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Exterior and Garden Restoration

These pictures speak for themselves. They are in chronological order beginning with the day we bought the house in 1996 through to the summer of 2001. Although I was responsible for managing the hardscape -- digging and terracing and laying the patio, I give full credit to my ex-wife, a gardener extraordinaire, who's vision, inspiration, and tireless tending surpassed anything I could have dreamed.

Front Hillside Synopsys

The front hill was weed-ridden with patches of crab grass and a few struggling juniper shrubs. Erosion was an obvious problem. The first summer we tried to pretty it up by weeding and planting 100 Oriental lillies which all died within three years. Cutting the grass was a horrible and dangerous chore so our strategy quickly became one of removing all of the grass as soon as possible.

Privet hedges had been planted about three feet in from the sidewalk at the bottom of the hill. We cut them to the ground and covered them with black plastic for several weeks, while we began excavating in front of them for a wall that would contain the erosion and immediately give the house a fresh look.

Over the next three years we continued to remove grass and plant a variety of creeping plants such as phlox and perrywinkle, and perennial flowers and added to the landscape by placing rocks gathered from nearby construction sites and woodlands.

Although we have a ways to go, the transformation is dramatic and the hillside blooms with snowdrop and crocus in February/March, daffodils, tulips, and rock cress in April/May and over a dozen daylilies throughout the summer. Sedums give color right through November. Photo 5 and 6 show the diversity of the hillside in both spring and mid-summer.

Thumbnails for The Front Hillside 1996-2002

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Back Yard Synopsys

The back yard consisted of a level area extending 12 feet from the house to a set of stairs leading to the sloped upper yard. The slope of the back yard wasn't nearly as severe as the front, but steep enough to make it pretty much useless for anything except sled riding in the winter. The previous owner had planted six Eastern Hemlock trees along the left and had lopped of the tops of all of them to keep them at about 7 feet high. Grape vine cover the cyclone fence on the right and Virginia creeper vine covered the garages belonging to people on the next street over which formed the rear boundary of the yard (see photo 1 below). Still, we were determined to make the yard a showcase garden no matter what it took.

NOTE: As you look at the photos, keep in mind that our house has no rear access no driveway, alley, or path leading to it. Everything, from 8-foot-long landscaping ties and hundreds of pounds of gravel to bag after bag of top soil and mulch, had to be carried up 25 steps from the street and around the side of the house where we still had to move the supplies up the sloping back yard. Who needs exercise when you own a house on a hill!

The first spring we created our a small 6x6 vegetable garden at the rear of the yard while we decided how to landscape based on sunlight patterns throughout the summer. We decided that a small woodland garden consisting of rhodedendron, columbine, lady's mantle and sweet woodruff would work at the rear against the ivy-covered garages. Other shade plants like hostas, ferns and astilbe would work well against the side of the house. The rest of the yard got partial to full sun. By late summer we were plotting out the first of many gardens (photo 2).

The next year I cut down the hemlocks and we began digging additional plots while my inspired neighbor roto-tilled his entire back yard (photo 3). We worked using a vision rather than a master plan and after only a couple years the yard had already come alive with flowers (photo 4).

Within three years, we had created a left-side border with roses, phlox, stella doras, veronics, Russian sage, and black-eyed Susans. A front garden with a blue and yellow theme consisted of iris, lilies, grape hyacynth, tete-a-tetes, yarrow and asters, was accompanied by a new vegetable garden behind it. We filled the old vegetable garden with tulips, poppies, stella doras, lamb's ear and silver mound (photos 5 and 6).

We hadn't anticipated on building so many walls (photo 7), but terracing quickly became a necessity. The soil needed amended badly and we needed some sort of wall to hold the top soil we brought in. In addition, part of the vision included creating a patio with pergola on the flat are next to the house. But after four years I was tired of cutting the steep hill leading to the upper yard (see photo 2). I decided to cut three feet into the hillside and build a retaining wall that would eliminate grass cutting on the left side of the steps and give me more land for the patio.

The question quickly became: what to do with all of the dirt in the huge pile I was creating. There was no way I was going to take it to the front of the house and down 25 steps. It was hard enough wheel barrowing it up to the upper yard, but that's what I did, and that's how my patio project was side tracked two years while I built two additional walls in the upper yard to hold all the dirt I'd excavated.

So while the patio wall still isn't built, I have two new walls in the back and have made one the temporary patio. The other is filled with roses, peonies, tiger lilies, and other summer flowers. Photos 8-10 show the yard during the summer of 2001 with walls, paths, lighting and the wonderful, fragrant herb garden (photos 11 and 12) that mix herbs such as fennel, lavender, chives, St. John's wort, rosemary and thyme, with lilies and zineas.

Thumbnails for The Back Yard 1996-2002