Old, overgrown yard is making me give up...

limarchar(Philadelphia z6)May 11, 2006

For 3 yrs, I have lived in a 1792 house with almost an acre, and tried to do something with the yard. It was landscaped nicely many years ago, how many I can't guess, but has nice bones. It also has many segments/sections to it, which I like, but some are relatively nice and some are out of control.

The people who lived here before us did not care for this house and yard. Old trees fell down and they had them cut up, but left the wood piled up way back in the yard. Too much for firewood, and left to rot and attract mice. It's far away from the house, but I want to get rid of it. For a year or so I would throw away a bit every week, but I had young children and got too busy too bother.

Now even the parts that looked relatively good when we moved in (relatively, relatively...the weeds were gone in the major flower bed area when we first saw the place but had attacked by the time we took possession) are out of control. I need to hire someone to weed and mulch, and begin to reclaim the yard...but it is so large, I want to do it bit by bit, as we don't have the money for it (we have to do the gutters, paint the house, work on a bathroom, etc.) What can I do for approximately 2400/yr, not counting the lawn, which we have mowed? I don't need to pay for design, or plants--we have more than enough plants, and if I want more (i.e., if we decide to reclaim some weeded portion of the lawn, and need to plant something there) I will buy them. We only have one "garden." Most of the yard is either wooded, wilderness, lawn, or bush/ivy/fern/pachysandra and thus does not need mulch. But we need to have large numbers of bushes cut back, etc. Should I give up? How should I proceed? Is it realistic to hire a firm to reclaim one section of the lawn at a time? Does anyone know of a reasonable firm that might do this for me?

I don't mean to grouse. We are lucky enough to have beautiful dogwoods, a wonderful red maple, an old but beatiful brick patio, a stone porch, a whole area with beautiful ferns that cheer me up every year, and probably 100 trees of various sorts all over the place. I don't mind overgrown when it's pretty (I don't like a single plant in a huge area of mulch at all). But weeds skulking up the sides of trees--that has to stop, right?

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westhighlandblue(z6 PA)

You have a "tough row to hoe," as we'd say in Texas. But really the row ahead for you is just a lot of work, it need not require a lot of money.

There is a movement, in landscaping, that calls for the recreation of natural habitats for wild creatures. You could think of your yard as halfway there. For instance, the woodpile does provide shetler to animals, even if just mice.

It is reasonable to start with the gardens closer to your house and work your way out. Mulch is just $3-4 a bag, and perennials for you beds can be purchased for the same price at one of the national home improvement stores. $2400 a year, with your own labor, would certainly spruce your yard up, and quite nicely.

Or you could hire someone. If you'd like, I can give you the name of my neighbor who is in the biz. But frankly, gardening is like housework, its never done. So very soon, especially on $2400 a year, you'll find yourself in charge of improving and maintaining your gardens. Only you can know if you'll have a better chance of sucess if someone else gets you started, or you start the process yourself.

Take a look at the good bones of your yard. Think of it as a forest clearing, and bit by bit simply tidy things up. At first, simply set your goal as tidy wilderness. Then upgrade your expectations, once you've acheived that goal. Make a promise to yourself to spend two - three hours a day in your yard. This may seem like a terrible burden, but think of it as an opportunity to be outside and commune with nature. (I work twelve hour days in a CC office highrise. Yet I spend fourteen hours a week working on my tiny bit of land in Montgomery County because doing so makes me feel centered.) When my babies were little I got in the habit of getting up an hour earlier than they did. To this day, I routinely get up at 6:00 a.m. so that I can spend that first precious hour of the day, before the rest of the house wakes up, in my garden with my dogs as my companions. Later in the day, I'd work in the yard while my children ran about like wild creatures. Don't use weed killers or insectides in your yard, because you do have children.

Get some books and read up on what you'll need to do to clean up your yard. For instance, there is a trick to trimming bushes back. (You need for first pruning from the inside of the bush, and then months later prune the oustide of the bush.)

If you'd like the name of my neighbor who is in the biz, let me know. My email address is westhighlandblue@hotmail.com.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 1:56PM
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earthlydelights(6 pushing 7)

i can certainly feel your pain in this one. when i moved to my home, the outside (i won't even comment on the inside) had not been touched for 12 to 15 years. the house was owned by a woman in her mid 90's when i purchased it. other than her front lawn (which no longer exists), nothing, and i mean nothing, had been touched. my yard, was an absolute jungle. it took me a year to get it to a forrest, another year and it became a plain tapestry for me to start from scratch. the sad part was she had everything and everything growing and i was really able to only salvage about 10% of it. all that could be salvaged, i took my chain saw and buzzed them down to ankle level. they grew back and are now managable. i hated it in the beginning, but it was the only way.

