Before + After: De-grassing the Front Yard (Chapter One)

It’s been a little over a year since we moved out to the North Coast, and we have made a LOT of progress on this property, both inside and out. It’s a very different life being on 5.6 acres in the country compared to 0.1 acre (50×100′) in the city, to state the obvious, and one of the things that was really important to us was to find ways to help our land get healthy again after several decades of not being cared for in a way that respects the planet, invites pollinators and birds, lessens the amount of lawn needs mowing, and as a bonus, gives me a gorgeous view to look out on from my home office nook that’s off our dining room!

Here’s what it looked like when we bought the house last summer:


It was a tremendous blank slate of a front yard, with so much potential!

How weird is it to move to the country and have no honeybees, few birds hanging out, and ZERO worms to be found in the soil??!!!

The former owner had left lots of old chemicals when she departed so I was actually able to see first hand what we – and the soil – had been up against.  A LOT of things like MiracleGro which destroys the natural diversity in soil and kills earthworms. After all, this is an area where I soon learned RoundUp is used on properties like there’s no tomorrow (“just RoundUp your lawn and kill everything so you can plant your garden!” someone said to me early on, and my chin just dropped…I gently have let folks know I don’t want to kill my poultry, the good bugs, our bees, or poison the groundwater by using such a product).  The ground was also immensely compacted because she usually let her horse have the run of the entire property (even the front yard), which is very tough on the land and makes it feel like concrete when you put a shovel to it. While there were bumblebees galore exploring the clover in the pasture that had grown since her departure, I’d gone up to a neighbor’s house for a visit and she told me that occasionally she’d see hummingbirds. Plus, there were more bees up there (now, not as many bees as one would think with all of her flowers, but I soon figured out that their property was green year-round not because of the rain but because they spray…everything. Sigh.).

So I knew that there was promise if we just gave the land some time to exhale and regenerate. And off to work we went.

Husband transplanted our eucalyptus trees we’d potted up and brought with us (while they are obviously not native, these winter-hardy varietals we have grow quickly, don’t muck up the soil, do great in our windy coastal weather, and are…lovely!), and ordered a few more so our front fence will eventually be lined with them.  To be super classy and really freak out the Monsanto-lovers, I covered up about a quarter (maybe 30’x40′?) of the front yard in black plastic, weighted down by old bricks from a pink hearth I’d taken down in our living room that fall. Yep, looked trashy all winter. So what?!

It let the grass die without chemicals, and the sod underneath got all nice and supple so that in the early spring it literally ripped out like pulling up carpet (unlike Portland, I couldn’t just put cardboard down – the wind here in the winter will whip it out from under heavy things like tissue paper). We de-potted a bunch of the things we’d brought over from Portland, including our candycane salvia and bay, plus seeds we’d saved like lupine, went crazy at the annual native plant sale here in town (not as wild as the one in Portland but still a lot of good offerings like aster, snowberry, mallow and red flowering currant…ones that also are purported to be deer resistant), and then of course I went even MORE crazy while in the big smoke stocking up on gladiola, pineapple sage, red flowering tobacco, cathmint, agastache, bee balm, black eyed susans, rockrose, California lilac, curry, and tons more salvia/sage as I can’t seem to get enough! That with a truckload of the dark hemlock mulch from the good folks at Trail’s End Recovery, we were on our way.

Today, 14 months after the original photo was taken, our front garden looks like this:


This “chapter one” of our front yard garden is now TEEMING with every kind of bee imaginable, from bumble to mason to honey and more, along with butterflies, a million kinds of birds it seems, and TONS of the local “Anna’s” hummingbirds (I planted a lot just for them) absolutely blissing out. It’s one of those awesome things where I can get super distracted from my day-to-day work and just stare out the window and watch everything that’s going on out there, from the robins looting the ground for worms every morning to the honeybees taking advantage of the asters (which you can see have skyrocketed to the tallest shrubs in here!) late in the season (as one of the final pollen sources of summer, I’ll be planting more next year for sure!). While I do take the recommendations seriously of a former blogger to use the stinky-egg spray (Plantskyyd, etc.) on the outskirts of this garden, they literally have not been TOUCHED all year. Fall is the great test, as our roses were decimated last year, even the ones against the house, and consistent spraying has been the only thing to protect them this year, but these plants here are almost all marked deer resistant as most are beautifully scented, which they’ll only go after if they’re realllllly desperate. Knock on wood!

Now for 2020? Yep, bring back the black tarps for some more de-grassing!! It’s going to be especially ambitious … and I can’t wait!

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