What's Up This Week

Why The Backyard Project Took So Long

What started as a simple plan to put down some grass seed morphed into a total backyard landscaping renovation project, complete with a French drain installation, new sprinkler system, and a pair mini power stations. Because if you’re not charging your phone while relaxing in the backyard with your kids, are you even really alive in 2024?

Let’s get you up to speed on what we’ve been working on, and a little background about why we got ourselves into this mess to begin with…

The French Drain

Since we moved in, we’ve had low spots and standing water along the side of the house, which meant muddy, grassless patches and plenty of spots for evil bloodsuckers to spawn their young (e.g. mosquitos).

The “guts” of our French Drain system, as seen from above
We had some large roots to work around, so we went under when necessary

To tackle the standing water, we buried a new drain pipe to move rainwater directly from the downspout to the new French drain that runs along the side of the yard. This second pipe is surrounded by permeable landscaping fabric, so that it will collect water from the side of the yard and channel it to a new small drainage reservoir we added to the back corner. (Think: big hole filled with rocks, then topped with some dirt so you won’t see it eventually… you can find everything we used here)

Regrading the Yard Slope

When we first dipped our toes into re-working the backyard two years ago, I leveled out a small area for chairs and blankets. Before that, babies would literally roll off blankets because the entire yard sloped back and there were no flat spots for chairs.

Now that we’ve borrowed a tiller from Jim’s dad, we’re expanding the flat area to accommodate more seating, and leveling a second section (with a small step up) to eliminate low spots and direct water into our new French drain.

We dug out plenty of large rocks from the yard, so I’ve used them to fashion a tiny retaining wall for our stepped plateaus
With the mini rock retaining wall complete, we’ve now got a larger flat area for chairs and blankets

We also regraded the back corner of the yard so that all the rain stops flooding directly onto the existing patio area, which was the previous low point. By regrading, we’ll actually have two separate low points (the patio and the far back corner), which should help spread out where all the rain ends up after a big storm. That will also cut down on the time it takes for the patio to dry up after it rains, which means more time for baseball on the patio (which also means more time for me to attempt to sit down and relax while Jim plays baseball with the kids).

Mosquitos will hopefully also have less standing water to make more of themselves, because they are the bane of my existence and I hate them.

Backyard Charging Stations

Since we already had a trench dug, Jim convinced me to run some electrical so we could add outlets to the backyard. This part was absolutely uncalled for and not necessary, but once we had already spent the time on the hard part (trench-digging), we simply tried to stick as much helpful shit in the ground as we could. Because dig another trench later, we will not.

Trying to sort out what we were going to bury in the trench
Did we “need” electrical? No. Did we do it anyway? You betcha

The Sprinklers

Also another ‘let’s put shit in the trench’ layer, this one is slightly more expedient in that it will help keep the grass seed alive.

I’ll be honest though: when Jim first mentioned adding sprinklers, I gave him an Absolutely Not, That is Wholly Unnecessary response. But again, once we got that trench dug out, it felt satisfying to come up with more ways to make it useful for us. The last thing I want to do is waste the expensive grass seed Jim bought because we tend to forget (or get too busy) to keep it sufficiently watered, so a sprinkler system it is.

Burying the sprinker system lines that Jim somehow convinced me to use
Small but mighty, these will have more water pressure once we increase the size of the water line going to the spigot

Jim bought all the supplies for that himself, and in fairness, it’s a relatively simple DIY system that he already had (because this dude convinced himself a year ago that I was going to say yes to a sprinkler system), so after the trench was dug, we just had to map out where we wanted the sprinkler heads.

SIDE NOTE: Jim happens to really enjoy plumbing, so when I say “relatively simple,” take it with a grain of salt. If you’re interested in more about how DIY-friendly it ends up being, let me know and we can give you a summary afterwards.

A “Tree House” For the Littles

Once I could start to see the newly flattened yard sections, I realized that we still needed a spot to put the todders’ outdoor playset that wasn’t going to be right in the middle of what is essentially the new “outfield” for the older kids playing baseball.

After a quick lookaround, I thought it would be a great idea to tuck it into the small trees we have along the fence, so that it could look and feel like a semi-hidden tree house. Great in theory, this idea in reality meant that we’d have to both find and relocate a whole bunch more dirt, since this section was actually a tiny cliff, and these are tiny children we’re talking about.

This hill between the trees had to be backfilled to create a level base for the toddler climber
Once we get the dirt filled in, we stabilized the climber a bit, then mounded a little more dirt for safety

Luckily, we had a big mound of dirt near the side of the house from when we’d had our sidewalk snow melt system hooked up last winter. The guys who excavated to run pipes in the ground had left the area a mess, so I was more than happy to get that all leveled back out and  move the dirt pile (well, ask someone else to move it) to where we could actually use it.

After the grass comes in, I’m hoping the littles will climb and play in this spot while avoiding baseball line drives and tiny, fall-off-able cliffs.

And Oh Yeah, Grass.

Taking things way back to what got us into this mess in the first place: I would like some grass, thankyouverymuch.

In general, I’m not huge on massive open fields of grass for our yard, so there will still be plenty of pockets for native plants and interesting perennials. But realistically, the kids are little and open, and unobstructed flat areas for play are kind of a big deal at this stage.

The previous slopes left us with a lot of standing water, muddy/grassless spots, and generally unusable areas. We’re hoping that by spending so much time on everything this spring, we’re going to end up with a space that functions much better for our family this summer, with grass that actually lives (and maybe thrives?) in our shaded and newly ‘terraced” flat areas.

Admiring our handiwork after covering the grass seed with mulching hay
This is all your fault, grass seed

Jim spent more time than is reasonable to identify the very best exact grass seed for our location and conditions (because those are the types of research rabbit holes he lives for), so if this grass doesn’t grow, I’m going to either need to sell the house and move, or toss the husband and look for a landscaping stud that has a lot of time & patience on his hands.

JK, I would never toss out a husband that makes dirty martinis as good as Jim does. He’s a keeper.

What’s Next?

So far the grass is coming in great and we’re loving how everything is coming along, but we’ll keep you posted on how it all ends up once we can walk on it!

Necessary(-ish) Things This Week

A lawn and garden edition of some of the new stuff we picked up this week to help with our recent projects

There are more bunnies in our urban backyard than you’d think, so we’re hoping this keeps our veggies out of reach

This helps prevent grass seed from drying out, erosion, and birds, including on hills!

We’re going to give these a shot this year to help with keeping our berries off the soggy ground

See Everything We’ve Used For Our Outdoor Projects


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