We recently tackled some updates in our back yard. I haven’t shared this space much because – to be honest – until now there wasn’t much to share! It was in a DIS-GUST-ING state. Let me show you.

But first, a little preamble. Our back yard is quite small. It is one of the compromises that we made when purchasing this house. There were so many other things that we loved about our house – the layout, the fact that it was a “2 story plus basement”, the greenbelt that we back on to, the neighbourhood, the proximity to Chace’s school etc. that we decided even though the yard was small, we could work with it.

We have big plans down the road to give it a complete makeover – new fence, designate ‘zones’ (dining, lounging etc) and a new deck to name a few. We haven’t finalized that plan yet but when we do, I will share. We envision a true entertaining paradise. It’s a future project so for now our goal was to just clean it up and be able to use it.

A little disclaimer – we are not slobs so you can’t judge based on these ‘before’ pictures (please don’t). When we moved in last summer we didn’t tackle the yard at all because we were busy unpacking (and working). The photos are a result of past gardening mistakes, follies, crazy people, neglect, a very rainy and windy Autumn and Winter (although I did clean up all the leaves during that time) and the fact that (did I mention) we back onto a greenbelt. The greenbelt Gods laugh as they rain sticks and debris down into the garden (true story, I’ve heard them).

But finally, we got our hands on it for the first time back in early/mid April. And it’s looking much less insane now. We even managed to rope my parents in to helping which was a HUGE help (thanks Mom and Dad!)

BEFORE (yuck). The view looking down from the upper deck. The deck is off our kitchen which is on our main level. The property slopes though from the front to the back so the deck is about half a level off the ground.


I should mention at this point, my love for black mulch. After cleaning up all the garden beds, we topped them up with topsoil, did a bit of planting and gave everything a layer of black mulch. I am obsessed with it.

You may have seen this photo if you follow me on Instagram

BEFORE (seriously?) A very flattering shot of our skinny upper deck. There are stairs that go down to ground level off each end.

AFTER: Chefkev got his power washing hands on it. He power washed #ERRYTHING by the way.  He showed the concrete, the shed, both decks, the deck rails and even the patio furniture who was BOSS. He was a man on a mission!

BEFORE (stop!). Looking down the stairs at the oddest (yet still very functional) deck ever built.

AFTER: All cleaned up. Along the fence I used one of the big black planters that we had from our last place (see them in action here and here). Inside I planted Crocosmia which apparently will look a bit like a ‘birds of paradise’ flower when it blooms. I can’t wait to see that!
BEFORE (sigh, it gets worse before it gets better). The weird little space between the deck and fence.

AFTER: filling in that space with some pachysandra (a nice ground cover). Those little shrubs will fill in this space over time.

BEFORE (avert your eyes!). Looking off the deck across the back yard.

AFTER: just better all around right?

BEFORE (gak!). The weird garden bed I lovingly call ‘the trough’. “sooey!”

AFTER: all cleaned up and ready to go to pasture.

I’ll note here that aside from a little lot of of elbow grease, we didn’t invest much in this space. We did buy the top soil and black mulch as mentioned, and a few plants (which I will mention where relevant). But that was pretty much it. As a result, some areas remain empty (like above) but that’s okay for now. It will come in time. The hostas and ground cover above were already there from previous owners.
BEFORE (ouch). Looking off the deck towards the fence.

Okay, so here is where things get weird. See that plywood board? Well, under that was a pond insert. Or a water feature insert. I’m not sure. It was not hooked up and was literally a big plastic tub. So, so weird. And I didn’t take a picture of it (WHY!? THE SHAME!). And it’s long gone now. But trust me. It was weird. And stinky. So, out it came. And see all those rocks? They got used too, in a new and different way (to come). You can see a sneak peek below.


BEFORE (all the ugly). Across the yard, looking back towards the deck.

Man. This is the worst best one. I think my favourite part is the piece of damp cardboard that was left over from a spray paint project and then got blown there by the wind. It adds a nice designer touch don’t you think? And that red ‘egg’ is a dog toy in case that had you stumped.

AFTER: thank you.

BEFORE (make it stop!) I don’t really have much to say here.

AFTER. We could only go up from there right?

BEFORE (yup, it gets uglier). The other set of stairs leading up to the deck.

AFTER: Cleaner and safer. The stairs were SO slippery before they were power washed.

BEFORE (in all it’s slimy grossness). The upper deck from the other angle.

AFTER: Much more inviting.

BEFORE (blech – that auto corrected to “belch” which actually might be just as relevant here). A close up of the upper deck railings and surface (where it wraps over the edge).

AFTER. No belching required.

BEFORE (I think I might be crying). The trough from the other side.

AFTER: Much better. Pulling weeds (and rocks) and adding black mulch sure does make everything better.

BEFORE (sinister music). The shed. Looking mighty creepy in all its side-sludge glory.

AFTER. Now no horror movies can be filmed here.

BEFORE (feast your eyes on this). Here is another crazy wrong that we righted. It’s a bit hard to see but the section far right had a wooden border. It was actually a wooden (3 sided) box. That angled piece on top was nailed down (to hold the corner together?) Or perhaps to rest that little wire planter on it? I have no idea. You can see the third ‘side’ running down the middle of the garden towards the back.  I am guessing maybe they had a herb or vegetable garden here (or the idea for one)? Regardless, it was empty when we moved in.

To the right of that we had a few feet of the stone border. Which was weird because it didn’t even go to the end. So, we ripped it all out and just made ONE nice garden bed. That was my dad’s idea and it looks so. much. better.

AFTER: yay!

BEFORE (sad face). Moving down the same strip of garden bed toward the deck.

AFTER: All cleaned up (with nowhere to go). But at least now it looks good!

BEFORE (are you bored yet?) Check out that amazing deck finishing. What the heck were we supposed to do here for zero dollars to make it look better? We didn’t want to put any money into finishing it off better as this is not a permanent solution. Oh, and don’t forget to spot the plywood piece that hid the stinky tub far right.

AFTER: Ta da! My favourite part of yard now. My dad took the old stones that were there and made a little ‘platform’ on the ground. It was quite the puzzle. On top of that I used my other black planter and planted Crocosmia in there as well. We used the remainder of the old stones and stacked them on each side of the planter – effectively closing up that gaping hole on the right side of the stairs.

To clean the stairs up I got rid of all the random pieces of decking, Chefkev did his power washing ‘thang’ and I filled in the messy void under the stairs with some black mulch.

Here are a few closer looks at what we did with the stones and planter to clean up that area in front of the deck.

BEFORE (will it ever end?). Smelly, dirty board.

AFTER: Still dirty. But in a good way!

BEFORE (ugh). The big pile of rocks. That was fun.

AFTER: To fill the void left by the rocks we planted angelina (no, not the one you are thinking of), voodoo and black mondo grass (great band name).

BEFORE (last one!) Looking down towards the lower deck from the upper deck.

AFTER: Now there’s a space that calls my name. “Come and have a cold bevy on me Elaine!”

And who am I to turn down a talking deck?

I grabbed some citronella candles at Home Depot this past weekend too. The yellow roses are from our garden. We inherited the rose bush when we moved in and had no idea what colour they were until it bloomed. It was badly pruned in the past so I actually had to cut it back quite severely as it was pretty much falling over, but before I did, I clipped the two blooms it had.

It’s amazing what a small budget and a lot little elbow grease can achieve. Our backyard may be small, but now she is mighty too!
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