If you follow me on instagram, you probably noticed I was spending A LOT of time out in our backyard this spring.
As soon as the weather turned warm and things started turning green, I was out there every night. You may have even been sick of all the pictures and videos of our yard, usually with smoke pouring out of my charcoal grill and string lights hanging overhead. Sorry not sorry.
I grew up in cow and corn country in Upstate New York, so I was always outdoors in nice weather, and even though I live in Brooklyn now my love for the outdoors is just as strong. We were lucky enough to find an apartment with outdoor space years ago, but if you’ve been reading for a long while now, you’ll remember that the space out back was a little, well, rough around the edges when we first moved in.
A few years back I posted about the progress we’d made so far, which felt monumental at the time, but looking back at pictures seems pretty meager compared to how things look now. Up until that point we’d spent every Summer clearing out debris and weeds and sick unhealthy plants. It took a long time to get everything clean and tidy before we could even begin planting anything new or making the space livable and attractive.
That post was basically the beginning of when we were able to finally start planting, and since then things have changed quite a bit so I thought you might enjoy a little update. I’ve planted plenty in the past few years, figured out what plants do well and which ones don’t, and added some fancy-pants new outdoor furniture to boot.
I know I also mentioned this in my last gardening post too, but just to refresh your memory, we have a big evil mulberry tree out there that makes the yard a disgusting unusable mess for anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks out of every summer. The tree is too tall and the berries fall too far to make collecting them possible, so instead they just splatter into a juicy mulberry paste that attracts flies and ants and birds (and bird poo) and eventually turns moldy and stinky and awful. And guess what. We’re in the midst of berry season proper right now, so I haven’t been back there for a good three weeks. The photos in this post were taken a few weeks ago, just before it started.
Even when the tree isn’t dropping the got-damned berries, instead it’s shading most of the yard and sucking up all the moisture in the soil. As if the berries weren’t enough to deal with, that tree is the source of two little words that have made my life very difficult over the past few years.
It’s incredibly difficult to find plants that thrive in dry shade. Most shade plants are moisture lovers, and most drought-tolerant plants love lots of sunshine. So, after years of experimenting, I’ve basically learned that Hostas are my best friend if I want the yard to look green and lush. I know they’re kind of boring, but there are so many different colors and shapes and sizes available these days that even a yard filled with Hostas can look interesting and modern. I’d actually already figured this out before my last yard post, but at that point I’d only gotten around to planting few of them. These days they’re all over the place.
Bleeding Hearts and Coral Bells seem to do well back there too, so I’ve started mixing them in between the Hostas. There’s one little corner of the yard that gets a few hours of decent light, so I have some orange day lilies planted there, but they haven’t flowered yet and so far they just look like overgrown grass. Because I like to live dangerously, this spring I also decided to test the limits of the sunshine back there, and planted a sun-loving Forsythia against the fence. Fingers crossed!
To mix in some color and texture, I like to fill pots with hardy annuals like wax begonias and I always do a few herbs in one of the big galvanized buckets we added a few years ago too. Sometimes they don’t get enough sun and don’t last the whole summer, but they’re nice while they last and so far they seem to be doing well this year.
Early in the spring I usually try some pansies too for some color and life while the hostas are just barely poking out of the ground, but they don’t really last once the weather turns hot and I’ll need to replace them with something else mid-summer. They looked great in the photo below, but they’re already starting to look pretty scraggly.
For the first time ever this year, I mulched a good portion of the beds to try to keep them moist and healthy during the hot dry spells we always seem to get in Brooklyn summers. Not only do I hope it’ll keep the plants happier, it also went a long way in making the yard feel so much more “finished” and attractive. We went with brown mulch so it doesn’t really “read” in photos all that well, but I promise it looks great in person, especially compared to bare dirt. Getting the heavy, wet, stinky bags of mulch out there meant carrying them all by hand through our apartment and out our bedroom window, and we needed about 30 bags for the area we mulched, but it was well worth the effort in the end and I really wish we’d done it sooner!
When we first moved in there was an old swing in the yard, and a rotting old wooden table left by one of the previous tenants. We moved the swing into the back of the yard this spring, and the table has since fallen apart. I re-used the legs to build the red coffee table you’ll notice in some of these photos, but I don’t know how much longer that old wood will hold out. The paint is peeling pretty badly so I’m hoping new paint will protect it and help it last a few more years.
