Creating An Urban Oasis

This is the fifth and final post in a series of home renovation posts, a tour of the changes we've made inside our house since moving here six years ago. Here are the first four posts:

Now it's time to show you the yard.

Our backyard last year

Whereas Damien did most of the renovations inside, with help at times from my Dad, I have been largely responsible for the transformation of our yard and garden space. I designed and did most of the work myself with heavy lifting help from Damien. 

The backyard 2006, before we re-seeded the lawn

Gardening, and creating beautiful outdoor spaces, is one of my interests and definitely on the list of "things that make me happy".

When we moved here there was no beauty to speak of in the backyard, except for the lilac bush. But there was a bit of space. I can work with space. 

June 2005

The second summer we lived here we Damien graded the entire backyard and re-seeded the lawn. That was a huge undertaking and probably not worth the effort. Our soil has a lot of clay and with kids tramping back there all the time, the grass has slowly been displaced by the much hardier and clay-tolerant species of clover, plantain and other weedy lawn varieties. 

No matter, there isn't much "lawn" back there anymore anyway because over the years I've turned a lot of the backyard into gardens. Leaving just enough green space to put up a trampoline and a little bit for running around. 

While we're on the topic of trampolines... this is where I give my heartiest product endorsement ever (no, I'm not an affiliate). 

A couple years after buying our house we bought a Springfree Trampoline. Damien did lots of research and concluded, at the time, this was the safest trampoline on the market. 

I can't even begin to estimate how many hours our kids have spent on that trampoline. It is, by far, one of the best investments we've made for creating an outdoor play space for children in the city (and no one has broken anything while jumping on it). 

Back to the gardens...

The house came with a few perennials (peonies & lilies) and a couple deciduous shrubs in front. I added significantly to those existing "gardens" over the years and spent a lot of time researching how to build organic perennial beds. I was successful at creating gardens where there was always something pretty in bloom from May through November. 

Front door when we bought the house June 2005

June 2009

perennial bed along driveway 2010

One of the sad things about leaving this house is saying goodbye to all the plants I have lovingly nurtured over the years and the gardens I have built. I can see already there will be a bumper crop of strawberries this year and even more raspberries than last year. 

strawberry and perennial bed last summer

My old neighbor told me just this week that I brought "a bit of country to the city" with my gardens. That is true. Late last summer I especially took notice of the butterflies and birds that came to visit. It was a privilege to provide a bit of habitat in the city for these creatures. 

butterfly garden 2010

comfrey and compost corner

I'm going to miss my gardens. This coming life season (the next couple years) will not include a lot of gardening. But I have no doubt that someday I'll return to my "roots" and create a beautiful yard again. 


Moving Update: We leave Maine in 2 sleeps. I am exhausted and worn out beyond belief from this last week and the months leading up to it. This move has been like giving birth, only more difficult. I am just faintly, ever so faintly, starting to see the light at the end of this tunnel. 

PS. We're moving the trampoline with us and it's one of the last things to go in the trailer because we'll be setting it up at my parents for the summer. The backyard looks so lonely without it. 

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  • Hillary

    Hillary on May 19, 2011, 1:28 a.m.

    Wow! I can't believe I haven't seen the trampoline yet. I want one! We so can't spring for it, but I'm sold. Maybe next year.

    The before and after pics look amazing! Great job.


  • gina brown

    gina brown on May 19, 2011, 2:02 a.m.

    Thank you for sharing your family's incredible journey with us. I am so excited for you guys! I hope your final days in ME are smooth sailing and your travels to Canada as well. I admire you and your family so very much. You have inspired us to be outdoors with our children on a more regular and purposeful basis. We are all enjoying that aspect of our lives so much. Best of luck to you in this new adventure. Safe travels from our family in WA- Gina Brown


  • Beetnik Mama

    Beetnik Mama on May 19, 2011, 2:04 a.m.

    I know you're crazy busy, so I sure appreciate the tour of the backyard. Love (and am envious of!) the results from your green thumb. And I have no doubt you'll put your talents to work again in due time.

    Just wondering -- what ages were your kids when you got the trampoline? We're trying to figure out our backyard (playset? playhouse? what?), and this seems like such a fun option!


