June Garden Update

Updates and changes inside the house are under our control and therefore, easy to notice and track the progress.  Plants however, are a totally different ballgame.  Each grows on its own timeline, very slowly changing.  So slowly it can be difficult to notice, so I’ve decided to share more frequent garden updates, to track progress.  Also, because I get excited about little changes.  Even in the month since the last update, each plant looks different, some drastically so.

Along the front walkway, I recently added five Stella D’Oro day lilies, sandwiched between two yews.


I wish the blooms stuck around more than a day, but they’re pretty while they last.


On the far end is a hydrangea that has grown leaps and bounds in the year since I planted it.  Small buds are popping up, getting ready to bloom.


Near the front door is a trio of red day lilies (that deer love to eat) along with a group of Russian sage.  I cut the sage down to the ground this spring, and they’ve become much thicker as a result.


Last fall, I wasn’t sure the coneflower plants were going to make it, but they’re back and covered in beautiful blooms.


In the back, everything has continued to grow and fill in.  The butterfly bush has doubled in size and now has a couple of buds.



Toward the pool house, the catmint that had been battered by the hail storm is bouncing back.  A note about catmint, it grows quickly and can over take other plants, but it also does well if sheared back to control growth.


That said, if you have a large, sunny spot to fill, I can’t recommend catmint enough.  Some of these have already spread about three to four feet wide.  With a steep hillside, I’ll take any and all help I can get to cover as much ground as quickly as possible.



In the above photo, the snowball viburnum has gotten a bit leggy, but I’m going to let it do it’s thing until fall before cutting it back.  On the right, the row of Karl Foerster grasses has feathery tops now.  In addition to being incredibly hardy, this grass offers great winter interest.  Behind the viburnum is the only real shade area on our property, where I’ve added two ferns.


Curly little frond beginnings are beginning to unfurl, which I have to stay on top of spraying with deer repellent.



Not only are the deer interested in taste testing the ferns, they have eaten all six of the hosta plants to stalks.  I’m sure they were like, “Free buffet, everyone!  Come on over here!”  When the hostas were gone (in just two days!) they also nibbled over half of the hydrangea buds off, too.  I wasn’t happy after the hostas, but when I noticed fewer flowers, it became war.  Feel free to share your deer repelling methods.



Salvia is blooming and adding a touch of pink back here.  If deadheaded, it blooms at least twice in the season.


Due to the nature of a rocky hillside, adding plants can be difficult.  I’d start digging, only to hit a giant boulder and have to fill back in and try a different area.  This area happened to go relatively smoothly, and it is beginning to look lush and colorful.


Near the fire pit, the lower part of the hill has three new lavender plants, a big catmint from last year, a coreopsis, and a red-hot poker.


Red hot poker attracts butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.


At the far end of the house, a set of stone stairs lead up part of the hillside.  Tucked between the stair treads and the stacked stone wall are various succulents.  This hen and chick family looks adorable.


Looking toward the waterfall from the back deck, here’s last month’s shot.


I realize this doesn’t look drastically different, but each plant has grown enough to notice in just a month.


Surprisingly, I’ve added only 15 plants so far this year.  There’s an area near the road that I want to address soon, but I’m working on a plan before I start buying anything.

Games to Get Kids Outside

Summer means kids are home from school, likely telling you they’re boooored for the umpteenth time that day.  Of course the old stand bys work, and usually my kids are willing to shoot each other with water for hours.  Still, I wanted to switch things up by building a new game, corn hole.  Basically, it’s a much safer version of horseshoes, but with moveable boards.  A few friends came over and we built four sets in a few hours.  To make your own boards, you’ll need:

Three eight foot long 2 by 4 boards, cut four lengths each at 48, 21, and 11 inches long

Two sheets of 1/2 inch plywood cut to 24 by 48 inches

Four 1/2 inch diameter, 4 inch long bolts with washers and nuts

A drill with 3 1/2 inch long screws, as well as a 5/8 inch paddle bit

A jigsaw or 6 inch diameter hole saw

Outdoor fabric, a sewing machine, and dry corn or beans

Create the frame by laying the 48 and 21 inch boards in a rectangle, with the 21 inch sections between the long boards.  Drive two screws through the end of the long board, into the short section to attach together.


Lay the plywood on top, lining it up with the edges, and secure either with screws or a pneumatic nailer.


