There's a patio out front

This post has been at least five years in the making.  I am pleased to announce that we finally finished our front yard remodel -- something we started in earnest about five years ago this 4th of July weekend.

When we bought the house in spring 2010, this is what the front yard looked like.

Here it is now -- I took the picture this week.

And now here's the story about our very, very slow progress to transform the front yard into something we like, actually use, and don't have to mow.

We bought the house in April 2010, completed a bunch of remodeling inside, moved Herman from Canada to live with us, had a baby and then thought we had time to tackle the landscaping, because, hey, what could be more important?

In May 2011, I started with the idea of getting rid of the grass as the best first step, so we had the sod cut and we proceeded to take it -- load by heavy load -- a few blocks away to The Ballard Mystery Hole, where it disappeared. (Thank you, Alex and Sarah.)

Over July 4th weekend 2010, our good friend Joe was visiting from Washington D.C., so logically we put him to work doing hard manual labor.  He and Byron got ambitious and decided to tackle the yard, ripping out all the trees (except one) and shrubs and the old sprinkler system -- all so we could have a clean slate to work with.  I think Joe actually enjoyed it, crazy guy!

That summer I came up with a plan of sorts for the yard.  I added some good soil and compost and then planted another maple, a ninebark and a smoke tree in front of the house, as well as some iris near the flagpole, and a witchhazel and some grasses near the front by the sidewalk.  It wasn't much of a plan but it would be better than empty.

I still wasn't sure what I was going to do with the middle . . . or the front . . . or the part of the yard by the drive.  I got some great advice and ideas from my friend Julie, who is a master gardener and has a gorgeous yard of her own on Phinney Ridge.  And this was also about the time that our next door neighbor brought in a fancy landscaper to completely overhaul and beautifully replant their yard.  I wasn't quite clear on what I wanted to do, however, so I bought a bunch of edible landscape and low-maintenance gardening books and decided I'd read them over the winter.

Over the winter, the grass noticed that the middle wasn't occupied (by a baby or otherwise), so it decided to return.

By spring, the beds I had planted were looking nicer, but the grass was taking over quite eagerly again so we decided to dig out the section between the sidewalk plantings and the house plantings, add some good soil, some stepping stones, and grow tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries and and a few other things.  Herman said he wanted to tackle the digging so we let him.  And, at 87, he dug up every last bit of grass in that area, which we hauled to the side of the house rather than The Ballard Mystery Hole this time. Then came the rototilling of the good soil into the rest.

Our attention was then diverted to, among other things, the horrendous scraggle of shrubs and pine trees between our driveway and our neighbor to the south.  It had all grown so big we couldn't see to back out of our driveway safely.  So one energetic weekend, Byron got out the saws-all again and went to work.  We must have filled the truck several times with roots and branches.  After adding in some decent soil to the area, I planted strawberries, blueberries, a white currant and some low-water perennials near the street.



I think a year went by, but I had only found time to renovate the small area near the flagpole along the sidewalk and driveway. I added a nice perennial grouping on the corner and some more strawberries.  No plan for the front yard yet.

Then another year went by . . . and by the time we'd started thinking about the front yard again -- winter 2015 -- the plants I had added were getting well established, but so was the grass that was left in the middle and front.  So as soon as the days were warm enough, Herman decided to dig all that grass up once again -- starting at the sidewalk and working toward the house.  It was a big job.  We loaded the dried root balls of grass into our yard waste each week.  Little by little we were making progress again.  We knew we couldn't let Herman's hard work (for the second time) go to waste and become grass again.  I really worked on a new plan . . .

And so it came to pass that we decided to create a patio area in the middle of the yard.  And we also decided to deal with the two slopes in the yard (it slopes street to house and also side to side) by terracing it a bit.  I liked the idea of pouring short concrete walls, but we opted to go with cedar and juniper this time, just in case we didn't like it or wanted to adjust the proportions before making it so permanent.

Wyatt and Byron got out their stakes and string and chalk lines and levels and we figured out how tall and deep to make our terraces for the front and for the side beds.  We worked around a lot of the plants that had already become established, but raising the ground level around them was tricky.  A few had to move or be raised.

Once our hardscaping was in place, we did our best to level the middle area and then gently slope it toward the sidewalk.  I installed thick layers of landscaping cloth over the entire patio area and then we filled it with three yards of 5/8-minus gravel, delivered from Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel.  At the same time, the beds got another three yards of good-quality growing soil delivered by Dirt Exchange.

Then came the fun part -- planting!  I put in three plum trees in the front raised garden -- a Shiro, Italian prune, and Beauty -- and then I pruned them in order to keep them only about five feet tall (assuming I continue with Solstice-time pruning).  I moved my rhubarb from the back garden to the front, added another blueberry bush and some additional strawberry plants along the terrace wall.  We took out an annoying red-twig dogwood that had gotten too big and replaced it with a few peonies and low-growing plants beneath the yellow maple.  I added a bit of a rock garden with yellow Japanese grass and a couple low hebes to create a transition between the edge of the terrace and the drive and sidewalk.  I also wanted to highlight the burgundy Japanese maple nearby, which is the only plant original to the yard that we kept.  Albeit a little unruly now, it looks lovely standing alone in the gravel area.  It also doubles as a great play house for cats and kids.

All the planting was followed by mulching -- we went in with the neighbors for a giant load (ten yards) of fertile mulch from Sky Nursery, which we all shared. That was the end of April.

Here it is Summer 2015, and we are 90% done (a few more rocks near the house are needed and we have a privacy fencing panel we want to put up on the north side of the patio by the path). But that didn't stop us from  holding Herman's 91st birthday party in the front yard in mid June, inviting our neighbors to come over and see what we've done . . . and what Herman dug up for us so many times!

Since May, we have been enjoying our strawberries, currents, rhubarb, and just this week the blueberries have arrived.  I think the zucchini I planted has almost taken over the area, and the pumpkin in the front terrace is going crazy.  With the heat we've had, the flowers and plants are growing fast and look beautiful.

Byron, with his patience, physical strength, and hard work is to thank for completing most of the work.  I shoveled my share of dirt, but so much of the building and digging and moving of the big plants was done by him.  I also owe a debt of thanks to Herman, my father-in-law, whose work to dig up the grass inspired us to keep moving and made it possible.  And to friends like Joe and Alex and Julie who gave us help and ideas along the way.

This Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of hosting a group of lovely women for a light supper and a discussion night.  It was hot in the house and scorching hot on our west-facing deck that time of day so we couldn't eat out there.  That's when I got to say, "We have a patio out front, let's eat there."  And so we did.


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