I just need to decide on a color…
Almost half of the yard space is covered in concrete and works as a patio area for us. When we first moved in I was disappointed that there wasn’t more space for planting, but now that I know how challenging it is to get plants to thrive in our dry shade conditions, I’m actually relieved that we have more space for entertaining and lounging.
That’s why we decided to make a pretty serious investment in outdoor furniture this year. Russell got me an outdoor sectional for my birthday, and it all kind of snowballed from there. Upgrading from the old two-seater swing made me suddenly realize how much more comfortable our outdoor space could be if we were willing to put the time and money into it, so I kind of went a little overboard with the online shopping. We’d gotten the dining table a few years ago but never really got around to finding chairs to go with it, so that was my next mission. Then came the throw pillows, and a deck box to store all the cushions and pillows in. Then we just stumbled on those black and grey club chairs one day and we had to have them! Luckily everything was (relatively) reasonably priced.
In case you’re interested, the sectional, dining chairs, and deck box are from Wayfair. Unfortunately the sectional and chairs don’t seem to be available right now. The outdoor throw pillows and big grey club chairs are from Target, and the dining table and lanterns are from Ikea.
Things are looking a little more full and lush since I’ve taken these photos because we’ve had a lot of rain lately, so once the berries stop dropping I’ll get out there to clean up the mess and start barbecuing again! You’re more than welcome to live vicariously through my instagram stories, but my life really isn’t all that exciting so I’d suggest trying to find someone a little more interesting to follow!
Who knows, if things look different enough maybe I’ll give you another glimpse into our yard in another couple years.
Hi, Tux — everything looks just right for you two and the space. Congratulations on making this a multiyear project. Just curious — in the 3rd photo from the bottom, what are the upright cylindrical things around that little area? I love all the textures in your yard, and these are a fun addition. Best wishes, CC
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Hi CC! Good question!
They’re actually wine bottles turned upside down that I used as a little “retaining wall” for a (slightly) raised bed.
Thank you so much!
Hi Tux! What a great space! I love your couch. We are redoing our deck and I want one similar for it. I also really like the wash tubs with plants. Looks great!
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Fellow ‘Cow-Corn-Country’ resident! LOVE the wine-bottle edging! We have similar around our herb bed! I hear your ‘mulberry difficulties’ – this year was a Bumper Crop too!!! No other ‘edibles’ in your growing space??? LOVE your blog – hope to see more updates soon!!
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We’ve tried a few strawberries and tomatoes in the past but nothing seems to like living under that dang tree!!!
oh. my. WORD.
First of all, it’s been like a year since I’ve commented on your posts and I’m SO EMBARRASSED. And sad. I keep wondering if i should go back and comment on the ones i’ve missed like i usually do, but then you’ll get like TEN THOUSAND wordpress.com notifications in your inbox and i can’t decide if that’s creepy. And then you’ll look at them and be like “oh, it’s my desperate friend from Ohio again, what a loser, remember when she didn’t even know there was more than one type of kale?” But anyhow.
I absolutely LOVE what you’ve done with your space! Those little flowers look so adorable in those little white buckets! I could never do anything like this. Like seriously, I don’t even know the difference between a flower and a weed most of the time, and you should just SEE the passive aggressive side eye we get from our neighbors. Will you just come out here for a week and do ALL THE THINGS to our yard like you did yours?
I’m really glad you talked about hostas. On my drive home from work, there is a little farm with a sign out front that says “HOSTAS FOR SALE” and I honestly didn’t know what they were until this very moment. In my mind, I was hoping they were some sort of tiny pie (like HOSTESS but with a Spanish flair), but it all makes sense now!
For your coffee table, I noticed this Robin’s Egg Blue type of color getting a lot of play on porches around these parts, but I’m guessing you don’t want to base your furniture decisions on what’s trending in suburban Ohio :D
Anyhoo. You’re welcome for this GIGANTIC novel and my emphatic uses of all caps. I only do that for people i truly care about :) Post more things like this! I love it when your blog gets all HGTV on us.
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