Category Archives: Backyard Entertaining

Arbor Brightening Project

I’m so thrilled that my arbor garden is finally turning into, well, a garden! Earlier this summer I had been gifted a few small Acuba from my mom’s garden. I thought the yellow lines running through the broad green leaves would brighten up that otherwise rather dark corner.

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I’ve decided to use that color combination as the basis for the rest of my planting. In the back behind the arbor we finally decided on a Janed Gold Arborvitae – I wanted an evergreen to keep that area soft all year long, and to hide the fence. I liked not only the yellow coloring in the edges of this one, but the fact that it averages out around 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide – perfect for that tucked away space.

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In front of the Acuba I’ve added Golden Mop False Cypress, two on each side. I wanted to repeat the texture found in the Arborvitae with a low shrub that hopefully will spread out along that area. Now, these have the potential to get big, but I figure their slow growing habits will keep them easy to control with pruning. And I’m so glad already that I opted for these additions – already these shaggy gold bushes brighten up that entire corner of the yard.

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The pictures really don’t do the new plants justice. This corner of the yard has been so dreary for so long and now I can hardly look away. We recently had a party and I had an excuse to light all of the lanterns with battery-operated tealights so that my little nook glowed all day and night long. I’m truly excited for spring to make a few more additions to this future retreat – including an outdoor rug and some flowy curtains.

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Built to Last

I learned recently that my mom’s side of the family uses my dad’s name as an adjective to describe a woodworking project that will last forever. I had to laugh when I heard that. My family is full of woodworkers. My step-dad, uncle, grandfather, now my husband … But my dad is also an engineer, and if he’s tackling a woodworking project, its one criteria is that it will still be standing after Doomsday. Simple, sturdy, and it gets the job done.

My dad has been building backyard structures for as long as I can remember. I had some pretty amazing tree houses as a kid – ramps, trap doors, windows, built-in shelves for my magic potions and swords, you name it. But a year and a half ago I asked for a special backyard project.

The Internet provided a wealth of arbor photos from which to draw inspiration.

“You know, for the wedding, I was thinking,” I said over the phone. “It would be kind of cool to have an arbor, to stand in front of when we say our vows. Do you think that’s something you could build for me, Dad?”

“Sure, no problem. Do you have a picture of what you want?” he replied.

I scoured the Internet and found a few samples of simple structures that I thought would frame my groom and I nicely.

Early sketches showed dimensions for the soon-to-be arbor.

Dad pointed out that most of these structures were built into the ground, whereas I hoped to move the arbor from beside the pond after we used it for the wedding. “So it will need some kind of platform to hold it steady,” he explained of his reasoning. He shared with me a few sketches of what he had in mind. With a glance at the numbers indicating dimensions, I assured him that whatever he planned was fine with me.

The early frame for the arbor indicated its future size.

My little brother sent me a photo of the structure as construction got underway. It was maybe a little wider than I had imagined … but I  had invitations to order and a baker to find and the arbor was the last thing on my mind at that point. I simply wished them luck with painting and thanked them both for tackling the project.

A few massive lag bolts assured this arbor wouldn’t budge once assembled.

About a week and a half before the wedding, the arbor arrived. It came in four pieces, in a trailer my dad’s friend towed behind his truck, and it took both of them to lift each slab and arrange it on my lawn. Once loosely assembled, and I’d given the official placement okay, my dad pulled out a handful of massive lag bolts and began screwing the sides together. “This thing isn’t going anywhere,” my dad assured me as he worked. My eyes might have widened a bit when I took in the scale and heft of this new addition. It was so big, so bold … all on its own, it transformed the yard. From the deck, where I watched the assembly, I felt that our backyard had suddenly become a destination. The arbor, with its clean, pure lines and crisp, white paint was something to admire from afar, yet someplace enchanting to sit and enjoy the sounds and views of the entire yard. It was more incredible than I ever could have imagined.

Once assembled, Dad stayed to repaint the wood, listening to the sound of the waterfall and occasionally chatting while the fiancé and I repainted the deck. Dad left me with a gallon of white paint that I had to wrench from his hand as he worried over whether he should come back and repaint it in a few days, to ensure the green wood wasn’t showing through three coats of paint. I couldn’t help smiling, appreciating that this was a responsibility he took so seriously.

A week and a half later, that arbor was very much the star of my backyard wedding.

