DIY Landscaping

We moved to West Virginia in January, 2013. As the winter rolled into spring and then into summer last year, it was clear that our new yard needed a lot of TLC. However, we still had so much unpacking and organizing inside the house that, apart from mowing, we just closed our eyes as we walked in and out of our house, ignoring the yard-tastrophe.

A year later and there is general order inside, so this summer I was ready to improve the house’s curbside appeal. Brian and I have lived in townhouses from 1999 (our first year out of college) to January, 2013. Up to this point, our homes always have been a middle unit in a row of homes, so we’ve only had a sliver of a front yard and a sliver of a back yard to manage. Because I have little experience with landscaping, I can become overwhelmed easily during both the planning and the execution stages of revamping a yard. This is why for so many years when my mom asks me what I want for my birthday, my go-to response is: her. It’s the perfect birthday gift to have her visit to help me come up with landscaping ideas and then make them happen. She is so gifted and experienced with this; she is one with the dirt. Once she gets the ball rolling, the task at hand becomes more manageable and I’m able to contribute during both the idea and execution stages. I’ve learned so much from working on projects together with her, even during small projects like potting annuals.

Now that we have four exterior walls of a house to care for, there’s a lot more yard to manage as well. The goal this year was to tackle two sides of the house, and my (June) birthday wish from Mom was no different. Brian, my mom, and I each put in about 10-12 hours of work on both Saturday and Sunday of my birthday weekend, and Brian took the day off from work on Monday to finalize a couple of the projects.

Here’s a look at the before and after.


Front Yard - Before

The abominable treeman steals the show in this picture. But did you know that trees can be trimmed? Originally, I had wanted to remove the tree because of how it dominated the yard. It never once crossed my mind to trim the tree. As you’ll see in the next photo, oh what a difference a hair cut makes. Trees can be trimmed. I have learned so much.

I actually trimmed the branches much more than this (see below), but even this first cut substantially opened up the yard.

Here are some more before shots of that front plant bed.

The front bed required a lot of attention. Behind the overgrown bushes – surprise! – there were more bushes. The hidden azalea bushes had lots of potential but limited opportunity given the weeds and suffocating location. The river rocks are beautiful, but they were buried underneath all of the overgrowth, and in the corners of the bed the rocks were dumped haphazardly. The solar-powered lights didn’t function, which is just as well, because I felt no need to light up and show off our patch of weeds to the neighbors.


The side of the house and the entryway were blank slates.

In summary, there was a tree monster, massive overgrowth, and weeds. Anything that had potential (like shrubbery, rocks, and lights) looked like it was arranged by a toddler (no offense to toddlers).








The plant bed was cleared and widened. The front bushes (not sure of their name) were trimmed, and the azaleas were moved to the side of the house. The rhododendron was originally next to the bushes (where the hydrangea is now), but given its height and shape we thought it’d work better in the corner. Once the rhododendron was moved, we had that open space between the bushes and the corner, which we filled with the hydrangea. Hydrangeas are a favorite of mine, so I was glad to work one into the mix.

Once we cleared the front plant bed and re-purposed the rocks from around the base of the tree, there were plenty of river rocks to frame the bed and wrap around the side of the house. The side plant bed extends about 40 feet. That side yard isn’t used or seen much, and low maintenance landscaping is my style, so we planted a dozen hostas along that strip. In creating the side bed, we excavated several flat sheet rocks, which we used as stepping stones to the faucet and as a flat surface for the hose storage container.

New, inexpensive solar-powered lights were used to line the walkway leading to the house, and an abundance of potted plants were added to the entryway.

Not shown in the above photos is our garage, which is left of the entryway. Although not quite as exciting, on the other side of the garage we added some plants around the cable/electrical boxes as well as some potted flowers.



I’m so grateful for the help on these projects and I am excited to watch the plants mature and fill in over the coming years. Ah, West Virginia, feels like home.



Leap Year

I was sitting at my desk at work when lightning struck with multiple pops in varying pitches. The endless pellets of the downpour followed. Today was different from other thunderstorms in which I’m compelled to retreat indoors. Today the storm was so inviting. Our office blinds usually remain closed day and night (a horrible way to treat an office window), nevertheless I kept looking toward the window like a cat transfixed by a chirping bird just a pane of glass away. I was longing to be outside during the storm. I envisioned an escape — running to a park and collapsing in the grass. If there were a rock big and smooth enough for me to lay on it, then I would. I wanted to lay flat on my back with my arms outstretched and the rain beating at my body.

I am in transition, moving to a new state from a bigger city to a college town. Our home and church will change. Our grocery store and bank will change. I’ll look for a local doctor and hair salon. I’ll learn to navigate streets that totally confuse me right now. Hopefully we’ll find a church that fits, and in time I’ll serve there in some capacity. It may not look anything like how I’ve contributed at our church for the past seven years, or it may. And even with a great PhD program experience, the move to a tenure-track faculty position at a research university still feels like I’ve been promoted from being a sorter in the mail room to CEO. This aspect of the transition will be the most challenging new territory to navigate.

I have started to pull away from my current life but haven’t moved to my new city and new life yet. It’s that moment of time in the middle of a leap where the hind foot has left the ground but the front foot hasn’t landed. In this moment it might look like I am flying, but all I notice is that I’m not touching the ground.

I wanted so badly to be drenched by the rain today. I wanted to lay in the soaking wet grass to cry and pray and probably even smile. Mostly I just wanted reassurance from the gravity of the downpour, to feel grounded when I’m groundless.


The Persistence of Memory

La persistencia de la memoria (1931) is Salvaldor Dalí’s most famous painting.


Dalí died exactly twenty years ago last month, and it’s too bad, because I would have loved to have invited him over for dinner this week.  I’m sure as we would have stood in the kitchen, sipping sangría, laughing, and wildly trilling our r’s while waiting for the paella to cook to perfection, he would have enjoyed the winter scape on our patio.  Our own nature-made Persistence of Memory.



Reinforces My Hypothesis

My hydrangea bush continues to flaunt its personality. The massive flower from June that I showed in my last post has faded to a green with rosy tips as it rounds out its life cycle. At its peak it was a pale blue, almost white. The color of hydrangea is dependent upon the pH of the soil, which is why I am perplexed to see this bush produce other flowers that are a deeper range of pinks, blues, and purples. So we have a range of color and color depth. Could the soil vary so much within this small space, causing roots that feed different branches to grow in soil with widely varying acidity? Or is this bush just bizarre?

As I walked around to the back of the bush, I discovered an even more massive flower than the first one. Also green now (and the current masthead), this flower is almost the size of a basketball. Is this normal?

We should probably have testing done…maybe the backyard really is radioactive.


Praying Legacy

We have often speculated that our tiny little backyard has traces of radioactivity; plants and insects seem to grow unusually large there. In the case of our hydrangea bush, we welcome the over-sized growth. Here’s a bud from June that eventually became massive.

<small>A new bud on the horizon</small>

Growing to become ridiculously large

It’s more pale than some of the other flowers, but beautiful nonetheless.

More pale than some of the others

Some of the flowers are so big that they cannot stay upright without the support of the surrounding leaves.

Some of the flowers are so big that they cannot stay upright without the support of the surrounding leaves

While documenting the mutant flowers, I stumbled across this little guy…

So cute

Keep praying, my friend

I couldn’t help but wonder — How large will he grow to be? And is he the grandchild of this praying mantis we saw knocking on our door in 2006?…

Knocking at our door

(This one was probably about 6 inches long.)

Probably about 6 inches long

Upon closer examination, I really do believe the two are related. They had similar features and mannerisms. They shared the same work ethic. And they both spoke with a British accent.