    • renee

      renee on May 19, 2011, 2:11 a.m.

      I posted this as much for myself as anyone. I really wanted to remember all these different aspects to our house and posting the before and afters, and telling a bit of the story was a good way to do that.

      Our kids were 4, 6 & 8 when we bought the trampoline. We too thought about about a swingset or playset but went with this because of the physical exercise it gives kids, our limited space, and the fact that big kids like trampolines also, swings... not so much. It cost a lot at the time (more than our old car) but it was a good investment in our kids' health and enjoyment outdoors. Our kids love it as much now as they did then, probably more. 


  • Leslie

    Leslie on May 19, 2011, 2:16 a.m.

    ok, I'm sold - I want a trampoline now!!! haha! And I am so inspired to learn how to garden - I love how you attract butterflies and birds. We just went to a butterfly farm and it got me thinking about how we could attract more butterflies to our yard. Only problem - we're renting and have a shared yard, so I don't think I can do much right now - but we might be moving houses (same town) this fall, and that could open up a bunch of new possibilities!


  • Rana

    Rana on May 19, 2011, 2:21 a.m.

    We have the playset donated by Grammie and Grandpie the kids love it. But like you said they are getting bigger and I think they would enjoy the trampoline more. I know I would be out there bouncing.

    I love your garden! I wish mine looked half as good as yours does. My husband calls me the black thumb instead of green thumb. I'm slowly learning the in's and out's of gardening. I love to be out digging in the dirt.

    Wow only 2 more days even though you are exhausted you must be floating on air. So excited for you all.


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on May 19, 2011, 4:16 a.m.

    Another great post - this one gives me hope that my backyard will someday be transformed. We bought the house in September and I've made some big improvements already.

    As I was planting seeds for flowers I was thinking that hopefully I'll have flowers this year for your Friday Flowers series....are you thinking of doing that again?


  • Constance

    Constance on May 19, 2011, 3:14 p.m.

    What beautiful gardens! Hopefully your next house will already have a head start for you in terms of plants! As it is so close to your move, I just want to wish you luck and say (in advance) welcome back to Canada!


  • Penny

    Penny on May 19, 2011, 4:32 p.m.

    Good luck Renee! I just popped in to say I was thinking of you and to wish you happy trails :)

    What a lovely garden! At least you can bring all the gardening knowledge and experience you've gained with you, if not all the actual plants...


  • Nola

    Nola on May 19, 2011, 5:29 p.m.

    Wow so beautiful!!! Our house came with lots of overgrown (badly overgrown) flowerbeds. I've devoted much of my time to my vegetable garden and not so much to the flowers, but slowly am working on it. We have so far removed an old rotten patio style deck and are removing a large overgrown wooden planter box since its in such bad state that its best to just rip it out and start over. One thing I don't know why I didn't do it sooner was put up bird feeders. Its transformed my yard having them chirping away and seeing them visit.

    I hope that the next few days go well for you. I hope you enjoy being back in Canada again. Its a great place to be! I can't imagine living anywhere else.


  • Pam

    Pam on May 20, 2011, 11:45 a.m.

    Wow, what an amazing yard transformation! You surely do have a wonderful green thumb. We just planted some of our vegetable garden last night (we are fortunate to live on a large family farm though) and are hoping to get the rest of it planted over the weekend. Oh, and I LOVE your trampoline!! That definitely looks like something our kids would enjoy so we may have to start saving for that :) I hope your move goes well and that you can get back to gardening sooner rather than later. Safe travels to you!!!


  • Leilani

    Leilani on May 21, 2011, 2:57 a.m.

    Renee! I've been avidly following your countdown...from my phone (computer is on death's door). Which is why I haven't been commenting (SUCH a pain), but I wanted you to know that I'm definitely thinking about you often! Good luck over the next couple of days...I hope it will be GOOD (with whatever GOOD entails).


  • Stella

    Stella on May 22, 2012, 7:12 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    I can't believe it's taken us so long to come across this post. Beautiful photo of your kids on the Springfree with the fall leaves.

    We're thrilled your Springfree is such a welcome addition for your family's backyard. Happy jumping!

    Stella from Springfree


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