Mark 9 inches from the top and centered on the width to cut the hole.  If you happen to have a 6 inch diameter hole saw, line the center up with that mark and drill through.  Since we didn’t have a hole saw, I found a coffee can lid, poked a screw through the center, and drilled that slightly in at my center mark.  Then I traced around the lid, removed it, and drilled a hole near the edge to get the jigsaw in.  Ben has a steadier hand with the jigsaw, so he cut the holes out.

Next, it’s time to make the folding legs.  On each side, at the top of the board, measure 3 1/4 inches down from the frame top and centered on the 2 by 4 frame.  Do not include the 1/2 inch of plywood in your measurement.  Use the 5/8 inch paddle bit to punch a hole through the frame.  At the top of the 11 inch pieces, mark 1 3/4 inches down and centered on the width and drill through tat as well.


To allow the leg to turn, you’ll have to cut the corners off, leaving about a half-inch to 3/4 of flat at the top.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to look pretty, just allow the leg to easily fold in and out of the frame.  Once you’re happy with the movement, slide your washer on and tighten the nut.  For smoothness and longevity, we applied two coats of water based polyurethane to the top and sides.

The last step is creating eight tossing bags.  Use two different colors or fabrics, creating four of each kind.  If you want to sew with a half-inch margin, cut 7 1/2 inch squares, lay right sides together, and sew along three sides.  Fill each bag with just about 2 cups of corn (somewhere between 14 and 16 ounces is ideal) then sew the tops together.


Lay the boards out on a flat(ish) surface 27 feet apart, from front edges.  I scoot the boards closer when kids play, so that’s dependant on their throwing distance.



The legs allow easy removal of bags, but also allow the boards to store flat.


It’s been a big hit with the boys and their friends.  Set up and take down is quick, so it can be pulled out whenever they want to play, but provides hours of competitive fun.  Which gives me plenty of time to vacuum and clean the house in peace and quiet.

A Deck Makeover & Cozy Outdoor Lounge Area

Four years ago, when we bought this house, it came with a large front deck and a paver patio.  Without adjectives, both spaces sound lovely.  I’m sure the paver patio was beautiful, but the lack of maintenance, weeds, and tree roots took a toll.


Replacing windows and siding was a priority, but before that could happen, we had to excavate a foot of dirt back here, build a low deck, and only then could we hang siding.  In home remodeling, each project seems to hinge on another aspect being ready.  Though we didn’t want to tackle landscaping first, it did give us a baseline to seamlessly transition siding.


None of that is new, and has been featured several times before.  But, there’s another deck that hasn’t been shared since move in, until today.  Before getting into the afters, here’s a look at the condition the front deck was in when we took ownership:




In a word, woof.  The railing that was so far from code/safety requirements, benches along the edge were uncomfortable and took up useful space, rotting/spongy joists, and splintered deck boards didn’t exactly make this space enjoyable.  It certainly had potential, but thanks to other more important projects, we just got around to rebuilding it last summer.  Due to the technical aspects, this isn’t a deck building tutorial.  Rather, it’s the kind of television makeover before and after without the work, sweat, and wait-surprise!!


Clearly, a lot has changed.  Everything, in fact.


We completely demoed the structure, rebuilding to meet or exceed code standards to ensure longevity.

Update: A reader emailed me, wanting to similarly cover an outdoor space, asking if/how much light the solid roof blocks?  Since others might have the same concerns, here’s my answer and our rationale why covering the deck was worth it.  This entire deck fronts the pool house, not our normal living space.  Since it is a pool house, it has 8 skylights, normal windows, and four sliding glass doors that flood the space with light, so the deck roof hasn’t changed the lighting too much.  Yes, it’s a touch darker, but totally worth the added usable outdoor living area and not becoming the human version of a roasting marshmallow.  That said, I don’t think this is the perfect solution for all outdoor spaces.  Before adding a cover, consider the size and orientation of the windows/doors and the room(s) it will potentially darken.


Redwood deck boards are smooth and splinter free, the railing is not only safe, but offers more privacy, not only to the deck, but the (currently nonfunctional) pool inside.  At 36 inches tall, the railing still doesn’t block the city/mountain views.  Instead, it hides just the street and houses across, even when seated because our house is on a steep hillside.  Thanks to the southern, full sun exposure, we decided to add a full roof, keeping the area as cool as possible.  When we swapped the dining door placement, we created a four-foot wide walkway off the front.


Over the long weekend, thanks to awesome sales, we picked up two World Market sofas (only $204 each!!) to create a comfortable lounge/seating area.  Until this point, this 900 square foot deck housed two grills, the bench in the background and that’s about it.


