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When it comes to owning a house, projects can often get split into two distinct categories:

  • the projects I’m nearly doing backflips over to get done right this very second
  • the projects I’d rather peel my own eyelids off before I’d do more than once

It’s entirely possible for a project to be both at the same time. For example, I am thrilled over the idea of bringing my kitchen mood board to life. But the idea of painting another four to five coats of primer and paint on the upper cabinets this month? Yeah, I might need to be drunk for part of that. Or maybe all of it. But it’s gonna happen.

But by far, the project that I both want to blink and instantly have finished and yet dread the most is the back yard. The main reason? There are so many problems with it, I’ve hardly known where to begin.


Overgrown, full of bugs, and creeping up my trees – this ivy needs to go. My ex was kind enough to cut down all of the ivy from trees three years ago (to keep the ivy from invading and killing off the really tall pine trees that exist back there), but we left the ivy alone after that. Ivy, just like any other plant, happens to grow, so after another two years of turning a blind eye, I’m back to where I started. Only the ivy that was killed off before never fell off the tree on its own, so each tree has a lovely layer of dead, rotting ivy underneath the fresh growth. Ick.

Not only that, but ivy attracts less desirable outdoor creatures into the yard. I’ve never seen snakes or rats, but I have heard that both of these are common around ivy. I’ve read that a deterrent for snakes is simply to have a dog with the ability to roam all over the yard, which Charlie does, but I’m not exactly crazy about using her as my first option as snake repellent. Especially after hearing that Melanie’s dog was bit by a copperhead.


I spoke about the sinkhole in the yard (and what I suspect caused it) here. What I really need to fix it is a large amount of dirt. I think I might be able to find some places in the Atlanta area that are either cheap or free (thanks to Craigslist), but I’m simply not looking forward to the process of filling, tamping, filling, tamping, and so on.


My neighbor is actually pretty nice, but she grows bamboo near the fence that separates our yards. The bamboo spreads fast and is hard to control; it’s basically the herpes of plants. And it’s both destroying the fence between and spreading bamboo into different parts of my yard. I’ve mentioned it to her casually, but she isn’t taking any action to rid the problem. Rather than taking it any further with her (sometimes keeping the peace with a neighbor is simply a better idea than getting into a disagreement), I’m just battling it as I can to keep it out of my yard.

Every other overgrown plant

My back yard’s biggest fault is my own:  neglect. Everything is overgrown. The azaleas and Japanese laurel have thrived, but they badly need to be trimmed.

And the weeds have grown into freakishly large weed trees.

Overgrown branches

Some of the branches on the far side of the yard have grown to such an extent, they block out any chance of sunlight. Other than shade-loving shrubs, it’s a little difficult to find plants that might want to grow near the house without much sunlight.

Lack of a garden

The cement patio is small and relatively boring. Against the house, there are two strips about two feet wide on either side and lined with scalloped red brick. I dislike everything about this area. I hate the red brick, the lack of plants, and especially, the mosquitoes. I suspect that at one point, there were plants growing around these spots, but they were all dead/missing by the time I moved in, and weeds have taken their place.

You actually can’t even see the brick in this photo… but it’s there.

So what now?

Sure, I’m complaining about the back yard like I’ve just moved in. Only I’ve left it to fend for itself for years. So why am I bringing all of this up now?

Exactly. Thanks to a number of things falling into place, it’s finally time to get this clusterfork (intentional typo) of a yard under control. Even as I type this post, my arms are rubbery and shaking for a rest. It’s been three and a half days of hard work. I needed a great big push to convince me to get started; and once I did, things really began to click. I’m not quite finished yet, so I can’t quite share the results. And there are so. many. pictures. So for the next week or so, expect a healthy amount of outdoor posts with a sprinkling of cabinet updates too. I guess it’s true that momentum from one project can always spur your energy into the next!

How about you? What is your backyard situation like?

P.S. Don’t forget that today is the last day to enter the Aquasana giveaway – winner will be announced tomorrow!

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  1. I think I like that kind of yard work best, because with a set of loppers (that’s probably not the correct term for that tool) you can make such a big difference in a short time. However, I can see that we have the benefit of living in the country and throwing it all on a burn pile and you probably don’t have that convienence where you live. I’m excited to see your after pictures!

    Our yard is in dire need of landscaping against the house. I am thinking I will plan and design this winter and start in the spring.

    1. Yeah, either loppers (what my pro landscaping neighbor calls them) or lopers (what my dad calls ’em). Either way, big badass clippers ;)

      A reciprocating saw with a blade for outdoor projects is also very handy for the bigger branches.

