Backyard Make Over Project
Here is a story that we’re sure many gardeners can relate to. It all began with the challenge of what to do about the basic backyard installed with a new construction house: a rectangle of sod grass, surrounded by bark. It included a decent size poured slab patio that worked to put an outdoor dining set and a BBQ on, but not much more. Nothing wrong with this type of backyard, it served its purpose as an outdoor BBQ and play space for the owner, his kids, and his still playful 10 year old Golden Retriever, Joey.
Over the first year, the back yard began to show the typical wear and tear of dogs and kids, plus frankly, it was uninspiring! The home owner had begun to get interested in gardening, wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do, but knew he wanted an expanded entertainment space for his family and guests (he loves to BBQ and enjoy meals outside). He was also getting interested in planting some greenery, and maybe some trees. Disclaimer: Mark is dating one of the GardenBunch.com’s founders, and being exposed to her ongoing conversations and non-stop nursery visits in search of plants was becoming infectious to him.
Mark resides in Puyullap, WA in Zone 8a.
Phase One: Mark decided to purchase multiple glazed ceramic pots, and put a variety of plants in them. He lined them up on the retaining wall alongside the side of his house, which reached from his front yard all the way to the back yard space on the south side of the yard. This was a fun project, selecting plants, installing them in the containers, and then being able to enjoy the colors and foliage over the summer months.
One challenge with the pots were making sure they were watered regularly during warm periods. Additionally, during the winter, roughly 40% of the plants did not make it through the colder winter in the Pacific NW. Pots of course tend to allow the soil and plant roots to freeze more quickly than those in the ground. The Hostas, Ferns, Barberries, Sedums, Hebes and grasses made it through the winter. The conifers surprisingly were some of the ones that became casualties of the freezes we experienced in December 2013.
Phase Two: As spring approached, Mark became increasingly interested in making a drastic change in his backyard. He wanted not only to expand the entertainment spaces, but was thinking about getting rid of the grass entirely. He lives in a neighborhood with several common areas/parks nearby, so having a space for kids to play wasn’t a absolute necessity in his back yard. His home backs up to green space forest area, and has a view to the left of his property out over the Sumner, WA valley below. With the current configuration of his yard, he wasn’t able to take advantage of the view.
The configuration was roughly 30’ of grass and bark outside his back door, with the patio running horizontally across next to the house. On the other side of the grass rectangle, his property slanted down at approximately a 30 degree slope, to a fence along the property line. The fence also followed the slope, and was about 2’ above the grass line due to the yard slope.
Mark came up with a completely unexpected idea: Build a deck running across the entire back side of his property, 3’ out from the fence line. The dimensions would be approximate 50’ x 12’ in width, and would allow him not only expanded entertainment space, but take advantage of that great view out of the southeast corner of his back yard.
Along with this idea, he considered removing the grass completely. It wasn’t a final decision, but it quickly became one that occurred out of a somewhat humorous situation: Mark noticed that his neighbor was having work done in his backyard, and inquired with the landscape company supervisor about getting a quote to remove the grass in his backyard, and fill in the area with 3” of bark. The supervisor promised to get back to him later that day with a quote.
Later that day, while working in his home office, Mark heard the noise of the landscape crew next door seem to get louder and louder, which was odd considering earlier they had appeared to be almost finished with that project. When he went to investigate the noise level, he discovered the crew in his backyard, in the middle of…….a sea of dirt. All the sod had been removed, the entire crew was working way, and his dog Joey was enjoying the new company. When Mark inquired as to where his grass was, the lead landscaper waved his hand, and asked “How do you like it so far?”
Long story short…..the grass was gone, the landscape company brought in bark to finish the pre-emptive work, and Mark was now launched on the project to move forward with making over his backyard!
Phase 3: Moving forward, Mark researched and decided on a deck contractor to build the deck. The design they agreed upon was a 50’ length by 12’ wide. It was to be divided into 3 square sections, built of Trex, with a railing on 3 sides of it. The railing was a key element as the deck would be at the top level of the fence along much of it’s length. Construction began on the deck. It quickly came together, and once completed, was a fabulous extension of the usable portions of the yard.
Phase 4: Next up….replacing the former grass area with some sort of landscaping. Mark’s idea was to install 2-3 raised planting berms, and fill in the remaining areas with bark and/or gravel areas. His first thought was to have three kidney shaped berms, with a gravel walking path that would lead from the patio next to the house, between two large berms, over to the middle section of the deck. Upon further consideration, he decided to gravel the remaining walk areas around all of the install berms, leaving a barked area behind the back side of the deck, and on the north side of the house for the dogs.
The berms would be planted with a few shorter height trees, perennials, ground covers and grasses. Staggered height plants would create visual barriers between the patio and the deck, and lend a sense of privacy to the entertainment seating areas, as well as color and fragrance to the backyard.
He drew out the proposed berms in the barked area.
Mark hired the same contractor who had built the deck to bring in soil/compost and build the berms per his design. The contractor also installed the gravel pathway and surrounding gravel yard areas. The berms were roughly 2’ in height towards the center of each one, and smoothed out ready for planting. On the outside of each berm, black plastic edging was installed in order to help keep the berm soil in place, and the gravel pathways clean. The result was fantastic, and what a big change!
Phase 5: Time to plant!
Mark visited several nurseries in the area to scope out plants, armed with some lists of suggested plants:
• Japanese Maples (2) for fall color and visual height
• Weeping evergreen for winter interest
• Blueberry bushes to include edibles in the landscaping
• Japanese blood grass
• Blue Fescue grass
• Creeping Thyme
• Blue Creeper ground cover
To be transplanted from the pots on the retaining wall:
Mark ended up purchasing a good variety of plants, as well as two beautiful Japanese Maples. One was a brighter green called “Orange Dream” and the other was fiery orange called “Amber Ghost Japanese Maple”. Both types of maples get no higher than 8-13 feet, to ensure that the view to the valley isn’t blocked for neighbors.
The finished berms turned out great! The homeowner was excited to have them completed, and looking forward to seeing them fill in over the next few years to provide the color, and screening he lacked prior to the yard make over.
Overall, this was a fun back yard make over project to undertake. The Scheid family loves the updated back yard plantings and the new deck space!
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