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Backyard Renovation

March 28, 2010

QUESTION : Sent in from Shannon | Brooklyn, New York
Thank you for taking a look at my backyard garden area. Drastic improvements have already been made. For instance, we put down new grass and made flower beds on the sides. Also, we started putting up bamboo to separate ourselves from the neighbors. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. We have a budget of around $300.

Shannon – I really like the newly planted grass in the rectangular shape. I see your backyard evolving into an English garden. I notice some foundation cracks in the concrete patio; probably due to tree roots. Over time this will slowly get worse. You could temporarily patch it, but it will develop cracks again. One suggestion is to build a treated, wooden deck to go over it, but this would eat up a considerable amount of your budget. However,  I would rather see you spend it on a small patio set. The idea I’m leaning towards is using dirt and gravel to create a more rustic English garden.

You might also want to address water running down the stairs into the apartment. This can be solved by concreting in a small incline going away from the top of the stairs into the garden. This should help water run-off.

1. Use dirt from the back lot. Cover 1/2 to 1 inch of dirt over all the concrete area. Also during the process, level the dirt batch in the back to incorporate with the rest of the lot. Then using gravel, lay over all the dirt. I found a 50lb bag at Lowes for around $4. Your lot might require about 10 -12 bags. (Total $48) You can also put weed block fabric under the dirt and gravel against the cracked concrete.  Another option is to use larger stone or concrete stone pavers along with the smaller bags of gravel.  This will be a good footing on which to put a patio set.

2. Along the fence I would plant English Ivy (Hedera helix). It’s a very durable plant and can grow in sun or shade. Plant close to the bamboo and start to train it to go up the fence. You can use wire hangers or branches to help it start. On the exposed fence, weave in between the chain links to help get the ivy started. If should take about 20 plants spaced out. It can run you around $5-$8 depending on the where you buy. You could always transplant if you know someone that particular plant. On the back wooden fence, I would leave it alone.

3. I would try and anchor the four corners with some type of pot or urn. Inside each you could plant with seasonal plants or shrubs. If going with shrubs, I suggest Boxwood (Buxus L). It’s a hardy shrub you can eventually mold, cut into circles, squares or elongate – or just let it grow naturally. I think a Dwarf Boxwood or Green Velvet Boxwood would work nicely. This can go anywhere from $15 – $40 a plant. The pots or urns will cost you anywhere from $8 up for the simple terra cotta planter.

4. Keep the vegetable garden; but try and utilize the entire patch for this purpose. This way you enjoy growing your own vegetables. And it’s satisfying!

5. Find a nice wrought iron patio set. This will be the bulk of your budget. If lucky, you might find a used one and refurbish (a little steel wool and spray paint). Do your homework. I went online for a few minutes and found one at for $149 on sale.  A patio set will make the biggest difference in this space.

Eventually if you have more funds, I suggest getting a bench to go in the back of the property. It would be a nice touch. Good luck.

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