Monday, November 29, 2010

I Bought a Jungle

I'm all for verdant outdoor living, but the backyard was a bit more than I was willing to live with on a daily basis.
Jungle? Nope. My backyard before moving in.

A mire of briars
Love lost

 The backyard was covered in 30+ years of overgrowth that included, but was definitely not limited to, Tree of Heaven (a horribly misnamed specimen), ivy, briars, poison ivy, and wild grape vines. With my back against the house surveying the super slope of a backyard, I spotted something. With some fancy footwork, I picked my way down the set of marvelous metal stairs set into the hillside beside a large tulip poplar. Someone some day in years past loved this property.
House-eating Holly

To say the backyard was encroaching on the house was quite literal especially when you took into account this specimen of Ilex domina mandi.  Ok I made this Latin name up but it is quite accurate.

The extents of my backyard. YAY! Not.
Now to move on from the flora to the structure of the house...the back steps exiting from the kitchen left much to be desired architecturally, but the kicker that required immediate action was the structural integrity. There was none. I'm guessing that the previous owners were not very outdoorsy as I certainly would not have navigated these stairs on a regular basis. The demolition guys said that there were two rebars tethering the stairs to the house.
Don't step on the crack or you'll break your back.

The slope of the stairs is not an optical illusion.
All I could envision was my two-year old, two miniature schnauzers and me sliding under the code-abhorrent handrails and plummeting into the briar patch below.

Decision: The backyard had to be cleared of brambles and briars. The stairs had to be demolished and new stairs had to be built prior to move in. A fence was going to be added to cage my canine kids and save me a little sanity.

I had worked with this wonderful landscaping company that understood my love for native plants. As they cleared the backyard, I gave them instructions to salvage anything that was salvageable i.e. if they found perennials from years gone by, a hedge of forsythias, or a dogwood sapling (a girl can dream...). They found a black snake, a garter snake, a copperhead snake, years of lost dog toys, children's toys, and the unfortunate but expected plastic and beer can debris. The underlying ivy was left on the steep slope of the yard and the rest was cleared to topsoil.

The fence was built - shadow box style wood fencing from each of the back corners of the house to the top of the steep slope then black vinyl chain link fence to encompass the rest of the yard. The vinyl made me cringe, but I did the best I could given my budget and the slope that had to be navigated. I was careful to leave about a 10' corridor on the back edge of the property so the deer and other footed wildlife could continue on their daily roam through the property if my neighbors behind me ever built a fence.

My treehouse
Cardinal having a little breakfast
If I was going to build stairs, I decided I should just build a deck. With all of my green building material training, I priced recycled plastic lumber and Forest Stewardship Council Certified lumber. Sometimes the economic reality does not jive with one's desires and a choice must be made. All of this work was going to be exterior - outside our enclosed indoor living environment. I bit my lip and opted for the standard treated wood. I added structure above the railing to hang lights, wind chimes and bird feeders. When seated with my back up against the wall of the house, I have this wonderful feeling of being in a tree-house. My son loves putting out bird food (seed) and bird juice (hummingbird nectar) and calling the birds to come eat. The birds seem to like their new neighbors.


  1. I can commiserate. I priced recycled plastic lumber for the gazebo platform I built this summer and had to make the same disappointing compromise as you. I like the deck view, but then having seen what I built when we were in Blacksburg... You knew I would. ;-)

  2. If I was a Cardinal i'd have breakfast in your back yard, but alas as I am barely a Monsenior I'll have to pass