When Mister and I moved into the new pad, the front yard was decent. I didn’t love it or anything, but I didn’t hate it, either. We live on a corner, so you see the joint from every angle and I was regularly reminded that I wasn’t smitten with what I saw. Still, if it ain’t broke and all. So we lived with it. But then the damned drought and the southern exposure became too much for the front yard. It took a beating and it showed. Here in Los Angeles, we’re limited as to when and how long we can use water for landscape purposes. There simply didn’t seem to be a way to keep that frontage looking decent. Or alive even.
So Mister and I started talking about going in a different direction, toward drought-tolerant plants. (Okay – it was mostly me talking about it, but I was talking to him so I’m gonna say he was in on the plan.) And then we learned about local rebate incentives for such plantings. We became more serious about the idea and eventually we set a budget. We talked about things we’d both like to see happen – a low fence, a seating area, a dying tree removed – and rough sketches were made. With our budget in mind, I started getting estimates from a few companies and individuals who did such work. I was hopeful we’d click with someone and the job would get done.
The very first estimate I received came in at $50,000. I’m not kidding. My response to that was, “Dude! If I had $50,000 for my yard, I’d just move!” A few more estimates came in at half that amount, but they were still way outside our budget. This was last fall/early winter. The timing was right, but the estimates were wrong.
The yard kept getting worse, though, and I was none too happy. I can’t imagine our neighbors were happy about the sad state of things, either, but they never said anything to us about it. I kept bugging Mister, while mulling the idea of taking on the job myself. I knew certain aspects were outside my abilities and knowledge, but I thought maybe I could hire folks for those specific tasks and do the rest of the labor with my own hands. The first step I took was re-sketching the design.
Based on that, I was able to break down the budget and allot money for the various steps – demo, irrigation, fence materials, plants, etc. Once I’d collected estimates and costs for those aspects of the project, I went back to Mister and we decided it was time to begin. Time for me to begin, that is. The estimates were good, but now the timing was tricky. It was getting hot and I had precious few calendar days to complete the project to apply for that much-desired local rebate. Remember the rebate? It was important to receive it and that money would help pay for the project once all was said and done. So I had to get after it. First up was demo…
I hired a crew to take everything out of the front yard. The struggling foliage and the dying tree were gone. The dead grass was gone. We were left with a pretty magnificent blank slate. It was also daunting. Once the space was emptied, we could see just how much area we were dealing with. There was no turning back and we knew it. The demo happened on a Saturday. On Sunday, Mister and I raked the dirt and made sure everything was ready to go.
The next day, Monday, I began digging trenches – literally – so that I could put the edging in place. I immediately set a routine for myself, too, and its name was two-and-a-half-underpants per day. I got up early, before the sun could heat everything, and worked until it was too hot. That was usually around 11:30 or 12. Then I’d take off my dirty work clothes, place them on the side of the tub to dry out (sweaty, don’t you know), jump in the pool to cool down, then put on clean underpants and mid-day clothes. It was during these mid-days that I’d provision for the next part of the job. Or I’d try to take care of pertinent business that couldn’t wait. Like bills or basic grocery shopping. Then, after the big heat of the day had passed, I’d put my morning’s dirty work clothes back on and get after it again. Around 7 or so, I’d wrap for the day, take a shower, put on clean underpants and pajamas and pretty much collapse. It was a good routine, and I knew I’d stick with it, even after I burned my ass that first day. You see, I used a pick-axe (perhaps the greatest tool in my arsenal) to dig the trenches. Then I sat on the ground to secure the edging in place. As a lot of that edging paralleled the existing walkway, I sat on the walkway while working on it. After the sun had heated the bejeesus out of the walkway all day, sitting on it was more than my work pants could handle. It would end up taking a few days for that ass-burn to heal.
Once the edging was in place, I moved on to the weed barrier. I know some folks aren’t fans of landscape fabric, but I am, so there. Our hope was (and still is) that the cloth would deter weeds from taking over. We know it’s impossible to entirely beat the weeds. We just want to slow them down. We also know we’re battling one mother of a weed: nutsedge.
Nutsedge looks a lot like grass, but it isn’t. It’s invasive, with rhizomes that spread beneath the surface, sometimes as deep as two feet. Whenever I dig up a rhizome (one of a jillion, I’m guessing), I think it looks like some sort of Alien-Predator-cat turd hybrid. I detest nutsedge and it knows it. But I digress.
Anyhoo – we got the entire area covered in landscape fabric. Then it was time for planting.
My original rendering called for a lot more plants. But once you start digging holes, you quickly realize that less is more! As a few of the holes dug were for trees (which meant they were bigger), I think 98 holes was plenty. (Seriously. 98.)
Once the plants were in, the irrigation crew came to install the drip lines. That was one of the jobs I absolutely did not wish to handle myself. And I’m so glad I didn’t. The folks I hired were fabulous and they did a top-notch job. Initially, they thought it would be a 2-day job. But they were able to finish in a single day, which meant I had one day to patch the cloth around plants and to ready myself for the next big step: rocks.
