I am so very excited to have a place to store tools and gardening equipment and bikes and lawn chairs and all sorts of outdoor things.
One of my goals for this year was to build a backyard shed and front walkway. While I was able to finish the walkway months ago, the shed took longer due to holdups in the zoning permit and then the excessively long wait-list for the shed. I lucked out in that because of the pandemic, our Certificate of Appropriateness that was set to expire in January, was automatically extended for an extra 6 months.
To recap, the Certificate of Appropriateness is essentially a special permit we need because we live in a Raleigh Historic District. The Historic Development Commission reviews plans for basically anything that we want to do to the exterior of our house or property to ensure that it aligns with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, and is consistent with the character of the neighborhood.
For the shed, the main constraints were that it needed to be wood siding (not plywood), and have a wood window. This meant that we couldn’t just pick something out from the Home Depot catalog, we basically needed something custom built. We found that several neighbors had used Carolina Yard Barns, which left us confident that we would be able to get one of their sheds approved, but I still needed to also order a custom window because they don’t offer a wood window option. So we had a window sitting in our front entryway for 3 months while we waited for the shed to be built.
The build date that we were quoted was initially April 13th but that got pushed back until May 6th because of rain delays. And even then, the build that was theoretically only supposed to take a full day didn’t get completed until May 11th because it kept raining.
Above is how it looked when Carolina Yard Barns was done with it.
And then I needed to caulk and prime and paint it to match the house. I still need to touch up the paint a bit, but we’ve already started moving some things in there and it’s so nice to have our front entryway and dining room back, just in time for people maybe coming to our house again someday soon.
I set up a luxury irrigation system this year and I’m pretty excited to share it with you in case you want to be inspired by me.
It’s time for a few updates on our Luxury Yard Renovation. First, when I mentioned expanding and planting my garden a couple months ago, I also mentioned that I was hoping to add some sort of irrigation system to make it easier to keep up with the watering. I have done just that.
I mangled together various Rain Bird components to build a simple drip irrigation system.
Starting at the faucet, I attached this Faucet Connection Kit, which includes a backflow preventer, a 25 psi regulator, and a mesh filter. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to put it on a timer initially but now I’m not sure why I didn’t do it in the first place. I would save me from the times that I forget to turn the water off and accidently leave it running for 24 hours. So I’m planning to add a Timer but they’ve been out of stock the last couple times I’ve been to the store and I’ve been too lazy to order one. The other end of the connection kit is directly attached to 1/2″ Drip Irrigation Tubing.
I ran the 1/2″ tubing up the wall of our house, used a hook to hold it up, then added a 90 degree angle using 1/2″ Barbed Elbow attached to more 1/2 inch tubing. That tubing runs above our gate, then it’s caught and carried down using this Double Shepherd Hook because it was the best thing I could think of using.
From the shepherd hook, the tubing just runs to the garden, weaving in and out of the chain link.
A second shepherd hook catches the tubing at the corner of the garden and carries it down to garden level.
Another 1/2″ barbed elbow is used to turn the corner and run the tubing flat along that back of corner garden box and then a final barbed elbow carries the tubing along the left side of the corner box. With just the components I mentioned so far, if I turned on the faucet, the water would run through the tubing and shoot straight out the top center of the above picture. This 1/2″ End Closure is use to fold the end back on itself to stop the water flow, much like a crimp in a hose. But then we still don’t have a useful irrigation system.
Since my garden boxes are tiered, I cut small holes in the frame to allow the tubing to run through it, rather than having to drape over it.
Overall the system works pretty well. I might consider adding a few sprinkler heads or something next year, depending on what the plants seem to want but at this point the main problem with my garden seems to be that I was too lazy to put up netting or fencing this year so critters keep digging up my seeds and snacking on my plants.
I’ve expanded my garden and am sharing some details about what I’m planting where this year.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
In my post last year about Phase Two of our Luxury Yard Renovation, I shared the small raised bed garden that I had built and told you that I planned to add onto it this year. Well I’ve done just that.
