NOTE: I'm a read from the beginning kind of girl too. I've left these old posts here because I like the record of the garden, but damn, they're boring. Hang in there, I promise the writing and photography gets better!
In early July 2006 we purchased a new grill. I sent my very patient husband (VPH) out the side door to clean up a space for a few concrete pavers so we could keep the new grill reasonably level and clean while we figured out what to do next. I'm embarrassed to say that the old grill was leveled courtesy of a cinder block (not too ghetto). The whole yard was on an insane slope, more on that later. VPH did as requested and came back inside 15 minutes later.
"You have to come see what I found." With visions of rat babies dancing in my head (did I mention how ghetto it was on the side of the house?), I followed him outside. Under about 4-5 inches of dirt and tree roots he had uncovered a flagstone. "Wow," I said, "I guess someone else had a grill out here at some point. Hopefully it will be big enough for ours."
The next day I came home to find him hacking away at the tree roots with an axe and a few feet of a flagstone walkway cleared. Several weeks later we had a flagstone walkway that ran from the parking area in front of the house to about 2/3 the length of the house where it suddenly turned under the foundation. We knew that the back half of the house was an addition, so our theory is that when they added to the house they decided it wasn't worth saving the walkway (which probably led to a patio that's under the house now) and covered it up instead.
VPH added the big stones on the border and I added in river pebbles to finish the look.
This was lovely, but it only served to remind me that the yard was unusable. My step-sons were no longer interested in throwing a ball around with VPH (they were 16 and 20) and we really had no grass. As you faced the yard from the back of the house it sloped from right to left about 10 feet over 30 feet -- I hope you're envisioning a yard without a single flat surface because that's what we had.
We solicited bids for a concrete patio, but were appalled with what contractors were asking for a 15' x 15' patio with a sidewalk to where the flagstone walkway turned under the house (about 15 more feet). One wanted $3,000! I can be an idiot, but even I'm not dumb enough to spend that kind of money on a patio for a rental! A friend's boyfriend had just started a landscaping business and came through with a very reasonable price for us and we went ahead with our landlord's permission. They graciously ended up splitting the cost with us and paid to extend the concrete sidewalk and put in concrete steps to the side door which you can see at the bottom of the photo above/right. I know, I know, it's a rental, but what we paid for the patio was less than what we pay a month for rent and it's been nearly a year now and we've used the patio almost every day for 9 out of the last 12 months.
Shortly after the patio was poured in early-August 2006 we installed sod around it (leaving an empty rectangle between the patio and the house for a future wildflower patch) and then left on vacation for a week in Stowe, VT (great vacation spot summer or winter). Our upstairs neighbor, who never used the backyard before the great adventure and still doesn't, generously watered the sod for us twice a day for a whole week! We came home to green grass and then a week later threw a picnic.
Here's my first trial and error glaring error: in a rush to prep the patio for company we put down river rocks the length of the concrete walkway from the side door stairs to the end of the patio -- here's the kicker -- without putting landscape fabric beneath them. Huge mistake. VPH and eldest step-son spent a whole day this spring raking up all the rocks, separating them from the dirt and weeds and then putting them back in place -- on top of 2 layers of landscape fabric this time. I made other mistakes along the way (and am sure I will continue to do so), but that was the worst so far.
The picnic was great and we enjoyed our patio for the rest of the summer, fall, and incredibly warm winter. I read a book and drank a glass of wine on the patio on Christmas day, but winter returned with a vengeance in February and by Easter (typical Christmas-time sleeting rain weather), we were ready for spring. But the yard was still chock full of weeds and sloped incredibly. I spent the entire winter plotting for the spring. I think if VPH had known what the spring would bring, he might have run away during the winter.