VICTORIA | OAK HOUSE

FALL PLANTS AND PLANS

One of the hardest things about moving from Toronto to Victoria was the fact that we were starting over. New jobs, new community, new friends, new time zone, but — most of all — new property.

A few comparison photos for you:

I could go on.

Granted, we owned our Toronto house for a little over five years and did our share of work to beautify that property. The flagstone patio, shed, reclaimed brick paths, kissing gate, grass, garden beds… we did it all. So maybe I’m being a little unfair to poor Oak House. But you can probably understand how difficult it was to leave a property in a very nice sort of condition, only to start over (this time with a 16-month-old in tow) to one that looked like, well, our new place.

To add insult to injury, Victoria’s mild winters mean there’s no reprieve from the eyesore. No snow to blanket everything for a few months of the year, no frost to stop things from growing enthusiastically, no time when you can shrug and say, “It’ll have to wait until the spring.” Instead, steady rain and positive temperatures mean things continue to grow all year long, all this in a city that offers no curbside yard waste pick up service. (You can take your yard waste to the recycling centre during a narrow window of time on Saturdays only — it’s all especially useful if the only vehicle you own is a Volkswagen Golf.)

Over the past 18 months we’ve made efforts to whip our yard into shape. But, distracted by other things (interior projects, other areas of the property, nap strikes), we often failed to fully complete a yard task, to both clean an area up and secure the landscape fabric that would prevent the weeds and grass from taking over again within the week. We kept finding ourselves back at square one outside. At just over 5,000 square feet, we also struggled to figure out just what to do with all our outdoor space. The only thing we could really come up with? We just wanted a backyard like the one we had in Toronto again. Some flowers, some grass, somewhere to sit, a little shed to store the rake and the lawnmower.

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March 2017
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October 2018

I won’t say we achieved that this year, not even close. But we have started to make some progress, fully finishing small sections complete with fresh soil, landscape fabric, driftwood and rock borders, cedar mulch and plants.

We were inspired (or maybe prodded) by our back door neighbours, who undertook their own large yard makeover this year, complete with a gate that gives access to our yard. For our part, we felt we ought to at least remove the section of chainlink fence on our side and clear a bit of a path to allow passage.

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It ended up being quite the project as, under a thin layer of soil, was basically a “clean fill” site full of broken bricks, rocks and chunks of concrete. We got the whole area turned over eventually, some new soil, laid landscape fabric down as best we could, added a few new plants, a truckload of cedar wood chips and reused some of the buried rocks to create a garden border.

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In clearing this one section, our “patio” became quite the staging area, full of paper yard waste bags, a tarp piled high with roots and soil, and rocks too heavy for me to roll much further than a few feet.

Once all the yard waste was hauled away (it really became all too much for Saturday-only drop-offs at the yard waste disposal centre in the Golf), we were left with a clean slab, albeit cracked with an octagon shape cut out slightly off centre, where an apple tree (long dead) used to grow. (Unsure if the previous owners poured the slab around the apple tree, killing it, or cut away an area for the explicit purpose of planting an apple tree, which obviously struggled to thrive in such a spot.)

We don’t know what we’ll do with this slab yet. Break it up and pour a new slab in its place when we pour a slab to reconstruct our deck? Slap a shed on top, hiding it for the most part? Or, as we tighten the purse strings, we may opt to embrace it as it is, seeding pretty ground cover in all the cracks, planting something in that octagon hole, maybe order an umbrella to join our IKEA chairs and cast iron fire bowl (stuck on the mainland somewhere and not available for these photos).

What I do know is that fall is the best time of year for yard projects. The days are cooler, a little bit of rain has softened the soil and perennials are 60% off. Newly planted plants are also a lot more likely to root, as nature takes care of watering them almost daily through October and November. So, as far as actual gardening goes, I plan to stick to these months when adding new beds and plants in future years.

That being said, spring — our third in this house! — will likely see us take on the bulk of our remaining structural outdoor projects: a little shed and new back deck.

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It’s been suggested to us that the deck needs to be supported by a proper concrete foundation, that pouring a new slab here would be the best way to start. Which brings us back to the slab at the rear of the yard — break that up and pour a fresh slab while all the materials and equipment are here? Keep it as a derelict patio and pour a small slab somewhere else in the yard for a shed? Keep it as a derelict patio, but put our shed on top?

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I’ve got to say that, seeing our chairs there (and picturing the fire bowl — it’s coming!) makes me think I could do a lot with some Creeping Jenny or Flowering Thyme and some string lights and maybe an umbrella for some shade. Pouring a new slab here would also partially destroy the two areas we have already worked hard on, the veggie garden to the left and the path to our neighbours’ yard on the right. So I’m feeling working with this cracked pad as is and keeping it as a seating area and then pouring a small slab just for our shed somewhere else in the yard.

To be continued!

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