Friday, August 8, 2014

One-day yard makeover: before

Last weekend, my friend Tim—the same one whose den I helped redecorate last winter—asked me if I could help him make over his front yard. For as long as I've known him, he's mostly ignored this part of his property. He'd tend to critical matters like filling in holes in the driveway or removing trees that grew too close to the house, but with just about everything else, his approach was "live and let live." Hence, the weeds have run rampant; the foundation shrubs have grown up to obscure the windows; the gravel drive is overgrown with moss and lined with rotting landscape timbers; the outdoor lamp-post is nonfunctional, missing all its glass, and rusted nearly clean through; and, although the yard boasts several mature trees, there's nothing under them but bare dirt.

None of this bothered him at all until just recently, when he started dating a woman whose own yard he describes as "very nice," and he began to think he ought to make his more presentable before letting her see it. So not only is he trying to make up for years of benign neglect, he's also trying to do it on a rush schedule. So the plan is for me and Brian to go over there and help him with the biggest jobs tomorrow, in the hopes that we can accomplish enough to make the yard pass muster.

Clearly it isn't going to be possible to fix everything that's wrong with this yard in one day of work, so I went over for a preliminary visit earlier in the week and we set a few priorities. Our goals for tomorrow are:
  • Clear away all the rotting landscape timbers. (His original goal was to put something nicer-looking in place to define the boundaries of the driveway, but I thought they'd look reasonably okay undefined, and it seemed to me that a lot of other jobs were more urgent.) 
  • Remove the worst of the weeds. These include a couple of stands of poison ivy and a stubborn catalpa tree that's growing perilously close to the house; Tim has already tried to remove it twice, and it keeps coming back. Looks like a job for our King of Spades.
  • Trim back the overgrown foundation shrubs. (Personally, I'd like to remove them completely and replace them with something more reasonably sized, but even if I could talk Tim into it, I'm assuming it's not a job we could do in one day.
  • Build a path from the driveway to the front door. Currently, there is none, or at least none that's navigable. Tim didn't see this as a problem because he never uses his front door anyway, preferring to enter the house from the garage side—but I suppose he eventually came to the conclusion that it looks a bit unwelcoming. Fortunately, most of the slate flagstones that used to form the path to the front door are still in his yard and reasonably intact, and we also have a few in our yard that we don't have a use for. By pooling our resources, we should be able to manage a path leading diagonally from the driveway to the house, so you can traverse it without having to wrestle with the shrubbery.
  • Add a bit of greenery to the area under the trees. Grass doesn't grow well in full shade, which is why there's none of it left, but there are various other things that do. My first thought was, since he has plenty of moss in various parts of the yard, he should try to spread it across the entire bare section using the "moss milkshake" method: grinding up moss with buttermilk in a blender and just painting it on the areas where you want it to grow. Sadly, when I went looking for the recipe, what I found instead was a site all about moss that says this method doesn't actually work very well. It's still possible, according to the same site, to propagate moss by planting tufts of it directly on bare soil and keeping it moist and clear of debris, but the process takes months if not years. Tim is still planning to try and spread some moss in the area, but it's not going to turn into a lush, green carpet overnight.
Fortunately, we had something else in our yard that thrives in shade and grows so vigorously it's hard to get rid of even if you want to. Directly in front of our wildflower bed, there was a heavy stand of lilies of the valley. They used to form a dense carpet all around the foundation shrubs before we ripped them out; we thought we'd removed most of them with the shrubs, but several big clumps survived, forming an untidy mass in front of the wildflowers.

So this evening, we dug the whole lot of these up (or at least, all of them that we could see; they spread by underground rhizomes, so we shouldn't be surprised if a few more pop up in the spring and have to be yanked). We piled as many as we could fit into our collection of big garden buckets, as well as an old litter box we had sitting downstairs the workshop; the rest we threw in the compost bin, where we'll hope they don't take root and start taking over the yard again. So if all goes well, we should be able to add a splash of green to Tim's yard tomorrow, and come spring, he'll have several patches of fragrant flowers. Perhaps eventually we can even turn it into a proper woodland garden with a whole bunch of perennials that bloom at different times, like bleeding hearts or forget-me nots...but for now, we'll just work with what we have.

Tune in on Monday for the exciting conclusion of Tim's garden makeover. Or at least, I hope it will be exciting.

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