Unfortunately a few of the boards I bought are a little too thick for some reason so I’m going to have to trim them down but for now, they’re sitting horizontally around the back box. But they do give you a bit of an idea of what it will all look like when it’s complete, since my plan is to add horizontal boards on top around the entire perimeter to be used as bench seating.
Each of the boxes is four feet by four feet so I put together a garden plan that is perfect for an indecisive person who can’t decide what to grow.
I included some information about what I’d be planting in other parts of the yard so here’s a quick snap shot of some of those areas to refresh your memory.
Along with the plan, I broke down when I needed to plant what.
I missed starting some of the seeds on schedule so I have the option of either just starting them a little later, or buying seedlings from the farmers market or getting them from friends.
And I also have a longer document with notes to remember about each type of plant.
This document includes tips about companion planting, spacing, timing, supports, pest management, fertilization, and more. This document is actually what I used to come up with the layout and schedule in the first place.
I’m going to have to figure out some sort of irrigation system since keeping up with the watering by hand was a little much last year and I have even more space this year, so that’ll be another project in the next week or two.
In addition to the three main phases of our luxury yard renovation, I’ve got a little side project that I’d like to share for the public record.
I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.
In North Carolina, the law is such that if a person (let’s call him Steven) uses his neighbor’s land for 20 years, Steven will have a legal claim for an easement by prescription on that land. In order for this to happen, Steven’s use of the land must be continuous, exclusive, visible, open, notorious, and without the owner’s approval. After 20 years, Steven could get this easement recorded with his title, granting him and any future owners of his property, a nonpossessory right to use the land.
Alternatively, Steven could actually gain possession of his neighbor’s land. The requirements for this are approximately the same from what I understand, other than that Steven must also intend to claim the land as his own. After 20 years of use, he could file an action to quiet title in court, which could grant him the title to the property.
Finally, if Steven has a faulty document that says he has title to the land (a fake title or deed), and he uses the land in a way that is continuous, exclusive, visible, open, notorious, and without the owner’s approval for 7 years, he could file an action to quiet title in court, which could grant him the title to the property.
Introducing the Trespassing Garden
Immediately to the east of our property, there is 6ish foot strip of land that is owned but not maintained by our neighbor.
This strip of land happens to have a driveway curb to the road which our contractors used to drive up onto our front lawn throughout the initial renovation which started in September of 2017. I have been mowing a 6ish foot strip of their front lawn pretty much since we moved in because they always just left a strip of tall grass and weeds between our front lawn and the rest of their front lawn. Then I started consistently storing our trash bins at the back of the grassy area in this strip about 9 months ago. And in March, I started clearing the mess of weeds that runs along the other side of our fence in the backyard because their weeds have been making it hard to keep our own back lawn free of weeds.
Another characteristic of this strip of land is that it contains two wooden posts, one of which has a No Trespassing sign on it. I’m not really sure what the point of the other post is. I also dug up a No Trespassing sign when clearing the weeds in the back.
And I’ve started planting a garden in the back because I had more seedlings than my garden had space for.
So I think my use of the strip of land has been pretty exclusive, visible, open, notorious, and without the owner’s approval. Now I just need to make sure my use remains continuous for a few more years. And, ideally, I need to find someone that can make me a fake title that says I own the land so that by sometime between September of 2024 or maybe as late as March of 2027, I can go to court with an action to quiet title. This will give me legal ownership of the land by adverse possession. Muah ah ah ah ah.
So if you know someone that makes fake property titles, please let me know.
The moment you’ve all been waiting for…. Phase Three of our luxury yard renovation. This is the final planned phase and involves special permitting as a result of the Downtown Luxury Slum being a historic property.
The moment you’ve all been waiting for…. Phase Three of our luxury yard renovation. Assuming you’ve already read about Phase One and Phase Two, that is.
