The Backyard Turns One

Last summer/fall, not unlike this summer/fall, was a time of big yard work. But instead of front yard redoes, it was backyard redoes, and it was the first yard we ever really landscaped, if you can call our very minimal application landscaping. We did a lot of winging it when it came to our plants and hoped for the best. One year in, I’m happy to report that everything rooted, is alive, and is bigger than it was last year = we didn’t totally fail!

We tweaked some minor things over the past year (and added a massive fireplace!), but most of the change is simply growth. It’s amazing to see how large and in charge many of these previously wimpy plants have become. It’s a comparative jungle out here now. But possibly the best testament to landscape success is that I’ve only had to water a handful of times out here, only during heat waves. The grass gets sprinkled a little each week during our hot summer/fall, which I’m sure seeps down to the roots of some of our plants, but they get nothing else besides winter/spring rains. And yet, life sustains. Thrives even. Desert minimal dreams reached.

(Painted cinderblock wall here. Butterfly chair info here. Screen door talk here. Fire pit post here. See the patio here.)
Umm, ya to this new (old) Malm fireplace. I’ve got a problem. A minor fireplace addiction. I can’t say no to dang stuff on Craigslist. Our small fire pit is perfectly fine, I told myself, as I picked this beautiful beast up with the intention of selling it. But when I set it up to take photos for selling and “just to try it out”…you probably can guess the pathetic rest. It stole the show and now owns me. It seems as if it’s meant to be here, and been here all along. The color, yellowish golden tangerine, is way weird next to the colors already out here, but the scale is so right. It has a presence, height, and spark that our small fire pit lacks as a focal point. What would you do? Let me remind you that just inside is another (totally nonfunctioning) vintage fireplace, but let me also remind you that these things, for whatever reason, bring a big smile to my face and I can see it – and smile – from many vantage points inside. Our $10 trash yuccas are going nuts. We bought these, actual branch trimmings, from a nursery’s compost pile. Within a few months of “planting” (sticking the branches in the ground), they rooted and started taking off. We did move them closer together than we originally planted…we had no idea how much room they’d need, and it soon became apparent not very much. They require VERY little of us (yes!), but we do pull off babies every few months to keep their silhouette lean and sculptural. (More info on all our plants here.)We ended up moving another yucca cutting back here from the front yard, where we have decided to plant the most pathetically small/off scale/baby palm trees (which you can kinda see here). It was a tough call to move it because it had just started sending out the prettiest bloom, a message I can only interpret as “I am happy.” It replaced a pony tail palm right here (second picture), that itself was quite happy and growing, but too slow and small. I need to find a new spot for it.The trash agave attenuatas have grown so much. They are taking over the space and a few have constantly been pushing out pups the past few months…cha-ching for the front yard. This one literally came from a trash pile (second pic is how it looked when we stuck it in the ground) and has grown into a beast that would be in the $100s if purchased retail instead of dumpster dived.
I know I said I’m not a flower person, but I can get into this crazy mess. I don’t know what this plant is, other than a Home Depot clearance plant, but it is freaking out with flowers. I love it and so do hummingbirds.I still haven’t properly potted all these wall plants, but they are all still alive and possibly adding a little purpose to this nonsensical fence situation.The San Pedro cactus have almost doubled their height and some are growing arms! They still are ridiculously small for this spot, but I have faith that a few more seasons will bring proper scale. Dracaena marginatas going strong. I know you shouldn’t have favorites but these are my favorite. I even planted some more just to the left of these where we recently ripped out a needy umbrella tree from the patio. Amazing what a year can do:Our painted wall, as bright and as crazy as the day I painted it. I love it more than ever. But of course wish it could extend all the way up, a problem for another year.

If you are curious, you can find some very classy befores of this yard right here, but they basically go something like this, enjoy:

Backyard to do:

I hope I’m back soon sharing plants up front! We are deep in the shoveling so much rock phase right now, but are getting close to completion. I just have a few more areas to plant/tinker with. The backyard successes have made plant selection for the front yard way easy. We have the same minimal-deserty-cheapskate feel going on. All succulents, mostly dug up for free by my husband. So much so that he, one of the least gardeny people I know, has earned the joke nickname AGAVE MAN. Licence plate material, right?!

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DIY Mid Century Screen / Divider

