After almost two years of work, a backyard we can finally enjoy

I was thinking yesterday as I was installing the sod in the backyard about all the hours and sweat and some blood (and maybe just a few tears) that it took to get to this point. My goodness, we’ve come a long way from where we started in the backyard over two full years ago. So many separate individual projects, so much work, so many trips to Fort Totten (the dump), so many weekends and nights spent back there.

Pardon me if I get a little bit misty while I reflect about it all…

It’s all been worth it. For sure. And now, we’ll get to relax and enjoy it.

The sod arrived on a flatbed from Summit Hall yesterday while I was working at home, waiting to take mom to the airport at lunchtime to head back to Atlanta. And just like it did all day Monday, it was still drizzling — perfect for sod going in, soaking everything a foot deep back there. I had the forklift operator plop it down just outside the fence in the alley.

Sod Arrives

As soon as work was done, I went out and started cranking away to get it all down. I rented a turf roller from Home Depot and ran over the prepared dirt a few times with it 1/3 full to tamp things down and level the yard out a little bit. It showed me some low places where I needed to regrade a bit and level it out. Amazingly, the yard was almost TOO saturated with water and quite squishy in a few places. Without any roots or rocks to stabilize the soil, that much rainwater just completely saturated things. I added some peat moss in the worst areas to soak it up.

After a couple of hours of carrying one piece in at a time, placing it down, and cutting a few to fit, I had the sod laid. I filled the turf roller about 75% full and rolled the entire yard back and forth two dozen times until everything felt settled. (Pictures from Wednesday morning.)

May 1 Sod backyard May 1 Sod backyard

After two years of work, the yard is essentially finished. We’ll have a few small things to do here and there, but it’s finished. The view from the upstairs sleeping porch this morning was a beautiful thing. Especially when thinking about how it looked in May 2011, two full years ago.

Backyard overviewMay 1 sod is installed

One of our favorite things about the finished product is that we will have virtually zero stormwater runoff from our yard. We have the rain barrel that will capture all but the heaviest and longest rains, and now that we have the garden (and the grass) we have plenty of things to water back here to use all that rainwater.  We have drainage built into the retaining wall, but with grass, a garden and a pervious walkway covering almost all of the yard, almost all water that falls in the yard will likely be filtered slowly through the surface and returned to the groundwater.

This is a heavy contrast to most renovated houses that sell in the area and in DC, where they either pave the entirety of the backyard for parking or a patio, or otherwise turn most of it into impermeable surface because “that’s what buyers want.” (Like our neighbors’ house across the alley who park their cars on the street and are trying to break up a large chunk of the concrete the flippers poured so they can have a garden. Just because it sells doesn’t mean it’s what people want.)

And soon, we’ll have vegetables and herbs to eat from our own yard.

Here’s a quick look back in photos over those two years from May 2011 up to May 2013. Two years in time, and a world of difference.

Backyard from roof 2DSC_0027

Left – August 2011. Hedges on both sides mostly ripped out, with ancient fences left behind inside the hedges. Chain link fence in the back and large tree/shrubbery/whatever removed from the back edge of the yard. Looking naked and ugly, but at least the yard became 10 feet wider without the ridiculously wild unchecked hedges. Factoid: neither neighbor on either side knew who the fence belonged to, because for the 35 years they had lived next door, the hedges had always been there.

Right – February 2012. My awesome boss of a brother-in-law standing on a concrete pile of victory. Driveway mostly gone, or so we thought at the time.

Retaining Wall Night 2012-09-16 21.25.09Backyard aerial after fence

Left – September 2012. More concrete removed, and then the retaining wall for the back edge of the yard begins.

Right – January 2013. At Thanksgiving 2012, my father-in-law helped me build the raised bed on the north side of the yard. My friend Kurt built the fence around the same time.

2013-03-05 12.09.412013-04-28 13.59.00

Left – March 2013. Utilizing the RiverSmart program, we had a contractor put in a massively subsidized permeable paver walkway from the stairs to the back gate. Yard: still just dirt.

Right – April 2013. Yard tilled and graded, ready for sod.


For posterity’s sake and so I can have it all in one place, a quick look back at all that we had to do in the backyard to get to this point, as told in pictures and old posts from the blog over the last two years.

The Backyard Project

When we moved in, the backyard was a nightmare. The hedges were so big on each side that the yard felt like it was just 10 feet wide.

Pre-closing: backyard

And it mostly stayed that way until around July 2011. That was when I started tearing out the hedges. I did that mostly by shearing everything off down near the ground as much as I could, and then digging up the roots and remnants. It took four trips to get everything to Ft. Totten in a truck.

Last of hedges and fencePile o' hedges

After the hedges and fence and chain link posts set in concrete were gone, my brother-in-law started breaking up all the concrete for us. Shoot, he started AND finished breaking up the concrete in a single day!


With the concrete gone, it was time to make the full plan for the backyard. Step one was building the retaining wall at the back edge which would allow us to have a level backyard and also create a place to store the trash and recycling cans.

Backyard 7/16/12

Above: the backyard in the summertime 2012, around the time when our daughter was born. Weeds coming up, looking like a mess.

Excavation complete2012-09-20 17.08.17
2012-09-21 08.02.16

With the retaining wall finished in September/October 2012, we could finally start on the fence and the raised garden beds, which we did at Thanksgiving 2012. The fence went in at about the same time, which marked the end of the toughest phase — certainly all of the hardest labor. The yard was level, the retaining wall was done, everything was fenced in, and we had a bed we could plant come springtime 2013.


After that, we had the RiverSmart contractor finish the paver walkway, and then I dug and buried the new overflow drainage pipe from the rain barrel.

2013-04-20 19.04.37

Then we tilled the yard and removed a ton of rocks, put the sod in, and that was that!


Leave a Reply