This blog post became bigger than life itself. I never intended for it to be this long, but here it is. On the plus side, there are a lot of pictures.
Ken's folks did not spend a lot of time with curb appeal or landscaping. I'm sure they did back in the day, but as they aged, it was too hard to keep up. Really, if you think about it, many folks didn't spend a lot of time gardening and worrying about landscaping their homes. When did this become a big thing? Sure there were folks who did pay attention to it, but now....it's a thing. I blame HGTV.
Even though my life was filled with a hatred of lawn work and manual labor of any kind, when I owned my first house, landscaping became important. Ken and I both share an aversion to manual labor. But as I got older, my DIY side came out. Manual labor became my specialty because I didn't want to pay for things I could do myself. Landscaping was more important to me than it was to Ken. But I have caught him out in the wild every now and then trimming bushes to keep the house looking its best. We put in a lot of time, effort, and hard earned cash into this house, and we know the importance of good curb appeal. During the remodel with the zillion other projects that were going on I knew if I wanted the outside of the house to look good, I was going to have to get my hands dirty and just do it.
I learned from our last house that landscaping serves a very important purposes other than the aesthetic properties. It helps with soil erosion, drainage, and water control in general. The hardscapes around your home like retaining walls and walkways also make your home safer and in the case of retaining walls and other watershed features, they keep the structure soundly in place. We all want our homes to remain on a firm foundation and on the original land on which it was built. I've learned things in my 57 years. Yay, me!
Dorothy and Bernard had a deal. Dorothy took care of the inside of the house and Bernard took care of the outside. Bernard had a degree in agriculture from the University of Tennessee, so he enjoyed gardening. He was called away from his studies by World War II, but he did finish his studies shortly after returning from the war.
Here is a short video (of an old home movie) of Bernard and Dorothy at a party in the 1950's. It helps to put some faces to the names!
Bernard was always interested in nature, plants, and gardening. He fed the birds regularly and planted rows and rows of irises all along the retaining wall that surrounds the back driveway and patio. For many years, in the late Spring, I remember visiting them here and coming into their kitchen. My nose would follow the aroma of fresh cut irises on the kitchen table. Bernard would cut some of the lovely irises for Dorothy's birthday and have them in a vase with a thoughtful card from the cat and him. It always struck me as being so sweet of him. Almost as sweet as the fragrance of the iris, which is saying something. Not all of those beautiful irises are still with us, but I did the hard work of finding a lot of them, dividing them and replanting many of the most vibrant of the flowers in a spot behind the retaining wall near our patio table. It is remarkable to me that we are still enjoying the fruits of his labor all these years later. Not only the beautiful flowers, but the amazing gift of the very home we are living in today. They cared for this house for well over 40 years and although it needed to be updated, it has good and solid bones.
Bernard may not have poured thousands of dollars into a manicured landscaping plan, but he maintained what he had. In addition to the remaining irises, the landscape does contain the original boxwoods in the front. The front beds also have 3 Abelia bushes that may not be original to the house, but they are still here. And although I've tried to kill them several times by whacking them back to the nub, they are still very healthy. Also, there are mature trees on the property that were here before the land was developed. We had a good foundation, but the landscape needed work.
In the past I'm not sure that I ever thought much about the effort of landscaping. However, if I think about it, every time a property owner takes the time to plant a perennial he or she is thinking about the future. Of course, at the time of planting we don't know if the plant will survive or how long it will thrive if it survives, but stick with me here. When a homeowner invests in landscaping, it is not only a gift to his or her family who inhabit the house. The curb appeal of landscaping is enjoyed by everyone in the community who drives by the house and sees it. How many times have you driven by a home in your neighborhood and enjoyed seeing it every day? You may not think about it in your conscious mind, but your brain takes a little snapshot of it as you whisk by doing your daily activities. In addition to the pleasure it brings the family, neighbors, and guests, the effort provides something even more important - LEGACY. Sure that sounds sappy, but if you boil it down, it is true. Bernard's effort of keeping the front boxwoods alive and healthy, planting all those irises, and keeping the mature trees healthy for over 40 years meant that when Ken and I bought the house, we bought his hard work and effort too. We are reaping what he sowed.