Things are moving along in the front yard slow and steady. Our most recent project is an exterior decorative wood screen inspired by the pages of a 1961 Sunset book, Entryways and Front Gardens, a photo that has haunted me for years! Obviously adding non structural architectural details can completely change the feel of a facade, but the ease and impact surpassed all my expectations. The front of our house has a long, boring expanse that needed to be visually broken up. Plants are usually an easy answer, but a narrow plant bed sits below, preventing any substantial plant from successfully or safely growing here. While discussing ways to hide our poorly located breaker box, I suddenly remembered the Sunset book project – the perfect match to our issues.We followed the basics of the original frame design, but used 2×6 instead of 2×4 for the inside square blocks to expand the size and open it up a bit. I liked the original mix of squares and bars, but wanted more overall pattern consistency, so the whole family played around with the design for a while until we got something we liked. We used redwood for outdoor durability, but since we will be painting it, pine probably would have been fine and cheaper (we spent around $150 for everything). I’m tempted to paint it a crazy accent color, orange or turquoise being the obvious contenders, but I think a slightly darker shade of the house color will do the trick for now.The completed screen is really top-heavy so we made sure to dig deep. Digging was by far the worst part of the project, but this set-up really helped break up our clay: a 1.5″ drill bit with a 12″ extender. Our 9′ posts were sunk about 2′ deep. Forty minutes of leveling, three braces, and two bags of Quikrete later, our screen stands tall, straight and strong.The original plan was to use the screen to hide a poorly located breaker box. However, once we put it together it became clear that everything looked so much more balanced and better if we placed it one space over. This project doesn’t exactly lend itself to experimentation (once it’s in the ground), so I was a little nervous to switch up our plans on the fly, but I’m so glad I went with it. I’m (mostly) confident that everything will pull together once I paint the screen and get the landscaping done up here. I’m left looking for other solutions to hide that box, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something. My best idea so far has been build a second screen – duh. Husband is not really feeling that one, so time will tell where this story goes. Here’s the two locations we considered: Lessons learned: Never underestimate the power of a (comparatively) tiny screen, or it’s bonus shadows! Next time I go down this road, I’m taking this idea and going HUGE, like cover my whole house huge because it is that good and that transformative:(A fun bonus to this project is that we are planning to build a wood divider in-between our family room and dining room so I took the opportunity to get a spacial feel of size and dimension with this screen inside before we fully assembled it. IN LOVE. All my fears about a divider being too busy, blocking too much light, making the dining room feel too cramped were shot down completely. Can’t even wait for this!)We took a break from the front yard this weekend to clean up our garage, repair a busted backyard fence, and to also address the MOUSE THAT I FOUND IN OUR HOUSE!!! Talk about feeling violated and consumed and conflicted because you love animals but also hate the plague, etc. Let’s just say we drove in our car with a trapped mouse in my lap to an open field and let it go because I’m that person. Until next time friends unless I’ve contracted a rodent borne disease or stress shingles from worrying about rodent borne diseases! xoxo

Border Wall

Hi everybody! It’s been insane here lately so sorry for my absence on my own blog! School started back up abruptly and I’ve been scrambling to switch gears, gather supplies, and make sure everyone is emotionally stable through all the newness. All of that means that summer is officially over for us and our front yard, our ONE summer goal, didn’t quite get done. But we have come a long way and are close! I’d say it’s about 95% cleared of weeds, 75% landscaped, 40% graded/leveled and truck loads of mulch and rock are on the way tomorrow! But it took a lot of boring/ugly/not exciting tasks to get here, the most important one being what we have affectionately named our BORDER WALL!I’ll explain. We live on a corner and a hill, and our front yard is big L-shaped plot that consists of two parts: a flat upper area at house level and a massive slope that goes from upper level to sidewalk level. The slope has a very old/crumbling/needs-to-be-replaced railroad tie retaining wall at its base (that we are ignoring for now). Up around the corner, the slope eventually meets house level and the yard forms a fun curve around our driveway in back (fun fact: we’ve never owned or even lived in a house with a normal garage in front. What is it like?!). Allow these google maps screen shots from when we bought our house to further illustrate:I’ll talk more about plants next time, but we have basically ripped out all existing plants, including the large lawn on the top level. We are going for the same desert modern vibe of our backyard, but maybe not as colorful, so the grass will be replaced with rocks. In order to do that however, it was necessary to build some sort of low-grade retaining wall at the top of the slope to reclaim feet of previously uneven grass area that dangerously dropped off around the edges and to keep the rocks from spilling over. It’s not so much structural as it is a literal border line (previous owner had a rickety piece of wood, as seen above). And that’s how the border wall was born and an endless stream of jokes and joy have followed…the most obvious one being that we are going to get Mexico to pay for it.

My husband used pressure treated 4×4’s for the wall, 4×6’s for the posts, and 6″ specialty screws to hold it all together. After much debate, we cut across the corner of our lot at 45 degrees, angle the wall at one end of our yard, and literally run it into the ground on the driveway side. It has really classed up the joint and given our yard some much needed structure. We now have two defined areas, top and bottom.
We’re beginning to lay down rock up top this weekend on the areas that we have leveled, the same rock we used in our backyard and sideyard, 1/2″ float rock. We have been super happy with it. We’d like to pour a concrete patio outside our front door, where we have the best views. Only a giant circle seems right to me, but we lack experience to give us the guts to try to DIY it, so that may need to happen at a later date. We also hope to build a decorative wood screen to hide our very poorly placed breaker box:As for the slope, I’ve mostly finished landscaping (after taking these photos), so I’ll save the plant talk for next time. It feels so good not be the dump of all dumps in the neighborhood! I’ll leave you with some before/after action of our progress. I think we may still be in the “it looks worse before it looks better” stage, but I can see where we are going and I can’t wait to get there.Thanks for stopping by!