, shade-providing vines. Yey!

Here’s the northwest corner of the backyard, where new plants went under the mature cherry trees.

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And the view to the south… that fence still needs some work!

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The south side yard and the north side yard that leads up the backyard steps are still undergoing a major transformation, and the outdoor living area under the new pergola is getting pimped out, but I’ll save those stories for another time. I guess what I’ve confirmed from this little trip down memory lane is that I’ll never, ever be done, but it’s about the journey… not the destination. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Thanks for visiting!

One thought on “What a Difference A Year (or 2) Makes

  1. My garden needs work…and I have been doing it…it was how I wanted it, but now it has gone a bit out of control…funny how some things we do then take on a logic of their own. I need to do a bit of this pulling out too I suspect…sigh.

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