After the shit-ton of money we spent on gutting the house and remodeling it, money was tight. All it takes is 3 mortgages to make that happen! But I had a plan. I really wanted the landscaping to be updated quickly. Yes, patience is not a strong suit of mine, however, I worked so hard on the inside of the house, it was a shame to not complete the whole house while I was in manual labor mode. Those of us who are DIY'ers know that you have to be in the frame of mind to do the physical work. That may not time out well with your bank account. Ken was still in shock about the way we were hemorrhaging money. This was a valid worry. But I knew that there were some issues with the outside of the house that I could not live with. Some of the pesky items came with the house, but a couple of the problem areas we created in the renovation (see below). My OCD kicked in and I HAD TO FIX THEM.
I'll be the first to admit that when I get something in my mind, I may not ask for permission before I jump in. If I'm really honest, I may not look ahead much farther than the task at hand and my impulse to get that freaking idea OUT of my damn head so that I can think clearly again. Yeah, that sounds like me. But what that means to my husband who likes to really, really, really assess a problem before he acts - a life with me means a lot of surprises for him. They may not be good surprises in his eyes, but they are surprises none the less. In order to get things done, I have very much been firmly in the camp of begging for forgiveness instead of asking for permission. But you know, this is my house too and I am putting in the hard ass work, so I do what has to be done when I want to do it.
The curb appeal, landscaping, and installed artwork of this house came as a surprise to Ken. One particular piece was a surprise to him and many of his co-workers he brought over to see the progress of the house one afternoon....unexpectedly. That's a funny story I'll save for the end of the post. I'm sure you are tired of reading by now.
So, let me get to some images instead of so many words......
Curb Appeal Problems - BEFORE
LOSE IT: Fake Shutters.
LOSE IT: Excess visible wiring.
This house was lousy with visible wiring. Cable guys/gals do not spend a lot of time hiding your coax cable. They will string that shit from anywhere. They do not give a rat's ass if it is visible or not. And if the homeowner doesn't care, you get a freaking spiderweb of exposed wires. Look in the middle of that dirty siding. There is a hole that some idiot punched through to get cable upstairs. That hole is still in the vinyl siding to this day. Thanks, Comcast.
Ken made sure that all wires were re-routed and came though 1 port at the side of the house (far right of this picture)
LOSE IT: All those old gutters.
When we had the house re-decked and roofed, we got new gutters installed. The last time this was done, the lowest bidder was hired and they put downspouts in stupid places and installed them improperly. We fixed that.
LOSE IT: That big-ass nasty scrub cedar bush and the long buried landscape timbers.
To start a landscaping bed on this side of the house, there was a lot of cutting and digging that had to be done. That big-ass bush almost took me down with it. But I was victorious.
LOSE IT: All that drab trim paint, black painted door, and that awful storm door.
Luckily the brick on the house was light in color and pretty neutral. I knew it could be pressure washed to brighten up. If it was really ugly, I would have had it painted. But, it was acceptable.
Bernard had siding installed sometime in the 80's. Granted, it is not good quality. But, it was in good shape and the color was acceptable. So we kept it. Many times if you take what you have and use good old white paint as an accent, it is amazing the difference it makes. Although we didn't budget for the new storm door, it was very apparent we needed one.
LOSE IT: That wasp's nest disguised as an old built in gas grill (original to the house), the debris and leaves covering what could be a nice little accent garden at the edge of the patio, and the temporary cardboard covering up the new entrance to the crawl space.
