Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Moving the Renovations from Inside to Outside

With Spring just around the corner, Beth and I have started thinking about work on the yard around Chateau Papillon. Our home sits on around 1/3 of an acre--a pretty big lot for the near-in Washington suburbs, anyway--and is adjacent to a wooded county park, making it a much more natural setting than we might otherwise expect.

The back yard is pretty much a blank slate.  We've got several towering trees along the periphery which will give us some nice summer shade, but that's about it.  The rest of the yard is a bunch of moss and a bit of grass and little else.

We want to keep the yard mostly natural, rather than creating some kept, artificial suburban lawn, while still having a large area for the dogs to run and play.  Of course, we want some room for things like grilling out, our hammock, and such, too, as well as a vegetable garden, and some kind of pond (the latter taking advantage of the natural wetness of parts of the yard).

We began with a good survey of our lot, taking note of where the sun falls, how wet the soil is, the direction of prevailing winds, existing plants and their shade levels, etc., then moved on to several books in our library, primarily The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds: Creating Natural Habitats for Properties Large and Small and Bird-by-Bird Gardening: The Ultimate Guide to Bringing in Your Favorite Birds--Year after Year, which we used to make a list of the sorts of plants we wanted to bring in.

Now, landscaping and gardening take mucho dinero, and recall that Beth was laid off (and is still job hunting, though she's also working on developing a petsitting business as backup).  That does limit some of what we can do, but given both our desires to "do it yourself" to begin with, our expenses are thus limited to materials.

We began with a trip to a Merrifield Garden Center, a good local resource with a location only three miles or so from Chateau Papillon.  After going over our lot's plot and some of our ideas, one of their garden advisers showed us several sale-priced dogwoods as suggested first plants: creating an understory to break up some of the "yardy" expanse.  We picked out five, and though we paid more than we would have at a big-box retailer even with the sale, we got much better trees and over an hour's free consultation.

So far, we've gotten several of the trees planted around out yard and are already thinking of the next steps.  Because of the bluebirds in our yard, we have to be careful to leave them an open area as well as not to plant any shrubs favored by pests like House Sparrows.  We want to terrace a side yard for vegetable gardening, but that means finding good but cheap stone to be delivered, which we're in the process of researching.

Getting out into the yard has been invigorating, and although I know getting the yard to the point we want it will take us several years (and not solely due to finances!), it's exciting to see things beginning to take shape.

In parting, here are three of the best books we've found so far in planning our yard's gardening:

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