How a Blizzard Sparked our Backyard Transformation

A functional backyard wasn’t exactly high on our list of priorities when Jessica and I were looking for a house in 2019. We knew we needed some type of personal outdoor space, preferably fenced, for out dog Griffin to do his business. But everything else was gravy. Turns out, the yard we ended up with “checked-the-box” for our Griff needs. But it didn’t have much else going for it. Here’s how the real estate listing showed the yard:

Seems kinda alright, right? Maybe a bit zany with those “Stairs to Nowhere,” but all-in-all not a bad pic for a realty listing. Looks can be deceiving. By the time we moved in, here’s what we were dealing with:

Bamboo invasion! About half the yard was covered with bamboo as it crept down from behind the neighbor’s property behind our fence. I’ll confess the privacy bamboo offers is nice as it concealed the condos behind our house quite well. But I’ve since found that the diligent upkeep it requires outweighs any potential benefit. Slack off for more than a week in mid-spring and the forest will infest the yard like a cancer. It’s the most invasive plant I’ve ever had to manage.

Over the past couple of years, we ended up compromising and just cutting it back every spring. The routine hummed along in relative harmony. The yard wasn’t pleasant. But it was sufficient.

Griffin’s ever-watchful guard stands tall on the “Stairs to Nowhere”

Enter the Snowstorm

In January 2022, we were hit with an epic sandstorm – excuse me, snowstorm – that dumped around 10 inches of wet snow in a relatively short period. Fortunately, we didn’t get stranded for 24 hours on an interstate as some of our neighbors did, but there was still an impact. Notably, the bamboo forest we loved-to-hate was decimated.

I wasn’t exaggerating about the condos: There they are in full view!

We probably would have kept on living in relative harmony with the bamboo if it wasn’t for the snowstorm. But since the bamboo forest was damaged beyond repair, it needed cleared… and if I took the time to clear the bamboo, then I’d feel obligated to improve the yard itself… and if you give a mouse a cookie….

Why not try to transform the yard from a liability into an asset? Not to mention it’d be great to have a place for the kids to run around with minimal supervision. Or a place to sip and relax in the summer evenings when the kids are exiled to their bedrooms.

And so, the seed was planted and quickly spread like the bamboo’s conquest of our yard. It was a small, challenging space. But there was potential.

I committed to the cause by tearing out a portion of the chain-link fence where two trees had grown through the fence. The starting gun had sounded; there’s no turning back now! The trees were pushing over the side retaining wall and leaning over into our very limited usable space. I’m hesitant about cutting down trees, but these two had to go. I resolved to plant a couple new trees in their stead when all is said and done.

No fence, no problem. Just add chicken wire! #fancy
Found some pirate booty under the stump. Complete with spare change, a baseball card, and an unopened condom.
Here’s hoping its not cursed!
This tree was about 15” in diameter and had grown clear through the chain link. Because nothing comes easy during a renovation project.

Grand Plans

The canvas was prepared. Now for the planning. The total affected area isn’t much; just over 800 square feet. Our hope is to give everyone a piece of the miniature sized pie within this compact space: How to fit a playground, patio, and grassy area back here?

To make the space usable, a retaining wall seemed necessary on either side of the Stairs to Nowhere. This would break up the space into a “Lower” and “Upper” tier. Then, on the right-side of the Lower Tier, we planned a patio; a playground was planned for the left. The Upper Tier would be all grass.

How is it the dog gets the most space?

With my highly sophisticated plans in place, I created a schedule for phased construction:

  • Phase 1: Project Planning & Prep
  • Phase 2: Retaining Walls
  • Phase 3: Patio
  • Phase 4: Play Area
  • Phase 5: Safety Fence
  • Phase 6: Seeding & Landscaping
  • Phase 7: Privacy Fence
  • Phase 8: Custom Playground

And with that… Let the haphazard construction begin!

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