But before we get too deep into it, I wanted to tell you that the main reason these projects have been put off until Phase Three is that they’re going to require a COA, a certificate of Appropriateness from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission (RHDC).
Let me back up. Our house is part of a local historic district (Prince Hall Historic District). Because of this historic designation, most changes we make to our yard or the exterior of our house require a COA, which is basically a permit required for properties in historic districts that’s designed to protect and enhance the existing character of the community.
Getting a Certificate of Appropriateness in Raleigh
The process of getting a COA is just annoying enough to make you not want to make any changes. Here’s how it works:
Next, you need to determine if your project is considered Major Work or Minor Work. Minor Work is generally any repair or replacement where there is a change in the design, materials, or general appearance. Major Work involves a change in the appearance of a structure or site, and is more substantial in nature than Minor Work projects, such as new construction, expansion of a building footprint, or significant changes in landscape features.
Despite the huge amount of renovation we did to the house when we first bought it, we did our best to make only minimal changes to the exterior so we were able to quickly go through the Minor Work application process.
Your COA application will include an application form, written description of the project, and color photographs of existing conditions. Depending on the specific project you’ll also need a scaled drawing of the existing and proposed plan, dimensioned plan, elevation, and detail drawings, a description of materials, detailed manufacturers information, a tree protection plan, and a paint color schedule. If it’s a Major Work application, you’ll also need to submit 10 hard copies and addressed, stamped envelopes for every property within 100 feet of yours.
I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been really slow at getting this all put together so I don’t have examples to show you yet. Like it’s been at the top of my to-do list since sometime in February.
A Minor Work application takes about two weeks to be reviewed by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission staff so it’s a reasonably quick turn around if you have all your ducks in a row. Once approved, they’ll provide you with a blue placard that must be posted in public view while performing the approved work.
Major Work applications, on the other hand, are reviewed by the COA Committee of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission in a quasi-judicial evidentiary hearing held once per month and must be submitted at least 30 business days prior to the meeting. At least 10 days before the meeting, you’ll receive a copy of the meeting agenda and staff report and will have a public notice sign posted on your property. The owners of properties within 100 feet of your property will be sent a letter and meeting agenda as well. Notice of the meeting is also published as a legal ad in the newspaper. At the COA Committee meeting, you and any other parties who wish to speak do so when the case is called. The COA Committee then decides to approve, approve with conditions, defer (usually to provide you an opportunity to gather additional information supporting your application), or deny the application. If your application is deferred, you will have to wait another month until the next meeting.
Front yard Phase Three
The main thing we have remaining to do in the front yard is add a walkway from the sidewalk to the front porch. Currently you just have to walk through the grass, which is fine, but I think a walkway would really class it up and also I’d have less grass to mow.
Our porch steps are almost 10 feet wide, and the distance from the sidewalk to the steps is less than 12 feet long so if we made our walkway the full width of the porch steps, it would basically look like a square patio. So instead, we thought we’d make it narrower, maybe 5 feet wide, and then plant some pretty flowers or other pretty greenery on either side of the walkway so the entire project would still be 10 feet wide to line up with the porch steps. The walkway would then widen to the full width for the last couple feet before the steps start which would allow people to use the railing to climb the steps and not start or end their climb in a flower bed.
As far as materials go, my hope was to reclaim some bricks from a demolition/renovation project in the neighborhood. As luck would have it, I actually saw some bricks on the curb two blocks away yesterday so I loaded ’em up. These are from a chimney in a 1880s folk Victorian house that was moved 6 blocks to avoid demolition. It’s original location has been replaced with a surface parking lot.
I’ll need more bricks, but this is a good start. I plan to lay them in a herringbone pattern, something like this.
This will qualify as a Minor Work project and when I spoke with someone at RHDC, she said it should have no problem being approved for a COA when I get around to submitting my application.
Backyard Phase Three
Phase Three in the backyard will be the addition of a storage shed in the back right corner of the yard. It will be the new home for our bikes and power tools and yard tools and some camping equipment and a temporary home for projects I’m working on.
