Spring Dreaming

Spring may have sprung in a lot of places by now, but not in Minnesota.

This is the current state of our yard and no, this isn’t a belated April Fool’s joke.

I am so sick of winter right now. I want sunshine! I want warm weather! I want to actually be able to spend some time outside!

We’ve definitely made progress in our backyard, but it’s still pretty sad. I realize gardening takes time and we’ve had a lot of demo to do, but with the current weather I’m positively itching for an outdoor space I can enjoy.

We should be getting a proper patio poured this summer (hopefully before Wesley’s birthday?). We have an lovely little park just a couple blocks away so we don’t need a to try and cram in a eyesore swing set. My goal for the backyard is to make it geared towards adults, but still child-friendly. I also want something reasonably low-maintenance.

We do have some annoying limitations with our backyard:

  • Walkway right smack down a middle. Sure we could technically move it, or make it more organic-looking, but unfortunately a straight line is much easier to shovel, so I think it has to stay put.
  • Lots of shade. This is both a perk and a drawback. On one hand, the shady yard keeps our house cool and keeps makes the Minnesota summers a little more pleasant outside too (because despite current appearances, summers can get pretty boiling here).
  • I’m kind of an incompetent gardener so I need things are are hard to kill. I’ve already managed to kill off the Bishop’s Weed that came with some plants from our friends’ yard, and that’s supposed to be practically impossible. I’m thinking lots of rocks.

Here are some things I’ve been eyeing for a little inspiration:

Check out this amazing landscaping idea for a backyard or front yard
via Yard Surfer

I love the mix of planters and in-ground plants. I think it adds some lovely textures (and fills in some space with non-killable things).

via Bea Ray Gardens

This mix of two sitting areas is pretty cute.  I’m thinking of having a defined dining section and lounge/fire pit section.

Rock Gardens
via The Art in Life

The back corner by our lilac kills off e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. My hostas are sad, my ferns are sad, my transplanted creeping charlie and bishop’s weed remain a few sad little strands… I’m thinking to compensate for the lack of lush plants with rocks and do an alpine-ish style garden over there.

via Tales From the Coop Keeper

I want to try and cover the back our our garage with a trellis and vines. I also think it would be cool to frame it out with a mini pergola like this.

There’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s definitely not all happening this year. It is fun to daydream about though!

Now, for all the green-thumbs out there: What are your favorite resources for gardening (especially for beginners)? Do you have any Minnesota-hardy (USDA Zone 4b), low-maintenance, shade-tolerant, plant suggestions?

 

New Fence!

We’ve slowly been attempting to make our backyard look less like a junk heap.  We’ve already demo-ed the weird lean-to/shed thing, destroyed a decaying garden bed, and seeded new grass. After a fairly windy storm we had to stabilize our elderly fence before it collapsed and took out a pedestrian. Even with the extra support in place we still planned on completely replacing it ASAP.

We figured the perfect time to get it done was while we were out on leave. We had no intention of DIYing this one*, so it wouldn’t be added work on our end but we could still be on hand for the contractors if anything came up.  Last Thursday a team of two guys showed up, knocked the old fence down, and hauled the poor decrepit bits off to rot in piece.  They also set the new posts then left for the day so the cement could set.

We sort of assumed they’d be back the next day since they didn’t actually tell us when they left and when they’d be back.  By mid-day on Friday they hadn’t shown up so Matt called the company to see what the actual plan was.

Monday.  They would come back Monday.  This was perfectly fine, I just wish we were kept in the loop. We’ve had this same issue with other contractors too.  I realize some of the work we’ve had done is weather-dependent, but I’d still appreciate a ballpark estimate. We actually gave up on a mason because we had gone back and forth for a couple months and he refused to give us any idea of when he would actually be free to do the work.  For the fence it would have been really nice to know X was expected to be completed on day 1, but then the cement needed time to set so they’d be back 2-3 days later to do Y. I feel a little bad when we have to call to ask about a time frame because we aren’t actually trying to rush them, we just want to know what the plan is.

