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Garden Gallery 5

Back Yard and Oak Garden

Our back yard provides us with a large space for gardens. The rear fence is nearly 150 feet long and abuts 3 complete neighboring yards. The odd shape of our yard (and its unusual size) are partly determined by an easement that runs underneath the eastern property line. There is a storm drain buried there, which does not emerge until the next block over, where it turns into a wide drainage ditch. In 1986, when we moved in, our yard had only 2 trees in the back yard and they were both at the far west end.

Looking towards the southeast from the back corner of our house, the above photo, taken in 1986, shows the far corner of our yard. We hadn't put in grass or completed the privacy fence, but we did put up a temporary wire fence to keep construction vehicles from driving through our yard while they worked in neighboring lots. Their large tires made deep ruts in the mud and we were trying to level out the future lawn. We'd already begun to remove the most obvious rocks from the soil, but had not even thought about where any gardens would be located. One of our first new trees was a tiny chinaberry that was scavenged from the center of the vacant lot visible in the left side of the photo. A house would eventually be built there, but the lot remained vacant for quite some time.

The above photo shows part of our back yard and the back corner garden around 1990, after we had completed the last segment of fencing on that side. The arbor vitae was put in with no particular forethought to overall design and the other tree is a sumac, planted specifically to produce a modicum of shade as soon as possible.

Taken about a year later (1991), the above photo shows the back yard as seen from under one of the large live oak trees (small bit of the trunk visible in the lower right corner) on the west side. A small Chinese tallow tree that we transplanted from someplace is surrounded by fencing on the right side. Behind it are a fruitless mulberry, chinaberry, and a second mulberry. The doghouse was acquired for Frisky's comfort when left outside.

Looking in the opposite direction, the above photo was also taken in 1991. We hadn't yet finished the privacy fence on that side but had temporary wire fencing up to keep the dog safe. Wild shrubs and trees constantly grew back from the roots left around the live oaks. Some of these were allowed to grow and are now part of the oak garden, which had not yet been created.

By 1993, as shown in the above photo, we had finished the privacy fence. The lone arbor vitae against the fence was part of a row of shrubs that extended along the entire west property line and was in place before the fence was built. The area under the two large trees had now become the oak garden and was separated from the grass by rocks. Our neighbor's large tree completes the trio of live oaks. The small tree in the central foreground is a cherry laurel, with the chinaberry behind.

Around 1996, the back yard had started to look a bit more grown in although it still had large sunny areas. The snow provided a bit of welcome winter decor. The small tree in the left foreground is a transplanted sycamore and the awkwardly situated arbor vitae is to the right. The sumac in the middle provided the only adequate shade in that area. By this date, the pond garden, compost bins (covered with honeysuckle) and back corner garden were all established in their present forms. The large rock next to the sumac was dug up when installing the raised bed along the east side of the house. By 2003, the sumac will have died completely after spending a couple years in decline. The big arbor vitae was badly deformed by an ice storm in 2001 and had to be cut down. By then, we had so many trees that the loss of those did not make a big difference.

The oak garden was not very well developed when the above photo was taken in 1993. There was a profusion of liriope, weeds, and wild vines and shrubs. We kept potted plants out there during the summer and added a large pot of water which continues to serve as a small pond. The pair of tree trunks on the left belong to a cedar elm.

The above photo shows the oak garden in 1999. By this time we had added the border, a walkway through the middle of the garden, and several other shrubs and plants. Liriope was still the main plant and was covering more of the garden all the time.

Showing the brick walkway in the oak garden, the above photo was taken in 2003. The liriope has been mostly removed, as well as a few more big subterranean rocks. Mulch from our compost bins was added and many plants are starting to thrive in the once rather barren area, including wax mallow, beautyberry, vinca, small wild vines, and Virginia creeper.

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