Boulders for Christmas, aka the Back 40 revamp phase 1

Along with boulders, dirt and compost, yours truly got these lovely coral Japanese maples for Christmas.

If I had to choose my favorite household chores, I’d pick vacuuming, lawn mowing and weed wacking. What do these tasks have in common? Swath-making and fast progress. I love, love, LOVE doing jobs that can be done in a short period of time with clear results.

So one of my favorite Spring activities has been tackling the Back 40, aka our big pile of weeds. Armed with a week wacker and bountiful courage (hey, there could be all manner of critters and snakes hiding in 6-foot weeds), I’d spend an afternoon chopping and hacking greenery, and getting covered in weed juice. Glamorous, huh?

Well all of that fun is coming to an end because we are finally, finally getting some landscaping put in. In fact, our contractor started mid-December and I’ve enjoyed telling everyone that I got boulders for Christmas. And gravel, and dirt, and compost and drain pipes. I am one lucky lady!

In just 10 days or so, the guys have transformed our backyard from a shapeless sanctuary for birds and woodland creatures (you remember my “Flying turkeys” post, right?) to something that could be beautiful and useful soon. Check out the before and afters:

Before: If it’s not clear, we have oak trees. Messy, leaf, acid and acorn dropping oak trees. As a protected (and okay beautiful) class of trees in California, this means we must be careful with our planting choices. Consequently, no grass or sprinklers or plants that require tons of water.
Before: I tried to cute up my corner of the yard with my little veggie plot and colorful frames. Some might call that lipstick on a pig, but whatever.
Before: It’s hard to tell, but there’s a steep elevation change from where the house sits to where I was standing to take this picture, somewhere around 6-7 feet.
Phase 1: I squealed aloud to see this pile of Christmas boulders! I’m weird, I know.
Phase 1: Lots of clean-up, outlining of our walkway focal point, stump grinding, irrigation.
Phase 1: The guys removed the ugly concrete block from around the trees and dispensed of the rotting boards from my garden box.
Phase 1: A few trees… In the foreground, three strawberry trees. In the distance, three Japanese maples.
Phase 1: Never having worked with contractors before, I’ve discovered that constant communication is a must. As is a specific plan for the job. We had our landscaper draw detailed plans that we constantly refer back to as the project evolves. Also, we’ve asked that the foreman brief us every morning on what the day’s work will entail.
Phase 1: Heavy clay soil and a down hill grade = big time drainage.
Phase 1: This dry stream bed will serve as a natural looking drainage feature, channeling water from the backyard and down the driveway. I’m sure my neighbors will miss me using this space as a storage area for dirt clods and things.
Phase 1: We chose peach and oak for the walkway.
Phase 1: The plan I mentioned a few pictures ago? Super helpful to clarify expectations. If you notice three pictures above, the off-shoot to the door was wide and curvy, and not what was on the drawing. Having a plan enabled me to ask for mid-course corrections without feeling bad or paying extra for changes.
Phase 1: Lo, a gate that might actually open without brute force.
Phase 1: View from outside our bedroom door. I’m already planning the BBQ for that upper patio.
Phase 1: The next phase will include interlocking pavers for both patios.
Phase 1: I did get a little misty to see my 6-year old lavender torn out.
Phase 1: But then I saw these and I got over it.
Phase 1: SUPER EXCITED for wood and mushroom compost.
Phase 1: We added a gate here to access the water spigot on the other side of the fence and not have to walk all the way around the entire house to get into the yard.
Phase 1: Mr. T mocking me.
Phase 1: Mr. T said “Do something!” And although he wanted me to roll around in the dirt (“If you love it so much…”), I worked on a sultry Costanza-esque pose. As sexy as one can get wearing Crocs and white socks anyway.
Phase 1: Et voila, a gate and my first hunk of flagstone!
Phase 1: Goliath-approved flagstone.

Phase 2 begins on Monday. Stay tuned for many more photos. I’ll try to keep the exclamation points to a minimum, but it’s tough.

Questions? Suggestions for awesome walkable ground cover that will live under oak trees and requires little to no water?


Other Green Thumbs posts:

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