Now to the problem WE created by our installation of a tankless gas hot water heater: exhaust pipes. There was only one place we planned to put this hot water heater - in the laundry room. It was the only place it would fit and it made the most sense. However, there was one little annoying detail that I just didn't count on....exhaust pipes on the front of the house right by the front door. I will admit that for many months, every time I drove up and saw those they drove me batshit crazy. I had to fix this problem as quickly as possible. I knew landscaping would help, but it takes time to grow! I needed some major distractions in the front of the house quickly to make those freaking things disappear or I was going to lose my OCD leaning mind. Sure we all made jokes about them. The installers joked. Sean and Jason joked. Ken and I joked. But I'm telling you, this OCD gal was truly not amused by these things. So much sleep was lost trying to find a way to hide them.
Here's what they looked like (I am in the process here of painting them a color that more matches the brick):
I had a zillion other projects inside the house, but I stopped it all to make sure at least these things were painted. As a matter of fact, this picture was taken just 3 days after the hardwood floors were refinished. But painting these ugly things had to take priority.
CURB APPEAL PROBLEMS DURING & AFTER:
Just to remind you this is the front of the house before:
This is a full frontal of the house after. Actually, how it is today.
I did the initial work of removing the ugly scrub cedar and the buried landscape timbers from the front bed sometime in August, 2015. You can see that I still didn't get the final stump out of the ground (to the left of the shovel 4th picture below). I finally had to get Sean's reciprocating saw and cut it down below ground. That was a BEAST of an old bush.
Here are some details and a funny story about the artwork in the front left bed that I mentioned in an earlier paragraph.
I decided to have Sean and Jason install two sets of decorative metal panels from Jon Allen at Statements 2000 to add some pizzazz to the front landscaping beds. The placement of the panels was originally meant to be in an outward facing "V" configuration (Like a freestanding screen of sorts) placed strategically in front of the tankless hot water heater mufflers. Like I said, I was trying to come up with a creative solution to disguise those eyesores. Luckily, that didn't work out. I say luckily, because where they ended up is absolutely perfect.
This artwork has been a discussion in the neighborhood since that September day they went up. Drivers would slow down to gawk with their mouths agape. It got to be very funny. We were asked, "What are those?", "What is that?!", "Did Marla make that?" and the like. Sometimes we answered with a simple, "It's art!" or if we were feeling very sarcastic we would say, "We planted it so that the mothership will find us".
The funny story about this installation involves Ken and a few of his coworkers. Sean and Jason installed the panels the morning of 9-08-15. I never told Ken that I bought the panels several weeks earlier and had them stored. Like I said before, many times it is best to surprise Ken with things and explain them later. He doesn't necessarily share my aesthetic visions (or voices) that are in my head. At this point in the renovation, Sean and Jason were doing the final punch list. We had already moved in the house in July. So the morning of 9-08-15 Sean had cleared his schedule to do some final things at the house. I took this as the perfect time for Sean to install this project. Ken was at work, so I had hoped to have it all ready by the time he got home to surprise him. As soon as the last panel panel was installed and I took several pictures, Sean and Jason went to lunch. As their truck was leaving, here comes Ken with a car load of his coworkers he had planned on showing the house. Well, he was surprised by the art and I was surprised by the guests. SURPRISE!!!....indeed. I didn't know he would have an audience for his shock, but he did. I will never forget him standing in the front yard with his 3 coworkers and his face was as white a sheet. His eyes were WIDE-OPEN and he asked in more of a scared voice than a mean voice, in front of the crowd, "Uhhhh.....What The Fuck is that?"
I replied, "It is ART!"
Of course, we had a discussion that evening but it didn't take long for him to grow to like the piece AND my landscaping and curb appeal vision. Maybe the fact that he saw it for the first time with his coworkers helped soften the blow. Over the years he has defended it to curious neighbors. And I dare say he has grown to like it a lot (I reserve the word love for me. I'm not sure he ever would say he loves it).
