Planning out the rest of the backyard

While the retaining wall is almost finished, we’ve been going back and forth on the master plan for the rest of the yard.

(About that wall: I disassembled it and started spiking the bottom run after work Wednesday, but ran out of rebar. I woke up early Thursday and ran up to my favorite DC lumberyard Galliher & Huguely at 6:30 to get some more so I can finish Thursday night. More on that later.)

After a LOT of deliberations over the last two years and last two weeks we’ve got a pretty good plan hashed out for the backyard. Some of it we knew from the beginning (fence, raised beds), but the devil is always in the details and figuring out how everything would fit together has taken awhile. But we know we want:

  • A retaining wall to level out the yard and lose the 8% slope.
  • A 4-foot fence on the sides (we love our neighbors and don’t want to hide away)
  • A 6-foot privacy fence on the back with a gate
  • All the concrete removed
  • Raised beds along the entire north side of the fence, where the best daily sun is.
  • Pavers for a walkway from the deck stairs to the back gate, running along the raised beds to help reach them for gardening.
  • Pavers for a back patio running from the house to the walkway (you’ll see in the diagram below)
  • As much grass as possible in the southwest corner.

So here’s the plan thus far. First, my roughed out scratch on a picture from the roof, and then something I threw together in InDesign “almost” to scale to show to paver contractors. (Note, they’re from the opposite view of each other.)

The walkway and the patio are going to be constructed out of permeable pavers. One color or style for the walk, and a different one for the patio so there’s a line of demarcation showing where the walk is. At the end of this, we’ll end up with some soft green space for kids to play in and put up a jungle gym or whatever one day, and we’ll have a nice smooth paved area where we can put a fire pit or a table and chairs and have some seating.

We’d love to emulate the feel of Rachel’s parents house, whose gorgeous backyard is cut into a wooded hill sloping up from the house, so the stone walls, beds rising up, and pavers on the ground make it feel like an outdoor room. With a great fire pit in the center we use all the time when we’re visiting in the cool seasons.



The bonus is that our raised bed is going to serve as additional seating for backyard hangouts, but more on that later.

One of the reasons we’re getting started on this now and using a contractor for the paved walk (and patio if we can manage it now) is because of a great DC program for homeowners that pays for part of the work.

We signed up for DC’s free RiverSmart program more than a year ago. (DC folks, it’s still open. Sign up now and join. It’s free.)

It’s a program to help reduce stormwater runoff by incentivizing homeowners to install rain gardens, rain barrels, bayscaping (natural grasses that prevent erosion and don’t need watering), and/or the removal of impervious surface and replacement with permeable surfaces to help filter rainwater and cut down on runoff. Along with a subsidized rain barrel for $25 (we got ours last Thanksgiving), you get to choose a rain garden, bayscaping, or $1200 towards concrete removal or new permeable hardscaping to replace concrete. We opted for the $1200 towards some permeable pavers, and got rid of the concrete ourselves.

Er, are still getting rid of the concrete I should say…I keep finding more every time I dig in the back yard.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (which administers the program) sent me a list of approved contractors, and I’m getting estimates for the pavers. They take $1200 off the final price and are repaid by the ACB or DDOE. We’ll end up paying very little for the walkway in the program — almost zero. But the back patio is about 25 more square feet, and though we’re getting estimates for that too, I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to afford to do that section right now. I might be doing that myself after everything else is done.

But that would still mean that we’ll be able to get the wall, fence, walkway and raised beds done now and be ready for planting in the beds before the end of the year (and next early Spring.)

How does the plan look? Think we’re making good use of the space?

Next time, I’ll talk about the plan for the raised beds and some surprising things I’ve discovered about cost and materials.

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