The morning the rocks were delivered was my 18th straight day of working on the project. I was tired, but I felt pretty good. Actually, I felt “naively optimistic,” something I kept telling everyone who stopped by to talk to me while I was working. I had 2 days to get the rocks in place and I thought I could pull that off. In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought that, but I did. So when the rocks were delivered and jutted out into the street, my immediate goal became clearing them out of the street, as I feared I’d be fined by the city or something wacky like that. I began shoveling the rocks into a wheelbarrow and into buckets. Basically, I moved them any which way I could. But the pile wasn’t getting any smaller. Instead, it was spreading. And it was getting hot. Too hot. I thought I was doing enough to hydrate and I mistakenly believed I’d be able to work that pile down. The heat was getting to me, though. And for the first time since beginning the project, I experienced doubt. I felt like I might cry, but it turned out I didn’t have any available fluids for tears. I don’t remember praying, but I do remember saying to any god listening that I wasn’t gonna make it. That I felt lost. That I knew I needed help, but couldn’t imagine what that might look like. And that’s when it happened. I lifted my gaze from the rocks to the side street. I saw two men walking toward me, with shovels and a wheelbarrow. They said they saw me working and thought I could use a few extra hands. I was stunned. I told them I wasn’t comfortable with that, as I didn’t even know them and the job was my responsibility, not theirs. They smiled and said that they were there, so I might as well step aside. One of the guys was the foreman of the construction going on behind our home. (I’m no fan of that construction, but that guy was aces.) The other guy was a county inspector, in the neighborhood to check some work at the job site behind our house. It was their lunch break, and they chose to spend it helping me. Those guys worked damn hard for a full hour. They moved almost all the rocks out of the street and into place. I continued to try and do my part, but I was pretty messed-up. At some point, I succumbed to the heat and my vision went all white. I’m not sure, but my speech may have become incoherent, too, as I found myself answering random questions about song lyrics and I don’t know how the conversation got there. I was told – insistently – to sit in the shade for a while, and I did. It was awkward, watching these strangers do my work. After they’d put in a shift, they made me promise I was going inside to rest, and then they were gone. I kept my word and used the remaining daylight to try and re-hydrate. Only after a few hours did it hit me that I had asked for help and help had been given.
The next day, Friday, was tough. I was still out of it from the near heat-stroke of the previous day, but work had to get done. Those rocks needed to be settled and checked off the list and that was the only day to get through it. Mister took the day off and completely kicked it into high gear. Not only did he finish the rock job, but he made sure I didn’t do more than I should. (By the way – did I mention that Mister was working his regular job and kicking ass on the project each weekend? Because he was.) By the time we fell into bed that night, a bit of my faith had been restored. My body was still hurting, but my naive optimism was back.
The following morning, Saturday, the mulch was delivered. I’d love to tell you it was all sunshine and roses, but it wasn’t. It took 2 hard days of work to get that mulch spread and in place. By Sunday night, the mulch job was finished and the only remaining task was spreading the river rocks around two trees and by the walkway entry. And that was handled Monday evening. The next day, Tuesday, I submitted all my documentation for the rebate – 4 days ahead of the deadline. It was done.
I’m really pleased with the decision to take on this job. Yes, it was a gi-normous task. And yes, it nearly took me out. My joints are still recovering, and that may take some time. My sleep schedule is still a bit janky, but that will level off soon. It was a big project and though Mister did what he could, when he could, the rest fell to me. And y’all – I’m not a kid. This was a big deal and I’m pretty sure it will be the last time I take on something of this scale. I’m still processing that. It doesn’t feel like defeat really, but it does feel heavy.
I’m also processing all the good I experienced during this job. You cannot imagine how many folks stopped by to comment on the work being done. Some were just curious. Some told me they were proud of me and that they were rooting for me. Some asked if they could have our business card, in case they might want to hire us down the road. Some thanked me for adding this beauty to our neighborhood. I’d never even seen a lot of those folks. I recognized a few, but the rest? Who knows.
And then there was one sweet neighbor who stopped by each and every morning to say hello and to cheer me on. He’s 93 and just darling. On the last Sunday, as Mister finished the mulching, that sweet old man came by with a gift of apple cider. He told Mister he had never seen anything like me and that he was really proud of me. I drank that cider with joy.
I hope I never forget the strangers who showed up to help me, just when I needed it. I hope I never forget the strangers who told me I was their hero for doing this myself. I hope I never forget that Mister and I worked really well together (mostly) and that we accomplished our goal. I hope I never forget that sweet old neighbor who kept calling me a one-woman crew.
The yard is finished. I’m more proud of myself than I can convey, because I don’t have words for how I feel. I’m not a kid anymore, it’s true. But I am one hell of a woman. And though I’m not sure how long it will last, for now I keep experiencing a bit of Clark W. Griswold’s final line from the very end of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”: I did it. I really did.