After we completed the firewood pad we started addressing the 'pit.' As a reminder it looked like this.
The first step was to remove all the cardboard. This was gross. It was soaked, covered in insects and generally ripped into small chunks when you tried to pull it up. The real goal of sheet mulching with cardboard is that you just let it decay into the soil. However, given the fact that we needed to level the area, and that we were not together enough to remove all the packing tape from the boxes (which would never decay) we had to pull it all up. Fail.
Underneath this lovely gross cardboard was hard packed clay mixed with old dead grass roots. There was no way to level it without breaking it up. This was a back breaking 3-4 days of turning over the dirt shovel by shovel. I wished for a draft horse and plow but alas nothing came. We may have been able to rent a commercial tiller, but I still not sure it could have gotten through the wet clay either. It was exhausting work and for that reason I have no pictures of this process.
Then something amazing happened, it stopped raining and got hot, really hot. In the most un-Portland March we got a 70-80 degree Easter weekend. We came out with the sun, using our little tiller (thanks Mom) to break up the large clay clumps and begin to level the entire area. The tiller is amazing for this work, I turned up our earth until it looked like the Garden of Eden. Josh followed behind with a rake pushing dirt to the low spots and raking down any hills. We even got to take some of the dirt from the pile over along the side fence that the past owner had decided to randomly amass.
By Saturday we had leveled the space, compacted it, and dug out the round circle for our firepit. We were done early so we decided we could go to a local Ciderfest and enjoy the sun. Glorious!
On Sunday, we went to buy boulders for the fire pit, only to remember it was Easter (we are heathens) and that the rock place was closed (not heathens). We were devastated to be so close to the end and yet so far. We decided to try corporate America, knowing that it had long since given up religion for consumerism. Bingo, Lowes trip. There was, of course, no real boulders at Lowes, but they did have some attractive gray concrete blocks that were designed to be installed in a ring. We were torn, we want the pit to be a bit more organic and less masonry- but we were here and it was pre-made to go together flawlessly (something boulders would not do).
A full car of 28 blocks, 4 bags of river rock, landscape fabric, pins, some plants, and mortar and we were off. We got home and I swear made the fire pit in about 30 minutes. It was the quickest house project ever. Josh mixed the mortar and shoveled it in and I laid the stones. When we were done we filled the bottom with river rocks and back filled the dirt around the edges.
A few quick passes with landscape fabric which we pinned down. A cuddle session with Gus and we were ready to put the gravel down. Josh powered through on Sunday afternoon and moved about 30 wheelbarrows of gravel while I spread it. Power to the man! A little mulch and plants and suddenly our scary backyard looked a bit like one of those fancy HGTV shows. Kirchbot sun power for the win!
A small round up for the space: three new Monterey Cypress trees ($200), 8 new grasses, 8 new ferns, and 12 perennial flowers ($150), endless amounts of Mexican river rock and river boulders for the edges ($350), fire pit stones and river rock ($130), mortar ($10), landscape fabric ($50), reused our existing pea gravel, reused cinder blocks, relocated existing 2 blueberry bushes, 4 ferns, 1 euphoria, and 1 lilac. Pulled out our old Adirondack chairs. I think the total was right around $900
We got a break in our normally bummer spring rainfest and had several nice weekends out in Portland. This encouraged us to get moving on our increasingly scary back yard. In the fall, Josh and I had decided we wanted to install a fire pit in our backyard. Being pro safety and anti grass we thought it would be best to install gravel around the area. We took all our old boxes and laid them on top of our grass from the corner of the porch to the back fence. This is roughly a 20' x 15' area.
Then something happened which we are not proud of, this area became a logical dumping ground for things we didn't know what to do with. Remaining stones were placed to hold down the cardboard, left over mulch - left in a pile in the middle, a random door we scored for free and then had no idea what to do with, random scrap wood stacked in the corner. The end result was horrible and I looked at it all winter.
Please note: this is the improved backyard after I had removed the mulch, door, and Josh had taken out the blackberries.
On the landscaping front it was even worse. We went into the winter without doing our standard cut back of much of our landscaping. We were honestly so worn out and the weather turned bad so quickly we just never got around to it. The invasive blackberries were everywhere. The forsythia fence line was about 10' deep and 20' tall. It was a jungle. We had piled all the gravel for this fire pit along the house under the guest room window. Which made it difficult to even reach the backyard from the porch.
Our first step was to cut back all the foliage and remove the blackberries once and for all. Josh dug out all the blackberries along the back fence. I worked over on the side cutting down the forsythia and some invasive vine. If you have ever done this, it is horrible work. I hated removing blackberries they have roots that go everywhere and the prickers get you with even the best gloves. This took a full weekend and we ended with only one small corner in the back of yard cleared.
This is after I cut back the forsythia and only to expose our rotting fence and more construction debris
Josh took advantage of this space to build a small pad for our firewood to live. He leveled the area and reused some amazing 1970's decorative cinder blocks that once were a fence to build an open lattice and then filled it with gravel from our pile. I followed behind to move some ferns from other spaces in the yard, and purchased an awesome lime green pine tree. I also moved the blueberry bushes that were on the back fence to the front of the porch. They had never been very productive so I was hoping they would work better with more sun.
Weekend one ended with a 5' x 8' section completed. It felt great, but we knew we had a long way to go. The good news was we reused free blocks, already owned gravel. The bad news, I had at least 20 yards of lawn debris and we had only cleared half of the area.
Dear lord do we need to paint this baby blue horror- I pray for the willpower to come