Project Backyard: Where Do We Begin?

When my husband and I first moved to Seattle, we rented a townhouse with an itty-bitty front yard. It was just big enough for a raised planting bed, which our golden retriever puppy promptly claimed as his potty when we brought him home. By the time we were ready to buy, our dog weighed 80 pounds and a decent backyard was high on our must-have list.In our modest price range, however, that was a tall order, especially since we wanted to stay in Seattle proper. We looked at many places and began to lose hope. And then we found our little bungalow.

I gasped when the real estate agent led us outside for the first time. Our 860-square-foot home is on a 5,000-square-foot lot. That's a lot of yard! We drooled over the towering Douglas fir flanked by a flowering plum tree and a rhododendron. The hilly section butting against the neighbors' retaining walls was landscaped with native strawberry ground cover and ferns. And the ample outdoor area was fully fenced, too, which would be perfect for our pup. Sold!

Now that we've been here for a couple of years, I've learned something important about having a (relatively) big yard: It's a ton of work! I've spent countless hours raking up the twigs, needles and cones that fall from our fir. And don't even get me started on the mowing and constant weeding come summer. When I was a kid, my parents made us weed as a punishment for misbehaving. I haven't outgrown that mentality.

Truthfully, all the callous-inducing chores would be worth it if the backyard were a pleasant place to hang out and play. But it has issues. After settling in, we realized that the existing landscaping wasn't very well planned. I've already pulled out much of the ground-hugging strawberry vine because it made raking up dried — and flammable — fir needles impossible. The ferns died and nothing but waist-high weeds seems to grow in the sandy soil. The too-dominant lawn is more moss and dandelions than actual grass. And, in the bare back corner, visible from our kitchen and bedroom, we stare up at our neighbors' patios. Oh, for a little privacy!

Now that my man and I have tackled our first round of indoor projects, we're setting our sights outside. I'll be honest: It's daunting. You can paint a room in a day or two, but new landscaping takes years to fill in, and new trees can take decades. Plus we are on a penny-pinching budget and yard stuff adds up quickly. (Note: When I wrote about painting our house, several readers suggested we put in a big front porch. We live on a busy street, so the backyard is where we plan to invest our time and money.)

In the coming months, I'll be writing about some of the problem spots in our backyard, from the dilapidated shed and dog-chewed deck to the trees that are starved for light and space. I have a lot of ideas, some reasonable and some totally over-the-top. We understand that this will take years, and are trying to figure out the most sensible approach. But it's tough to know where to even begin. And no, we don't have the funds to hire a professional.

I see Project Backyard as a chance for my guy and I to really grow as DIY-focused homeowners. Plus it's great exercise! I look forward to your ideas and feedback as we go along!

(Image: AnnaMaria Stephens)

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