Category Archives: House / Porch & Yard

The Scavenged Garden: Rescuing Old Landscaping from New Construction

Scavenged Garden Title Image

This weekend I set out to do a tiny gardening project, but it quickly got carried away – in a good way!  What started out as me venturing to a house to dig up a few daffodil bulbs ended in my slowly driving home with the trunk of my station wagon open, trees spilling out the back of it.

Scavenged Garden Trunk Load Trees

But let’s back up a little.

My town of Vienna, VA is only 30 minutes from downtown Washington, DC and somehow maintains a small-town, local feel though it’s surrounded by the sprawling suburbs.    For decades our neighborhood was comprised of small brick 1950’s ranch houses, including the one we rent.  I think ours is about 1500 sq ft.  But over the 5 years we have lived here things have changed dramatically.  One by one, the ranches are being bulldozed, and large two or three-story homes are built in their places.

It’s because Vienna is a fabulous town, especially if you’re raising a family.  I should tell you all about it some other time. But I digress.

As a renter, I don’t like to spend a lot of money on landscaping, even though we have no plans of moving anytime soon.   During our first summer in this home, I created this garden out of bricks I found on the property and plant cuttings from my MIL’s garden.

Scavenged Rental Friendly Garden Shade Garden

Lately I’ve wanted to create a “scavenged” landscape by collecting plants from houses that were about to be bulldozed. This weekend our friends got permission from a builder to scavenge the house next door to them, and I popped over to “just get a few daffodil bulbs.”

Did you ever read The Secret Garden as a child? I did, and I loved the idea of discovering and uncovering (literally) an old, overgrown garden.  I found the concept so magical.

As we set about digging up hundreds of daffodils, we started to realize this was the equivalent of the Secret Garden in a way. What was once a very ornate and landscaped garden was now overgrown almost beyond hope.

An old trellis arch led into an area that was surrounded by gnarly old rose bushes that are barely visible under all the honeysuckle and weeds.  (Those rose bushes will be saved when the house is bulldozed, and I’m so glad the builder realized the charm in protecting them!)

Scavenged Garden A Secret Garden Arch

 

Anyhow, I could talk about the magic and history I imagined forever, but let’s get to the point.  While I was digging up a wheelbarrow-full of old Lilies, I realized there were two healthy hydrangea bushes.  My friend and I were able to dig them up and each take one.

Scavenged Garden Wheelbarrow of Lilies

The lilies I rescued!

Then I noticed there were old lilac bushes – and yep, you guessed it – we dug them up, 4 in total.  Here’s my share of the lilacs:

Scavenged Garden Lilac Tree

Two and a half hours later we were dividing the haul and loading my half into my wagon. Fortunately I had brought a large tarp, which protected my car from the dirt

and also helped to hold the plants in as I slowly drove the two miles home with my trunk partially open.

After Ryan and I unloaded the car I realized that I had bitten off more than I could chew.  However!  I’m going to work at planting the lilies and daffodils over the next week.  They’re safely living in moist dirt and tubs for now.

I can’t begin to calculate how much this many plants would cost at a nursery.  My body is aching and I have a feeling tomorrow will be even worse, but I’m pretty excited about the arm workout I got saving these plants, and the free landscaping my rented home is about to get!

Updated Rental Home Tour: Porch & Yard

Today I’m sharing the final stop in my updated rental home tour. (Are you super stoked I’m finally done, or have you enjoyed this??)

It’s our back yard & back porch, and it’s the feature that makes living in the suburbs enjoyable for me.  (I would prefer one of the extremes – living either in the city or in the real country.)

Our back yard is an little imperfect slice of heaven on earth. We love sitting in our back porch “living room,”  watching the birds, grilling, or enjoying thunderstorms. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting on the porch with the rain pouring down, watching the birds flit around the bird feeders.

Back Porch

I need to get updated photos of our back porch, but since I am out of town, for now this will have to do.  It looks mostly the same, though that grill in the back right has been removed.

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Back Porch Details & Projects:

  • Outdoor rugs (fair trade & eco-friendly) from Gaiam
  • Tables – Ikea
  • Chairs – This End Up via Craigslist ($5 each!)
  • Bunting – DIY with tutorial here

Back Yard

During the first two summers I put a little effort into setting up the back porch seating area.  Then last summer I focused on making the actual yard more inviting.  We moved our fire pit to the far back, and hung a hammock.  After adding some flowers and extra lighting, we were able to enjoy many evenings with friends around the fire.

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Back Yard Details:

Gardening Projects:

Thanks for joining me over the last few weeks on this rental home tour.  It feels good to get this updated, like a bit of long-overdue housekeeping has been completed.

In case you missed it, here are the other parts of the Updated Rental House Tour:

Fired Up to Create a Backyard Escape

Do you have a specific part of your home that you avoid sharing on your blog? 

I know I do . . . and it’s the outer limits of our backyard, between our two sheds.   Only our closest friends, who come over in the nice weather for backyard bonfires, have been privy to the view – and that’s because the embarrassment helps fuel our fires.  Literally.

You can’t see the mess here, because this was taken before it got bad, but this is our backyard.

Since we rented this house 2.5 years ago we’ve had a slew of crazy storms that regularly bring down massive branches from the towering trees in our backyard.  It always makes me sad, because I love the yard, with its thick, multi-layered canopy of leaves. Even though the yard is small, encircled by a ratty chain link fence, I can sit out back, and truly feel like I am escaping from the hustle and bustle of the mega suburbs around me.

Whenever I had a really bad day (few and far between, thankfully) I would come home and go straight out to the backyard with my journal.  I’d set up Ryan’s portable hammock or my lounge chair, lay back, and start to write, but without fail I’d end up setting the pages aside and just staring up at the trees.  I recently stared at the trees a lot as I was pondering what to do about my shop.

So when Ryan and I found ourselves with several Crate and Barrel gift cards after our wedding, we knew just what to do with them:  buy a large, 2-person hammock to hang in the backyard.

The only problem?  Our massive pile of downed branches stood exactly between the only two trees that could hold the hammock.

Frankly, the brush pile was out of control.  It looked more like a beaver dam:

Massive Brush Pile

This was the state of the brush in 2011. This year it was even bigger, but I forgot to photograph it. The swing set and other junk is long gone.

What choice did we have other than to clean up the back of the yard?  I never thought I’d say this, but I set about organizing our downed tree branches.

After breaking down all the good, strong branches into piles by thickness (kindling and then small, medium, and large firewood) I realized that we had more “firewood” than we’d ever use.  I hauled 3 10×10 tarp-loads to the curb for the city to pick up.

Remaining Brush Backyard Hammock

That left us with a smaller pile of debris that I burned in the fire pit every night after work for about 2 weeks.  It went slower than expected, but at least the ground under the hammock is clean.

And I’ve had an excuse to play with fire. A lot.  :)

Burning Brush Firepit Backyard

As you can see above and below, the whole endeavor has been supervised by my four-footed family.

Doctor the Cat Helping Backyard Cleanup

The brush is finally cleared out, and now we’re laying a bed of mulch and turning the whole space into a little backyard oasis.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but that’s not stopping me from enjoying the hammock.

PS:  IF you’re new, check out how we cleaned up the “front” of our back yard, aka our porch, last summer.

Back Porch Update

In a brief burst of inspiration, I cut up my ultra-long fabric banner into three sections, and used it to add a dose of fun to the beige wall on the back porch.

Because we rent, I didn’t want to put any nail holes or anything on that wall, so hanging “real” art was out of the question. Continue reading