This is the 5th year that we have been sharing our story of landscaping our yard. We started this blog as a way to keep track of what we did each year, and over the years, have gained a small following. We chose to landscape our yard ourselves rather than bring in a company, because we liked the idea of the adventure and both of us are outdoors people, so we thought it would be a great way to truly enjoy our yard. And we have. There is so much to be said about your vision of the perfect yard evolving naturally as you work the property and flow with the ways that the yard wants to shape itself. We have changed our plans a number of times, often in minor ways to make the design more feasible or because we realized things along the way that made the changes necessary. As we are nearing the tail-end of the major development, I wanted to share the less positive side of taking a few years to develop your property to exactly what you want it to be. I want to preface this with the fact that we would not change how we have done this, and are still very happy that we are doing this ourselves, over the span of some years. The excitement and pleasure we get from completing each project and seeing the yard come together has been amazing. The sense of accomplishment that we get even now, and what we know we will experience once it is done, is a wonderful feeling. Plus, the frustrations never last long because we always find a way to make each other laugh about it in the end.
Constant state of flux
There is a lot that we do in the yard that is “for now”. We know we are going to have to change it, or move it, or get rid of it altogether, but in that moment, it is necessary. The frustrating part is that feeling of moving some items around to different places over and over again. It feels like redundant work and energy better spent on actually landscaping the yard. But there’s the rub. In order to complete areas, we have to use the undeveloped areas as staging or storage areas. This can include piles of soil that we know will be needed to backfill behind the walls we build, compost piles that will need to go to the compost facility (massive amounts of weeds that will not be as large an issue in the future), temporary garden beds, garden items (such as straw) that don’t have a permanent home yet, irrigation, etc. It is nice when we get to keep something in a spot for a few years, but those items that we end up moving about numerous times a year can be a little exhausting.
This state of flux also relates to some of our plants. With the design being mostly decided, with some areas of fluidity and change, we have had to plunk some plants into places that we are certain will not be their forever home. This creates a bit of a conundrum, because we don’t want to ruin well established plants, but sometimes, we don’t have much of a choice. The most difficult part there is that one of our neighbours has generously given us a rhubarb plant and a cherry tree. Both times they were offered, we explained that we didn’t think we could take them because we didn’t even know where to start with where we could put them. Unfortunately, both times we ended up with the plants anyways. I love that we have a cherry tree, but it is not the right type for what we have planned, so it will need to go. I am hoping it has not established itself too well into the yard, so that I will be able to dig it up and give it to someone who can use this type of cherry tree. I am confident that the rhubarb will likely be ok as they are such a hardy plant, and it was already a large transplant from the neighbour. The first move didn’t bother it at all, so we are hoping that once we have a forever home for it, it won’t mind when we have to move it.
Some of our issues with flux comes from our own decisions. As the yard has evolved, so has our experience with gardens, resulting in making some changes to our designs. Again, they are not usually too major, but even small changes can lead to bigger changes needed in the future. For example, one side of our yard was going to be a permanent compost area. That will now be our gazebo area because it gets more of the afternoon shade, which we will really want in the summer months when it gets to be 40* heat. The compost on the other hand, will enjoy that heat, so we swapped corners. Seems small, but snowballed other plans.
We love that we have had the opportunity to adapt our yard plans as we have gone along. This has led to all sorts of ideas, some scrapped, others not thought about until later in the planning. All of these changes are things that we agree upon, and know will make our yard that much more perfect for us in the future. The problem is the domino effect.
As mentioned in a previous post, a lot of our development needs to go in a specific order to make things work smoothly. We have determined the priority of all the projects to best optimize our time and energy. The problem with making design changes, is that it almost always changes the priority of that domino effect. This takes minor changes and turns them into a great big wrench that we haphazardly throw into the cogs of our landscaping machine. Fun right? Generally we make the best out of it, but it has led to some things being put off longer and longer.
Likewise, owning a house sometimes throws it’s own wrench into your plans. Last year was a great example of it, although we still accomplished a lot, we had to make a trade for our shed, which we have been desperately wanting to build for many reasons, so that we could re-finish our deck. The deck took priority because it couldn’t wait another year without becoming a much larger issue, so we didn’t build our shed. This year, we built two more fences because suddenly they took priority due to our back neighbour wanting to do the back fence. We figured we should just get the other side fence done as well, but that chewed into what we had planned on spending in our yard this year. So, we have delayed the shed once again. At some point, likely next year, it will become our priority, but it hasn’t yet, because we do have a small tin-shed that does some of the job. The rest of it we deal with in the shop, which is beginning to reach capacity because of all my tools.
All of it is things that will eventually get done, but they can cause inconveniences along the way. Yes, we could just get it done, despite the cost, but the reason we chose this route, other than for the enjoyment of it, was not to burden ourselves with a hefty landscaping cost. I can’t even imagine what a landscaping company would have charged us for all that we have done so far. Our costs (not factoring in labour), have already been over $24,000. Spread over 5 years, that isn’t so bad to deal with, but we still have a few more big projects to go, which will continue to increase the price. We prefer to pay as we go, rather than gain interest on a pay-down option.
