Big Project Planning: A Half Acre of Mud to Mold


It is a dreary and cold Monday in Massachusetts. What do I have to burn at the alter to get some consistent nice weather around here? Spring is the most supreme tease. In many ways, she’s worse than her frigid sister.

Spring was kind enough to grant us two reasonable days on Friday and Saturday, and so I was able to get the boys out into the yard for some exploration, brain storming, and picture taking. I know that we won’t be able to do a lot to the yard this year for economic reasons, mostly, and because we seem to have to much to focus on, but I really want to start us on the good strong path to making the yard a beautiful, functional, welcoming, and special place.

I should say that I’m not going to put up sweeping pictures of my yard because, frankly, the internet is dark and full of terrors. Also, I’m sure that wouldn’t be terribly interesting. Here are the essential facts:

1) We have just about a half-acre of land to play with, and it is all in front of the house.

2) The front yard was completely torn up when they put the new septic system in last fall. They put down grass seed without aerating first, so I’m not convinced anything is going to grow.

3) The septic is located in the front of the yard and the front of the yard is where I get the most light because there aren’t any shade trees growing in the yard (there are on the sides of the property, just not in the front of the house). So, that means raised beds for everything, right?

I’ll show you some of the stuff that I love first and then we’ll go to what makes me scratch my head.

1. My Stone Fence

Stone fences are just so New England. I love them to pieces. They just make me happy. This fence, we believe, actually predates the house–it is somewhere in the ballpark of 150 years old. MY neighbor informed me over the weekend that there is poison ivy growing all around it. So, I don’t know what we’re going to do about that.


This area will mostly be shaded during the summer and fall because there are looming shade-trees directly above it. I’m wondering if I can plant flowers here anyway? Or maybe just some ground cover? I don’t want to put hedges or anything here… I want to highlight and honor the stones as much as I can.

2. This Cool Stump

There is this beautiful stump hanging out at the front of my property, right where my driveway lines up with the yard. There is enough room for a line of hedges behind it (where the snowbank currently is) and then the expanse of the rest of the yard is in front of it. I think the stump is screaming to be a table… I long to put two Adirondack chairs beside it, a fire pit in front of it… and maybe a chessboard on top of it?

3. This really cool tree

There is a gaggle of evergreen trees on my property that are old and tall and make creaking sounds when the wind blows. They are beautiful and I love them. Most of them are unremarkable, but as I was walking around really looking at my yard for the first time, I noticed this:

The thing is beautiful! All of the other trees have regular trunks and are sorta unremarkable (except that they are really tall and sturdy). This one clearly wants to be a show-off! I’d like to draw some attention to it somehow, to highlight it, even if it is at the edge of the property. You can’t see the beautiful detailing from the house and you can’t really notice it when you are in the driveway. I’m trying to think of a way to draw a person’s eye and interest to it…

4. The Freaking Barn

I think that the barn is the coolest part of this property. I mean, I have friends who own their own homes, but none of them have a barn. If we were in Maryland, there would be no way that I’d be able to purchase a home with a barn! It’s just… I don’t know, the coolest. The the barn is in rough shape–and now that the snow has melted, we can once again see what needs to be done to it. My next door neighbor loves the barn as much as we do, but he’s talking about jacking it up, putting down a foundation, doing this and that… and that costs money. I’m trying to think about things that we can do to make it visually appealing for now until we can have the money to really do what we want to it later. Besides, putting down a real foundation means that I’ll have to displace my fox family! I don’t want to do that!


Ok, on to the stuff that makes me scratch my head:

1. This Side Flowerbed 


I think that this used to be a flowerbed, but now it is a mess. I can’t tell if the soil is any good, I have no idea what was growing in it… I sorta want to go in there and completely take it out. I don’t think we’d get a lot to grow in here because this area is directly under a very full, very shady ever-green tree. So do I… put some bushes back here? Take it out and let it be dirt? Maybe just put some ground-cover back here? What grows in the shade, ya’ll??

2. Our Backyard


I told you, all of our land is in the front. To the left of this picture is the back of the house, to the right is a pretty steep hill that leads down to the train tracks. I’m worried about the little bears chasing a ball to the edge of the cliff. I’m worried about this part of the yard being overlooked and becoming over grown. This area is also very shaded… it has the potential to be a very important place in the summer time… I can see it being a little oasis for reading in the high summer under the shade without my neighbors being able to see and intrude. Then again, it has the potential of just turning into my creepy muddy backyard… Maybe I should start with a line of really tall, closely planted hedges?

3. Our Front Flowerbed

It’s a disaster. There is a stump here from a tree or a bush that the previous owners decided to get ride of, but this means I can’t put anything in this spot. There is another bush that is overgrown and odd looking, but I don’t know what it is or how it is going to look. There is no evidence of any bulbs or other plants planted in this spot. It’s… hideous. I don’t even know where to begin.

4. The Stupid Septic Spout


The hatred that I have for this thing knows now bounds. My dear and helpful mother suggested that we hold a family contest where family members come up with yearly decorating idea for it. “I’d paint it like an upside-down umbrella! Wouldn’t that be amazing!?” ….no mother… no, it wouldn’t…

This thing seriously drives me crazy. It is ugly, it obstructs the view of the house and the yard, it’s ugly… what the hell? I want to encase it in fencing, have vines growing on the fence, and then put a birdhouse on top of it… is that weird? Is that even possible?

