I liked to call our old deck "the raft." Or "the dock." It reminded me of a little dock out in a lake...the kind you'd swim to when you were a kid and then lie around for hours in the sun, occasionally doing flips off the side of the dock into the lake?
I didn't spend a lot of time at a lake with a dock as a kid, but somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I know that at some point I experienced a dock like that. And I'm certain that docks like that belong in lakes, not attached to houses and surrounded by grass.
|Our backyard before we started work on it.|
|Another before, but from a different angle. There are, ahem, |
a few extra pieces of furniture sitting back there in this shot.
The dock/raft was not a great place to gather. It wasn't big enough, for starters. There was no great focal point and no good way to arrange furniture to seat more than six people. I always kind of wondered when I might fall off and break my ankle. It also lacked afternoon shade and in the summer it turned into a great place to get a tan as long as you had a ten gallon jug of water to keep you from dehydrating like a raisin.
The patch of grass between the deck and the retaining wall wasn't really big enough to play in and it was hard to keep it green. We live in the desert. Grass doesn't really belong here, so to have grass in the back that wasn't even the right shape or size to use for anything seemed kind of lame.
Shall I continue with the multitude of problems in our backyard? Let's see...we back up to a hill and at the top of the hill is a neighbor. There are two scrawny pine trees between our house and theirs, but no trees to provide a great screen.
Deer walk through our yard regularly and browse on whatever is not deer resistant, so the few trees we've attempted to plant have been consumed. The back hill is hot and dry and the soil is a crumbly mess of dried clay. We have a drip system but we never enriched the soil and because it's not an area where we like to hang out, I haven't put much effort into getting anything to grow. So it looks like crap.
I do have some awesome peonies, though...for two weeks a year.
When we were ready to get to work on the backyard, we knew it wasn't something we could tackle ourselves. Plant a few plants? Yes. Reroute the sprinklers, pour concrete, dig out part of the retaining wall? Uh, not so much. That's the kind of stuff we leave to the professionals.
So I started with my friend Patrick's awesome service, Home Project HQ. I listed our project there and got bids from a few different contractors. The one who we ended up going with, the one who I now consider a friend, was Andrew Newland of Newland-Scaping and Whole Yards.
When Andrew came over to see the yard and chat about what our goals were for the space, I knew pretty much immediately that he was the one I wanted working on my yard. Andrew is not like other contractors I've encountered. Let's just start with this: he doesn't look at me like I'm nuts. That was enough of to sell me, right there. But on top of that, he's creative, artistic, and willing to try something different. He gets bored when he does the same thing over and over again and he seems to enjoy the challenge of working with materials in unconventional ways. He cares about sustainability and we see eye to eye on the elements of a healthy lifestyle. My initial impression of him was super positive and I'm thrilled that we were able to work with him on our yard.
During our initial meeting, these are the goals I gave Andrew for our yard:
- rip out the whole concrete block retaining wall and replace with river rock
- bump back part of the wall to enlarge our backyard space
- pour an exposed aggregate patio with a flagstone border and make it big enough to cover almost the entire backyard
- install a wood-burning fire pit
- build a pergola using wood from the existing deck (this made other contractors squirm)
- plant at least three, preferably more, Blue Spruces to screen our yard from the neighbors
But instead he sent me this amazing video of what our yard could look like. Not everything on the video was within our budget, but Andrew was willing to work with us to get the yard done in phases or to let us do what work we could do ourselves in order to get close to our budget.
Here is the proposal that Andrew sent:
I know, right? Is that completely amazing?
To stay close to our budget, we agreed to shrink the patio a bit and only push back the retaining wall in the immediate vicinity of the fire pit. We also agreed to use river rock to replace just the part of the retaining wall that we pushed back instead of all ten million feet of retaining walls that we have in our yard. Instead of doing all the planting for us, we agreed that Andrew and his crew would just plant four Blue Spruce trees. Scott and I will landscape the rest bit-by-bit. We also agreed (after some research and discussion) that the fire pit should be natural gas instead of wood burning, and so in his bid Andrew included the cost of running a gas line.
I was a little wary of having a fountain -- I wasn't sure that we could deal with the maintenance, but Andrew talked me into it and Scott and I are both thrilled that he did. It's much less maintenance than I thought it would be and it looks and sounds lovely. Plus, it's made out of copper pipe, reclaimed wood, and reclaimed corrugated metal. My vocabulary sadly lacks the appropriate words to describe its beauty. You'll just have to see for yourself.
I'll be back in a few days to show you how things are progressing!
psst...for more about our backyard redo, check out these posts.