Here's the RootsLiving backyard after a "Beacon Hill" makeover.
(Click here or the photo above to see a slideshow of the new backyard. To watch it full screen, click on the arrows in the lower right corner of the slideshow.)
Last year, I wanted to turn my small backyard in Malden, Mass. into something rivaling a Beacon Hill garden.
And this is what the yard looked like before the makeover.
My home is right outside of Malden Square and friends and family are often surprised at the amount of privacy we have: we have more privacy in the heart of the city than most people have in more suburban neighborhoods.
Yet, the yard was run down so I sought inspiration on Beacon Hill. Every year the Beacon Hill Garden Club has a tour of the hidden gardens there and so as news editor of Boston.com I conveniently decided I would create a photo gallery of the tour.
I knew I wanted to replace the old, crumbling asphalt walkway with bricks and extend the brickwork into a small patio. I also knew I wanted to add some small trees and bushes along the back fence. And I also knew none of this would be cheap, so I did what I usually do before starting a big project: I consulted a design expert so I wouldn’t miss any unforeseen opportunities to improve the yard.
This peace of mind cost about $250. For that, landscape designer Sally Muspratt came to my house and gave me suggestions for about an hour. She liked my basic plan and told me the best way to accomplish it by making a few structural suggestions and by letting me know what plants would do well in each area of the yard.
Here's another look at my urban oasis before improvements were made.
And here's the "after" shot of the same scene.
The most important thing she told me was not to waste money planting along the back fence, because a Norway Maple tree in the neighbor’s yard was putting its roots into my yard and would make it difficult for anything to survive. Instead, she suggested I build raised beds there where small trees and shrubs would be able to put down their roots.
I decided to buy the raised beds online at a site called, Naturalyards. And I also decided to buy two trellises; one in each raised bed at Trellis Structures. My friend, Jay Martinez (who works in engineering) supervised and helped install the trellises and build the beds. He also lent me his wheelbarrow, which came in handy when the local nursery dumped five yards of dirt in my driveway for the beds.
The two L-shapped raised beds are mirror images of each other. I planted the same plants in the same location in each one: two Japanese Stewartia trees; two climbing hydrangeas to climb up the trellises; two Japanese Maple trees; six low-bush blueberry plants; two Virginia Sweetspire; and two Redvein Enkianthus.
A look at the side yard before the makeover.
And a look at the side yard now. Bricks replaced broken asphalt and cobblestones replaced crumbling cement borders.
All of the plants are historically accurate to go with my 1848 house. In other words, most of these plants were readily available in the Boston area during the second half of the 19th century.
For the brick walkway and patio, I got three bids and they ranged from about $5,000 to $15,000. I went with the lowest bid, not only because of the price, but also because I had used these masons before and was a big fan of their work.
After the structural elements were in place, I tended to the smaller details: replacing an old, worn out patio table with a funky, painted, farm table; adding urns, window boxes and planters filled with flowers; and even stepping up the efficiency of my barbecue area by adding a baker’s rack someone was throwing out in the trash.
I may not be able to afford to live on Beacon Hill just yet, but now when I step in my yard, I feel like I’ve arrived.
(Photos and text by Mark Micheli)
Check out other RootsLiving home projects.