In the end, I am really glad I had it installed. It inspired me to get to the hard work of planting the landscaping. It further inspired me to research and find a lighting solution that we could afford so that it was properly lit at night. That art piece has faded over the years, and folks have expressed that they like it better with less color. I can go either way. I really liked the vibrant colors, but I'm fine with the lighter faded version too.
Originally, when I saw the placement of the art, I thought that maybe through the years I would rotate art panels in and out of the space. But they can get pricey and quite frankly that would require effort that I'm not sure I'm ready for. My inspiration for this art installation is a beautiful contemporary house in Belle Meade (Nashville, TN) that inspired me to do install this art project. You can see pictures of the home and their art installations below. I have more pictures of this great house and I'll add to this post when I find the others. You can follow this house at #outside734 on FaceBook and I think Insta For now, I'm happy with the piece as it weathers and ages.
THE PLANTS & DESIGN:
The pictures below are dated 9-21-15 which was a Monday. If memory serves, I started cutting the landscaping bed the week before. Also according to the photos, looks like I was plant shopping on 9-16-15, so that makes sense. I remember that the landscaping bed was another impulse and vision I had to get out of my head and I didn't "clear it with Ken" before I jumped in. I had just enough energy left to get it done. The back breaking work that it took was going to take everything left in me and I didn't want to talk about it a lot before hand. If I did too much talking or thinking or questioning, I would just say, "Fuck it!" and hire someone. I thought it best for everyone, including our bank account, that I just jump in and do it. So I did. But before I bought anything I stuck to what I know to be true about landscaping and gardening.......
I have a rule of thumb when it comes to gardening:
If the plant will come back year after year (perennial), it can be planted in the ground.
If the plant will only last one season (annual), it goes in a pot or container.
Trust me on this.
Of course, vegetable gardens (annuals) are different for many people, but not for me. My tomatoes go in a container.....but I digress
When I started cutting the bed's shape I knew I wanted a beautiful borderless bed. The problem was, even after research on Google, I wasn't really sure how to make that happen. You know all those beautiful landscaping beds with the razor sharp edge between the grass and the mulch of the bed? Yeah, that's what I had in my head. For whatever reason at the time, I had a really hard time getting the soil to cooperate. So, I ended up digging a trench of sorts to separate the bed. I have since found easier articles to understand, but reading about how to do it and actually doing it were 2 very different activities. I burned some calories and did some damage to my rotator cuff, but I dug a trench all the way around the front left bed. I am here almost 5 years later to say that this type of border is a maintenance nightmare. It looks really pretty right after the mulch goes down, but keeping grass and weeds out of that bed is a pain in my ass. At some point I'm going to have a true rock border installed, but until then, I live with the borderless bed.
As all gardeners and landscapers know, digging can be tricky. Why, you may ask? Buried wires and gas lines and God knows what else installers have buried over the years. I discovered when I got to the side and back of the house that in addition to the known Invisible Fencing wiring, I found buried telecommunications lines, 2 different gas lines, some other data lines that are there for some unknown reason. It was a freaking labyrinth of wires. And you know what....I did not sever one of them. I came close, but nope....they were all safe and sound. This accomplishment I have given full credit to Bernard. Now I'm not one to get too "other worldly" or "I believe in ghosts" on you. But I'll be honest, I talked to Bernard (who died in 2010) while I planted. And for some reason, I just went with what I thought he said to me and placed the plants and dug the holes where he told me to dig and plant. The day I did all this work, I truly believe Bernard was watching over me. I've shared that story with the family and they got a kick out of it. Dorothy was still alive at that time, and she smiled broadly when I told her who helped me landscape the house. I'm thankful to him. And I have to say, we were not so lucky when we hired folks to freshen up the beds in June of 2019. We had 2 incidents of the invisible fencing lines being cut. Bernard was not watching over them, that is for sure.