  2. Sarah,
    You never cease to amaze me! Your humor, can-do attitude, brute strength, mind-over-matter…the list goes on. I was laughing at the “drunk” comment, again at the “herpes” comment, and then couldn’t believe (do they let you write that?) you dropped the big CF! Love it! Hey, sometimes there is no other way to describe it. I am the mom that has been threatened with the “swear jar”. Like put 25 cents in everytime I swear. I am not horrible, but when you spray yourself at the sink as if you were showering, a (rhymes with hit) may come out. My gosh. I kept thinking that I wish you could just hire out that mess in the backyard. Or sign you up for the “Make over my Yard” type show. Yet, you are tackling it! And you just started a new semester–CRAZY! Where are your friends to at least help with the painting of the kitchen cupboards. I thought that is what people do…”come over, help me paint, free pizza, and pop” :)

    1. Haha, see, you would think that’s the way it works, but the truth is that when it comes to painting, I’m too much of a control freak to trust someone with the brush! So when I have my parents or a friend offer to help (which you’ll see in subsequent posts), I make them pull weeds and trim bushes. Ha!

      1. And you know after I wrote that I thought “control-freak”. I remember you said it. Hey me too!

  3. My entire yard is a CF! Overgrown shrubs, two trees that need to be cut down, and more trees that need to be limbed up. It’s definitely overwhelming. Props to you for getting started!

  4. Backyards can be a mess, much like yours but with some elbow grease you can make them look great. Can’t wait to see the pics of what you have done.

  5. I don’t know if you have a solution in mind for the bamboo, but 18″ wide sheets of metal or heavy plastic/rubber buried along the fence line with 2″ exposed and well overlapped edges should do the trick. I’ve been considering it myself to deal with ivy and morning glory coming over from our neighbors.

    And, as someone who has delt with a yard ringed by ivy, hang in there. Perseverance and getting the roots out works. Smothering with cardboard and a thick layer of mulch for a winter/year can also help deal with any leftovers or weeds, add in a nice layer of compost and the worms will do all the work of getting it ready to plant the next spring or fall!

    1. Thanks for that suggestion – never considered it! You sound like a gal who knows what she’s doing :)

      1. Thanks! You happened to catch an area we’ve been working on lately. :) 5-6 years ago we got a design plan done up for the whole yard, and we’ve been working it in sections since then, doing most of the work ourselves. The couple hundred dollars we invested up front has really helped keep each sub-project stay focused, set what order things need to happen in (watering system before any hardscape or planting), and that the whole would be cohesive in the end (so close!). I can get distracted by plants and all their details so having a plan helped me to know that the plants would thrive where they were planted. She also helped with tips and hints – like the cardboard – and local sources for the native plants she recommended. If you find someone you click with, it is an approach I highly recommend.

  6. I mean this in the nicest way possible… I think you may be a bit crazy. Tackling a major landscaping job and your kitchen at the same time? Those are not two light weight projects (speaking as someone who’s yard is also a CF).

    1. Haha, you’re just NOW figuring out that I’m nuts? I’m doing a happy dance that I fooled you for this long ;)

  7. I am empathizing with you. 7 years in my house and I have avoided my backyard. Too much shade so hard to grow grass….trees too big near house, but don’t have the thousands needed to hire to cut down (quoted almost $3k for one – yeesh)…no patio…blah.blah.blah. This year my boyfriend decided we needed a “real” fire pit and with the help of my 3 y/o grandson, they cleared further out back, dug out some stumps and built a stacked stone fire pit…that holds 4 foot logs! I walked around the yard with my loppers…lopping away … raked some debris and watched :) Someday I hope to have a truly usable backyard! No doubt I will gain inspiration from you! Looking forward to your upcoming pics!

  8. I kinda envy you that you will have trees and plants when you get through with the project! I live in an area with very little rainfall. To ‘clean up’ my yard takes mostly a hula hoe to get rid of the mustard plants and other weeds.

  9. Just read Broke Ass Homes post today and saw her linkup to your blog… Then realized somehow I’d lost you from my reader/feedly. So happy I caught that! It’s so exciting to read back the past few months!

  10. I have no idea how, and if, I can paste a photo in the comments, but I have spent this year expanding my sad small concrete pad in my backyard into a 16×13 patio. If you want any ideas, I’m happy to share. No one else is interested in talking to me about it anymore! I’ve been working on it for more than a year. :-)

  11. Oh man, I can sure sympathize on those giant weed trees. Those look like the pokeweed that I used to chop down every time it was finally too big to ignore… um, around the 6 foot mark. (I’m horrible at keeping on top of outdoor projects.) Be careful Charlie doesn’t chew on it — it’s toxic! I had to treat the stumps with Roundup a few times before it finally killed off the taproots.

  12. I wouldn’t be to concerned about poisonous snakes. You might see some black snakes, but I would not count on it.

  13. Herpes of plants. Heh heh. That totally made my night a little better. It’s almost 2:30am and I’m catching up on your posts while procrastinating on a paper that’s due at 3pm for a class I wish I didn’t have to take, and I gotta say, reading about the weed STDs in your backyard is way better than writing a comparison of Einhard and Notker and their writing on Charlemagne. Way. Fucking. Better.

  14. My backyard is a mess but I can’t see it now since it is covered with snow. Lol