Friday, October 15, 2010

Several Fires Burning

I haven't posted in awhile, but we've been plenty busy with backyard projects.   We seem to have several projects going at once-- always something I vow not to do.  Alas, nothing is completed yet, and the backyard looks more torn up than ever.  But I do feel that we're making progress (albeit slowly).

I've been concentrating on this area in our patio. 

It was dominated by the over-sized banana tree and the ubiquitous agapanthus you seem to find in every yard around here.  I actually like agapanthus in moderation, but I've already pulled out a dozen, or so, scattered throughout the yard and there are still so many left.  It was quite a chore pulling up the incredible amount of agapanthus roots.

So we went from lushness to tada...a big mess.

I know it looks a little barren, but I'm not going to miss the banana tree, which after the first frost turns into a bunch of dead withered leaves. (Apparently you aren't supposed to cut these off until after any chance of frost has passed, so you're stuck with them.)  For half the year the tree looks hideous and the other half it attracts bees and makes a sticky mess.  We also discovered it was starting to grow underneath our siding. 

I've finished the initial clean-up and now the real fun begins. 

There's nothing more exciting than a blank expanse of quality soil.  I can't wait to get my fingers dirty.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some Progress with the Kids' Veggie Garden

It's so exciting (and daunting) to have an empty garden barrel just begging to be filled with plants.

I have three of these, which I'm going to put in the kids' vegetable garden.  We weren't that impressed with the garden designer's plan, so we're coming up with our own.  (So much for our raffle prize.) Revamping this little area just got an unexpected jump start when these barrels recently went on sale. 

I've cleared out most of the plants we want rid of-- mainly some overgrown rose bushes and a lackluster banana tree.  Despite their beautiful flowers, I thought the rose bushes were just a little bit too inhospitable for a kids' area. 

Each of our kids will have a barrel to call their own. Obviously, I'll have to give the little ones some added guidance, but my 4-year-old is stoked to pick out what veggies to grow in his barrel.  He's leaning towards carrots (which he refuses to eat-- go figure) and strawberries.  I'll have to research what kind of edibles can be grown alongside each other.  Since growing edibles is new to me, I have no idea about the different soil requirements, etc.

I'm much more comfortable picking out the ornamental plants for the area.  I want some color, so I'm thinking of some salvias and lavender. 

Hopefully this is a project I can squeeze in here and there while the little ones are napping.  I'd like to get most of it planted in the next couple of weeks.  We'll see...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mum's the Word

I rarely go to Home Depot for plants, but I ventured over there today.  (It's the only nursery that I can actually take the two little ones since they have shopping carts, rather than the flatbed wagons.  I would love to try balancing my twins on one of those.)  But I digress.  I couldn't believe they were selling mums for fifty cents apiece.  Wow!  (I went to Whole Foods later in the day and saw the same plants going for five dollars.  OK-- maybe no shock there-- but still.)

I'm not even a huge fan of mums, but I stocked up.  For a mere $3.50 I now have plants to brighten my yard during the awkward autumn months.  But way more importantly, I got cheap entertainment for the three kids.  My little girl spent a good 45 minutes moving the plants from one place to another, before settling on the stroller.

Then, when my son came home from preschool, we spent an hour planting them (not always where I envisioned, but I got to love his enthusiasm).  Best three bucks I've spent in a long time.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

No Go with the Angel's Trumpet

Don't you hate it when you think you've found the perfect plant for a difficult spot, and it turns out to be poisonous.  I'm looking for a large shrub or small tree with either colorful or interesting foliage, and maybe if I'm lucky, even some flowers.

I thought an Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia) would fit the bill:

Photo by  Carol Foil

But alas, according to my trusty Sunset Western Garden Book all parts are poisonous if ingested.  The little ones are getting better, but I still can't trust them completely.  (Just today they were ripping off random vegetation on our walk and popping pieces in their mouths.)

Here's the area we want to revamp.  The cornerstone plant will replace our crazy banana tree.

I actually don't mind the banana tree, even if the banana pods are a little funky-looking, but it gets so ratty in the winter (looks completely dead with the first hint of frost), and it attracts way too many bees.  My four-year-old will miss it, but this is my domain-- the grown-up patio.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Little Patch of Green

Our initial plan was to rip out all of the grass in our backyard (there's not much), and replace it with wood chips or some other soft surface for under our play structure.  I'm beginning to reevaluate that.  We're still going with wood chips under most of the structure-- one of my little ones is a seriously bold climber and she's already taken a few tumbles, so padding is a must for my sanity-- but I think we'll leave a small patch of grass.

I used to wonder what's the point of such a small lawn, like the one pictured above.  But a little green really does soften the yard and help bring it all together.  Besides, we'll need a place to pitch a tent for backyard camp-outs, or an open expanse for a couple of cartwheels when the kids get a little bigger.

Image credit: Jeremy Bevan Gardens

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Using Online Tools to Design Your Play Structure

How would you like this in your backyard?

Or this?

Or even this?

Me too, but it's not going to happen.  The last one is a little more realistic, but alas, still out of my budget. These gorgeous play structures would set us back thousands of dollars, and that's why we're planning on building our own.  (Plus we have an awkward area, so we really need something custom anyway.)

These play structures are all from Cedarworks, and even if they're out of your budget, it's well worth visiting their site.  Cedarworks' has an easy to use design tool, which you can use to tailor your design to fit your space.  Grid lines let you know how big your structure is, so you can figure out what is feasible.  First you pick out a structure, then you can add and subtract a variety of options, including slides, swings, ladders, rock walls, and even a crow's nest complete with a rope and bucket. 

If you're at a loss at where to start, you can browse other customer's latest designs.  Some are pretty wild and I'm doubtful they've all been ordered.  There are also tons of example structures to use as a starting point. You can even view your design in 3-D.

If you're serious about ordering, or just curious how expensive your creation is, you can submit your design for a quote.  I received my quote by email within a couple of days, and a beautiful catalog a few days after that.  

By flipping through the catalog and tweaking various designs on the Cedarworks' site I've come up with several workable ideas for our future play structure.

Image credits: Cedarworks

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Finally, Summer!

So, after two months of not seeing the sun in the AM, the past two mornings we've awoken to beautiful sunlight streaming through the windows.  It's the end of August, but summer has arrived.  Yay!

I can finally bust out with the summer toys that have been stored away gathering cobwebs.  The twins had a blast with the water table.  Alas, they weren't content to just splash their hands in the water, but both ended up climbing into it, which looked pretty precarious.  This was my signal to rush out and buy an actual wading pool.  I even got a good deal, since a change in season is quickly approaching. 

Needless to say, I've already heard people grumbling about the heat and lamenting the disappearance of the fog.  It'll be back soon enough, which is reassuring.  But for now, I'm going to dig out my shorts and enjoy the heat.