The Back Yard: New Patio, New Life

When we first moved into our house, we didn’t fully appreciate how impossible it would be to utilize the backyard. It is a steeply sloping site and when the former owners added the family room, they built it over the existing patio.

So, when we moved in, it looked like this:

There was a hugely overgrown Japanese maple blocking our view to the backyard from the family room, and a random gas-powered lamp. The porch was not big enough to do much of anything with, and the cement area under it was just big enough for a grill and a chair.

Making matters worse, the lowest part of the ground seemed to be at the Japanese maple. Before we took it out, I could actually shift it around with just one hand after heavy rains. Not great.

So, we took out all the old bushes, moved out the cement bricks, and took the Japanese maple tree out. We were sad to see it go, but it was kind of a menace.

Dale added built-in planters along the fence line:

We reused the bricks to make a tree ring and it’s now a herb garden that I use for cocktails!


And last spring, we poured a patio! And it has dramatically improved our ability to enjoy the yard. It truly transformed our summers and ability to entertain.

Dale designed the shape and had a terrible company come in and pour it! LOL. We nearly fired them and the owner drove us nuts with endless delays and rude behavior (however the people who finally showed up and did the work on-site were lovely!) before finally presenting us with a bill that was 33% more than we were quoted! Nice people.

The patio is roughly 15.6 feet by  x 29 feet:

HUGE lifestyle upgrade.

We got a fire bowl and Dale put up cute lights:

Watching baby bunnies eat flowers as the #empireofdirt slowly turns to grass.

A post shared by Rebecca K. (@isadoraink) on

We bought an outdoor dining set and I made cushions for the chairs!

I also made teacup bird feeders:

And this year, we bought a nice grill:

And we’ve added a retaining wall in order to combat the mountain of dirt and add some nice landscaping (which is our project for this coming weekend). I’ll post more about that once it’s complete.

Putting in Sod in the Front Yard

[written by Dale]

Today we, Yes WE, put in some sod.

While I did most of the more physical stuff. Rebecca did the refinement.

For the sod to be level with the existing grass and lower I surrounding area and cut sharp lines for the edges to meet up. As I cut it away it loosened dirt and stones – a shit load of stones – Rebecca raked it into the drive. I then hauled fresh dirt from the composter to make a good bed for the sod.
I dumped the fresh dirt and Rebecca raked it out. I tossed a bit of fertilizer down before laying the sod.
Rebecca, super hard at work.
This is how it came out. The darkened areas is the dirt from the compost. We filled the seams between the rolls of sod then seeded them. The goal was to minimize exposed edges thus holding in moisture as well as maybe getting some grass to grow. Some other areas where just too small for sod so we filled them with fresh dirt and seeded the hell out of that too.
I also installed a fresh drain grate after the sidewalk along the house, I hope it will catch the water and send in through the pipe to the drive. When we watered I notice water slipping through the crack between the walk and grate – I have since caulked that joint.
And another view:


In all it took about 5-6 hours to complete. I would never have finished it on my own.

DIY Tree Ring & Herb Garden

So, we had all these pavers from around the yard that we’ve been pulling out (our yard looks like hell, overall, full disclosure) and I decided I need to make a tree ring with them around the tree closest to our house. The roots were well above ground and I didn’t think it looked that great in all honesty.


A super fast overview for the tl;dr crowd. Blog-TreeRing1

I started out by taking a shovel and digging a rough hole around the base of the tree. This was fairly quick and easy and I was all proud of myself. blog-treering2

I set pavers all around it to rough-in how many I would need. I should have been more careful so I didn’t have to end up chopping any pavers in half but I wasn’t so, in the end, Dale has to use chisel to knock some of the pavers down (also we didn’t want to hurt the roots of the tree so the first row of pavers were chipped out on the bottom in places to accommodate the tree roots). blog-treewring3

Here’s an overview of the first phase, which was the hardest part by far (actually, the hardest part was digging the pavers out of the ground from all over other parts of the lawn and picking them up and putting them in place–it was like a challenge on The Biggest Loser and I won). blow-treering3

