Friday, October 7, 2016

Backyard Transformation

When we moved into our house, Greg made a big concession.  The lot was not wide enough for a 3-car garage, so we had big dreams to build a shop/garage in the backyard.  After more than 10 years, we were no closer to building that shop.  Greg has mowed weeds and sprayed weeds and bemoaned the weeds the whole time.

We have been thinking about the need for a swing set for the girls, and the only real place to put it is in the middle of the weed patch.

So Greg let go of his dream, and decided that a shed would suffice for cleaning out the garage and storing everything there.  That will leave plenty of space for a play set.

We got a bid from a landscaper to clean up the weed patch, prep and level a space for the shed, and create a space for the play set.  We talked about fixing some of the problems we have in the dig out, but Kyle (the landscaper) said he couldn't really get equipment in there.  Kyle had great ideas and suggestions about extending the top level of the yard to accommodate the play area, fixing the rock wall, and putting in a hill with grass to make the transition.

Kyle came to take some final measurements and get ready to start the project the next day.  Greg has been frustrated with our sprinklers for years and the lack of coverage, plus our grass has not recovered from the vole attack it suffered last winter.  As we were walking around, Greg asked Kyle what it would take to scrape off the grass, level the dirt, fix the sprinklers, and lay sod.  It was about the price of our fancy steps and planter bed next to the concrete, so we nixed that and decided to fix the grass.  

Kyle is funny because after we decided that, he said something like, "not that I'm trying to spend your money, but as long as we have the equipment in to take up the grass, we can fix your water feature and dig out."

And that's how you more than double the scope of your project the day before work is scheduled to begin!

Here is a panoramic view right as the work was starting.  Notice how the rock wall goes around the whole yard, and it starts pretty much at the corner of the raised concrete (bottom left corner).  There were some really sketchy rock stairs there that were not very usable.  That's the part we decided not to redo with "real" stepping stone rocks.  You can also kind of see that the brown concrete pathway (right side of the pic) has quite a slope to it.  The brown concrete is much slippier than the gray and it was a hazard with little feet.

Sometimes it's hard to gauge distances with the panoramic setting, though, so here are a couple of low-quality pictures taken through the window.

Within just a few minutes, the curbing and the rock wall were gone!  It was amazing how quickly things got done.

The crew busted up two big sections of concrete.

We were starting the Spencer family reunion later that afternoon, and it was hard to wait all day long for it to come.  Lynlee stayed distracted by watching the workers.  She literally stayed right by these windows all day.

. : the second section of concrete being removed : .

End of day 1.  The grass that was scraped off of the yard was buried in the extension of the top level.  The rock wall was reduced by more than half and moved over to the middle of the concrete section.  The rocks that were removed from the wall were relocated to create a planter bed behind the water feature.

Here's a less stretchy panoramic one to get a better feel of the scale of the extension of the upper level.

The shed area is leveled with gravel put down, and everything is filled, leveled, and graded.

A better view of the new planter beds and the start of the new entrance into the dig out.

Greg realized that work would be stalled until we got the play set up, since things were being measured from around the play set.  We came home from gymnastics Monday night to find him unboxing everything and getting it ready to build.  I jumped in to help him and we got as much done as we could before we were out of light.  After we were working for a while, the girls got really cranky, and I realized it was past 8 p.m., past the girls' bedtime, and they hadn't had dinner.  Luckily, Ellie knows how to make chicken nuggets in the microwave, and she made dinner.

When we first showed up, we were just in time to help Greg with a treasure hunt.  Somehow all of the drawers came out of his socket set, and the pieces were everywhere.  It was ... exciting ... to find a home for every single piece.

. : Daddy's helpers : .

Even before it was built, Cece loved the slide the best.  we were back out the next morning at 7 a.m.  The guys at the Lifetime store said it would take at least 8 hours of work with 2 people to get this built.  Greg laughingly said that he thought we could be faster than that.

We were not.

It took us about 10 hours to get it all done, plus Jayme jumped in for an hour and a half at the very end as well.

Success!  And it was even more special that the first ones to play on it with us were our cousins from California.

Breaking in the play set a little more the next day.  It was hot and dusty, but oh, so worth it!

The rock steps down to the hot tub are placed.  Divider material (not sure what it is really called) is being installed to divide the grass from everything else.  Kyle, the head landscaper, came to walk the project with us, and he and Greg decided that the rocks closest to the patio were not quite right.  So the crew started the project to change the curvature there and bring the upper flat part over two more feet.

The rock wall is fixed, the divider material is in place around the yard, the fire pit and path to the shed is done.  We chose a loose, ground up shale product.  The crew compacted it and it is level and surprisingly solid.  You can pick up individual pieces if you scrape at it, but otherwise it stays put.