Our previous house was so deep in the shade that there was no way to grow much of anything. This house has much more sun, so my choices were broader. I wanted the landscaping on the left, near the art to have more color. Different than the normal evergreen bushes that come in one shade of green. I just wanted a variety of color, but it had to be LOW MAINTENANCE and drought tolerant. I don't want to spend my time taking care of the landscaping. I want it to look nice and need little work.
PHOTOS from 2015 L-R, T-B:
1 - 5) Just a few of the plants I looked at and bought. I also bought 3 Pencil Holly bushes to put between the 3 Abelia bushes, but they did not make it. The only thing I lost otherwise was the coreopsis I planted on a whim (my mistake) and one of the Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum Chinense) bushes I planted. Other than that, I got pretty lucky. 6) No...I didn't plant a boxer beneath the boxwood. Birdie did that. But I do like the alteration. 7) Placing the Pencil Holly bushes that did not make it. 8 - 21) The landscaping bed is cut, the plants are planted (there is a story about this feat below) and my body is tired. The natural stepping stones were brought from our previous house. I hauled them over since they are expensive and sometimes hard to find. I had hoped to just mulch the bed and not worry with landscaping fabric, but later I learned that didn't control the weeds. Neither did the landscape fabric that I later installed (cutting around the already planted bed...yeah, I didn't think that through). This bed is a source of frustration for me. This year, 2019 (pictures toward then end of the post) I decided to hire folks to maintain the beds for me. I gave this yard my all. I just can't do it anymore.....I can't, I won't and I don't want to.
My landscaping has changed over the years. The base has stayed the same, but I changed it as needed and when funds allowed. I have stuck with my original idea to have the landscape bed with the artwork (left of the entry door) and the bed that wraps around the left side of the house where the HVAC units are to be covered in mulch. Those beds have the majority of the plants and I wanted it to stay that way. I wanted to get creative with planting at this house. Again, my goal was to keep all of this as low maintenance as possible. The bed with the majority of the rounded boxwoods that runs to the right of the entry door, I wanted to be covered in stone......Mexican Beach Pebbles. However, those are cost prohibitive. I have a collection of really big ones I purchased from a stone company many years ago when we lived in our old house. I brought those stones to the new house (hey...they were expensive. I was not leaving them there!). I also bought bags of the small ones at Home Depot and placed them strategically in beds around the house, but to do the square footage in this front bed would break the bank. So I compromised and had a landscape professional install a colorful small rock combination called "Alabama Sunset". I then had them throw blue Mexican Beach Pebbles on top of the rock. That has worked out well. I figure I can add a bag or two of blue stones as the years go by to give the beds more color.
Here are some photos to show how the front landscaping has changed through the years:
Early Fall 2015
June 2019 & Fall 2019
Turquoise Clay Pots
Some notes about the addition of the large turquoise clay pots in the front bed. I bought these in 2016 at Southeastern Salvage. My original plan for this bed was to have large pots between the bushes. I started shopping for them before I had the artwork installed, but I couldn't find any I could afford. Those are SPENDY. Luckily, Southeastern Salvage did not let me down.
I bought several sizes of this pot that matched and used the smaller ones when I staged our old house. They are now all around my house, in the backyard. I could have sold them or given them away, but they are beautiful and affordable pots. Sorry, I became a clay pot hoarder. Now, just because I put these big-ass turquoise/teal clay pots in the front beds, didn't mean I wanted to plant anything in them. No, that was never the plan. I rigged them so that a potted plant could be set inside them and removed before the winter came. The trick to keep a clay pot in good shape for years.....don't put dirt in the pot that could expand and contract with the seasons. If you must plant in an expensive clay pot, use a plant liner or a smaller removable plastic container inside the mouth of the pot. And ALWAYS remove the planter portion before the weather changes!
Here is how I rigged the pots using material I had around the house (I can't find the pictures I took while first setting them up, so I took some today):
1.) When they were delivered (thanks to my friend Gary Gaines....of the beautiful bar and table fame) in July 2016, I used 3 square cement stepping stones to set them on. Leveling the stones was the toughest part. I HATE leveling stepping stones. I have YET to set one perfectly. I'm sure there is a trick to this, but damned if I know what it is. I had these stones from our previous house, so they needed a purpose at the new house. Voila!