Anywho….

On Monday the men were back to install the the privacy part of the fence.  The battens went up, the support posts were cut to height, and the gate at side of the fence was installed.

YAY! We have a fence that actually looks nice! If we didn’t live on a busy-ish street we probably would have demoed the old one ages ago.  The privacy (and mild sound-blocking) the fence provided against the traffic was really nice though.  Having a kid put us on a timeline for a full replacement since having a sturdily-fenced backyard by the time Wesley was mobile was non-negotiable.

We also decided to keep the chunk of chain link fence that runs right through our giant lilacs (at the back of the yard).  The lilacs probably would have gotten damaged (at the very least, severely pruned) if we removed it and a new fence would have either smashed up against them on on side or hidden them from our view.  The chain link is pretty well camouflaged by the bush though so it’s not a big deal.

A cedar privacy fence was considerably more than we expected, but we suspect that due to the amount of lumber involved.  Our fence was 60′ long and 7′ high and cost just under $4k.  Ouch, but like I said, necessary. If you’re feeling ambitious, Vintage Revivals just DIY’ed a similar sized fence for around $800!

 

*Given the whole pregnancy/birth-recovery/adjusting-to-an-infant thing which was pretty much our entire summer plan.

Save

Save

Save

Not Dead Yet!

A while back we pillaged a bunch of plants from our friends and their neighbor.  And by “pillaged” I mean “took all the shit they were digging up and getting rid of anyway.”  We got a bunch of ferns (with some bonus Bishop’s Weed that you may either love or hate*), some hydrangeas, a clump of purple violets, and something that was pretty but I have no clue what it is.  We even held off painting that day so we could add them to our garden right away.

Things immediately started to look really sad after they were transplanted.  According to my dad ferns (and lilies) tend to look awful right after they’re transplanted but should bounce back in a few months or at least by the next year.  “Awful” is one thing, but mine looked straight-up dead.

notDead_2

Whomp whomp.  Epic gardening fail, right?

Not quite!

All but a few of the ferns are starting to make a comeback.  See the cute little fiddle-head?  All but one of the dead patches are now showing signs of life!

notDead_1

Our yard also got a little pummeled by a nasty storm the other week.  We only lost a few, already dead, branches from our trees which is better than a good chunk of our neighborhood, but our plants also got a little flattened.

notDead_6

My mini container garden is still going strong though!  We’ve got around 6 baby tomatoes!  The basil I planted isn’t dead yet either!  In fact, it’s still going strong which for me is some kind of miracle!

notDead_3

notDead_4

And more and more things are coming into bloom!

notDead_5

Now that I’m seeing what’s-what, I’m starting to formulate a plan.  I want to try and keep as many of the existing plants as I can (plants ain’t cheap!) but move them around so they look a slightly more landscaped than hodge-podge.  I’ll admit though, my absolute favorite garden feel is the slightly-overgrown look, our current setup just needs a little organization first.

 

*I’m actually all for a fast-growing ground cover that may take over my entire yard, so I deliberately kept it.

Save

Save

Save

Adventures in Gardening

As Matt worked on the shed, I worked on digging up the stones on half of our patio.  I like the stones, but the patio as-is just isn’t working so I’m going to reporpose the stones for paths and edging elsewhere.

garden_2

I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through the patio.  Looks gorgeous, huh?  We’ve got a fine crop of weeds this year. (you can also see my make-shift herb/veggie garden in the pots–tomato, basil, and mint.  It will be a good summer for caprese and mojitos…. if I can keep basil alive more than a week…)

garden_1

This isn’t going to be the final layout (there will be a fair amount of tetris-ing, I’m sure) but I wanted to get an idea of how many of the stones I would need before I start digging them into place.  I’m also planning on having some sort of ground-cover between the stones so those un-mowable patches of weeds won’t be staying.

I also have a PSA for newbie-gardeners:  know thy evil plants.