We met Kyle at his wholesale garden center and spent a ridiculously long time picking out plants.  We had a general idea of what we wanted the function of the plants to be, but do not know enough about types to really pick.  Kyle made a lot of great suggestions, and we went to look at them all.  We liked his recommendations, but he kept on saying, "or, you could try this kind" and off we would go to look at another plant.  The girls abandoned us after 45 minutes of walking back and forth across the fields and played in the truck bed.  In the end, we picked all of his first round recommendations, plus some dwarf lilacs (my pick, because I miss my lilac bushes from our first house) and daisies.

It's a big day, the day we have been waiting for!  The plants, trees, and sod are being installed planted.

Greg and Kyle made the final decisions about where to put all of the plants.

This swing came damaged in the box, so we took a picture to send to Lifetime in order to get a replacement swing sent to us.

At the end of the day, everything looked awesome!  It feels so good to be at this point and have everything be (mostly) done.

I always liked our water feature, but I like it much more now.  It looks more purposeful and natural with the trees and plants around it.

We very carefully explained to all of the girls that they could not walk on the grass for two weeks.  Cece, especially, took this to heart.  She was so good about always walking around on the path.  When it was okay to walk on the grass, she got mad at us all for a couple of days, pointing emphatically for us to move and signing NO GRASS WALK.

Greg and I started the morning with just Cece as our helper (Ellie and Lynnie were playing with Tammy).  Our goal was to get the weed block down, as the rubber tire mulch was scheduled to be delivered on Monday.  We got the first rows installed, and then were trying to figure out how we were going to get the weed cloth underneath the playset, since it is extremely heavy and takes 4 men to move it.  Paul and his boys showed up for an unrelated matter, literally in the nick of time.  They got themselves underneath with Greg and lifted while I rolled the weed cloth through.  It worked out perfectly.

The rubber tire mulch was delivered yesterday morning, and the nice delivery driver let us help him push the pallets all the way back to the edge of the concrete (it was supposed to be a curbside drop).  We had the time to spread it around today.


 Lynnie's cute friend Paisley came over to play, and she hopped right in to help mix up the colors.  Then her daddy came looking for her, and he hopped right in to carry the bags and help dump them out.  He was so fast, and saved us a lot of time.  That's home teaching in action!


 Here are some higher quality shots from earlier in the day.

When Kyle first recommended the hill, I was super skeptical.  I could not see it being any fun, but thought it was worth a try to make it safer for the girls (less rocks to fall jump off of).  This hill has turned in to one of the best things about the yard.  The girls roll down it over and over and over again.

Actual, functional, safe stairs out of the dig out.

The water feature is awesome with the planter bed.

Since we worked so hard on the back, we spent all afternoon last Saturday weeding and trimming the bushes in the front yard.

The first time mowing the grass in the back was a big deal, and took forever.  It was so long and so thick.  Greg is a trooper!

Greg has spent a lot of time researching sheds and decided he wanted a Tuff Shed.  He had everything picked out, and then the salesman told us about a sale that was coming up in a couple of weeks that would save a few hundred dollars.  So we waited to purchase the shed.  And then, since they sold so many that day, it took another month for it to be our turn for the shed to be built.

It was amazing to me, that this relatively small pile of supplies, with two skilled workers and about 6 hours, turned into a shed.

Now that the shed was built, Kyle and his crew came back for one more day and finished up all of the details.  They widened the entrance of the path to the shed so that it lines up with the door opening.  They put more timbers around the dirt pile, put down weed cloth, and filled it with rubber mulch.  Lastly, they installed more of the black border around the play area and finished off the edges of the weed cloth.   Lastly, an electrician come and installed lights inside of the shed.

There are still a few more little projects (like installing motion sensor lights on the outside of the shed, building the fire pit, and redoing the rocks under the fruit trees), but the backyard is officially transformed!

A little birdy told us that Santa might have plans to bring the girls a teeter totter for this new play space.

Whew!  If you made it all the way to the end, I'm impressed.  I know this was a monster post, but I wanted to have everything documented in one place.  Looking back, this project didn't take that long, even though it felt like it did.  There's probably a life lesson in there...


Elizabeth said...

It looks fabulous!! I especially love the stone path by the water feature and all the greenery that's been added there too.

Magson said...

Nice pics! ;-)

Steven R Camp said...

I have been hoping that you would fully document this and put it up for view. An amazing project. Beautiful. Have always loved your backyard. But, this is such a beautiful thing. What a grand place for children, family, and "future family"! love you 5!
Love your careful planning and hard work. Isn't it wonderful to do things for our family?


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