Back Yard Beginnings

I realized you haven’t seen much of our back yard.

Once at the top of the driveway, there’s a hollowed out area for a future shop, a lame set of stairs, and retaining wall.

From the driveway, the hill climbs about four feet, extending to the patio.

At the edge of the patio is a two foot tall retaining wall with steep hill above.  Plans are coming along and we’re figuring out materials and prices, but we have a general idea of what we want to change here.

Over at the far end of the house, near the pool room is a set of stone stairs to no where.

Climb up those 18(!) stairs and there’s a small plateau area mainly used by deer.

That big rock at the top left of the picture above is nearly centered on the sliding door and fountain.  I’m standing right by that rock here:

In fact, our lot is so steep you can actually walk on the pool room roof from the back and it’s easy to see over the house from this plateau.

Solar panels from the 70’s are on the roof, but they’ll have to go because they’re causing the roof to leak into the pool.  So that whole blue angled thing will go once Ben starts the big roofing project.

We love the privacy and size of the lot, but it is a challenge, in many ways.  More research and planning and we can start working.  What are your favorite low water/low maintenance plants?  I’m looking for a mix of evergreens and flowering plants.  Everything needs to survive with minimal water because Montana summers are usually dry.  Hopefully you all can give some suggestions!

19 thoughts on “Back Yard Beginnings

    1. Hey Stephanie! Oh no, never doubted it for a second. 🙂 Ha, you always make me laugh with your comments!

      Hi Shootingallens! Aww, thanks! I know how you feel. We’re so giddy to wake up to a view other than a house across the street. We can see a mountain range from our bedroom window! Crazy! You know, all of the rocks that are there seem pretty well in place. There was a tree growing between a crack of the rock near the pool room, but Ben but it out so it wouldn’t split. Other than that, things seem solid. 🙂


  1. such a cool, unique lot! i can imagine it will be challenging to landscape but i’m sure you guys will do a great job! we have a hard enough time managing our yard and its relatively flat and doesn’t include huge boulders! 🙂
    luckily everything appears solid and you wouldn’t have to worry about rocks/dirt sliding down that big cliff, right? have you noticed any pooling after a big rain? i wonder how that steep hill would affect snow melting and pooling close to your house? it looks like that existing wall has been there for a while so i assume it isn’t an issue.
    again, very cool!

  2. I live in Oregon and we have tons of Rhododendrons that the deer don’t eat, do well in the summer, and have flowers during the spring. I don’t know if they are available or do well in Montana but it’s worth looking into. I have beautiful deep purple one that just bloomed.

  3. I have neighbors who have an electric fence for their dog and it works well for them. What works for one family and their pet will not work for another. The internet is like the beauty and the beast. Its wonderful to share your story but it also allows other people to offer their opinions and criticisms.

    Are you worried about the rocks coming down onto your house? As your boys get older they will have so much fun exploring the mountain!

  4. As for plants, try to go native as otherwise it will be a struggle. We over-domesticated our lot here in WA, wish we didn’t do so much and left it natural – live and learn.
    Perhaps domesticate at your doorways and steps just coming up to the front and back patio area but find something like native grasses for the sweeping vista areas.
    What have neighbors installed that appears to be working?
    The rock hillside is beautiful, actually quite stunning. It must be nice to view instead of other houses.
    Best, Kit, USA

  5. Love the new yard and views! I can’t help but think that your “staircase to nowhere” beckons a kid-sized fort or playhouse at the top….especially if you can incorporate a zipline on that hillside!

    1. Hi Lizzy! I’m terrible with landscaping. I can’t seem to figure out what I want so Ben has been coming up with most of the ideas and then we tweak it. Haha. Yep, everything is pretty solid so we’re not too worried about rocks/stuff falling down. 🙂

      Hey Kristi K, I’ll look into Rhododendrons. I don’t know if they’ll work with minimal water, but it’s worth a try, right?!

      Hi Abby! Before we bought the house, Ben walked all around inspecting the rocks and landscape. It all seems really stable, so we’re not terribly concerned.

      Hi Kit, True, we want to stick with evergreens because they do well here. Areas closer to the house, deck, and patio will get more water intensive plants because it will be easier to keep alive there. The higher parts of the hill will stay natural like they currently are, just the lower stuff to add life and color. Haha. The views are such a trip still. Love looking out on scenery instead of houses.

