The northwest region is well-known as a gardener's paradise. However, I've yet to meet anyone who can simply stick a plant in the ground and get great results. Many around here have hard clay soil that needs a LOT of amending. In addition to the clay, we face another challenge, as our home was built on an old rock quarry.
Every time we dig down to plant something we are guaranteed to hit rock. Some are small, but others are quite large. This one (about 12" long) is a sampling of what we find. Since our home was the last to be built on our cul-de sac, our side yard was used as a dumping ground for a lot of the rock that was dug up. Needless to say, you simply cannot dig into or till this part of the yard.
So, when it came time to landscape our side yard, rather than dig down, we decided to build up. I designed it to have 1 large (20' x 4') raised bed for veggies, and two smaller (4' x 4') beds on the shadier side. I also wanted a patio area with a table and chairs, as we spend a lot of time out front with neighbors. We had a retaining wall put in, and included steps from the driveway up to the patio.
We hired landscapers to do the hard work...build up the side yard, level it out, frame the patio (which we paved), build the retaining walls, steps, and raised beds. After that was done we got to work, completing it ourselves.
(As soon as the beds were ready, I spread perennial seeds in them. You see, after the side yard was completed, the next project was the front yard. While we worked on that, the perennials grew in the side yard beds.)
We did this in spring/summer 2006, and ever since, this has been one of my favorite areas. I feel free to add splashes of color, some yard art, and get a little funky.
Here's a tour of the side yard for you, from the beginning:
Sadly, I didn't take a complete "before" shot. But you can imagine a 12' wide sloped side yard (from the back fence down to the sidewalk) full of rocks and weeds. That's pretty much what we started with in May, 2006....
In the picture above, you can see some of the rocks we have come across as we landscaped other parts of the yard. They came in handy as fill!
The pictures above are the framework that we started with. This is what we hired landscapers to do. From this point, we started filling in behind the retaining wall, getting it level for paving.
We brought in good soil/compost and filled the raised garden beds. Next, I sowed perennial seeds...shady (in small square beds) and sunny (in the larger bed). These plants were all transplanted by the following spring ('07) and placed throughout the front yard.
The smaller, shadier beds were turned into shady flower beds with hydrangeas as the anchor. The climbing vine in the photo below is a Blue Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea).
In the spring of '07, we started our first vegetable garden in these beds. However, a lot of dormant flower seeds also sprouted! I moved these to the front/back yards as they came up, though many stayed right there with the veggies!
Below are pictures of the front yard that is just below (east of) the side yard. These were taken in the spring and summer of '07:
To add interest to an otherwise boring gate/fence (yes, one board is missing!!), I started collecting and stripping the branches from our plum trees as I pruned them. I have a whole other post on this (soon to be written...) as it was a pretty cool process. I formed an arch, and started growing clematis on both sides of the fence. I can't wait to see what this looks like when the plants have matured!
To add to a more inviting gate look, I added this sign which I purchased at a local garden faire:
On the pavers, I'd hoped to be able to put a small table with four chairs, but it was really too cramped. So the original set that I'd purchased on clearance (end of summer '05) stayed in the backyard. I found this little set at Lowe's and it fits the space much better. Someday I'd really like to add a third chair though, as there are three of us in the family, and we do sit out here to eat and read.
Here's a close-up of the left side (a rhododendron bed). I planted evergreen creeping thyme between all the triangular spots between the retaining wall blocks, to soften the edges. Because this wasn't a perfectly square patio, we had a lot of little bricks custom cut to fit. You can see some of them in the picture below. My neighbor had a wet-saw and was kind enough to cut them for me.
And, below is what the side yard looked like this past spring ('08). The photo at the very top was taken in August '08.