A shed smaller than 12’x12′ counts as minor work. Any larger than that and it’s considered major work. Since our yard isn’t exactly huge, 12’x12′ feels pretty big, definitely big enough, but not not overwhelmingly huge and I’d rather err on the side of having too much storage space than having too little. For context, the garden on the left side is 8 feet at its widest and deepest, though I plan to extend it to 12’x12′ as well so I guess there would be some symmetry. Going down to a 10’x10′ sounds like only a couple feet smaller, but it would actually be almost a third smaller (math), so I think we’re going to go for a 12’x12′. I requested a quote from a local shed building company who has done a number of sheds for other historic properties (so I know they are capable of building something that would get approved), but I haven’t heard back yet.
We’ll likely end up with something more or less like this but painted to match our house.
Since we’re planning for a 12×12 shed, that also saves us from having to get a building permit, which are only required for accessory structures with any dimension greater than 12 feet. However we will still need a Land Use Permit which we can apply for only after getting the COA. Application for this permit apparently includes a property survey with the proposed shed added to it, including dimensions and setbacks to property lines. Zoning rules dictate that any structure smaller than 150 sq ft and a height of less than 10 feet needs to be at least 5 feet from the sides and rear property lines, so we’ll place it in the back right corner, 5 feet from the back and right side fence. So once we have the COA, this process should be fairly straightforward.
As I mentioned last week, the front yard didn’t need too much work to get it under control aside from killing a few weeds and volunteer trees and trying to get the grass to grow. I’m still struggling to get the grass to look beautiful but maybe by the end of this summer? I also spoke too soon in saying that I got rid of all the random buried barbed wire because I found another piece sticking up a couple days ago. But that said, here’s a picture of the front yard now.
This is actually from about a month ago. Since then, the trees have filled in all their leaves, the sad looking plants in the barrels have been replaced with pretty flowers, and we’ve put the cushions out on the porch furniture.
These are hand-me-down chairs from a friend that moved away, and this bistro table from World Market. Isn’t she pretty? Eventually I would like some new chairs and these will likely get moved to the backyard to be firepit chairs.
And on the other side, we have an IKEA ARHOLMA outdoor sofa that I love but they no longer carry. It’s similar to the new SOLLERÖN line. The new line is better in that you can store your cushions under the seats, but it’s more expensive and not as cozy, imo. There’s also an IKEA GLADOM tray table which I spray painted copper.
And on the floor is one of our favourite quarantine purchases, a Sonos Move speaker. It’s battery powered and weather resistant which means we can can use it on the front porch or in the backyard. It also has the ability to connect via WiFi and sync with the rest of our Sonos speakers. And if it’s out of WiFi range, it can also connect via Bluetooth.
The backyard after Phase Two
As a quick reminder, here’s what that backyard looked like before we started:
And here she is now:
Phase One was clean up and green up. Phase Two was adding the garden, a few more plantings, lights, some storage, and some furniture.
On one side of the deck, we’ve got another IKEA ARHOLMA outdoor sofa. I got blue FRÖSÖN covers for the cushions back here to hide dirt a little better. They’re supposed to be water resistant and fade resistant too so we’ll see. On the front porch, we have beige covers which stay fairly clean in the absence of children since they’re covered by a roof.
The umbrella is also a hand-me-down and we don’t have a stand for it so we just have it securely velcroed to the corner of the deck.
On the other side of the deck, we’ve got a Weber Spirit II natural gas grill. Having it hooked up to the gas line is sooooo convenient because I am definitely the type of person that heats up a grill only to have it run out of propane by the time I’m ready to put food on for 10 hungry friends. It takes up so little space (the left side table folds down) that I was concerned it would only have enough space to cook for two, but the grill surface is shockingly spacious.
On the left side of this picture is a covered hand-me-down smoker. It works great and we (Andrew) uses it regularly but I have no idea what the details of it are because it’s a hand-me-down.