This was more of a past frustration, but still niggles a little. Up until last year, it felt like our progress was slow, and I do believe it was. We did a lot of learning in the first few years, and although we are still learning a lot, we were able to speed up a bit last year. It also helped that due to COVID I was working from home and able to adjust my hours to optimize the times of day that I was out in the yard. Working in the cool mornings was much more productive than in the heat of the afternoon after work.
Last year was a turning point because we made huge headway with getting those walls finished on the left side of the yard, and having them ready for this years garden. It opened up the bottom area for us to start getting leveled and shaped. I am bound an determined to get the right sides walls done this year and be done with building rock walls. They are beautiful, but exhausting. I also have to wait to cap them all with wood until they are all finished. Again, I could probably do it now, but I don’t want them all being different colours due to wear from the elements. I would rather wait and get them all done at once, next spring.
Like I said, there is still some waiting, but I feel like we have finally hit efficient running speed and will continue to make a lot more headway. I don’t want to wait to much longer to truly enjoy the summers in our backyard. I want to be bothered with picking the small weeds from the garden bed. I want to be bothered with entertaining family & friends surrounded by our lush and beautiful garden. I want to be bothered with focussing on levelling up our gardening game and really get into what we are planting and how we are going to use it all. I don’t want to be bothered much longer with feeling like I need to make deadlines to get things done so that we don’t fall back to slow progress. I don’t want to plant any more plants in places that are temporary homes. I don’t want to continue moving necessary things to different places around the yard to make way for landscaping work. I’m growing impatient for the lounging part. Though, I am concerned about how much more we will need to exercise once we are no longer landscaping. I feel that it has helped me keep fit these last few years.
I suppose we will always be waiting on something. We will be waiting for the seasons to change so that it is garden season, though I do plan to have a hard-top gazebo that can handle the snow, so that I can have a warm fire pit to enjoy during the fall, winter and spring.
Every year I share our landscaping injuries. We have been very lucky and have not had any life-changing major injuries (that we know of), but there have been a few that have not been simple scratches or strained muscles. Kurt has injured his back by over-doing it with shovelling the terraces. I have permanent scars from the wire cages for the walls. Both of us have had periods of time where it is more than a strained muscle that has kept us from getting back into a big project. I suppose part of it is that we are inexperienced and stubborn. We are learning as much about our own limits, both physical and mental, as we are about actual landscaping. We are not experts, so we are likely to make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes lead to cuts, scratches, bruises, or strained muscles. Our injuries are less and less as the years pass, but it is something notable about this adventure.
In this we have been lucky. All of our mistakes to date have been minor and likely only things that we would notice. That being said, there has been a high chance of mistakes from the get-go. We have learned everything we need to know from YouTube videos, trial & error or quick conversations with staff at nurseries or building supply stores. We have also been lucky to have advice and guidance from family and even our neighbours.
Mistakes in life always suck. It means having to fix or re-do something that you thought was already done or working. The key to not being frustrated is doing what you can to make sure that the mistakes that are made are going to be minor. We joke that if something were to go awry with our rock walls that we will sell the house and start over somewhere else. The good thing, is that (as far as we can tell) that will remain a joke. We erred on the side of caution building them. The posts are deeper than they need to be. We cemented them so that they are solid. We used sono-tube in the sandy areas. And we have monitored them carefully. Yes, they will eventually need to be replaced because we used wood posts rather than full blown gabione cages. We knew this when we decided on this style, but we will do everything we can to get as long a life out of the posts as we can, and when the time comes that we need to replace them, we will tackle that problem.
They are just that. They are minor frustrations. They do not take-away from all that we have accomplished or all that we have learned. They are easy to get over and get past. Often we find ourselves laughing about it later, or one of us will do something silly to lighten the mood to help get past it. This post is more of an honesty piece about choosing this path. It is not all rainbows & sunshine at getting to complete such a cool task and making something truly your own, tailored to exactly what you want. At times the projects are a therapy to deal with other things in life, like our last year of COVID. At times the projects are exciting because you have learned something new and managed to accomplish a brand new task using a brand new skill and everything worked. At times, you get to sit back, relax and enjoy the surroundings that you have created. And at times it is all utterly exhausting both physically but also just thinking about.
When frustration comes knocking, I often think of one of my past co-workers. She used to have a saying that was best used to explain how she felt during some of her most frustrated times. I found it hilarious at the time because I didn’t understand the simplicity of the phrase, but have since utilized it a number of times.
“I can’t even…”
“You can’t even what? What does that mean.”
“I can’t even.”
“That’s hilarious. I don’t understand you.”-Conversations with a co-worker
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