Exterior & Garden

Bettering the Backyard

This is the first post of three sponsored by RISE’s AND not OR home and garden program. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Backyard Garden, When We Moved In

The backyard was so charming when we moved to this house! The previous owner spent her days in the garden and it showed. Years later with us and our combination of kids, a dog, and plain old neglect, we’ve done a number on it. I could barely keep up with the front at first because I was pregnant, and then it was even harder the next year when Calvin was a baby — forget about the back. I didn’t weed or replant the annuals. Without any grass in the back, Murray trampled and peed on the plants (mostly hostas), and they all died. I haven’t done much to change the yard for the better, and it’s definitely in need of some love.

I took the AND not OR approach in planning my front garden last year, and bolstered by that success, I’m turning my attention to the back. We have a cute new dining set on the flagstone patio with less than cute surroundings. I could pull off a close shot last fall, kind of, but take a step back now and it’s a mess.

Stori Modern Memoir Dining Collection. Plus a Peacock.

The Back Yard and Garage, Before Changes to the Garden

The idea behind AND not OR is that there are a variety of ways to care for your yard, and you should take into account your style of gardening. I do like to be out there shaping our hedges and tending to the roses (especially as I’ve learned more about how to do it!), so I don’t mind a garden that needs some maintenance. We’ve got three kids though, plus a brand new puppy, so I’m trying to come up with a plan that’s going to work for our lives and schedules. Weeding, keeping pests away, pruning, shaping, and fertilizing — I’m happy to do it as long as it isn’t all day everyday. I need a balance.

RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment)® put me in touch with a Master Gardener again this year, Eric of Complete Lawn Care, Inc., and he confirmed that grass would be difficult to establish in our shady back yard. I know the hostas have flourished in areas where they’ve been left alone, and I’m learning a lot about what else could work in the garden from my local Extension site.

The Backyard, After Winter, Before Changes

Here’s what I’m looking to do:

  • Create a cute backdrop for the dining patio.

  • Nestle the egg chair in among plants for a ‘secret garden’ feel.

  • Replace the trellises to better support and encourage the climbing roses at each end of the garage.

  • Reorient the barbecue or figure out a way to not see the ugly back of it.

  • Figure out how to keep the puppy from destroying the new plantings (tall border fencing?).

  • Focus on shrubs and plants that will kind of do their thing without needing too much help from me.

A Lonely Bench in the Back Yard, Before Changes to the Garden

Local nurseries are starting to get their inventory out as the weather warms. I have a mix of boxwoods, hydrangeas, and yes some thriving hostas in other parts of our garden, and I want to continue with them as I work on the back. Maybe some urns, or more modern planters with annuals too? I’ve been thinking about this area since the fall and now that the time has come to actually work on it, I have too many conflicting ideas! Wish me luck as I get out there and start clearing the old stuff out. I think it’s going to be great once I commit to a plan and go with it.

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  • Katrina
    March 29, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    Keeping dogs out of the garden is tough. I put up a low fence so I could still step over it. We have an 8-year-old dog that doesn’t jump so it keeps her out, but our 1-year-old dog sails right over (and can get over our chain link fence too, which is its own problem).

    I’m excited to see what you do with your yard!

    • Making it Lovely
      March 29, 2018 at 4:26 pm

      I know, we’re wondering if the low fence along one side of our yard is going to be jumpable! I guess I’m thinking I could use a border fence as more of a deterrent than an actual physical barrier. Should work perfectly with a puppy who listens so well, right? (HAHAHA.)

  • Liza Vandermeer
    March 29, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    Perhaps raised beds would be a good bet for some gardening with a new puppy in the mix? Consider them as super-sized planters. I have struggled with dog-proofing flowerbeds even with an older girl who just enjoyed digging and lying in the shrubbery, and have concluded that raised beds are a less stressful solution than trying to fence-off plantings. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

    • Making it Lovely
      March 30, 2018 at 1:18 pm

      Oh, raised garden beds weren’t even in my mind, but that could be a great idea! I like the structure they could add to the garden too.

      • Lori
        April 2, 2018 at 1:43 pm

        Three cheers for raised beds! Harder for dogs (AND BUNNIES) to get into and also easier on the back when planting/weeding, etc.

  • Kristina Robinson
    March 30, 2018 at 8:45 am

    I don’t love annuals myself, especially in a shade garden. There are so many good shade plants to choose from (many types of hosts and astilbe, dwarf rhododendrons, I’ll get a more complete list later), plus, I’m cheap, and annuals are high-maintenance.

