09 May, 2009

What -- There's Already a Garden Path There?

I took these pictures of the backyard shortly after we moved in. They're from March 2008. By default, because we had so many other projects to work on, we let the garden do its own thing so we could see whatever perennials there might already be. Big mistake. While there were a few clumps of lilies and such, what we ended up with was a riot of weeds. It was a losing battle, and by summer's end, everything was overgrown. Unfortunately, I don't think I have any pictures of it at that stage, but trust me, it was not for the weak kneed. All sorts of varmints seemed to thrive back there, from skunks to possums to rabbits.

The previous owners had a swing set, so the only real thing I did last year was remove about 15 bags of sand and mulch left behind. (I'd like to draw your attention to the pretty water stain on the garage--that's what happens when folks don't clean the gutter, so let that be a lesson to ya. We discovered it packed with mud and growing trees.)

There were about a dozen or so weed trees growing next to and through the chain link fence.

Some of them were 15 or so years old based on the number of rings. I'm always amazed at how quickly weed trees can take hold. It's something you totally have to stay on top of, or you'll find yourself twisted in awkward angles as you try to maneuver pruning shears between the chain links.

There were more weed trees behind the garage. It was impossible to walk through. It took a couple of days of hacking away at it to remove it all.

A huge, overgrown lilac stood in one corner of the backyard. It didn't produce much in the way of lilacs last year. So this year, Ted and I tag-teamed its removal. Two other weed trees were growing through it, each with massive root balls. It was an all-afternoon effort to remove them. When we stepped back, we realized just how clearly we could now see into the neighbor's yard, and made the decision to replace the tree as soon as possible.

In the last two weeks, Mom and I made great strides in civilizing the yard. We created flower beds on two sides of the yard, alongside the house and along the chain link fence we share with the neighbors. Okay, one of the clematis vines we did chuck into the ground last year, and there is a patch of iris from the previous owners, but everything else is new. The hostas we divided from other parts of the yard and moved here. I love getting "free" plants. For edging, we used the railroad ties that once marked off the play area.

We planted a forsythia in the corner where the lilac stood, and scattered more perennials below it: Jacob's ladder and hostas in front (with a few caladiums for color) and lilies of the valley behind. The forsythia's not blooming anymore, but trust me, it was gorgeous when it did. I'm really going to look forward to this next spring.

The lilies of the valley we liberated from the narrow passage between our house and the neighbors'. We discovered literally thousands of them growing there last year. The picture below I took today; you can see the lilies just starting to fill in. Other wildflowers will appear later in the year. We'll continue to let this grow wild until we can figure out what to do with the space. It's not visible from the street. I like the idea of maybe doing some kind of secret garden, but I'm not sure if the effort is worth it.

We planted more perennials along the chain link fence--a few viney things and hostas. I do love my hostas--they're idiot proof, and take so little maintenance. The bird bath was at my mom's other house. The birds 'round here are fearless, and will splash in it a few feet from where I'm working.

Here is perhaps my favorite "new" feature. I picked up this antique washing machine at an estate sale a number of years ago. I think it was five bucks. Mom fought me on bringing it to the new house because she didn't think the yard had room, but look at what she's done with it. I think it's gorgeous with the ivy hanging down and the the clematis growing up the trellis. More cottage garden and less white-trashy than we feared.

This afternoon's project was supposed to be to add a few limestone stepping stones at the entrance to the back yard. A simple project that shouldn't take more than an hour or so. But noooo. I thrust the shovel into the dirt, and heard a loud "chink" as I hit stone. About three inches down, I found the remains of what appears to be a pathway. Far enough below the surface that the previous owners--who were here for forty years--probably didn't know about it.

So now we're wondering how far it goes. It seems to be constructed from a hodgepodge of components, some limestone, some concrete. It's heading off in the general direction of the garage doors, a straight diagonal line across the yard. I'll dig up a bit more tomorrow to get a better idea of just how extensive it might be. But it would explain the mysterious blocks of limestone we've uncovered in other parts of the yard.


Karen Anne said...

Wow, it looks great! And what a ton of work.

I like varmints :-)

You may know you could have saved the lilac bush - you can cut off at the ground 1/3 of a lilac's branches each year for three years and it will rejuvenate itself with new growth.

I "vote" for the secret garden :-) Magical places.

Joanne said...

Thanks, KA!

As far as the lilac, we knew we could have trimmed it back. Same thing with the old forsythia we had on the other side of the house. But each had other weed trees so entangled with it (one at least 15 years old with a massive root ball) that they looked a fright; they would be impossible to separate. And the lilacs had grown up to the electric power lines coming to the house. We wanted a clean, fresh, proportional start to the garden. The forsythia I planted in place of the lilac is out several feet further, so shouldn't run into trouble with the power lines.

Joanne said...

And I may go ahead with the secret garden, even if all I ever do is place stepping stones through the wildflowers.

Lady Quilter said...

Secret Garden has my vote! Stepping stones first with more wild flowers later!
Box Mom

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

We've got concrete and sandstone pavers all over the place, hidden beneath the soil in our yard. There are also big chunks of concrete that used to hold up fence posts and were buried rather than deal with disposal.

The pavers explain a lot of the problems with the garden - everyplace that growth should be higher, but isn't, there's a paver, covered with less than an inch of soil. In fact, this is the method we've used to find more of them - we ask "Where should things be growing better than they are?"

Jen said...

Secret Garden sounds so cool.
How creative to fill the washer with flowers.
We too have found hidden paths all over the yard.

Looks like you guys have been BUSY and everything is looking very nice.

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