Last year, while we were rebuilding the deck, I started my search for outdoor furniture and came across a pair of linear wood frame chairs:Wood-Frame-Outdoor-Chairs

That screenshot has been on my phone for nearly a year, and for the life of me, I cannot remember the source.  But, I do know that I was instantly smitten, and wanted the same look.  Imagine my surprise when I was wandering around World Market and stumbled upon the Praiano set.  At $400 per sofa, it wasn’t a bad price, but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger.  Fortunately for me, my patience pair off and I struck when the price dropped to $239.99 plus a 15% off coupon.


After patiently waiting a few months, I became impatient and bought, assembled, and lounged within 24 hours of getting the coupon in my inbox.


Those sleek lines have my heart.


And closely resemble the railing.  Haha, I guess I have flock to a distinct style.


The cushions are firm, but not uncomfortable.  However, the arms need some cush, so I pulled some indoor pillows from the linen closet to soften the hard wood frame.


For additional greenery, I added two potted Arborvitae trees in the corner of the center bump out.  The green seems so much more vibrant against the dark gray siding.


I’m still trying to track down chairs to round out the grouping, since these are standing in from our old, seen-better-days patio set.


Then there’s this sad, mostly empty corner.  Again, these pieces are standing in until we have time to build a dining table.


Ben and I have differing visions/layouts for the deck.  Mostly because he’d love to build an 18 foot long Last Supper style table to take place of the current lounge area.

Napa Style Residence

While I think that’d be really cool, I think we’re better off putting this corner to use as an extension of the adjacent indoor dining space.  Adding an overhead fixture to this area would also be pretty easy with the attic overhang and access.  Time will tell, but I’m thrilled to have a cozy place to escape the house to enjoy a book.

Oh, and the deck desperately needs a good wash to get rid of the dust and pollen.  In the above photo, the darker area between the furniture is the real color.

Eventually, we want to ‘build in’ the gas and charcoal grills to hide the stands for a polished look.

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Shortly after we finished building a massive deck, hauling and spreading truckloads of rock, I set out to lush up the blank slate.  Before getting to the fun part of buying and planting, I created a simple landscape plan to serve as a guideline.


Even with that loose plan, I’ve made some changes based on plant availability and other things that caught my eye.  I started out as a complete novice, simply wanting to add some greenery and color.  As time went on, I realized I really liked researching, looking at, shopping, and caring for plants.  It’s so relaxing to wander through the plants, noticing the changes and getting excited by new blooms.  Growth can be such a slow process (just check out this post to see how dramatically different a year looks), it’s hard to remember just how small everything started out.  Because of this, I’ve decided to make more frequent garden updates, just to track progress.

Okay, I’ve chatted long enough, let’s look at the plants.  Out front, these smoke trees make me stupidly happy.  Dark burgundy leaves are a great contrast against all the green.  I also adore the way it looks with the siding and decks.


Those smoke like flower plumes are so pretty and delicate.


The row of nest spruce are absolutely covered in bright green new growth.


Near the front walkway, tucked under our balcony, is a hydrangea that looks healthy and happy.  Along the street side of the beams, I replaced the dead boxwood (poor choice on my part as they need more water) with a row of Karl Foerster reed grasses.  Closest to the door, you see a trio of catmint peeking out.


Just a warning about catmint: It gets huuuuge, so be careful where you plant.  Both here and in the back, each plant has spread to about two feet across, so leave ample space between to not overcrowd neighboring plants.  I happen to like a full, thick garden, so it’s good, but just something to keep in mind.


At the end of the front walk, there’s a rock planter filled with peonies and coneflower.  These Costco plants have done so well, with about 25 buds on each plant in only two years.


A lone coneflower bloom is starting up.


To the left side of the front steps, there’s a trio of day lilies and Russian sage.  Russian sage also gets big quickly, so I cut these back to the ground this spring.  This should help create a thicker plant, rather than a thin, spindly one.


For whatever reason, adding plants in the front hasn’t been as fun as the back.  Maybe because we have more hardscaping to work around?  There’s also an even more steep slope that’s almost impossible to add plants to.  Sure the back has some steep areas, but overall, it’s pretty workable.  Here’s a view from the driveway, showing off nearly every part of the back yard.


Over to the right of the steps coming up from the driveway, there’s a full sun flower grouping.  At the base of the hillside, a row of Karl Foerster grasses softens the edges and adds height.

Also taken from the driveway, but angled toward the house to show the little bed bordering the house.


This area includes two catmint, four coreopsis, two day lilies, an Icelandic poppy, and a butterfly bush.


