Quick disclaimer: I'm not a "yard guy" nor do I get any real insane level of satisfaction out of planting things and seeing them grow, but especially after today, I've been feeling pretty good about the yard's slow transformation. However, that happiness has been mildly tempered by the realization that Freckles, apparently, has decided that she likes to jump over the 2' tall chicken wire fence, that I put up to guard the freshly planted flower seeds, like it isn't even there. I won't get anything to grow with her little paws (they're actually surprisingly large for a dog her size) tearing things up. That said, my frustration with the situation is mildly tempered by my appreciation for 1, her athletic prowess and 2, her disdain for authority. She's a keeper.
Anyhow...planting things. If we go back almost a year ago, the yard looked like this:
Obviously, getting this cleaned up is not a simple weekend project. Over the past year, I've removed most of the Japanese Knotwood, which is the big leafy stuff growing every everywhere. I've trimmed too many tree limbs to count. I've raked and raked and raked, because the yard was layered with years of acorns, pine needles, and leaves. And I've excavated a straight up stupid amount of brick and stone from various spots throughout the yard.
Oh, and I unearthed the pool, which left me with about 3 yds of dirt that I didn't know what to do with.
With all that stuff out of the way, I was left with mostly dirt, and not even real healthy dirt at that. It was more like dust, really.
Being a rehab project, the yard isn't the focal point of the overall project. But with anything that grows, timing is everything and this is the time of year where a little bit of work will go a long way towards minimizing the pain of continued efforts to turn this yard into something rad.
My primary goal over the weekend was to plant grass seed. I tried last year, but it was kind of a half-assed effort. Not this year.
Today, after doing some final grading and clean up, I put up a temporary fence around the area I wanted to seed. Gotta keep the dogs out - especially Freckles, the wildlife-chaser - if I want anything to grow, ya know? That fence consisted of 6' tall metal fence stakes I had to drive into the ground and 4' tall snow fence. I figured this was a formality and should go smoothly, but because old houses and property developed in the 19th century are never that cooperative, it took a while to get the fence up. Why? Because there's old foundation stone buried ALL OVER THE YARD.
They weren't big stones, but it doesn't take a real big chunk of limestone to stop a metal fence post dead in its tracks. This isn't the fault of a previous homeowner, this is stuff that was leftover, and unused, from the original home construction. I guess it made more sense to simply bury the little stuff, the scraps, in the ground at the job site than it did to haul them to the next job site. I wound up excavating stones, maybe a foot deep, from every spot I wanted a fence post. Good times.
Then I unrolled the fence, zip tied it to the posts, and was off to the races.
I mixed up about 30 lbs of a variety of grass seed. I (sort of) followed a mixture recommended by the Missouri Botanical Garden, which called for something like 95% tall fescue and 5% Kentucky bluegrass. I spread that all over the yard, or at least the northern 75%, and then got to work. The seed didn't cover the desired area like I thought it would or like I wanted it to; I probably should have doubled the poundage. Blah blah blah hindsight. 🤷🏼♂️
With the seed down, I mixed up the 3 yds of excavated pool dirt with 6 bags of compost, about a half a bag of potting soil I had leftover, and another yard of a dirt/compost mixture I'd been brewing for the past several months. I was basically trying to get rid of all the dirt I had, whether it made any sense to or not. That dirt was then spread, 1 painful shovel full after another, on top of the seed and raked out to a halfway decent grade. I even threw dirt on top of all the little bare patches between clumps of existing grass.
Moving 5 yds of dirt by hand, that was a JOB. I probably shouldn't have started the day at 6am out in the woods with the dogs on a hilly 3-mile hike.
With the fence up, seed down, and dirt spread, I watered the hell out of all of it. The end result:
She ain't pretty, but she's also a far cry from what existed a year ago. Baby steps. If even half the seed germinates, I'll be thrilled. Subsequent projects will include getting a new fence screen, since there's a big gap where the shed once stood and a giant rip (that I zip tied back together) in the other corner where Freckles likes to stand up and bark at anybody in the alley. If I'm gonna be OK with Roscoe barking inside the house when he hears anybody get close ("guarding the house", we call it), I kinda gotta be OK with Freckles guarding her yard.
If you're keeping track at home, over the past couple weeks I've planted flowers along the side of my neighbor's house and planted grass in the northeast chunk of the yard. The northwest corner is a whole separate can of worms that's on hold for the time being, and that leaves...the pool area, which is just behind where I took the above pic from.
The game plan is to leave the pool exactly as it is (after I clean out the remnants of the tree limbs that fell in it back in January). It's too beat up to reuse in any capacity, and it's too awesome a find to tear out or fill in. It's got sort of a relic look to it so I'm going to leave it, build a little dirt berm around it to keep a whole lot of water out of it when it rains, and plant stuff on that berm. I'll leave a path around it, because Freckles likes to run circles around it and there's no way I'll get her to stop doing that.
The idea is to create a bit of a wildflower area here. The shade from the pine tree means grass won't stand a chance, and I sort of like the idea of a bit of a flowery separation of the yard from the view from the street. Plus, with the pool being sort of a ruin, I think the best landscaping look will be to play off that and aside from the path around it, plant some stuff and sort of let the area do its thing without a whole lot of human intervention.