      Hey Jayme! Thanks! We’re excited to get more projects done and share as we go. 🙂

      Hi Karyl! Thanks! the stairs to no where are kind of cool. We’ve talked about a zip line from the hill down toward the house. Who knows what will actually happen, but it’s a fun idea.


  6. Sedums are great for dry sunny areas. I have also heard that lavender works well in dry conditions, but I don’t have experience with it. Yet. I think I have to plant some I only for the scent!

  7. Oh wow why have you never show us the backyard before? Wow! Such a different landscape with the rocks and mountain. It must be breathtaking. But I can see how planting could be pretty hard, Id say succulents and things that can grow between rocks and in very little soil would be your best choice.

  8. I’m with Kit on this one! The area where I live in Queensland is classified sub-tropical with high humidity levels. HOwever, we experience long periods of drought sometimes lasting years. For the most part I have planted drought-tolerant plants such as native grevilleas which suit this climate – bearing in mind that the soil on my property comprises a mixture of shale and clay. I find that the natives are hardier and very pleasing on the eye. Like Kit I would suggest checking out similar properties in your area to see what’s working for them. The type of soil can vary from one side of the street to another, so check for similarities. For instance, here in Australia the climate varies from state to state, and although Qld is considered to be predominantly desert outback, as is Western Australia and the Northern Territory, a lot of those states’ natives are just not compatible in this environment. It’s a good rule of thumb to check out your local Montana government’s website for tips on planting in the region, fire deterrent methods, and retaining those rocks. Plants oftentimes can be used as a buffer for rockfall, as well as a stabilising method against heavy rainfall and landslides. You may one day be in a position to replace the patio with a deck which would blend better into the backdrop and allow you to use this space more effectively. It’s a blank canvas in many respects, and I am excited to follow you on this journey. Good luck! 🙂

  9. I love succulents like stone crop and sedum. I actually did a post on my favorite low water plants.
    Stone crop and sedum comes in tons of shapes, sizes, and colors, and some of them have flowers. Sedum has this really nice pink and red variety that does very well for us. I also like ornamental grasses (perennials if possible) and it seems like grasses are already doing well on your lot and would help prevent the dirt from falling down. Zebra grass is very cool for the colors and patterns it comes in.

    I’m not sure how dry is dry for you guys but my hostas do awesome with no water, but MA is probably more wet than MT in the summer. Rhododendrons need a lot of water to start but then do well. My parents transplanted and replanted some of theirs but they need to be watered for several years (ick) before they really take off. They had one that lasted for 20+ years with no watering but as soon as they are moved, they need a long time to re-establish themselves.

  10. Have you thought about pulling the fountain out but leaving the ring and turning it into a fire/roasting pit for your patio? I don’t know if it would work very well but it’s an idea.

  11. We bought a house in Idaho that hadn’t been lived in for three years, so the plants didn’t get much water that whole time. The plants that were still alive (though some of them required some pruning to get them looking good again) were: some of the roses, peonies, tulips, euyonomous (a nice broadleaf evergreen bush that comes in several varieties), lilac, rose of sharon, and the evergreen trees. A good place to look for ideas for low water perennials is I suggest checking for any you’re interested in at home depot first because they’ll be cheaper there.

  12. WOW! Your back yard (and house!) are absolutely STUNNING! I’m wildly impressed. I don’t think I would know the first thing to do with it! We’ve just a little stumpy lot in the ‘burbs and I barely know what I’m doing! ha! No electric fence for us though – we need the privacy of a real one… though one day I would love to have more space (and actual privacy!). For now though, we’ll just make due!

  13. peonies
    russian sage
    succulents (hen-n-chicks, lamb’s ear, etc)
    echinacea (sp?)
    yarrow (kind a weed but some people like it)
    silver mound (can’t remember the real name)

    Um. That’s all I can think of right now. Mostly deer resistant and mostly drought resistant and all Montana-ok.

  14. Thanks for the very nice post! You just nailed almost all the details of your house. I’m so afraid those stones are going to fall down. I hope not. Anyway, if you ever going to throw away the 70’s solar panel, please throw them on me. I would be very glad to catch them all:)


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