I grabbed a pretty innocuous looking weed to rip it up and immediately knew something was amiss by the stabbing pain.  Ok thorns, no biggie, right? WRONG!  The stabbing/burning continued after I let go.  Ohshit.  I ran my hand under cold water and washed it with soap to try and wash away whatever toxin was causing the burning, but no luck. I even tried hot water which is a treatment for marine stingers… doesn’t work with mid-western flora apparently. On a whim I googled “Stinging nettles” and sure enough, it looked exactly like what I had grabbed bare-handed.  Joy.  The next morning–12 hours later–my hand was still burning.  I tried hydro-cortisone and antihistamines but it still didn’t really start to subside until around 18 hours later.  For the next couple of days it still felt like I had a mostly-healed burn on my palm.

garden_3

It doesn’t look all that terrifying does it?  The barbs on the stems really just look like fuzz… until you grab them.  I was feeling kind of like a dumbass for not knowing what stinging nettles look like (#citygirl) but apparently none of my co-workers did either.  One found out about them the same way I did, but another just knew she had these killer plants in her yard (seriously, one just brushed against her arm once and started the whole burning awfulness).  My sister suggested this link for weed identification… but she also suggested having Matt do all the weed pulling and I kind of like that idea.

It doesn’t help matters that we have another plant that looks pretty similar to the nettles.

plant_id_4

This one?  Not a nettle.  The leaves are still jagged, but a little broader and they get bluebell-like flowers on them later in the summer.  Anyone know what they really are?  The leaves seem to wrong for bluebells…

 

plant_id_1

Fuzzy stem, still not a nettle.  These guys get brown-eyed susan like flowers on them, but they’re way taller (about 4+ feet at their peak) and spindly-er than the brown-eyed susans I’m used to.

 

plant_id_3

These guys just flowered.  The flowers are more purple than they look here and I think they’re adorable… I just have no clue what they are.

 

plant_id_2

And my final mystery plant… I don’t remember these flowering last summer (but we didn’t move in until July).  It’s currently about 2 feet tall and too well-placed for me to just write off as a weed.

For those of you playing along at home, any ideas on my mystery plants?  The first 2 have just about taken over our back yard so they clearly spread like mad.

Demo Day on the Shed

Goodbye sad little shed, we will not miss you. Especially since you were a beast to take down.

shedDemo_1

It may not have looked like much, but this thing was surprisingly solid.  We started by detaching it from our fence so that wouldn’t get pulled down with it.  Then Matt went it and unscrewed everything he could and then took a crowbar to the roof.

shedDemo2

 

shedDemo_4

An hour later he had the roof off, but it was ungodly heavy.

shedDemo_6

“Real men work in khakis.” –Matt  Also, this was just 2 weekends ago and we really did need jackets.  Yay for early May in Minnesota.  At least it wasn’t snowing….

Before we could do anything else we stripped off all the shingles–they weighed a ton!  Then we were able to wrestle the roof away from where it fell so Matt could work on breaking it down into manageable chunks.

shedDemo_7

shedDemo_8

After lunch we tackled the walls.  Some of the plywood panels pried off relatively easier than others….

shedDemo_9

shedDemo_10

After about 3 hours of work the whole thing was down.  The shed was really assembled in the most mind-boggling way–nails, screws, bolts, staples… they used every kind of fastener known to man.  Plus, every one of the 4×4’s supporting the corners was made up of multiple pieces sistered together.  3 were 2 separate pieces, and one was made up of 3 different pieces cobbled together.

shedDemo_13

WTF?

It still doesn’t look like much, but I think it looks better.  It’s one of the sunnier parts of our backyard so may be a possible spot for our future vegetable garden.

shedDemo_12

Before: The Yard

I LOVE our yard, not for what it is at the moment, but for it’s potential.  It’s small, private, and well shaded.  I think it’s the perfect size to give us some space to garden and entertain without being a giant time suck.  Plus there’s a nice playground about 2 blocks away (and 2 more within a 5 minute drive) so it gives visiting nieces and nephews (and hypothetical future children) a place to get their ya-yas out without us having to deal with the maintenance.  Win.