And finally, 5) The Side of the House


It’s ugly, it’s oddly sloped, it’s got two crazy large and over-grown bushes on it… it’s got two old caps to the old septic and there seems to be a sink-hole down there. Disaster. Just… disaster. I don’t even know if grass can grown down there because the ground is so wet and so soft…

I know that this place isn’t going to be paradise by summertime, but I’m looking for ideas on how I can start us on the road to a nice lawn. You know, a place where my neighbors won’t look out the window and just see the dead, brown mudpit next door. If there is anyone out there with suggestions, plant ideas… especially stuff that we can do on the cheap (the real cheap. The crazy cheap!) please fill my comments box with suggestions! Should I just pray for grass? What tools should we purchase this season? No, I don’t own a lawn mower… if I get one of those cool push ones, the kind that doesn’t have a motor,  will I want to kill myself by the end of the summer?

And can I kill poison ivy without poison? I really want to do this with as little chemicals as possible…

Mission impossible… as usual! I can’t do it all, but I’d like to start somewhere…

See you Wednesday!

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Miriam Joy says:

    Our garden is very long and narrow, with fences on either side and enough tall trees belonging to neighbours to mean it only gets a couple of hours of sunshine, but we still manage to have quite a few bushes and shrubs (SO much lavender, and a massively stubborn rhododendron) in the flowerbeds, as well as a lot of daffodils in the sunniest part of the garden during Spring, and lots of tulips and forget-me-nots too. The majority of it is lawn, but we do manage to have quite a bit of colour, especially since we cut down a massive evergreen tree thing that was half-dead. So I’d say just because something’s in the shade doesn’t mean nothing will grow there at all… 🙂

    When we needed to put down some grass fairly quickly to mend a huge dead patch (we had a trampoline for quite a few years and the grass under it just … died), I think it was easiest to fill the main area with turf that we bought from the garden centre, and then to fill in all the gaps with grass seed. Then again, it rains continuously here, so grass does tend to grow. It’s very green at the moment on account of that.

    I don’t know if any of this is useful or encouraging in the slightest, but that’s all I’ve got on offer as far as gardening etc is concerned! 🙂

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Ohhhh lavender… I really love lavender… is it hard to grow? It’s cool in cooler climates? Do you use it for stuff like soap and things? Did you know that you can bake with it!? It grows in the shade? I wonder if I can grow that from seed or if I should buy a few plants? Does it spread?

      Too many questions, I know… I wonder if I can plant it near the barn for a nice pop of color right as you come up the driveway?

      1. Miriam Joy says:

        It doesn’t exactly spread, but the bushes have a tendency to grow really large, so you have to prune them. We ended up splitting one of ours into two, I think. It’s probably easiest to start from a small plant, or it might take a really long time to get anywhere, but ours have been there for as long as I can remember so I wouldn’t know how to get started.

        Actually, we mostly don’t do much with it, which is bad; when I was younger, we used to use some of it to make those lavender bags that go in drawers to make clothes smell nice, but none of us have the patience or the time to do much else with it given that both my parents work and I’m at school! I didn’t know you could bake with it, no. We should probably be less lazy with it.

        Our lavender just kind of … happens. It’s got itself so firmly established that nothing we fail to do makes any difference, ha ha. The bees love it.

  2. I kill everything, so I’m absolutely NO help! I have a ton of beautiful roses in my yard that I’m convinced are not going to come back for the simple fact that I live here. 🙂 I’m sure anything you do will look great! Those old stones are AMAZING!

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I bought this house for that stone fence, the barn, and the pretty built-in in my dining room. I mean, I love the rest of the house, but these three features I just melt over. I can’t wait to do something cool with the fence!!

      I can’t believe that you don’t have a green thumb! Do you plant stuff with the kids ever? Maybe one of them has a green thumb and you can garden vicariously through them?

  3. zeudytigre says:

    Our garden evolved as the kids grew. We planned it around them as busy kids means rested adults (happy memories of sipping a glass of wine in the sun while the kids built a canal system in our big, sunken sandpit). The planning happened piecemeal as we added the features we wanted over many years. We now have a mostly redundant adventure playground out there for the hens to scratch around.

    I can’t advise on plants but I would suggest allowing a full year to go by with little more than clearance so that you can see what each season brings, what is already there. If you can work with the land (sandy soil, boggy patches, shade) rather than trying to mould it to your will you will have an easier time maintaining it.

    Think about what you want (place to relax? entertain? kids play? pretty to look at? food production?) then spend time out there and decide what would work for you.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I really like the suggestion of just watching the yard over this season and not doing anything major to it. It would probably be good to see what actually lives here and then working with what we’ve got. I’m worried that it’s going to be something poisonous or hideous… but maybe it would be better to work on small patches than think of the bigger picture (I’m forever a big-picture person. Fine details make me itch.)

      I’d like my yard to be multi-functional, with primary emphasis on it being a kitchen garden–herbs, veggies, and then maybe some flowers so that way I can cut and arrange them during the seasons and display them in the house (or give them as gifts to friends/family/neighbors). I’d also like the front yard to be a gateway: You have a pretty good walk from the driveway to the house through my front yard, so this is the first impression you get of who we are and what we’re about (thus you are making an assumption of what’s going on INSIDE of my house because you are getting such a gander at the OUTSIDE of it.) So it must be functional and visually appealing.

      I don’t want it to be a manor house’s estate garden… that’s not who we are. I want a person to want to feel welcome to walk through the yard, smell it, taste it, sit on it… to be in it… just like in the house. I want it to be an extension of the comfort and warmth that we’re trying to build inside… but outside. Is that too ambitious?

  4. I can help you, but it will require a somewhat lengthy email. Y’up for it?

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I am grateful and excited!!! Give me all you got!

      wise (dot) kay (dot) c (at) gmail (dot) com

      1. Ok, I’ll get you something by the end of my day.

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