I’m aware that yardening isn’t actually a word (yet), but I don’t actually care. Our outdoor space doesn’t have a solid identity or clearly defined purpose, so rather than fight it, I just let it be what it wants to be, a yarden.
Easter Sunday was warm and sunny here in Brooklyn so we spent the bulk of our day in the yarden and I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the space. I plan to do some work back there this year so I thought it would be nice to give you some back story and show you what it looks like now (and what it used to look like). About half of the outdoor space is made up of a cement patio, which is pretty great for entertaining, and a mix of exposed dirt and a few plants that I’m trying desperately to keep alive. There isn’t enough sun to sustain grass, so it’s not quite a “yard”, and there aren’t enough thriving plants or well-defined beds to call it a “garden” so I just combine the two terms and there you have it: Yarden.
When we chose our apartment, one of the biggest selling points was that we would have access to some outdoor space. The house was a mess, as we discussed here, but the garden space was even worse. We knew it was going to be a lot of work, but the (relative) affordability, the prospect of outdoor entertaining, the size of the outdoor space, and the possibility of getting a dog, made us move quickly to sign the lease.
The first time we came to check out our apartment it was late in the spring, but the weeds had already grown high enough to disguise the heaps of nasty lurking back there. We arranged our lease agreement to give us access to our new place 15 days before we needed to leave our old digs. We used the bulk of that time to deep clean and paint the interior, but on a few occasions we ventured into the back yard to investigate. We immediately realized we hadn’t been paying very close attention on our first visit. We knew there was a lot of crud back there, some of it was in plain sight from our bedroom, but as we went further out into the garden area we realized it was much worse than we thought. I don’t know if the previous tenants were criminally insane, or just slobs or what; but there were literal bags of garbage, like big black contractor bags full of yuck, hiding between the weeds. Once we started clearing the tangle of weeds all sorts of disgustingness started turning up. Beyond bagged garbage, there were also rotting stuffed animals, rotting outdoor furniture cushions, rotting articles of clothing, rotting pieces of wood, rusting sheets of metal, various plastic bags and toys, and lots and lots of broken glass. LOTS of broken glass.
When it came to the plant life back there, there was (and still is) a huge old mulberry tree that basically shades the entire yard and drops big juicy disgusting mulberries all over for about a month out of our short summer, along with a small dying fur tree that I ended up deciding to cut down, a sickly plum tree that always tries to produce fruit that never quite gets ripe before they rot and fall off the branches, a gigantic climbing rose vine that was plagued with some kind of mildew which caused the flowers to shrivel and die before blooming, a large patch of old day lilies that refused to flower, and a 3 foot high jungle of assorted weeds. My first order of business was to cut down the dying fur tree and cut back and dig out the rose vine, which was so large and old that it had started to grow into the plum tree and choke it out. Once I got the vine out of the way, I also had to do some major trimming to the plum tree in the hopes of nursing it back to health.
I’m no gardening expert, so the past few years have been a bit of trial and error. Even cleaned up and tidy, our outdoor space is a challenge. The two horrible words that have turned my green(ish) thumb into a brown(ish) one are… DRY SHADE. We have no connection for a hose, and the soil refuses to hold onto moisture. It’s full of sand and weird construction materials (I’m still digging up bricks and chunks of cement), and tends to go bone-dry very quickly in the summer. The mulberry tree shades about 95% of the yard so anything that needs good sun refuses to thrive. In the beginning I was simply focusing on the shade aspect and planting things like ferns and other lush leafy shade plants, but the dry soil has caused the untimely deaths of MANY innocent plants. A few things have done alright, but one of the only things that seems happy back there are hostas. This year I’ve decided to focus my attention on planting a jungle of big leafy hostas in many sizes and colors, so the yard at least appears to be lush and healthy. I’ve also been researching drought tolerant shade plants a lot recently, so hopefully I’ll have some better luck this summer than I have previously.
To get the year started right, Russell and I recently took a trip to the farmers market hoping to find some new plants, a flat of annuals, and maybe some herbs to plant in containers. Unfortunately it was a bit too early for plants at the market so we went to Home Depot to see what we could find there instead. Even there it was too early for most things, but we were able to find some pretty purple pansies and a few herbs.
