Nephews Garden

Creating Spaces for a busy young couple

An super sized yard can be a new gardener’s dream.  At the beginning though it can seem a nightmare.  This is the case for my nephew Vince and his wife Danielle. Their home has a large backyard with the added challenge of a barren hillside.
The fix?

Break down the work into sections based on time and budget. Prioritize on problems that can cause damage and those areas you see everyday.


  • Drainage away from house (priority 1)
  • No shade on patio (priority 3)
  • Weeds and dead grass
  • Hillside bushes overgrown
  • Rocks are weedy
  • Need utility area for trash
  • North side privacy
  • Nothing to see here! (priority 2)


  • A nearly clean slate
  • Patio concrete in good shape
  • Neighbors have nice trees

Where to begin?

The first thing to fix is the drainage around the house. A french drain may be needed to get water out to the street.
As we add plants that tolerate clay soil, and begin to improve the permeability of the soil, less runoff will occur. We can also create a dry river bed to move water into a rain garden in an area to the north.

We will start with what you see from your french doors. The  back of the house faces east. So you get some shade in the afternoon on the patio. A deciduous shade tree will be planted to the right side of the patio, giving nice shade in the heat of the day. A deciduous tree allows shade in summer and light/heat in winter.

The Patio first year

While it would be nice to have a shade structure above the french doors, this will not be the first year’s goal as the cost of the arbor I show in example 3 will probably take up the budget for all the plants in year 1.

So to create shade without a high cost, we can use  wood lattice connected to anchored 2x4s.  Or perhaps we go crazy with nice planter.




The trellis below are backed by a wood frame and anchored to the existing stairs. We would create ours with either 4x4s or 2x4s that would be cemented into the ground.



A more fancy version with a small pergola looks like:
Pergola to create privacy and shade

For future something to think about would be a large pergola to cover the patio.

French Door View

French Door View

To create more depth of field, a section of the first row of of railroad ties would be removed. The ground leveled an d a retaining wall using large block in a semi-circular pattern would create a small gravelled patio area with a bird bath or small fountain for sound.  The wall could become a seat wall with top dress stone.  For plants, I selected low growing evergreen plants as a base ground cover.  A lighter evergreen like euonymous or yew will give a different texture.  To fill out the evergreen background I added a taller pine. But you could also substitute with a tall grass like Pampas grass.

 1 A variety of creeping juniper, like Buffalo Juniper, or Blue Chip.

A variety of euonymus, like moonshadow that will grow to about 3′ tall

3 Shrub Rose – Knock Out roses bloom continuously through the summer and do not need a great amount of water.

4 Blue Avena or Blue Oat Grass form a graceful clump.

5 Scotch Pine <15′ tall – or Pampas Grass


Drainage at bottom of hill

If the hillside runoff is the main culprit of your drainage issue, you can also look at a dry creek bed that would run the length of the house in front of the hill, meandering to a holding pond at the north end of the backyard, with an overflow out to the front via a smaller bed / french drain.

Dry Creek Bed Images

Dry creek bed for drainage

I don’t know where exactly it might start and would need to determine cost of materials.
Some of the existing rock might be used, but they may not be rounded so would look strange.


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