Monday, January 9, 2012
Backyard Renovation: Part 1
Earlier this year, we undertook the (seemingly Herculean) task of renovating our teeny, tiny back yard (about 10' x 20'). To be honest, we were actually creating one from scratch. Before we moved in, there was a decrepit garage in the back yard, which had to be torn down as it was structurally unsound. We also had an oil tank buried back there, which we had decommissioned before we moved in. The company that removed the tank also had to remove a relatively large portion of the soil, as it was contaminated from the oil, which over the previous decades had leached out of the tank.
This left us with a (semi) blank slate. There was the heavy clay soil itself, as well as a good dose of pulverized concrete chunks (from the garage pad) and loads of sand, which the clean-up company used to fill in where the oil tank had been. I knew we didn't have the time or $$$ to really do anything in the backyard that first year (or two), so we just kind of ignored it. Eventually, a few enormous Pokeweeds took up residence, which I kind of enjoyed, as they created a mini-forest. A word of caution, if you don't want to spend the rest of your natural life pulling up Pokeweed seedlings, please do NOT let them fruit and go to seed. Another benefit, you won't have to avoid neighbors' angry glances as they clean up purple bird-poop from their cars (Poke Berries are deep purple...you figure it out).
Of course, I am not completely innocent either. As I tore up the our lawn over the past two years, the sod I pulled up inevitably ended up in piles in the back yard. This is how it looked this spring...a muddy, lumpy mess. Oh, by the way, that nice, professional-looking shed belongs to our neighbor...and I gaze at it longingly during these long months as we slowly build our own shed (but that's another post).
And so, last winter, the planning began. Of course, all I REALLY cared about was which plants I was going to put in...but, fortunately, wiser minds prevailed. My partner, Norm, started drafting plan after plan after plan for the hardscaping portion of the back yard. I honestly lost count of how many times we changed it, but early this spring, we pretty much settle on a plan. We must have visited every garden center in the greater Portland area trying to figure out which materials we wanted to use. We eventually settled on the horizontal fencing shown above, as well as these cobblestone-ish concrete pavers. I liked that the fence was simple and contemporary, without being coldly modern. I've always liked the look of stone pavers...but on our budget real stone was out of the question...so these patterned pavers were a nice compromise.
This spring, we were ready to get to work. Although not the greatest idea, we both agreed that it would be easiest all-around if we could start with something of a blank slate. We spent days picking up all the loose sod, concrete and other remnants of construction debris and tossing it into a dumpster. We rented a Tiller from YardRents.com...which, by the way, is AWESOME!
For those of us without huge vehicles at our disposal, it's ideal. They dropped off and the tools we needed...then picked them back up when we were done. This is super nice for those of us who don't have Pickup Trucks or SUVs They also gave us a short tutorial in how to use the tools...especially handy since we (ok, mostly me) are kinda clueless when it comes to heavy machinery.
My partner made me put this photo up....so sorry, everyone.
Voila! Look at all that lovely dirt...free (mostly) of concrete and glass shards! Here is where I have to post a warning: We shouldn't have tilled up all the ground, because we ended up compacting it HORRIBLY as we worked on the fence and path afterwards. I ended up spending weeks afterward turning the ground over again before planting. Most any gardener can tell you this is really bad for the soil as it collapses all the air pockets that plants need. You live, you learn.
Being spring in Portland, we had to plan all our work to (hopefully) coincide with the few sunny days we got. Actually, we lucked out for the most part, and had quite a bit of nice weather. Oh, here comes Boots...the neighbors' orange cat who has adopted us, up our driveway to oversee our progress.
Being project foreman is pretty tiring work, best to take a short nap.
OMG...amazing...the fence is up...wasn't it easy! No, it wasn't. We had a TOUGH time putting this thing up. To begin with...the ground was soupy from all the rains we'd been having. We rented an auger from YardRents.com (again...so great). We were initially worried that we'd have a hard time getting it to drill down into the ground. We were wrong...it slipped into the ground like warm butter. The problem is that the wet, heavy clay would then suction around the auger and we couldn't get it back out. GRRRRRRRR. In total, we put in 8 (I think) posts...which took us 2 full days of straining, sweating and swearing (I apologized PROFUSELY to our neighbors for months afterward). In retrospect, if we had been a LITTLE bit smarter, we could probably have done them all in 3 or 4 hours.
At the moment, we only have the square seating area paved, eventually, we'll probably finish the path with pavers as well. I have to admit, although I originally wanted a more relaxed, curving path, I quite like the hard (almost severe) lines and angles we ended up with. Since I always end up planting in a very relaxed, informal way, the hardscape is a great contrast to the plantings.
Of course, Part 2 will be all about the good stuff...the plants!!!