On the ground along each side of the deck, we have a Suncast Deck Box. Ours are 134 gallon ones and I’ve linked the 124 gallon one since ours don’t seem to be available anymore. This is what I get for waiting two years before blogging about things. Anyway, one of the boxes is filled with yard and garden tools, the other side is filled with grilling and power tools. When we’re expecting lots of rain like we’re getting this week because of Tropical Storm Arthur, we’ll also throw the cushions in the boxes. They keep everything dry and really do hold a lot.
We also store a few yard tools, such as the lawnmower in the crawl space, but since our crawl space is a literal crawl space, it’s not a great place to store things we need regularly. Part of Phase Three will be improving our outdoor storage situation.
In the back left corner of the yard, I’ve started a little garden. Each of the square boxes is 4 feet by 4 feet. Last year, the critters left the garden alone possibly because they were being scared off by the mosquitoes. But this year, they came early to start eating my tomato and pepper plants so I had to put up a chicken wire enclosure with bird netting on top (which is held in place with plastic clothes pins). The epitome of fancy. The box on the right is uncovered because it’s all leafy herbs that the critters don’t seem interested in. The ultimate plan is to add more height to the middle box and add one more box on each end. And then build benches on top of the outer perimeter.
There are a million different ways to build raised beds but I’m going link to the blocks I used on the corners because “building” these beds involved nothing more than buying 2 x 6 wooden boards in the desired length, and sliding the boards into the grooves in the blocks. No tools, no actual measuring. Just these magical blocks and boards. And then I guess lining the boxes with landscape fabric and filling them with soil.
I’ve planted some Jasmine along the chain link fence on both sides of the yard that I’m hoping will give us a little more privacy and make the place feel a little classier. Unfortunately the plants were only a few inches tall when I got them so it may take a while for them to climb to the top of the fence.
This is our other favourite quarantine purchase, a Solo Stove Bonfire portable fire pit. I’d been trying to figure out where I wanted to put a fire pit in the back yard and how I wanted to set it up. I’d come up with some great ideas, but they didn’t jive with also wanting lots of open space to kick around a soccer ball, etc. So when we saw this thing at a friend’s house, I was newly inspired. It’s lightweight and portable so it can be stored out of the way when not in use. It burns super hot and magically puts off very little smoke. Aside from the really cool looking fire, it’s not much to look at so I’m hoping to build a portable table surround for it eventually. It was definitely an investment, but we’ve been loving it.
And last but not least, 200 feet of outdoor string lights. They put off a much warmer light that the picture shows and make the yard feel extremely cozy at night.
Very few people have seen the lights in action but hopefully one day soon we’ll be able to be socially close again. Until then, on to Phase Three of our luxury yard renovation.
We have been doubling the size of the Downtown Luxury Slum by living outdoors for much of this pandemic so I thought it might be a good time to share how we got our yard from unlivable to luxury outdoor living.
Okay, so I think it’s time we talk about our luxury outdoor living situation. We’ve owned the house for two and a half years at this point and I have to say we’ve made a LOT of progress with the yard but it’s definitely still a work in progress. Let me show you.
Front yard before
This is what the front yard looked like when we bought the house.
It actually wasn’t too bad.
The far left of the above picture is right against the sidewalk and I wish I had taken some better pictures, but the ivy looking lump was actually filled with discarded beer cans (obviously in individual paper or black plastic bags). When it lost its leaves in cold weather, it just looked like a giant mess of tangled vine and trash. There were some volunteer trees and shrubs that were challenging to keep pruned and were also tangled up in what appeared to be really old barbed wire, half of which was buried under ground.
We got rid of the big shrub in front of the porch because I really like the feel of an unobstructed porch. I find that an unobstructed view makes the porch and house feel more inviting. It also ensures that any snakes on the porch are visible from the sidewalk, which makes the porch more inviting. For whatever reason, we didn’t keep the no trespassing sign on the porch either.
