Landscaping for an Old House Part 1

The front of the house before

The front of our 1912 house before

It’s hard to write about a landscaping project before it’s actually completed. When we see the “before and after” in magazines the before is often 4 to 5 years before. After all, it takes a while for things to grow into their space.

This project is our last big project for the house. I’m sure we will have several smaller projects but my husband and I see this as our last big one.

We have been in our 1912 house for five years. In that time we: 1. replaced our gravity furnace, updated all the plumbing, and created a basement family room and laundry/bathroom in what was a concrete hole.
2. Landscaped the back yard completely from scratch. This required removing all the topsoil, getting new trees and bushes -everything.
3. Building a new garage to replace the one that had a sagging roof and had lilac roots growing inside its walls.
4. Tore out the 1912 kitchen, built a new one and added a small addition to increase the size of the kitchen and allow for a seating area. We built a wrap around deck to connect with the lower decks we built the year before.

A narrow,  broken concrete side walk

A narrow, broken concrete side walk

We are definitely tired.

The front of the house did not match the back. The sidewalk was crumbling and when we pulled it out (ourselves) we saw why. The poured concrete sidewalk went from a depth of 2 inches to eight inches! The concrete had simply been poured over loose gravel.

Both sides of the stairs (covered in shingles) you see in the top picture were falling outwards and this allowed rain, dirt, leaves to sit in the crevices. The stringers that held the stair treads were rotten.

We lost our Mountain Ash tree – a wonderful old tree with gnarly branches – to fire blight so the area looked naked. We pulled out a huge bed of “Bishop’s Weed” that, although it was low maintenance, it threatened to take over the yard.

What a job!

One bin was not enough!

One bin was not enough!

We removed tons of old grass, broken concrete, and of course wood from the rotten steps. We ordered a garbage bin as you see on the left. The bin on the right was full as you can see. Unfortunately the truck that came to pick up the bin couldn’t even lift it!

So, in comes bin #2. Thank God we had help from family and friends. They emptied out half of the first bin and tossed the refuse into the second bin!


What a job!

Once the bins were hauled away we started building our steps. We decided to do the work ourselves because of the cost involved in this project. Some quotes involved a retaining wall across the yard.

Modular stairs made with 24 inch blocks on wooden frames.

Modular stairs made with 24 inch blocks on wooden frames.

We decided to create modular stairs using 24 inch blocks on 4×4 frames made of pressure treated wood. This way we could attach each section one at a time to each other. The front walk is 6 feet wide. The front door is close to the street. A lovely, “meandering” sidewalk just did not work. The effect is now quite formal.

The sidewalk moves towards the back of the house as you see on the left. There is a patio area there and you can just barely see the pergola we built (behind the mound of dirt).

Before we even started to create the sidewalks, however, we had to build new stairs to the house. We decided to build a landing as well- just a small one of 5 feet- so that visitors could be on the same level as the door going into the house.

Stairs and landing are done!

Stairs and landing are done!

So you can now see where we are at on the left. The landing and steps were built and the base of the stairs are covered in shingles to connect the shingles around the side of the house. It looks good and feels right.

The landing is just big enough for a small bench and now the porch feels bigger because of it! Yippee!

The next step is creating a short fence across the front of the property and then planting trees and bushes and perennials. Stay tuned…