When we were married last summer we used some big galvanized aluminum pails at the bar as ice buckets, and after the wedding we hung onto them. We also bought some nice rich garden soil to fill them with and have been hoarding it under our stairs and waiting for spring. So, when we came back from our plant hunt we busted out the drill and made some drain holes in the bottoms of three of the pails to turn them into planters. I decided to use one of them to re-pot a lemon tree I planted from seed several years ago. It’s never given me any fruit, and since it needs to live in a pot and come indoors for the winters, I don’t know if it ever will. Regardless, I really like my little tree and decided it was time to give her a bigger home this year.
Now that things are warming up, the few plants that have survived the arid conditions are starting to poke their heads up to say hi. We have a few daffodils in bloom and the spiky points of the hostas are starting to push their way up through the soil. We’ve also done our best to improve the soil with composting, and the day lilies are doing better now too. For now they’re short and grassy looking, but a few of them flowered last year so I’m hoping this summer they’ll be even more productive.
It’s a bit too early to do much of anything else, but I hope to set to work beautifying the yard in the coming weeks. For now we’re doing our best to clean up anything the wind may have blown into the yard over the winter, make sure anything that is coming up is happy and healthy, and tidy up the patio space as much as possible.
As for the furniture and entertaining aspect of our outdoor space, we have a few chairs and benches and a swinging love seat that was back there when we took the apartment. There used to be a big table back there too, but it was really poorly built and basically fell apart over the winter, so we’re hoping to replace that very soon. When we first moved in the only way to access the yarden from our apartment was by hopping down onto a chair from our bedroom window, which is about 4 feet from the cement below. For the first few years we and all of our guests would climb out the window and hop down onto that chair. We used to have to lean way out the window to set the dogs on the chair so they could go out and do the things they needed to do back there. Much alcohol has been consumed out there since we’ve moved in so, as you can imagine, there have been a few spills and tumbles. Thankfully none of our friends were ever seriously injured! My amazing mom came to visit last summer and helped me build a set of stairs, and we could not be more happy or grateful to have them. It’s hard to imagine a time without them now, but they have improved the function of the space more than you’ll ever know!
So there you have it, our humble little yarden.
Have any of you been working on any yard work our outdoor projects lately? Do you have any horror stories about disgusting yards, challenging soil conditions, or drunken tumbles out apartment windows?
If you have shaded areas hostas are great, just amend and put them in and they grow wide and big and don’t have to water only maybe once a month. They die back in the winter and in spring it comes back. I just love them.
Yeah, I’ve found that they’re the only things that can handle the occasional drought without shriveling up and turning brown! They seem to be very happy back there!!!
Sorry not once a month LOL they would die…once a week maybe a bit more.
I just moved into a rental with a backyard too. It’s full of broken glass & other junk too, like yours was. Did you ever get most of it out? I’ve been shoveling & shoveling and cannot seem to get to the bottom of it.
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It probably took two summers to get everything out of there- but we did it and we’re so glad we did now! Good luck!!!
Thanks for answering Tux. I can see how it took two summers.
I’ve kinda decided to get it leveled as best I can, put down some pavers or Stomp Stones, and then lay in some live moss carpet” around the paved area. There is no direct sunlight in the backyard, so moss seems like the best option.
Here’s a link to the Stomp Stones that I want to use:
Here’s a link to a place that sells live moss:
Thanks again for your blog and for your kind response.
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I love the idea of that moss carpet!
I like that moss carpet too. And it appears to be fairly low-maintenance and requires very little watering once it gets established, so it’s very eco-friendly. I’ll do it in the spring since I’ve let the summer get away from me.
They have varieties that will do well in both sunny and shady areas too.
And also the consultants at the moss purveyor tell me it should work ok to put over whatever debris and broken glass are left after my very last, sweaty, mosquito-addled session of trying to get it cleaned up and leveled. From what I understand, it should be thick enough to allow for bare feet even.
Thanks again Tux!
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