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In spring the thoughts of young people turn to … landscaping

Posted by joeabbott on May 19, 2012

imageI actually make an effort to use proper grammar, tend to my spelling, and am aware of word use, however, I also realize that I’m happy breaking a few rules here and there “just because”. Well, two words that I continually use but I’m told “these aren’t words” (courtesy of Microsoft spellchecking) are “backyard” and “yardwork”. In my mind, these are words … I type them this way, use them in letters as single words, and always need to course correct when the dreaded “red squiggle” appears telling me I’m in error.

Well, slave to convention no more! I hereby declare that backyard and yardwork will be considered words by me. And I can’t tell you how much happier that makes me. Time to update my custom dictionary to banish those red squiggles!


For the last couple of years, Suzanne and I have dedicated time during the early part of the year to working in the backyard. Landscaping, hardscaping, building fences and gates and trellises and what not … we’ve put in the time. Now Suzanne has had a longer commitment to the backyard but my gimpy ankle (keeps me from hiking/climbing), the expanded use of our yard (now with chickens!), and a generous work compensation package (giving me five weeks of vacation each year) all conspire to spending a week in spring on yardwork.

This year was a “slow year” by my estimation. First, we didn’t spend a focused week in the yard and, second, we didn’t build anything. What that left was replacing, “filling in”, and the usual upkeep. I’d written earlier about receiving free landscaping stuff (woo hoo!), and here’s what we did with it:



We have a spot in the yard we call the “plateau” … it’s a flat area in an otherwise steep yard. We’ve filled it in with gravel, added some large stones for sitting, and put in a fire pit. The border between the upper yard and the plateau is a retaining wall we put in, but between the plateau and the lower gardens, we have a berm or mound of soil.

imageIn the picture to the left, you can see the bags of topsoil that we set in place to unload and build up the berm. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough! Yes, it was enough soil that moving it all nearly gave me a heart attack, and yet it wasn’t enough. I certainly need to get back into the gym, but maybe I should also just start moving more bags of topsoil!

imageIn the picture to the right, you can see our raised beds. This year we did a couple things for these. First, we removed the top half of the soil. We got the existing soil from a landscaping company and they were pleased they’d taken topsoil and mixed it to about 75% sand. They felt it gave them superior draining. It did, but it also made it hard as a rock! We pulled that mixture and layered in a 50% homegrown compost, and 50% GrowCo. After liberally planting the beds with potatoes, beans, peas and the like, to keep the chickens at bay, we put up a quick bit of fencing.

In addition to putting in soil, we put in a LOT of plants and flowers. The biggest effort was planting a half dozen shrubs and low plants in Chickenville between the path and the retaining wall. It’s hard to see in the below photo, but it’s the space where all the chickens are digging and rooting about. In many of the pictures of the plants, you’ll either see “cages” around the plants (for the very delicate items) or a bit of wire placed around the base on the ground. Both of these very nicely stop the chickens from digging.


While we don’t like the chickens digging at stuff, it’s in their nature. It’s what chickens do! When I complained to a friend (who had owned chickens) that they were kicking all the woodchips out of the path we’d made, he looked at me and asked, “why’d you put chips in the path … of course they’re going to kick them out!” Yes, yes … I’m still learning about owning chickens and having a nicely landscaped yard.

Rather than go planting by planting about the yard, here’s a few results from our efforts:











A tree grows in SeaTac

P1050090P1050051And the last note on the landscaping … our new tree. When we had our first bit of landscaping put in, the folks planted a pine tree near the corner of our house but reassured our concerned questions noting that it was a slow grower and would only reach the height of 6’-8’. We acquiesced. And, not ten years later, it was growing into the eaves and continually required pruning to keep off the house.

So, as thoughts turned to replacing it, Nature stepped in to help in the form of two ice storms.. We managed to prop up bent and broken branches from the first storm a few years back, but the second one hit earlier this year and completely broke several of the front-facing limbs. There was no saving the tree. At least not where aesthetics held sway.

So, armed with a sharp saw and absolutely no mercy, I whacked off the branches and left a 6’ trunk to remove. I then climbed the thing, placed both feet against the trunk and kept my back to the house and pushed with a lot of my strength. The trunk flexed a bit, but showed zero signs of moving. Even with all that leverage, the roots were holding. Grrrr.

A few weeks later I placed a 4×4 under the tires of my car, attached a come-along (a hand-powered winch), and ripped it out. A bit of chopping, a bit of sawing, a little digging, and out it came. I was surprised at how few roots it seemed to have but was happy to avoid doing any damage to the surrounding sprinkler system or the landscaping in general.

A week later, Suzanne was invited to an early opening at a local nursery and took advantage of their 10% off sale on a new tree: a chief Joseph pine! It’s a dwarf conifer that keeps its leaves (needles) all year long … and they turn color with the seasons! I’m looking forward to it settling in and giving us some great color.


That’s it! I realize I haven’t kept pace with all that’s going on so I’m promising a bit more time behind the keyboard and a few more articles. Now I just need to make good on it!

Thanks for reading and I hope your spring has been productive and green!


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