Looking back to this time last year, it's rather astounding the difference 12 months has made in our garden and our lives. Prior to the first shovel touching our earth, the yard sat empty and plain and mostly full of dirt and mowed weeds. It was overwhelmingly daunting the amount of work that lay before us, and frankly, we put it off for a long time. When we wanted to venture outdoors, we took the family hiking or cycling or occasionally camping. But the only use for our backyard was as a doggy bathroom. And in the summer, the heat was stifling and the sun unbearable, and at night the mosquitoes would get us. Who'd want to be out in the yard in that?
But then last summer, something happened that at long last triggered the start of my desire to take back our yard. The hackberry in our front yard died and threatened to fall onto the house.
You see the leaning of the tree in the picture on the left? That's no exaggeration or trick of the camera. That dead hackberry seriously threatened our house. It had to go. My husband did some research and calculations to determine exactly the best way to fell the tree, including getting it to fall where we wanted it to and not on the house. It worked perfectly, and neither house nor living tree nor person was damaged.
And in the process of removing the tree, which was a remarkably fun and exciting feat for these DIYers, a seed was planted. Not a literal seed at that time, but one that made me look at our yard and realize that the time had come to make it look better. The literal seeds would be planted later. :)
I focused on three areas at first: the front entry beds and areas in both the front yard and backyard for butterfly and hummingbird plants. As a family, we began the slow process of digging out weeds, mixing in compost, putting in edging, and planting a variety of nectar and larval food perennials. My goals weren't really set then, other than to get some plants to grow, but then my wonderful neighbor Jan planted another seed in my head: get my yard certified as a Wildlife Habitat. (The start of my garden beds also led to our friendship -- Jan and I didn't really know each other until she stopped to chat while I was working on the front bed. Now she is a dear friend and a wonderful habitat resource.)
One tiny bed to start. We like it and all the plants in it, but it's going to change someday. It's going to be much bigger and will take over a much larger portion of the front lawn.
It's a sign!
Almost immediately we had a toad in the little house I built for our habitat certification.
And that's where it all really began. Creating a wildlife habitat made me want more native plants, and suddenly I had a purpose for my garden. My idea for a small garden in the back changed to a bigger one, and the kids decided they'd like a butterfly-shaped butterfly garden, so we shaped it and worked on it.
I temporarily used rocks to create the butterfly shape, then used composite edging from recycled materials.
Craigslist also helped. A family moving to Seattle had to get rid of all their container plants, and I happened to find out about it and get there first -- suddenly I had many plants where once there was none.
Another Craigslist find was someone wanting all of his landscape rocks dug out and removed, and we jumped on it. A thought occurred to me that we could use the rocks to make a really cool pond, so I found an old hot-tub shell on Craigslist, too. And we worked on a raised bed. Progress was slow for several months...
Gardening was messy! We dug up so many rocks that it was tempting to just give up and let it go wild again. The influx of planter pots contributed to the mess, and the dogs kept dragging them across the yard.
Some areas were quick little touches. Just getting a few flowers in the old, broken wheelbarrow made a big improvement on the yard.
This crossvine and passionvine sadly did not survive, but the trellises remain and are now part of our veggie garden.
In no time, we started seeing the wildlife move in -- some good, and some bad. But all very exciting!
Everything grew well and added such beauty to our ugly yard. We did our best to get a few trees in the ground, too. But then I got sick, and then winter came, and progress slowed to a standstill. During the cold and dormant months, the dogs destroyed many of my plants in the backyard, and the deer ate a couple in the front, and little bits of grass started poking up all over the butterfly garden. After awhile, I just stopped wanting to look at it.
Sometimes I'd come home to sights like this. Grrrrrr.
This rambunctious play can take its toll on the garden when the dogs decide to do it on top of my flowers, trees, and new plants. ><

That husky sure looks tough, doesn't he? I'm amazed the puppy likes to instigate the rough play sometimes.

