We bought our house in February or March of 2011. I have the exact date somewhere I’m sure but for the purposes of this blog post it doesn’t really matter all that much. Just be aware that our inspection report from before we moved in specifically states that a roof inspection wasn’t possible because there was a foot of snow and ice on the roof. It could have been made of pancakes and toaster strudel for all we knew before we moved in.
We were prepared to take that risk, on account of the fact that the interior of the house appeared to have been well taken care of, and there were indications that the original owner of the home was actually the builder, so we figured that the place had been well-maintained.
Note that the home inspector does not inspect your lawn for you, and that if the roof was covered in a foot of snow and ice, so was the entire lawn. This is important, because if I had seen the lawn prior to moving into the house I would have argued against buying the place. The previous owners were an elderly couple and clearly devoted most if not all of their growing-season leisure time to maintaining the lawn. I am a teacher with a two year old and a second job, and I hate yard work with the hot passion of a million suns, so… yeah. Let’s just say that I have not done a good job maintaining what they have wrought. This picture-heavy post basically exists to let you know what I am up against and gives you a chance to call me a lazy whiner. Be aware of something: we’re entering our third summer in the house. Third. Not fifteenth. And since we’re just entering it, it means that the lawn has only had two summers to become what it is today.
Let’s start with something pretty. Isn’t that flower pretty? It’s gorgeous, in fact. It’s growing in my back yard. It grows in my back yard every year! For like two weeks. The rest of the time, as far as I can tell, it’s a weed. Now that we’ve seen something pretty, let’s go look at the front yard.
Our first front-lawn picture is one of the few that vaguely resembles victory, actually: this little patch of the front of my house was a weed-infested hellhole until about, I dunno, a month ago? Then I did this to it. The little barrel over to the right is filled with violets that I had tried to plant in this space but they got eaten by weeds (milkweed, mostly) and I tried to save them. I actually successfully transplanted something! They’re doing fine!
The tree, I don’t know what that is but I’ll probably have to cut it down before it grows into my foundation, if it’s not there already.I didn’t put it there.
We have (this will be a theme) a surface root problem in both lawns. There’s an enormous something-tree (again, I don’t know plants) in the front yard. It’s big and pretty and I like it but it also has these for, like, a ten-foot radius around it. This is where Deathwish the toad lives. I keep planning on putting some sort of box around this tree to try and contain the roots but it keeps not happening on account of 1) complicated; 2) expensive; 3) hard work. This area is, obviously, impossible to mow and must be kept under control with a weed whacker.
I own three weed whackers and not one of them works right.
This used to count as a completed project. This tree, also in the front yard, also had a surface root problem, so I built this little planter box around it. When I built the box, it was relatively straight and square; the roots have taken care of that and now it looks all crooked and janky. Also, I was stupid enough to not bother putting some sort of cloth underneath the rocks, so now grass is growing through them. This needs to be torn down and rebuilt this summer; who knows if I’ll actually get to it or not. Another clue for next time: mortar. Which I know nothing about.
This is by our front door. These vines wrap around to the front of the house where the woodchips are and continually threaten to take over the front porch and the sidewalk and have to be hacked back. I think you should be able to click on these to get a bigger version; that big thing in the middle has been hacked down twice and keeps growing back. In an ideal world, I’ll rip all of these out, put the grass back in, and put a lawn swing here; I don’t like the vines either aesthetically or practically and my front porch isn’t quite set up right for a swing. But, again, work-time-money. I weedwhacked this a couple of weekends ago, so this is actually pretty cared for compared to how it usually looks.
This patch of bullshit is on the side of the house. Bek has carefully planted several peonies here, and carefully arranged landscaping fabric around the peonies to keep the milkweed from reestablishing itself; the last two years have been a constant battle against milkweed. You can see that the milkweed gives no fucks about our bullshit little landscape fabric and is back anyway. She has threatened to cleanse this part of the lawn with flame if the landscape fabric didn’t work. I look forward to that happening at the end of the summer.
Speaking of cleansing with flame…
The rest of the side yard. That big bush in back is a burning bush and I love it; we have three of them and in “ideal world” mode I plant several more along the house back here, mostly so that I never have to mow it again. See the big dead patch there? Our neighbor on this side of the house is retired and his lawn is immaculate, which makes me hate him. Two years ago he literally poured gasoline or something else horrible along the border between our yards here to keep my weeds from encroaching on his lawn. I was so overwhelmed with new-house-baby-coming-JESUS-FUCK-THIS-LAWN that I didn’t even care. That patch of land still hasn’t recovered from whatever the hell he killed it with.
I want more.