I’m pretty sure Dad’s right; that arbor isn’t going anywhere. But I have designed what I consider my most genius backyard plan yet, which I hope to put in motion in a few weeks here; its ingredients include about a dozen men with strong backs, a box full of oriental lanterns and a dry creek bed. But more on that later…

…Now I just want to add that my earliest memory of creating a magical backyard space was helping my dad make one of these timeless structures. It was a swing set; the beam holding the swings attached to a raised platform that held aloft a homemade slide. I remember Dad had finished the platform for the slide first, before even the stairs, and I remember him lifting me over his head to sit up above the world while he worked on the steps. I felt like a princess trapped in the highest turret of her castle, but I was a princess with a hammer who got to bang each nail in the platform just a little bit further with all of my four-year-old strength. I remember being incredibly proud that I got to help my dad on such a special project.

It’s pretty comforting to know that old swing set, much like my new arbor, will  be standing tall, strong, ever there, come any misadventure. Much like my dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

The Epitome of Backyard Entertaining

I think for most people the backyard is a place to enjoy the company of friends, and there are so many fantastic ways to entertain outside, from cookouts to lawn games to sitting around the fire pit and so on. I’m a big fan of outdoor parties, but last May, a year ago from today, in fact, I took it to the next level with my backyard wedding.

We had the arbor and the pond, plenty of chairs, and room for a tent. What more do you need for a backyard wedding?

My fiancé and I had decided to reinvest in our home, rather than a reception site, which led to our decision to hold our wedding and reception at home. On top of that, we wanted the pleasure of looking out on our yard and bringing quickly to mind the beauty of that day.

Wedding parking initially posed a concern before we talked with our neighbors, and invited close friends and family to park on the front lawn.

Once decided, we had a host of challenges to overcome. I talked a bit earlier about some of the landscaping hurdles we faced in preparing the site for the fairy tale magic that is supposed to be the ideal of one’s wedding day. However, there were countless other considerations regarding the party itself. For example, I delayed planting a vegetable garden by a year so that we would have plenty of level, open ground for a large tent.

I carried the garden theme to the food; the cake, courtesy of Cakes By Z, was designed as three baskets filled with flower petals.

In addition, research recommended one bathroom per 30 guests, at least. We capped our guest list at just over 100, and I was biting my nails up until the day of wondering if we should have rented a portable toilet (and where the heck would I have put it?). Then parking; we decided to encourage family and the wedding party to park in the front yard, freeing up the cul-de-sac and street for guests who might not be staying until all hours of the night. Our neighbors were incredibly understanding in allowing for the extra traffic, although I still regret not dropping off cookies to all of the neighbors as a thank you for their consideration – of all the balls to drop I suppose that’s not the worst, but still. There were a number of smaller issues that cropped up as well. Things like sound checks; we performed a check for our musician and the reception sound system, but didn’t realize that over the frog chirping and wind, guests in the back row of seats wouldn’t hear all of the ceremony.

The biggest issue, however, for an outside wedding will always come down to one thing: the weather. I chose a day in May thinking it would be warm enough for sundresses but too cool for mosquitoes to be out in force. Then I spent months waiting for the 2011 Farmer’s Almanac to tell me what I needed to know. And it didn’t. I believe the entry read something like “front may be moving East.” It epitomized vague and left me oscillating between what’s-the-worst-that-can-happen cool and utter panic.

In the end, it rained on my wedding day. And you know what? That was one of my favorite parts.

The tents we accumulated wound up protecting guests and food from heat, rather than rain.

Inspired by an image on TheKnot.com, I hung glass globes filled with daisy blooms from trees around the property, adding to the floral theme.

It was an incredible week leading up to the event. Our family and friends came out in force to help us scrub the house, tie fabulous bows around the covered chairs, stuff miniature filo cups with chicken salad and place daisy blooms in globes hanging dreamlike from the trees. When the white tent arrived, I began to have that fairy tale feeling. And when, the day before, it seemed certain that rain would come, we bought two 10×10-foot blue tents and created a tunnel from the sun porch out to the white tent, then bought matching floral umbrellas for the bridesmaids and black umbrellas for the groomsmen, just in case. What’s a little last minute rearranging?

While I may have finally shrugged off the pre-wedding stress in preparation to enjoy, Chris’ jitters arrived a little late. I still giggle recalling my angry bridesmaid storming upstairs to tell me, while I sipped champagne and peeked out my bedroom window at arriving wedding guests, that she’d just dragged Chris off of his knees in the flower bed where he was spreading last minute mulch over the sound system wires. We were so worried about everything looking perfect, that it was a relief later to see it through our guests’ eyes. All that we needed to make it perfect was our friends.

