I’m really excited to share our latest house project with you, even though it’s not strictly inside the house.
We’ve lived in our house five years, now, and the back yard has deteriorated steadily since we moved in. Sure, we mow the grass, occasionally have a weed-pulling or leaf-raking session, and try to pick up the kid’s outdoor toys once in a while. But things have gotten out of hand. Every time it rains we have mud puddles that take days–sometimes weeks–to disappear, and a soggy lawn prevents us from mowing those areas where grass still grows. Each year the marshy area creeps farther into the yard. Sometimes it feels as if our house is slowly turning into an island.
After a good rainfall, this is the lawn in front of the swingset.
Several factors are to blame.
1) We’re at the bottom of a slope, and all the lots that surround us are on higher ground and drain toward our lot.
2) Our ejector pumps used to discharge straight into the back yard, gradually eroding the soil (we had the pipes redirected last year).
3) The previous owners were avid amateur gardeners, and planted far more than we can keep up with.
4) Several invasive plant species have crowded out the nicer plants.
5) We have three young children and minimal gardening knowledge. A recipe for a wild garden if there ever was one!
This secret garden needs some love…look at our poor capsized garden ornament among the weeds!
We also have a bunch of issues with the front yard (imagine the forest growing up around Sleeping Beauty’s castle), but the water issues in the back are foremost in our mind, since they prevent us from using the space at all: it’s often too muddy for the kids to play or for us to host a backyard barbeque.
So, after months of browsing the gardening shelves at the library and consulting Google with searches like “poor yard drainage,” I finally stumbled upon a local landscaping company that specializes in environmentally friendly solutions to yard drainage issues. I discovered the concept of the rain garden, which diverts storm water runoff to a garden that absorbs and filters the water instead of flooding your lawn. Finally, a solution!
Before meeting with Jeff Swano, owner of digrightin, I started a list of what our dream back yard might look like and what questions and problems we wanted to solve. We expect to be in this house for a long time, and we’d like the outdoor space to function well for our family. The neighborhood children run in and out, playing long games of hide-and-seek (often behind the shed) and crowding into the playhouse. We like to entertain and enjoy family meals on the patio in the summer. We’d like to do a little bit of vegetable gardening and maybe learn how to compost. We want a low-maintenance landscape and some guidance and education on how to maintain it without applying chemical fertilizers or weedkillers.
Jeff reassured me that he could sculpt our yard so that the water collects along designated paths around the perimeter of our lot instead of flooding the grass. He offered to tutor us in organic lawn care (which I realize involves more than just ignoring the weeds). Yesterday, the landscape designer stopped by to take photos and inventory what good plants we already have (and we have a lot!) that can be kept or moved, and which are overgrown or weeds that need to be removed.
So far I am really impressed by how the digrightin staff have listened to our needs, and recognized that this is long-term project for us. This year we’re focused on the nitty gritty of the drainage problems, but eventually, as our budget allows, we’d like to make over the front yard, too. I’m looking forward to seeing the completed design, even if we can’t realize it all this year.
I’ll continue to share our progress on the back yard. In the meantime, I plan to get a little dirty myself and work on this little bed alongside the driveway that I am slowly filling with herbs. Even though we’re not making major changes in the front yard this year, I can do a little to make it attractive for now. A little.