Dale and Bela were a big help! Dale helped me by providing me with a long level that allowed me to level the first row of pavers (so I could dig deeper into the ground for some, shore up others, depending on what was needed). Dale did all the chipping of pavers to ensure they fit around the tree roots. Bela was there for moral

We were basically sweaty and miserable and this project was kinda hard? Dale kept me going, tho. You can see how dirty the pavers are as I ran out and needed to dig more out of the ground from around the yard, lifting two at a time and bringing them over to the ring. blog-tree ring5

We went with 3 rows of stone. Dale filled in a couple of gaps and then we had to go buy the dirt to fill it in.
blog-tree ring6

I was pretty pleased with the result and decided to turn the tree ring into an herb garden–it’s quick and easy access next to our back door makes it the perfect place to snag fresh herbs.

Blog-tree ring 7


The herbs grew like gangbusters within a couple of weeks! See that giant hole? That’s where some of the pavers were. It’s filled in with dirt but we still have a LONG way to go on the yard!

(In the background you can see our raised garden beds and Dale’s addition: a topper for the strawberry patch. I’ll post about that piece soon).

Dale’s Three-Bin Composter

Trying to get pics of Dale’s projects lately has been impossible! So I snagged these off Facebook when he wasn’t looking.

Dale did a bunch of research of composting yard waste (we spend money every week on having it hauled away and then we spent money having mulch and dirt delivered. Seems like there was a better solution!

Using some plans (like these) that he found online he build a compost bin at the back of the yard.


First he took out a GIANT bush that took up near the same amount of real estate as our neighbor’s garage. The remains of the bush and the neighbor’s garage are pictured here. 1891366_10203182669183218_1827481404142120631_o

Then, using plans similar to the ones I linked above, he set out to build his new super compost bin. 10298536_10203182669103216_5985526762956420416_o

Because Dale is basically exceptional when it comes to building stuff? He knocked it out in a weekend.10379866_10203182669023214_1557818079933026719_o

Here it is! All three bins with movable front panels in place. Now he just has to fill it… (he actually already has started to and bought a compost thermometer to see how his beloved clippings are doing). 10265660_10203182669063215_7730371716139414466_oAll ready to be filled!


New Built-In Planter Boxes and Yard Drainage Plans

After roughly 18 months of hacking, chopping, digging, and shredding the overgrown foliage on our estate it is now time to actually put things back, in this case it involves constructing a planter box.

What inspired this? Rain.

The torrential rains last year had Dale outside digging canals in an effort to route water around the house to drain the yard. That experience, plus this year’s thaw, and the endless sump pump running the past couple of months has moved yard drainage to the top of Dale’s list.

Our backyard has a pretty serious slope as evidenced by the photo below, and there are two other sloping yards feeding their rain runoff and snowmelt to our back yard.

140517-005In classic Dale fashion he has hatched a multiphase project:

Phase 1: Installing a French drain on our property running the full width of the yard that will feed two lines running down each side of our house.

Phase 2: Installing a small retaining wall with two more French drains, one at the top and one at the bottom of the wall and each tying in with two lines running down either side of the house. We hope to plant flowers to attract butterflies and humming birds as well.

In all it took about seven trips to Home Depot for wood, 2 yards of “compost”, 2 yards of dirt Dale had me sift through some screen thing he concocted, and 2 yards of fresh planting mix dumped in our driveway.

Following are photos from the day we filled it.

140524-024First we ran the drains under the planter box(es).


We had tons of yard waste and clippings shredded from last year to serve as a mulch base.


The drainage in place!140523-017

Then we added mulch.

On top of that we had soil we sifted and added from other parts of the yard.


And for the final/top layer we brought in good soil to grow our first garden–We are getting our first sprouts now and they are coming up quickly! I’m sure we’ll post pics of those later. 140524-035

Quite the impressive planter situation, Dale!140524-036

And, at the front, Dale put together a little planting area. I added the ornamental oregano you see here! Before and AfterHere’s a fun before and after shot of our garden area that hides our drainage. The brown house is our next door neighbor’s and they are really nice!