Currently though, the yard is a little sad.

before_yard1

We have about zero curb appeal… but a lot of that comes from the poo-brown color of our house.  As much as I hate the color, we don’t want to invest in painting/re-siding until it’s actually needed because it gets pretty pricey for a 2.5 story house (and the paint is currently in fine shape).  Until then I do still want to beef up the landscaping.  I’m picturing hydrangeas on the sunny side, and a sprawling shade garden under the larger pine.

before_yard7

Around the side  we’ve got some annoying slopeage happening that’s kind of PITA to mow.  Matt’s big goal for the year is to build a wall.  A small wall.  A small retaining wall.  We just want to even up the front yard and side yard a bit for a cleaner look and easier maintenance.

before_yard3

And then there’s the backyard.  I love how private and shady it is, but other than that it doesn’t have a lot going for it (expect potential).

before_yard4

The existing beds are pretty ramshackle and weedy, there’s a weird garden right smack in the middle that seems like a waste of space, and the patio is pretty beat up and mis-matched.

before_yard5

On the other side we have this weird shed (lean-to?) thing that serves no purpose whatsoever for us (expect for looking ugly).  It needs to go.  The fence on this side does need to get replaced, but it might not be a this-year thing.

before_yard6

Fixing the door is a slightly higher priority since it should be a pretty cheap and easy fix that will help things look  a little less janky.  The stone-rimmed bed over here is a new addition.  It’s going to be my pollinator garden.  I split up an existing sedum from the middle our yard, and picked up some blazing star bulbs and a pollinator seed mix to fill in (you can see all the green where they’re just starting to sprout).

The main plan for this year is demo so it will all probably look a lot worse before it will get better.  The shed needs to go, the existing patio needs to be ripped up, and the cellar entrance to our basement filled in.  Some plants I want to relocate and others may be ruthlessly ripped up.  The front yard also needs some regrading to happen so our front yard may be mostly dirt for a while.

Friday Favs: Secret Gardens

ff_secretGardens

We’re going to be working on a couple different projects over the next few months–yard Before pics coming soon!–so I figured some outdoor corners would be nice springtime inspiration for all of us!

 

ff_gardens_2
Via Better Homes & Gardens

Not gonna lie, but I’m really not a fan of grass. It’s kind of boring and you just have to mow it constantly.  A little bit of river rock filler though?  Nicely textural and will really make the plants pop around it.  Plus I dig the ever-so-slightly overgrown look this little corner is sporting.

 

ff_gardens_3
Via Sugar and Cloth

Gravel can also make for a cute patio area.  I love how they paired it with pavers here to make a more stable area for the table and chairs.  Also, did you notice the A/C unit?  I barely did.

 

ff_gardens_6
Via Door Sixteen

Pavers, wood decking, mulch, AND gravel?  Whoa!  I love the mix though… as you may have caught on I think texture is a huge part of landscaping and this setting seems delightfully low maintenance.

 

ff_gardens_4
Via Holi Coffee

I’m also a sucker for ponds, but I’ll never talk Matt into one in the mosquito haven that is Minnesota.  Maybe a nice little bubbling fountain to kill the standing water….

 

ff_gardens_8
Via Fine Gardening

Or maybe a dry creek bed?  I love the look of these and they can help out with drainage in problem areas.

 

ff_gardens_7
Via Shedworking

Perhaps you’ve heard of the new(ish) fad that is the She Shed?  This kind of makes me want one….  Plus, I LOVE the look of ivy, but I know it’s terrible for homes.  I might sacrifice a small shed to it though.

 

ff_gardens_1
Via Apartment Therapy

If you want another way to get your low maintenance (after it’s done anyway) texture groove on, how about an rock rug? I don’t think I’d have the patience to make one, but they are pretty swoon-worthy.