Here are some "before" shots of the front yard. Clearly, something had to be done; something that did not involve me becoming a master gardner.
Jon put his "good" motorcycle on the porch to protect it from Hurricane Sandy. It was a huge project to get it off again.
While we were conveniently away in Lisbon, excavators jackhammered the concrete walk and dug up the front yard to a depth of two feet below the level of the porch. Remember the portal to the underworld? It turned out to be nothing. Our contractor thinks it was a support for a lamppost or other structure that once stood there. We were seriously worried that it was going to turn out to be an old well.
This is how it looked the day after we got home from Lisbon.
There followed a few very muddy days, although soon our contractors built a mud-free path so we could get in and out of the house without sinking ankle deep in the wet red clay that was piled around the perimeter of the courtyard. There were several days when it was too cold or snowy to work, and other days when the mortar had to be protected from the cold with a huge, walled tent that enclosed the entire front yard. A kerosene furnace heated the inside of the tent--of course we didn't leave it running all night, but we'd let it run for a while before we went to bed and fire it up again first thing in the morning.
Now, it looks like this.
We preserved the flowers on the side of the yard. There's more sun exposure, and these beds aren't nearly as dead and weed-infested as the main part of the front yard was.
The masonry is finished, but we still have a lot of work to do. We have a tentative arrangement with painting contractors about painting the house. We need an asphalt contractor to patch up the transition between the wall and the driveway. We need to clean and redecorate the porch, and the front door needs rehabilitation. Jon needs to sell both of his motorcycles. I also need to plant something in those embedded planters. We ordered a load of dirt and compost but I still haven't decided what to plant. There's still the issue of the shade, although the largest bed gets more sun than the two smaller ones.
We also need furniture. I've decided that a few elegantly potted topiaries will be just the thing to define the transition from the patio to the porch. I looked for furniture at several stores, from local consignment shops to Target to the absurdly expensive Restoration Hardware. We bought a bench and coffee table at the Plow & Hearth outlet and there are a few pieces at Circa that I'm thinking about, although they would need restoration in order to be acceptable. Let's just hope Jon doesn't come home from Circa with this, the next time my back is turned.
True story: When we lived on Locust Ave, Jon came home from Circa with a chair identical to the one above--it could possibly be the same chair--and I immediately returned it, to the amusement of the Circa staff.
Most likely it will be a year or more from now before we are 100% finished with this project. We also need to do something about the back yard, which is pretty bad. Right now I'm considering turning the entire back yard into a kitchen garden, with raised beds and gravel paths. Grass is overrated, and with a park across the street, there's no need for kid play space on our property. Speaking of kid play space, Seamus and his friends have discovered that the new courtyard is a sort of miniature, netless, basketball court.
Despite the long to-do list, the courtyard is now ready to use, and a very pleasant place to hang out on a sunny afternoon--much more pleasant than the old yard. It's almost like we've added a new room to the house.