Do you remember the story of the drive by landscaping? Apparently other people don’t agree with me on leaving the porch unobstructed.
The backyard was a bit more of a hot mess. You can actually tell how uneven the ground was based on how crooked this picture is.
When we first saw the house, none of the trees in the yard were above my waist, except apparently that one right against the house, but by the time we were moved in and starting to work on the yard, there were several that were taller than me. The deck and stoop inspired us to tear them down as part of the initial renovation.
I took the above picture to show how the local cable company runs their lines. But the picture also does a good job of illustrating how the side of the house does not seem to inspire plants to live.
Anyway, Phase One of our luxury yard renovation was all about getting the yard under control.
Front yard Phase One
Since the front yard wasn’t too bad, I was mostly able to just start mowing it like a normal homeowner.
One of the neighbors took as much of the unwanted mulch as he could and I did my best to just spread the rest into the lawn, though some of it is definitely still visible two years later.
I worked bit by bit to try to get rid of the the ugly beer can vine on the side of the yard as well as the volunteer shrubs and trees tangled in barbed wire. I was lucky that when the white cinder block house next door was being renovated, they wanted to drive across our front yard to get to their yard. Driving across our yard was not ideal, but in order to get to their yard, they needed to chop down the big trees that were in their way, so I no longer had to worry about keeping them pruned. Woo. Front yard under control.
Backyard Phase One
As you can imagine, the backyard took a bit more work to get under control. The picture above was taken after using up my first battery charge when mowing the lawn for the first time. We got this mower and I have to say that it performed extremely admirably given the conditions it had to work with. After two years of use, the batteries don’t seem to hold nearly as much charge as they used to. I could get new batteries, but now that the lawn is pretty well under control, I’m leaning toward getting this push reel mower. I’ve owned two other ones in the past and absolutely love using them. The only reason we didn’t get one to start with is that they don’t perform well if the lawn isn’t already in good shape.
In addition to simply mowing, I had a lot of volunteer trees and their extensive root systems to deal with. The majority of the trees were paper mulberries – a non-berry-producing species that is considered invasive in this area. You can see several stumps in the picture above, as well as muddy spots where I tore up some of the larger roots.
In the above picture, any of the trees you see that aren’t yet on the ground are between our chain link fence and the neighbour’s wood fence or are intertwined in the chain link. You can also see that by the time we were getting to deal with these, they were well above my waist. These suckers grow fast and dealing with them is a pain.
This was just one of many weeks of bags of yard waste at the curb.
I think this photo gives you a pretty good idea of what the backyard looked like after phase one, along with a pile of wood waiting to join a bonfire. Did mowing the lawn and cutting down trees get me here alone? Noooooo. So I have to mention a couple other MVPs in this process.
Fairway Green lawn care. I had them come out to give me an estimate last summer and I’ve never looked back. They aerated and seeded in the fall and then come 6 more times throughout the year to apply seasonally appropriate fertilizer, weed control, and care instructions. Even the side yard has grass now. We also hired them to do mosquito control this year which is either working great, or there are just no mosquitoes this year?
Since it failed to rain for an entire month after the seeding was done, we got a combination of hoses (here and here), connectors (here and here), and a sprinkler to water the grass. The copper connectors just make it a million times easier to connect and disconnect the hoses. I like the Flexzilla hose because of how sturdy it is and how well it coils, but love the expandable hoses because of how compact, lightweight, and generally easy to deal with they are. We actually tried a couple different kinds of sprinklers and this style worked the best in terms of yard area it covered without getting blocked by the overhanging trees.
And we bought this leaf blower to help keep leaves off the newly sprouted grass. It is pleasantly powerful without blowing away the baby grasses.
So that’s Phase One of our luxury yard renovation. Sorry I don’t really have any pics of Phase One complete – just imagine lots of cartwheel worthy grass. Stay tuned next week for Phase Two updates with plenty of pictures!