2.) Next I set the pots on the stones.
3.) Then, inside the pots, I used 3 pieces of wire grid material (1 metal grid per pot) that is used to make those cheap shelving cubes. I had the material from a cube unit I had at my warehouse. I cut the squares to fit inside the pots using an electric trim saw. I located the new wire "shelf" about 6 " - 8" from the lip of the pot. I wedged the grid material into the pot using foam pipe insulation to keep it from cracking the pot (the type of insulation that is split in the middle and used to wrap your pipes in the winter). This created a nice shelf so that I could set a potted plant if I wanted to.
4.) But for now, I had a lot of those tall willow twigs that spiral at the tips. I painted them different colors (you can see the paint has since fallen off and faded) and stuck them in the pot. This added interest to the pot without planting anything.
5.) Then I put a layer of cheap floral moss I bought at Old Time Pottery in Madison, TN. I knew that wouldn't last for long, but it covered the grid panel for a little while. It's still down there, somewhere, but it had started to decay.
6.) Over the years, the pots have gathered dead leaves after the fall. So this year, just last week in fact, I spent a couple of afternoons gathering pods that had fallen on our yard from our Sweet Gum tree in the front yard. This tree is a nuisance, but the pods have always interested me. I filled any and all available empty pots with the pods this year. They are interesting, don't need water, and add a little somethin' somethin' to pots.
So far, the pots have been in place for 3 1/2 years and are still doing great.
The Mailbox Makeover:
Our mailbox is original to the house. I loved the mid-century design of it. It had good bones and I knew I could give it personality with a little TLC. On 9/7/15, the day before the metal art was installed in the left flower bed, I gave the mailbox a makeover.
Here are some photos of the process:
It took a decent amount of elbow grease to sand and scrape several layers of house numbers (both painted and the reflective stickers) and the rust from the main pole. But I think the result was worth the effort. Of course the numbers were added on the mailbox and on the pole after these pictures were made, but you get the idea of what it looks like now. I will say, that this simple paint job on this old mailbox has received almost as many compliments as the art in the landscape bed at the front of the house. Today, it needs a good cleaning, but I still like the choice of colors and the use of the mid-century retro stencils. By the way, you can find the mid-century stencils by Donna Mibus here. I bought several styles and have used them repeatedly. I love her selections.
The Small Flower Bed Near the Mailbox:
There is this a small little flower bed near the mailbox that Bernard always kept planted with seasonal flowers. It is an oddly placed bed that really isn't near enough to the mailbox to be considered part of that area. It isn't close enough to any tree to be considered that type of accessory flower bed. No, it is oddly placed in between a utility pole placed in an easement area along our driveway and the mailbox. It is in a depressed area of the yard, just before the front curb. It is too far away from the outdoor water spigot to easily water this spot so I have to either carry a container of water out to it or fully extend the hose from the house and put the sprayer on the highest dial to try to aim and shoot water to it. It is completely inconvenient, but it holds a lot of memories. Like I said, Bernard always planted seasonal annuals in this space. So I gave it a makeover too. Actually the makeover has changed through the years. I searched the property for rocks and made a border that luckily is still there today. The first fall I planted bulbs in this bed. I knew I could count on them to return every year with minimum effort. Since then I have tried a rosemary bush in the center (which died) and a rose bush in the center (which I believe is now really ready to die). I've tried my best to keep it mulched over the last 5 years, and clean the leaves that collect in the bed every fall. Finally, one day I bought some chipped marble and Mexican beach pebbles to cover it instead. I'll keep working on it because it is Bernard's flower bed. It is important.
Here are a few pictures of this bed over the years:
This is one long-ass post. But really.....
That is all.