By Erin Huffstetler | 06/12/2020 | 11 Comments
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We landscaped our backyard nine years ago, and there are some things we didn’t get right the first time.
Like these “dwarf” apricot trees that were supposed to top out at eight feet …
but grew to be 30 feet tall (and counting), while never producing a single apricot.
I’m not sure if the nursery miss-tagged some trees, or if we made the rookie mistake of planting the graft line below the soil, thereby causing the trees to revert back to standard-size stock. That part is a mystery. But one thing I do know: these overgrown apricots were a gardening fail.
In addition to being ugly; their limbs kept growing in front of the garage door and getting onto the garage roof. And in recent years, they had completely changed the lighting in our garden and kitchen.
So, last week we cut them down.
We still need to remove the trunks, but I already think that part of the yard looks loads better. And I’m eager to try again. This time I want to plant a tall secret garden-style hedge to block the view of our neighbor’s house, and I want to fill that bed with lots of color.
I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to any of you, that I’m determined to do all of this for as little as possible. I’ll probably have to spring for the hedge plantings, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to get everything else for free.
Since I plan to update you on my progress over time, let me show you where the rest of the backyard stands today.
This bed beside the garage is currently the most attractive part of the backyard. It contains two white tree hydrangeas, irises, peonies, and daisies (since it’s early spring, nothing is blooming yet).
We added the doors on the side of the garage several years ago, and found a set of concrete steps, that were the perfect height, in a curb pile.
The circular art hanging on the side of the garage came from a yard sale. A man made it to hang in his house, but his girlfriend didn’t like it; so he sold it to us. That double shepherd’s hook in the foreground, usually hold two of my solar globes, but I recently gave them away. I need to make two more to hang there.
My favorite thing about this spot is the herringbone brick walkway that I laid. All that moss makes it look like it’s been there forever.
I also really like this path that runs under our grape arbor, turned garden tunnel.
It’s planted with strawberry begonias and mondo grass. The strawberry begonias came from that master gardener who gave us a bunch of plants back in 2014. I transplanted the mondo grass from a small clump that was in the yard when we bought the house.
I’ll be sure to share pictures of our garden tunnel, as soon as the grapes leaf out for the season.
Our backyard also has a nice assortment of statues and yard art that we’ve rescued from curb piles over the years. This blue lady is one example. She’s actually a fountain.
Unfortunately, our backyard is also home to two air conditioner condenser units. I want to build some sort of surround to hide them (that’s raspberries planted around it, if you’re wondering).
And here’s an aerial view of our backyard to help you put things into perspective. That’s our coop on the left, and those are cherry bushes in the foreground. I plan to “fence in” both sides of our yard with a privacy hedge. The left side is already planted, but we still need to tackle the right side.
June 2020 Update
It’s been 14 months since I shared a backyard update, so I’d say it’s high time for a progress report. Since we ended with an aerial view of our backyard, let’s start with a new aerial shot.
This is taken from our house, looking towards the office.
The most significant changes in this picture are the new privacy plantings down the right side of the yard, and the new paint job on our office. We haven’t actually finished painting yet, but it still looks a lot better than it did.
My husband also removed that big stump in the back right corner. That’s where our fire pit sits now.
To help you visualize the space better, here’s a picture taken from the office, and looking towards the house. Our backyard is sandwiched between the two buildings.
And here’s a closer look at our new privacy plantings. We planted Spartan Junipers. They’ll get 15-20 feet tall, but only about four-feet wide. We don’t have a very big yard, so I didn’t want to lose a bunch of space to trees.
A lot of privacy trees grow so tall that they end up being completely out of scale with everything around them, and I didn’t want that. These will give us privacy (and a nice backdrop), without being ridiculous about it.
The junipers are now a year old, and they’ve grown a ton. I’m estimating that it’ll be another four years before they grow together and enclose the yard completely. We can’t wait.
This winter our neighbor removed the giant stump by the back corner of our garage, which allowed him to finish his fence.
We’re enjoying the extra privacy that that’s afforded us, and I’m now thinking about adding a flagstone patio behind the garage. That’ll be a down-the-road project, but just seeing that area with a nicer backdrop has me thinking in new directions.
I don’t know that our fire pit has landed in its final spot yet, but for now, it sits close to where that stump was. There was a big dead tree there when we bought the property.
We use an old, cast iron wash kettle for our firepit. We found it at a yard sale for $20 several years ago. I’ve been slowly collecting vintage metal chairs to go around the fire pit. I plan to paint them all the same. So far, I’ve just repainted the brown and white one.
The Nellie R. Stevens Hollies that we planted on the other side of the yard two years ago are also doing well. It’ll still take a while for them to catch up to our older hollies …
but hopefully it won’t take much longer for them to grow together.
That big white van in the driveway is our craft show van. We finally broke down and bought a 15-passenger van last season. It’ll be staying parked this year, but we’re still glad to have it.
Last year we removed two overgrown apricots that had become a problem, and that garden bed has changed dramatically since then.
Here’s what it looks like now (complete with our craft show trailer in the background).
We planted junipers along the back of this bed, so, eventually our driveway will be hidden from view.
The bench is a curb find that my husband repaired. Now, I just need to repaint it.
And most of the plants that you see here were free.
One of our neighbor’s friends passed away last summer, and the family was feeling completely overwhelmed by her large garden. So, I got invited to come dig it up. I ended up with lots and lots of well-established perennials, which I used throughout our yard, including in this bed.
I scored this Lamb’s Ear …
this Calla Lilly …
this Stonecrop …
and this Purple Heart.
I filled in the remaining space with clearance plants, like this Lantana. Doesn’t this bed look loads better than it did last year?
And it’ll look even better once the Lantana fills in for the season.
This red gazing ball is actually a Christmas ornament that I rescued from a curb pile. The base came from a curb pile, too.
Right next to this garden bed is a garden tunnel with grapes growing on it. Last year when I showed it to you, the grapes hadn’t snapped out of dormancy yet, so it wasn’t much to look at.
But look at it now.
We started with an inexpensive garden arbor. Then, we used cattle fencing to expand it. We used two curb-shopped carport posts to hold up the other end of the tunnel. You can read more about how we built it here.
This is one of the best garden projects we’ve ever done. The effect is absolutely magical, and it produces so many grapes.
Pictures don’t do it justice. Believe me, I tried.
And look how much the Strawberry Begonias have spread in the last year. I love the way they look.
On the other side of the garden tunnel, there’s a Campanula Bellflower in bloom. It’s one of the plants that I got for free from that master gardener.
While I was taking pictures for this post, I realized I need to do a tour of our side yards. I’m adding that to my to-do list.
And because I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in a project, and only see the things that you haven’t done yet, I dug up these old before pictures of our backyard.
This is what our yard looked like before we started landscaping it. We took these pictures to capture the damage that was caused when a neighbor’s tree fell on our garage.
But now they serve as a reminder that we really have made a lot of progress in our yard.
Even if it feels like there’s still a ways to go. And the current pictures of our yard, that capture neighbor’s houses and vehicles in the background will eventually serve as the before pictures that we can look back on.
I’ll keep you posted as we move closer to that goal.
If you want to get more of a feel for our backyard, and what’s planted where, you can check out our landscape design here. It was created before we purchased the little cottage behind our house (that’s the white house at the top of the photo), so our yard is actually longer than the drawing shows. I’ll update the design once we’re further along in tackling that part of our yard, but in the meantime, it’s still a good way to explore our yard. Be sure to take a tour of our tree house. It’s the best part.