i made the big mistake of working everywhere, in all directions, as opposed to properly working one area at a time. then the light bulb went off and that's what i did - concentrate in one area at a time. i started with my front, ripped out all those nasty hedges and yews and dead azaleas. i have no grass now, it's beautifully landscaped (if i do say so myself) and laid a path to the back. from there i worked on other sections. i'm in my house almost 11 years and i'm not done. from what i understand, you are never done. i still have one problem area, but cement is really starting to look good LOL - it is probably the only part i will ever have done professionally, because i need a bobcat to come in, dig and level.

the one thing i did learn was how to separate all the perennials, i also took whatever anyone gave me - especially if they grew well, and put them in where ever i ripped something out. that's one of the things i highly recommend. if you are weeding an area, make sure you put something in it's place to force weeds out completely. split your hostas, iris, as well as those native orange lilies (oeople call them ditch lilies), sedums work well too. under some of the trees, kill off the grass and lay mulch - even that playground mulch and here and there put little sitting areas or even that ground ivy or pachysandra. there's so much you can do.

as for your downed trees, cut some of the trunk enough to bury a little in the ground for it to become stepping stones. the wood that remains that is "rotted" rent a chipper and have it ground up and then mix that with some good dirt and use that as mulch. (you might want that to sit for a year).

read up on lasagne gardening and it will save you digging and weeding. start now and by fall, you can get a boatload of bulbs in it and it's one last area to worry about come spring.

my biggest suggestion to you - as a fellow gardener - is DON'T GIVE UP. i know an old house in and of itself is a royal PITA, but gardening shouldn't be - it's such great therapy.

best of luck to you. i always keep a shovel and gloves in my hand, so....if i'm passing by, i'll stop and dig and weed for ya :) just have some...

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 2:50PM
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springcherry(6/7 Philly,PA)

See if you can find a gardening buddy nearby. Keep your antenna out at church or synagogue, your kids's school, work, mom's groups, anywhere there is a community close to home. Sometimes it's easier to do things with a support system.

Get in touch with the county extension office and their Master Gardeners.

Philadelphia County Cooperative Extension:
111 N. 49th Street, Suite KN3-100
3rd Floor North
Philadelphia, PA 19139
Phone: 215-471-2200
Fax: 215-471-2231
Office Hours: 8:00 to 5:00
County Email: PhiladelphiaExt@psu.edu

They will be able to give good practical advice.

Last of all --dream. What can you see in your mind's eye? What do you love?

Best of luck-cheer amd courage

    Bookmark   May 13, 2006 at 5:00PM
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Pipersville_Carol(z6 Bucks PA)

Maybe you can rationalize your overgrown garden by thinking of it as perfectly appropriate to a 1792 house. After all, the only lawn mowers they had back then had four feet and said "baaaah" a lot.

I'm only half-joking... I remember admiring some Wyeth paintings that showed simple old houses surrounded by grass that was very long by today's standards. It made me wonder what an average residential yard really looked like 150 years ago. I can't imagined it was as manicured and mulched as today's properties.

Don't give up on your garden! It sounds like you have some lovely elements there.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2006 at 1:44PM
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garden_wench(z6 PA)

Can you post some pictures? The advice of working on one area at a time is the way to go. Perhaps you could get someone to haul away the wood, they might do it for free for firewood, if it isn't too rotted. And then get that major flower bed under control. Hopefully those two jobs could be done for under $2400. Can you get a scoop of mulch delivered to your house? It is much cheaper than buying it by the bag. We use our pickup truck and bring a scoop home, then drive around the yard, shoveling from the back of the truck. This saves time if you have a truck to use.
$2400 a year will go far for smaller jobs, like pulling out shrubs or buying supplies or plants. But for medium/larger jobs, like stone wall work, well that will have to be a separate budget.

For me, I have the time to do the work, but getting the debris hauled away is where we have hired someone to help with that. Even with a truck it is just easier to get someone else to take away the torn out shrubs, rocks, etc.

Good luck and don't give up.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 3:17PM
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Have you made a list of what needs done? A list always helps me get things into perspective and crossing them off as we go always feels great and makes me realize just how much progress we've made! Ah, and take before and after pics, too...that helps!

Have you looked at the simple stuff that you can do now for nothing in a few hours? Like pulling things you don't like, trimming bushes and trees up, cutting up the dead trees? Then save up to do the bigger jobs. I would start simple and work my way up. Often doing a few small jobs is all it takes to change your frame of mind and get you going on the path to a beautiful yard.

Also, I would start in the areas you have to look at the most or maybe even the front yard. That will be inspiration to get you to keep going.

Take a deep breath...relax and dig in! It will happen...it just takes time and patience!

Oh, and if you have stuff you want to get rid of like the wood or the plants or something, offer it for free with Freecycle or something. It may be your junk, but someone elses treasure and then you won't have to pay to have it hauled off!

    Bookmark   May 22, 2006 at 9:48AM
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