But spring arrived and brought its annual promise of good things to come, and I found my motivation again. We pulled out the weeds and bought new plants. We reminded the dogs that they needed to go around the garden and not through it (we're still working on this one).
See those trees against the house? Chinaberry and thorny Gum Bumelia -- both agressive spreaders. The Gum Bumelia was native, but too dangerous with its long sharp spines right in an area where we wanted to develop a colorful garden bed. We removed them. Actually we're still removing them. Stupid root systems that are too deep to get out of the ground!
Note the extent of our fall progress on the pond in the background. ><

March brought with it a major hail storm, which complicated our lives (about $17,000 in damage), but also led to our getting a new roof. What this meant for us was that we could finally paint the house and eventually put up gutters, which would allow us to set up a rain-barrel system. We're still trying to finish the new paint job, but we're working on it bit by bit.
Another major achievement was setting up shade sails over the cement slab patio in the back. Perhaps this step more than anything has helped us continue to stay focused on the backyard. This last summer was the first time we've ever spent any substantial amount of time in the yard, despite the major heat wave and drought our region experienced.
I put in soaker hoses to help with the watering and covered them up with mulch, and powerful rain storms and frisky dogs promptly exposed the hoses again. And again. Eventually I gave up trying to hide them. But the soaker hoses were a great help in watering during the spring.
Soaker hoses, pre-mulch
And the garden grew...
We also finished the pond (yay). You can see the details of our pond project here.
In April my neighbor Jan and I helped clean up Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake) for Earth Day. This workday also led to me becoming a Habitat Steward this year.
See all the Elephant Ear along the shore -- this is why they are considered invasive. They escape people's yards or are dumped in creeks, and then they take over.
A spur-of-the-moment plan to grow pumpkins for Halloween led to the planting of other fruits and veggies over the summer, and raised beds were... raised. Now we are working on growing beans, peas, strawberries, lettuce, spinach, and other yummies, in addition to the ever-growing pumpkins.
So let's do a little before and after glimpse at the yard that was and is, then look elsewhere around the garden to see where it's at one year into the making.
I painted the back door, but I still need to tackle painting the trim and eaves. Just need a week of sunshine and time.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. I often talk about the size of our backyard -- we have a lot to fill in.
View from the south corner: This back area will be more woods. Get your bearings -- see the vegetable trellis in the back part of the photo? View from the west corner: In this area I hope to have an arbored walkway that leads to a gazebo or spiral patio.
Notice the new location of the shed. I like it so much better there.
The weedy areas between the trellises and butterfly garden will all be decomposed granite pathways at some point, or some other type of walkway, with some extra plants to fill in the open areas.

The dog pond (aka wading pool) will be sunk into the ground and less visible at a glance. We want to keep it possible to empty it on a regular basis.

The front yard still has a ways to go, too. We have two main hindrances. We need to put in retaining walls along the front, but financially we're going to have to wait. And the two Arizona Ash trees are thriving, despite their full maturity, and we just can't cut them down right now. So we're planting where we can when we can, knowing that at some point there will need to be change. But even these 1- and 5-gallon plants will make a difference, and I can see the next stage of the wildlife habitat in progress. The trees we plant will hopefully grow and establish before the shade-giving Ashes have to go. Most of this front yard will be wildlife habitat and pathways, so what you see will one day be filled in.
The wild side yard needs more plants to be as wild as I want it.
And we have to purge some horrible nandinas still from the backyard. Soon! But this wooded area will also get more understory plants and low perennials for wildlife love.
We've pulled out most of the other invasives, but we can't afford just yet to remove the Tree of Heaven that's elsewhere on our lot. But we're down to just two species, and we have our glaring eye on them.
Planting the garden isn't just what we've been up to. We're making slow progress, but progress none the less, on painting. Here are the colors we chose -- it's hard to tell due to poor lighting, but the colors look fantastic with the red roof and limestone walls.
We've spread miscellaneous art and other features throughout the yard. Some we bought.
And some we made.
So happy first year anniversary, garden. Welcome, wildlife, to our home. We look forward to seeing what the next year will bring.

-- Hugs, Meredith