That's the plan, anyhow. Of course I used all the dirt I had so building that berm will be tricky, but once the berm is in place I've got a LOT of little ferns to plant; hopefully the'll kinda creep over the pool edge and prevent too much erosion. Once those take hold I'll start adding stuff like this:
Know what that is? That's Indian Pink, or Spigelia Marilandica.
I went through the Missouri Botanical Garden's plant finder thing to identify native plants that would grow in the conditions near the pool and provide the look I'm going for; Indian Pink made the cut. I got 10 of these, bare root form, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little excited that at least 8 of them (I think some wildlife dug up the other 2) have started to look like something.
So...lots of planting lately, lots of labor, and lots of muddy boot prints in all corners of the house. By the end of the day I felt like I was about 6, maybe 7 minutes from death. Or at least some sorta coma. And I'm 4,000% OK with it, if it means the yard continues to look less and less like it did when I bought the place.
Best Laid Plans
Before I get 100% dedicated to the first big house rehab project, I wanted to take a few days to get the back yard looking decent. Not good, just decent. Baby steps.
I took a couple days off work and wanted to:
I was doing pretty good.
I designed the firewood rack:
I built the firewood rack (its roof was donated from the demo'd metal shed):
I got this pile of wood moved and (mostly) stacked in the rack:
The other pile is pretty seasoned, so I figured I'd just leave it where it is and burn through it as quickly as I can:
I got the area along my neighbor's foundation - it's where the big white pine branches landed when they came down in the ice storm 1/1/2021 - cleaned up and flowers planted:
Some of that green stuff was transplanted from other areas of the yard; I have that shit EVERYWHERE. I even dug some of it up and just threw it away. What you can't see are the 9,000,000 seeds I threw in the ground, 1 or 2 at a time. What did I plant, you're probably asking yourself?
Geographically appropriate. Should do OK in the conditions in which they'll live. Oh, and the dirt I added, it's a combination of soil that came out of the pool (gotta use it somewhere) mixed w compost I added to it.
I got the shed demo'd:
You've met Freckles, right? She'd live outside if I let her; I spent the better part of the past 4 days outside, and she was out there with me for every minute of it. She's a good helper...provided I stop working every so often to throw her ball or rope bone or sticks or pretty much anything she can go get and bring back to me to do it all over again.
Anyhow, this is where the project started to derail.
The shed had been erected a few feet off either fence, and somebody had laid bricks in the space between the shed and the fence. The bricks were par for the course with this yard; I was NOT expecting to find the stone that was under the brick. That stuff all has to come out, or grass will never grow because in the summer the stones and masonry heat up, even if they're buried, and cook whatever's above them.
Then there was the shed's plywood floor. It was rotten to the point of being, basically, mulch. I picked up what I could, but a lot of it just fell apart. Same with the 2 layers of plastic that was under the plywood; it was disintegrating and painstakingly slow to remove on account of it coming out in teeny, tiny pieces.
Once I got the big stuff removed, I'd kind of shuffle dirt piles from 1 spot to another, uncovering more chunks of plywood and plastic that I'd grab and pull out of the dirt. I finally reached a point where I felt like I'd removed anything worth removing and started grading things out. The end was in sight.
And then the rake got caught up in some metal. I could have sworn I'd removed all the debris from this location, and aside from the shed, hadn't come across any buried metal. This was weird.
I got down on my hands and knees and realized the metal was a grate of some sort. I looked closer and the grate was covering a pipe, a big 3" clay pipe running straight into the ground.
This merited a scrapping of the plans and beginning an excavation to see what the shed had been placed on top of.
This is what I ultimately found:
I still don't know what it was. The structure you see in the pic, it's some sort of plaster-early-concrete hybrid, sort of like the same stuff the pool is made out of. The drain pipe runs straight into the ground and then turns horizontal and runs through the retaining wall at the rear of the property and dumps into the alley.
My neighbor, who's an archaeologist, suggested it may have been some sort of privy but we both have doubts about that. The location is right, the footprint is right, but the lack of an underground cavity is off. Similarly, that wall is built w the same brick as the garage, and the garage only goes back to about the 1920s. A privy would have been obsolete by the 1920s, so why build that retaining wall AND leave that pipe if a privy was no longer in use? And who puts a grate on TOP of a privy drain?
Of course I dug and I dug and I dug, kinda halfheartedly because I have 4,000 other projects to get to and the bees...holy shit...the bees. I don't know what was in the ground back there, but dozens of bees - I didn't get stung - swarmed that area the minute I got a few inches below grade. And they stayed there. And swarmed.
I found a lot of trash like broken glass, broken clay flower pots, a handful of bricks, stuff like that, but no discernible structure and no real artifact type stuff. If something had existed there below grade, it was demo'd and mostly gone. Of course, if one were to demo an underground structure, why leave that plaster-concrete cap on top and not demo it as well? Lots of puzzle pieces, but nothing fit together.
Long story short, this one will remain a mystery. I demo'd the plaster-concrete cap, filled in the giant hole I dug, and will plant grass seed once the rain stops. I wish I knew what had been there, whether it was privy or some sort of water feature or old drain/washout area...but I doubt I ever will.
Oh, and I didn't get the grass seed planted. That's the moral of the story.