May 12, 2011 What's Going On
This is the story of how our backyard went from being a disaster to being a beautiful oasis of grass and bricks in just two short weeks. Five years and two weeks.
When we moved in to our brownstone the backyard was a complete mess. It had a hideous plastic and wood “shelter” built on to the back of the house that contained two hornets’ nests. There was a cracked and ugly cement patio, a mess of wires covering the back wall, and ugly weeds and bushes everywhere. The ground was littered with glass, metal and rocks, and it wasn’t just on the surface either: decades of abuse had filled the dirt with layers of garbage. It wasn’t just ugly, it was unusable. and dangerous.
For the first couple of years we didn’t care much. We were only living in the top half of our house, so we never came into contact with the backyard, except out of the windows. As our renovation progressed more junk got put back there: wood, pipes, two big radiators that no longer worked, a bathtub, and other contractor junk.
Eventually my husband started tackling the backyard. He had a plan: he would dig down a couple of feet and “sift” the metal, glass and rocks out of the dirt using a big wood-and-chicken-wire contraption he built. Some weekends the kids would help him. I begged him to just hire someone and get it done quickly, but honestly I think he was enjoying taking things into his own hands.
He dug for two summers. As much time as he spent on it, he seemed to be making little progress. He did find some interesting things though: old bottles and coins, a pipe, and most impressively, an almost-intact toilet buried in the back next to a tree.
I’m not positive what pushed him over the edge this year, but I suspect it was visiting a friend’s renovated house. He decided to give up on his little project, and hired the same guys who had done his friend’s backyard. They got to work two weeks ago today.
The first step was to break apart the old cement patio. The crazy thing is, they found a layer of blue stone under it, which my next door neighbor’s husband happily took off our hands. After that mess was cleared out, the bricks and sand and cement mix started coming in.
And kept coming.
And kept coming.
The raised garden beds were the first to go in. We had them bury some containers in there so that we could grow vegetables without our dirt getting mixed in with the completely leaded Brooklyn dirt, and we’ll be putting in a bunch of flowers too.
Days of leveling and brick-laying followed.
Finally our lawn was pieced together. That was the day I almost cried. And in the three days that we’ve had grass I’ve turned into one of those lawn-obsessed people. Thank goodness it’s behind the house, so I only have to chase my own children off of it (I’m not being mean, we have to water it three times a day and treat it very gently for a few weeks, until the roots take hold in our dirt).
The very last thing left to do is to put a big awning on the back of the house over the patio (our backyard gets sun pretty much all day), and that should be done tomorrow, so basically it’s finished. I keep glancing out of the window expecting to see the hideous mess that I’d been looking at for so long, but instead I see a gorgeous space that I’ve been looking forward to for years.
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