In our zone, the butterfly bush dies completely back, starting from the ground up each year.  It’s on the tiny side right now, but I’m hoping it’ll come back with a vengeance.


It seems most full sun, drought tolerant plants come in purples.  To offset all the purple, a yellow Icelandic poppy at the center of this grouping adds a different splash of color.


As with the butterfly bush, the coreoposis die back, but are making their comeback.


With the way our house is situated, there’s very little shade.  Between the back walkway and house, there’s an eight foot wide by twenty or so feet long garden strip.  Of that space, about five feet from the house is shaded and that’s it.  Closest to the house, I’ve planted hostas, coral bells, Ajuga, and a hydrangea.  At the corner of the house is a beautiful Snowball Viburnum, a great alternative to Hydrangea.  Planted only last spring, it has doubled in size and is now covered in fist sized blooms.


Much like hydrangea, the blooms are clusters of tiny flowers.


With seemingly hundreds of hosta varieties, I’ve tried to add a mix.  After all, variety is the spice of life.


With so many single plants that kind of keep to themselves, I wanted to add a lower ground cover type plant to the mix.  Ajuga is the perfect addition, spreading out greenery and blooming purple flower stems.


Not quite as fast growing as the viburnum, the hydrangea has dozens of tiny cauliflower like buds emerging.


Filling up the three-foot full sun area next to this is an alternating mix of catmint and salvia.


Up on the hillside, we have low growing, spreading Buffalo junipers to add as much greener as possible.  Between the evergreens are a variety of plants.  Seen here are a smoke tree, three Hameln grasses, Stonecrop Angelina, and native Yucca.



Toward the bottom of the rocks, I’ve dotted Artemisia, lavender, and day lilies around.


Everyone likes touching the Artemisia.  It’s this soft, silver-green mound of fluff.  It’s crazy to see just how much this has grown in less than a year.


Once this lavender blooms, it’s going to smell amazing in the back.  In the house, too since it’s a great cut and dried flower.


To liven up the patio, I picked up three five dollar arborvitae trees to fill in the planters.


Looking from the house toward the waterfall, things are filling in nicely.


These stonecrop Angelina are perfect to tuck between the cracks of the waterfall.  It’s as simple as plucking the offshoots, nestling each in dirt, keeping watered until rooted, and enjoying.  The plant that keeps on giving.


Since getting hooked on gardening, I’ve added over 200 assorted plants throughout our property.  I’m far from an expert, but through trial and error, I’m figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and enjoying the progress along the way.

Four Year House Tour: Part 3

For the last part of the four-year tour, let’s look outside, at our first impression.  Initially, the neighborhood, lot, and views piqued our curiosity.  Enough to look it up online, which only fueled our discussions.  If for no other reason, we had to see the inside just to get it off our minds.  Clearly that didn’t stop the swirling ideas, instead, we would regret not moving forward.  The house had been lived in, but neglected.  Many parts hadn’t been updated since the house was built.  Some work had been done, but not completed.  Landscaping all over grown.  The picture of beauty, right?  Maybe not, but at least potential.


Before replacing the siding, we decided to take the opportunity to make the house more energy-efficient at the same time.  We wrapped the house with insulation, then started with the pretty changes.  A mixture of dark gray painted lap siding, warmed up by rusting CorTen vertical siding.  Horizontal railings modernize and compliment the boxy structure of the house.


In the back, a large fountain sat centered on a weed filled paver patio.  It looks like there was landscaping done before, but had all grown over.


To create a more usable outdoor space, we pulled out the patio and fountain to create a large deck with a more natural looking water feature-a waterfall.  Though unconventional, the deck is made from reclaimed structural beams.  A DIY natural gas fire pit is a great gathering space for parties and s’mores roasting.


Near the house, there was a small landing area created from rock with several steps leading down to the patio area.  It wasn’t ideal and broke up the area without adding function.

New-House-Back-Yard-Stairs April 13 2012

We chose to remove the steps, lower the door, and make everything one level.  Over time, I’ve slowly added plants, turning the drab landscape as lush a possible.  There are areas I’d love to fill in for maximum coverage.


Before, the large space felt very compartmentalized and single use.


Now it’s our private oasis, perfect for relaxing, eating al fresco, and watching the kids play.


A steep hillside quickly goes up from the house level, but the lack of landscaping looked dull and lifeless.


It’s been a long process, but the work has certainly been worth the effort.


That sums up our four year house tour and progress.  Hope you’ve enjoyed the before and after comparison and updates.  Thanks for the encouraging comments and suggestions!