01 June, 2008

Regrading the Front Yard

Mean people suck. This afternoon, as Mom sat in the living room window, reading, she could hear some neighbors walking by, making snarky comments about the yard. "What's with the shape of that flower bed?" "It's a diamond, you just have to look at it from this angle." "And that one? Why a triangle?"

As they walked by again, Mom could hear their voices loud and clear through the window. "This looks just awful. They should have left it alone. It looked much better before."

Oh boy. Hearing that was enough to send me into an hours-long funk that nobody could shake me out of; not Mom, not Ted, not even Maggie, who brought me numerous toys to play with. I am overly sensitive when it comes to criticism.

I have put hours into the yard so far. I know it doesn't look great. It's obvious (or so I thought) that it's a work in progress.

We had removed all the old bushes because they were overgrown and blocking egress from the basement, a real safety issue. I haven't really replanted because I'm slowly regrading the soil around the foundation. It had been allowed to build up and over the limestone edging in some spots, and onto the actual windowsills of the basement windows. Almost everywhere this has occurred has allowed moisture to seep in, with lots of brick effloresence and some mortar loss. So I'm digging up a lot of dirt, transferring it to other low spots in the yard, and leveling it so it will no longer be a problem. That takes a lot of effort, and it's not pretty in the process, but where I've already regraded, moisture no longer seems to be an issue.

I have put a few foundation bushes in this year because they are slow growers, and I want to give them this season to grow. But I won't be adding much else to the foundation planting this summer except to prep the beds for next year. Fixing issues with the house takes priority in the budget.

The overgrown yew bushes were blocking all of these windows. Completely. Removing them revealed that the grade had been allowed up and over the limestone and onto the windowsills. Weeds were actually growing on the windowsills. I weeded the windows and swept out the dirt, but along this section of the foundation most of the ground is level with the top of the limestone and will have to be corrected.

In this photo, you can see how I've managed to get the ground mostly even with the base of the limestone. There was lots and lots o' manual digging involved.

This is where the grade was the worst. I've leveled most of it and am working to slope it slightly away from the foundation. It's all very soft along here; you actually sink somewhat while walking across the surface, so I still have to compact the dirt. We're thinking of putting a flagstone patio here, just big enough for a bistro set. If we do that, then my grumbling neighbors will have to look at this bare patch of dirt a while longer.


Jen said...

Yucky neighbors!!! How dare they.

It's gonna look worse before it looks better. That is just the way it is. Period. And when it is DIY it takes a little longer.

Maybe next time they walk by, you can hand them a shovel and ask them to help.

I don't know why but.....
comments like that really make me want to place tacky yard ornaments all over the place. Things like painted tires with plastic blue roses stuck in them. Or maybe the old leftover toilet with a petunia in the bowl.

You are being smart to take your time and re-grading the area around the windows.

John said...

I know the feeling. Most of our neighbors hate us. I can't decide if it's the trashy yard, the multicolored roof, or some combination of the two.

Lady Quilter said...

I have to admit, those were the ONLY people who had something bad to say about our yard and all the hard work Joanne has done. Everyone I've talked to have liked what has been done. The overgrown yews were basically the only thing in front. Now that they are gone there has been room for all the plants Joanne has put in which a lot of people like. While working, out there, Joanne has had people stop, driving past, and shout out the car window how nice and improved the place now looks adding "keep up the good work!" Sue it will take a while but some dumb people, who probably never picked up a shovel, don't understand.
As far as "tacky yard ornaments" go you should have seen our last house. An old 1930s, wringer washing machine in the side yard, next to gate. Filled with flowers and overflowing vines. Neighbors there loved it.
Keep up the good work, Joanne, it's a work in progress. Just wait till next spring when everything is in full bloom. Humm . . wonder what those people will think of the riot of bulbs we want to plant across the grass!

Andy said...

Having gone to school in Evanston and had many friends live there I've dealt with many "locals." I find a lot of very nice people, but a lot of the type of people like that...which is why I swore I would never live there, ever, unless I felt like being the "white trash" pain-in-the-ass neighbor that nobody on the block liked because I didn't care what anybody else thought, had, drove or owned.

Sorry...but I really don't care much for Evanstonians, for the most part. :) So this post doesn't surprise me...don't let them get to you. Their gardeners probably did a great job on their yards, with all the latest Home Depot sale plants and other trendy things...that all look the same. :)

Just don't let idiots like that cause you to second-guess your plan. Stick to it -- you're doing what YOU want to do, not what the Joneses think you should be doing.

(Sorry...obviously, I'm pretty passionate about this... :) )

Joanne said...

Andy, Jenni, John, and Mom--Thanks for your support! I shouldn't let people like that get to me.

Mom and I ended up working in the yard this afternoon on a project I'm sure everyone will love to look at: We're killing the weedy strip of "grass" alongside the driveway the old-fashioned way, by smothering it with thick layers of newspaper weighted down with bricks. Won't that be a pretty thing to look at for the next month? Tee hee.

Truth is, we're doing the work ourselves and not hiring a service, so it will be a long while before the yard is tamed.

Andy--We're in South Evanston, not too far North of Howard. It's a lot more relaxed 'round here than the historic districts surrounding Northwestern U, and more diverse, too. We've been here three months now, and I'm just starting to get a vibe for some of the dynamics, i.e., which neighbors are feuding with which, and how I can stay the heck out of it. :-)

Despite some of the ups and downs of settling in and finding our place, we do love it here.

Jennifer said...

Stupid neighbors! It sounds like you have done SO much work! I second Jenni with the tacky yard ornaments... I'm thinking one of those bright yellow toliets owuld be PERFECT.

Jennifer said...

I am sure if you spoke with the neighbors whose opinions you may be concerned with you would find they appreciate what you are doing even if they have different tastes.

And to put it into perspective, you have lived in Evanston for three months. It is safe to say that a gazillion people have driven/walked past your house in that time. If only a couple people don't like it, you're doing a great job!

Anonymous said...

Ick! What jerks. Perhaps if they could remove their magic wand from their rearend they'd let you borrow it? Probably not, sounds like they've got it wedged up there pretty tight...

--Renovation Therapy

Anonymous said...

"I weeded the windows and swept out the dirt."

Now doesn't THAT just say it all about the original condition of your front yard?

If the neighbors only knew all about that in their reminiscing about the good ol' lawn day...

Anonymous said...

we did have another neighbor stop by yesterday while walking her dog. She loves what Joanne is doing to the yard. Went on and on about how much better it looks, with more landscaping than just the yews we had pulled out. She even loves the lawn, which is mostly clover and in full bloom now! Thick, lush and cool under bare feet. Even her little dog seems to like it. Walks across the parkway all the time to pee on the newly planted hosta.

Bart Berlin said...

I have two old yew bushes I would like to get out. How did you get the roots out? They are awfully hard to dig up.

Joanne said...

Hi Bert! I didn't do much digging myself; the people who came to collect the bushes did that. But I think we lucked out with relatively soft soil and shallow root development. It didn't take much to dig around and under the bushes, saving the majority of the roots.

There was one large stubborn one, however, which nobody wanted to salvage. So I cut off the limbs first to give us room to maneuver. It had monster taproots, and as we dug around the root ball, I used our biggest pruner to clip the roots so we could lift the yew out. Then we pulled out the remaining roots individually. Even so, it only took about half an hour to get it done.

I hope that helps!