Another year, another garden
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
cortneyandjon in gardening, home projects, summer

When we first moved into our house in 2008 we had grass. Lots and lots of grass. We have a large lot (for our neighborhood of small lots, that is) and we had one garden—the standard landscaped garden in the front of our house, crammed full with too many bushes and even one poor out of place blue spruce, planted just a foot or two away from our front porch. Before we actually bought, the inspector had told us that after moving in we would have to fix the grading around the foundation of the house because in certain areas the grass was actually growing up past the siding, a sure fire way to invite bugs, he'd warned us.

And so our garden planning began. We moved in late March so we had some time to stare at our grassy expanse and consider plans for our future outdoor space. Some plans were easy—a 1-3 foot removal of grass from around the foundation, fixed grading, and a variety of native plants in its stead—while other plans came to us only later after seeing the yard take shape. The thing we knew we wanted to do was cut way down on the amount of grass and replace it with native flower and vegetable gardens. We had an eye toward attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, adding trees, and possibly outlining or edging our yard with garden space.

That first summer we accomplished much. We made short work of the grading around the house and also added a shaped garden to the very corner of our lot with the help of Jon's family over a Labor Day weekend. The new garden gave us a place to transplant some of the overcrowded bushes from the front landscaping, including the little spruce tree. Later in the year we added yuccas and some brown eyed susans as well.

Along with the grading we extended the outlet for our sump pump to beyond the edge of the house and made a pretty rock river for it. Or at least, we thought it was a rock river. Shortly thereafter we realized that, thanks to the output of our sump pump, that just wasn't going to cut it, so we decided to draw the water farther away from the house and into a rain garden, which we added in many hours of work over the fourth of July weekend.

You call that a rock river?

Now that's a rock river.

The addition of a small butterfly garden to the northeast corner of our lot rounded out our work for 2008, leaving the lawn looking like this:

You almost can't see the little butterfly garden over there in the corner! That's okay, we definitely took care of that in fall 2009 when we put in a drainage trench/rock river to divert the nieghbor's sump pump away from our new tree:

In 2008 we loving filled the rain garden with native and water tolerating plants, but word to the wise, a sump pump does not a good rain garden make; the influx of water in the spring was too much and we lost all but a handful of our plants. We spent the summer rethinking our drainage plan, took the river all the way through to the other side in September 2009, making this our not-so-rain garden:

While The 2010 growing season brought most of the 2009 perennial plantings back (a huge improvement over the previous year), it highlighted some issues with the new drainage trench in the butterfly garden—namely a low spot and standing water at the outlet—so we decided to go forward not only with our 2010 plans but with our "down the road" plans as well. 2010 plans were to remove the rest of the sod to extend the butterfly garden up to our neighbors' fences (no more mowing/weed whacking in that tight space!), and the "down the road" plans were to connect all the existing gardens with a full yard edge garden.

And that brings us to the first weekend of August 2010 with 5 cubic yards of dirt and 1.5 tons of 18 inch boulders.

Ahhh, so that's what 1.5 tons of 18 inch boulders sound like when falling from a truck. Then we had to roll them down the hill. Thank goodness for that empty lot behind us, eh?

Ollie was a big help. Almost as much of a help as Cookie when we were looking up our property lines on the map.

It's now done, though, and even planted, mostly with transplants from new growth on some of the happily growing native plants we added last year. Four rocks mark the places awaiting trees, probably 2 maples and 2 river birch, to be added over the next few years beginning with at least one this fall.

I think this is our best addition yet and we are really pleased with the way it defines our space while connecting all three gardens and working in the necessary drainage paths. There is always another project, though. Next year the space to the south in the above picture (taken facing ESE) will be made into a patio with a fire pit, a project that is likely to be our most ambitious yet (which is hard to believe after muscling 1.5 tons of boulders). We also plan to add another raised vegetable garden (our current three aren't shown here but are in line with and west of the southeast garden, just out of the above picture).

So here it is, one final before and after (although there really isn't a picture of "before", meaning back when it was all just grass).

End of the 2008 summer season (our first summer in the house)

View from the SE corner on 8/2/2010.

Article originally appeared on Cortney and Jon Ophoff's Family Site (
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