One of the reasons I wanted to move out to Waltham, our city/suburb, was that I wanted to be able to have a house and outdoor space of our own. I wanted a garden and a yard where our future kids could play. We couldn't get that in the middle of Cambridge or Boston. The lot we ended up with is relatively small, but the front is big enough for some flower beds, and the back yard had a small green space and the edge of a rocky hill. It looked spacious enough when we had first seen our place in late winter, but when the back yard started to fill in with weeds and poison ivy come spring, I realized we actually had very little useable outdoor space.
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We paid landscapers to remove the worst of the brush last fall; I had gotten a bad case of poison ivy last summer (I used to be immune! but no longer) and didn't want to mess with it again. We were then hoping to have the landscapers terrace the backyard a little, but when we got the estimate for the work, it was about $10,000. We could definitely not afford that! I decided to try working on it myself. (After paying a professional to take down the dead tree. I knew I couldn't do that myself.)
I had no idea what I was doing. I have never landscaped or done anything close to it. Mowing our lawn last summer was the first time I'd ever mowed. The only "garden" I've ever grown was the pots of herbs I grew on the fire escape of our last place. But I am not one to let inexperience stop me! Have you ever heard the silly kids' joke, "How do you make a statue of an elephant?" The answer is "Take a block of stone and chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant." This was the approach I decided to take with the backyard. I would chip away everything that didn't look like "my" back yard.
I got started in late March/early April, after the snow had melted but before anything could grow. I wasn't sure what I would do yet, but I knew that the first step was to clear away all of the leaves, sticks, and branches so I could get an idea of the land I had to work with.
While I did find a couple 3-4 hour chunks of time on weekends, the vast majority of this work was done between when I got home from work and when the sun set, which was about an hour a day in April. And because of social life stuff, I couldn't be home before dark every day. So it took me the whole month to clear the back yard, one hour at a time.
I didn't know how exactly that would work, but I liked the idea. Online searches for the best way to level one's land mostly gave me answers like "rent a tractor" or "hire a landscaper," so I was on my own. I did find that for small leveling jobs, people used what a bunch of sites called a "grub hoe" and a dirt rake. I could have gone to the hardware store for these, but first I went to my dad. He had an extra dirt rake (this is the best part about being from a really rural area: of course my dad had an extra dirt rake) and while he only had one grub hoe, he gave it to me because he "never wants to have a reason to use it again." (This did not bode well for how laborious the work ahead of me would be.)
Again, I could only put in about an hour a day of work, and even then only a few days a week, but I hacked at and raked the ground, pulling out winter creeper, poison ivy, and locust tree shoots as I found them. (I am proud to say that I seem to have eliminated the first two, but those darn locusts are still my enemy.)
It's getting overgrown, but I just can't spend much more time on it this year. It's still a work in progress, but I'm so happy with how far it's come!