That’s the front yard. Now, just for perspective, we live on a cul-de-sac, so our front lawn is wedge-shaped and relatively small. I can mow it in twenty minutes, easy; fifteen if I’m in a hurry. The back yard is much, much, much bigger; probably easily four times the area of the front yard. Have you gotten the impression that I hate my front yard? Pfah. My hatred for my front yard is nothing compared to my hatred for the back yard.
Let’s start with this tree. It’s a… Chinese elm, maybe? I dunno, some kind of hardwood. We called a Tree Guy out last summer (several, actually) to discuss ways to get rid of our locust tree, a job that, as it turns out, no landscape guy anywhere wants (we called four of them; two refused to even provide us with an estimate, basically declining the job, and a third guy quoted a price so high that I’d cut the damn thing down myself or attach a fuckin’ lightning tod to it and hope before I paid it) and he looked at this tree and went “Yeah, fifteen-twenty thousand bucks to take that one down. It’ll chew up saws like nobody’s business.”
I’m not super fond of the ground cover here and would like to get rid of it but I’m not sure grass will actually grow under this tree. There’s probably tons of surface roots underneath it, too. The huge pile of dirt is from the peony project in the front yard, and the giant tree branch fell off a neighbor’s tree into our yard and I was too lazy to hack it up. In an ideal world, there’s a hammock under here; it’ll probably never happen.
Note, by the way, that there’s no border or anything trying to contain the ground cover. I actually tried to do this my first summer, only to discover that between the roots and the ground being made of fucking cast iron, the job would have been virtually impossible– or at least close enough that I wasn’t willing to put in the work. Digging around any of the trees in either lawn is incredibly labor-intensive to a point that I frankly wouldn’t have believed prior to buying this house.
Turn around from the tree and you get this, covering one side of our back porch. This used to be some (apparently quite expensive and nice-looking) form of vines or ground cover until the drought last summer killed it stone dead. Some of it is trying to come back; the vast majority of this is weeds, some of them very large. Also, tomatoes.
This is just outside our back door. It’s a flower garden, technically; at least half of what’s in it will flower, some of it beautifully, at some point during the summer, which is paralyzing, because it means that for the most part I have no idea what’s going to look pretty at some point and what’s a weed that I can hack up and throw away with impunity. The flower in the first picture above is to the right; those close at night and open up during the day; since this picture was taken early in the morning they’re closed right now. There’s also some pink flowers to the left (dying off now, as their two weeks have expired) and some blue ones to the right. It makes me insane. Off-camera to the right is… I dunno, a wisteria, maybe? A big bush that bursts into flowers and looks really cool for about two weeks. Bek knows what this is; I’ll edit it later. (EDIT: I am informed that this is a lilac bush.) Also: there are at least two or three different species of actual trees growing in here; see if you can spot them.
A little farther down from the door; the maybe-wisteria is to the right in this picture. This used to be green and pretty. It’s basically Hector’s pissin’ bush now. He killed it. I’d cut it down, but it’s covered in an inch of tarred-on dog piss and I’m afraid if I cut it down he’ll choose something else as a target for his poison stream.
Opposite side of the lawn, next to the ground-cover-money-tree. This also is filled with weeds and flowering things, and tons of plants that my mom looks at and goes, “That’s a blabbity! I wish I had a blabbity! You can’t cut that down!” and makes me insane. I think the giant thing with the big leaves is called an elephant ear; I have no goddamn idea what anything else is but some of them will flower.
To the right: locust tree, which I hate. In the middle: more locust trees, grown from the first locust tree. This happens every year no matter how many of them I cut down. I feel like the white-edged leafy things are a weed; sometimes I try and kill them all and they come back.
More goddamn surface roots, these from the locust tree. In a few weeks, we will enter my favorite part of the year, where hundreds of little locust trees start growing from these roots. I hate the locust tree, have I mentioned that? And I hate baby locust trees?
This used to be the world’s scraggliest and ugliest pine tree until I cut it down last year. I’ve left the stump, not out of laziness, but as an example to the rest of the plants not to fuck with me.
I don’t know what the hell this is but it’s huge and it takes over the middle of the rest of the yard. Sooner or later I’ll cut it down; it’ll probably grow right back.
There’s a fence in here, and behind it, a utility abutment that doesn’t actually belong to anyone. Last summer I spent two ninety-five degree days pruning this back and clearing the fence. Last summer. As in this all grew back in less than a year. I will not be repeating that experiment; fuck it.
This is just grass, mostly, but because of the way the fence is constructed I can’t come up with a way to prune it down short of getting a pair of goddamned scissors and cutting each blade individually– which, needless to say, isn’t happening. I’ve taken three or four different stabs at it with different tools (including a reciprocal saw and a machete, among other more practical, first-choice types of tools) and I can’t find a way to do it that doesn’t make me suicidal.
My tulip tree. I actually know what this is and I like it; it may be the only plant in the back yard that that is true for.