The rain held off through the ceremony, which we bravely held under the beautiful arbor my dad built, right beside the pond, rather than beneath the tent. Several guests would later swear that the sun peeked out for just a moment over our heads as Chris and I exchanged our vows.

The arbor my dad built proved the perfect setting for saying our vows, and has added charm, shade and beautiful memories to my garden ever since.

The rain held off during photos, even as our amazing photographer assured us that the cloudy sky provided the best lighting (you can read Jen’s so-sweet recap of our wedding here). It held off as I got to finally eat the cookies my friends, family and I had been baking for months in preparation for the event, and then the sun peeked out a bit further as Chris and I shared our first dance on the dance floor he built himself (later to be reborn as the world’s most gorgeous foldable picnic tables).

Is there anything more magical than dancing under the stars? Only making that your first dance as husband and wife.

The rain didn’t begin to come down in soft drizzles until about 6 o’clock, just as some of the older couples and acquaintances were beginning to say their good-byes. One of the most beautiful things about a backyard wedding is that there’s no set time when you have to leave. So what did our more tenacious guests do? Why, they picked up that handmade dance floor and carried it beneath the tent! A couple of pizzas, a costume change and a few playlists later, and we found ourselves dancing, singing and having fun with our friends all night long.

When a little thunderstorm finally threatened to end the wedding festivities, the party moved itself beneath the big tent to continue a little longer.

Looking back, I would have done it the same all over again. Sometimes I think we might. After all, only this year did the roses reach the lushness that I wanted for the wedding, and we’ve been looking for an excuse to put in a patio by the pond and I feel that would make an excellent dance floor. Not to mention there are so many more wonderful memories added to the list when I walk out my back deck and say good morning to my little world. While Chris and I  might be renewing our vows every day (happy anniversary, my darling!), there’s nothing quite like an excuse to have a garden party!

Every available surface was filled with flowers, sharing their sweet scent and leaving smiles.

Just a note: I’d like to thank J. Pool Photography for the photographs used in this post.

Love At First Sight

I write a lot about my husband in these posts, and not just because he’s fast becoming a gardener-extraordinaire in his own right. But this garden has been our story from the beginning. We bought this home because we saw it not just as an investment but as a foundation where we could build our lives together. We got engaged in our driveway, where he stopped his truck on a December night after an evening spent recreating our first date, looking at neighborhood Christmas lights, only to show me the lights on our rooftop spelled “Marry Me.” It seemed a natural to take the next step at home, and so we soon found ourselves planning a wedding in our own backyard. Why invest all that money into a reception hall when we could reinvest in our home?

A beautiful memory created at home.

Now, I’m not going to get into the year of headache that came with that naive thought. I’m going to stick to the headache that was landscaping our home over the next year in preparation of having roughly 100 people, half in high heels, dancing and eating outside in unpredictable temperatures and unknown amounts of precipitation.

Truly, our engagement was the precipice of a full year of hard-core landscaping. With the arrival of spring, we had a full checklist of items to tend to:

  • Get rid of moles – no one wants their grandmother to break an ankle on their wedding day due to stepping into that pesky mole hole. The short version is that every chemical, every sonar repellent, every cure we tried failed miserably. And then we got an Akita pup. Problem solved.
  • Seed grass – while the clover was lush and green, it wasn’t exactly the lawn of Chris’ dreams. A few John Deere attachments later and I had an excuse to ride my beloved mower for hours more and the grass was quickly greened.
  • Repair lattice around deck – gaping holes and rotted wood don’t exactly say “welcome.”
  • Paint everything – we called in the pros for this one. Painting the deck was pain enough for me, but, boy, what a difference fresh paint makes. The shed went from being an eyesore I ached to raze to an adorable little barn I can’t wait to wreathe with flowers.
  • Landscape – the yard wanted for the softness that shrubs and flowering plants can bring. While I knew that would be a long-term project, we needed some quick fixes prior to the wedding.
  • Fix the giant hole in the yard – oh, have I not mentioned the giant hole in the yard? Oh-ho-ho, that’s because that’s a story unto itself.

There were plenty more things we wanted to add to the list. And lots more hours spent wandering in circles on the grass wondering if the giant tent would really fit and what to do to keep the fence from showing in photos. Somehow, it all came together. I’ll share that story in a future post.