    I’d also think about a few types of climbers — I know you already have some clematises, but climbing hydrangeas are really lovely, and if you can keep it contained, Boston Ivy is deep and dark and mysterious.

    • Making it Lovely
      March 30, 2018 at 1:20 pm

      I added a climbing hydrangea two years ago, and it’s the tiniest little thing! I know they’re slow to establish, but still. Ivy might be good in certain areas though! Fast growing appeals to me right now (but I guess that’s why it’s a headache later).

  • MaryMargaret
    March 30, 2018 at 9:48 am

    How about training the puppy in a “pee patch” (dedicated waste space)? If you are taking him out on a leash every few hours for housebreaking, you can just keep returning to the same spot. We did this in our yard (in an ivy patch) — the dog is free to roam, but tends to return to the patch (or at least a mulched spot) to do his business, which keeps the lawn and plantings in generally good and dog-free condition.

  • Amy
    March 30, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    nor sure how big your space actually is, but we have used fake grass (http://www.foreverlawn.com) at our lake house and it looks fabulous. Almost NO maintenance (I vacuum it to get the cedar droppings ours gets off of it) is about all it needs. Our dogs LOVE it, and I bet your kids would too. Kind of $$, but I will NEVER plant real grass again. I’d be happy to send you photos if you are interested. Have fun!

    • Making it Lovely
      March 30, 2018 at 1:22 pm

      I’ve considered it, but I feel like it would look so funny for half of the year to have this bright obviously fake grass. I’m not sure what part of the country you’re in. Do you have seasons like we do in Chicago? Does it look OK as everything else goes brown and dormant?

  • Vanessa Bailey
    March 30, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    I have seen astro turf or fake grass on neighbor’s lawn in Oregon and then a few years later in drought stricken California. It really does look eye-catching from a distance, clean, perfectly mowed and edged, and then I would get up close to it and think – oh, yup, plastic. Just what the planet needs. It’s healthier to live with dirt and grass.

  • carolyn
    April 1, 2018 at 4:52 am

    Keeping dogs out of your garden really is an ongoing battle. The trick I found is to not have anything of interest to them, that way you won’t get upset as they won’t have anything to destroy

  • Jessica Dee
    April 2, 2018 at 9:26 am

    As someone who, after 3 years in our house, is still overwhelmed by all the garden and gravel (with its own challenges) that the previous owners of our house planted, I really appreciate every one of your outdoor posts.

  • Amelia
    April 2, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    While, as a fellow Chicago gardener, I appreciate the backyard commentary and plans, the sponsorship choice is disappointing.

    After clicking through to the link to find out what “AND not OR” even means (I never really did understand this), I found the opacity of the website and vague generalities a little suspect. It didn’t much research to see that RISE seems to be a rebranded arm of a lobbyist group for the pesticide industry, CropLife America, who has spent millions fighting pesticide oversight and transparency in labeling.

    Even a bit of a dig into their news page, beyond the first post, seems to confirm that it’s business as usual with some greener window dressing. Succeeding in banning California from enforcing its Safe Water Drinking Act? And they joined a coalition “dedicated to credible, unbiased and balanced science in policymaking”, which I at first guessed would be a lovely Trump-era anti-climate science propaganda group but actually seems to be a propaganda group fighting enemy #1: the International Agency for Research on Cancer?!

    I’m just a lowly web developer, definitely no expert on agricultural/chem industry politics… just someone trying to plant things in my garden that attract bees and butterflies… but the RISE website seemed a little off, and a little research seemed to confirm the hunch.

    • MaryMargaret
      April 9, 2018 at 5:26 pm

      Oof. That’s a tough one. I guess the meaning of “AND not OR” is clearer now.

    • Gwen
      April 9, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      Ooohh, Yes. I agree. You could do so such better for us! We want a sponsor that has more meaning for you AND For us. A few companies that come to mind that I’d like to see as a sponsor: Terrian, Prairie Moon Nursery, Your local Botanical garden or a local Landscape architect.
      Also what do you DO in your backyard? How do you use it? How do you want to use it?
      Good luck! I can’t want to watch it transform!

    • nic
      April 16, 2018 at 1:44 pm

      Wow. Yikes. That is some scary and aggressive stuff they are putting their heft behind. It is not a group I’d think you’d want to align yourself with just for free stuff!

  • Laura
    April 6, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Have you watched Small Spaces Big Dreams with Monty Don on Netflix at all? His designs are motivating me in our landscaping disaster. I’m also trying to use what we have (and what people give us) before buying new.