Before and After

Before and After

My regular readers know I moved from my townhouse in Houston to Sugar Land last fall. It was a major event to move after 23 years in the same place, but the stairs were a growing concern and I think I was ready for a new adventure. I now have a great one-story house in a nice neighborhood and the old place is sold and history.

While I was going through the process of inspecting and purchasing the new house, I outlined in my mind what had to be changed and updated. The house was the perfect size for me, it had new double-pane energy efficient windows, hardwood floors, newish a/c and a great back yard, but ... who can live with navy Formica countertops in the kitchen? And pale blue ceramic tile in the master bath? I expected to start the necessary renovations right away. I had remodeled my townhouse kitchen and bath so I was experienced.

phone photo ~ while house was under contract

phone photo ~ while house was under contract

But it took a bit longer to sell the townhouse (from mid-October to end of January is not really that long but it seemed to take forever) so I had time to live in the new place and think about what I really wanted to change. And that was so different from what I expected.

The first thing I did was get a garage door opener installed on the door at the right. I hated driving in on the left and not having room to open the door and get out. Plus, that freed up the garage area near the kitchen entry for better storage. New house has a pitiful sized pantry, but bulk supplies can live on shelves in the garage.

And very early after moving in I whacked on those overgrown ligustriums so I could see out the windows. It is a bit hard to tell but there is a Sago Palm, a Chinese Fan Palm, two Fringe plants, eight ligustriums, four box woods, a gigantic Philodendron and a Crepe Myrtle tree across the front of my house. Plus that YUGE Arizona Ash with a encircling bed of Sweet Potato vine.  It was lush and green and shady but... you couldn't even see the house or the front door.

I knew I wanted to redo the foundation plants and the cracked entry sidewalk, but I did not know the ash tree was way past its prime. There were huge holes in those giant branches, and ominous broken limbs hiding behind all that green foliage. Two good sized limbs fell out in the yard after small storms during the first few months after I moved in.  And once the leaves dropped, it was a scary sight.

It had to go.

I took some bids and hired a local company Sugar Land Grotech Tree Services to do the work. Here is Ricardo and his crew taking down the tree. That is Marco waaaay up at the top. It was fascinating to watch them in action; how they use ropes to secure the branches they cut. I have lots of photos of limbs in controlled falls. It took five guys to roll the main trunk to the trailer. And I had never seen a stump grinder up close!

And here is my house that afternoon. I was shocked at how large the Crepe Myrtle was! And it felt a bit exposed. I am glad I had the tree removed before it leafed out; I had gotten used to the bareness. We have had several windy rain events recently and I didn't have to worry I would have a limb fall on my house or next door. Lots of neighbors stopped by and told me how they had also had to have giant ash trees removed from front or back yards. They were very popular with developers in the 70s as they provided fast-growing shade in new neighborhoods.

Then I spent a lot of time with the free Online Garden Planner trying to get to the next step. With the tree gone, all the landscaping had to be for full sun. At first I tried to work with keeping the palm and the philodendron, then just the palm, but finally.. a clean slate.

32 design iterations and one document of instructions

32 design iterations and one document of instructions

Just about the time I thought I was satisfied, I would think of something else. The goal was to replace the narrow cracked and broken sidewalk with a large hard surface space for the entry. Space for flowers and plants for full sun and nothing that needed regular hedging or serious pruning. Dwarf plants and easy maintenance. Since we get close to 50" of rain a year, drainage was a consideration. I decided on 16 x 16 inch square concrete pavers set on a crushed granite base, leveled with sand and then gravel placed in the spaces. And I wanted a bench. 

But there are lots of ways to lay this out. Probably more than 32.

Finally the day arrived. Ricardo and crew showed up and got busy tearing out and removing all the plants. I had my camera with the wide angle lens, but it was much easier to use my phone for all these... documentary snap shots.

Philodendron in new location

Philodendron in new location

The Philodendron Giganticus was dug out and wheel barrowed to the shady back yard. I had a bare spot in the corner and I think it is going to do fine. Big thanks to Sylvia for suggesting this!

Debris from cracked and sunken walkway; trench for black pipe to carry downspout water out and away. Uprooted box woods on their way out.

Debris from cracked and sunken walkway; trench for black pipe to carry downspout water out and away. Uprooted box woods on their way out.

They broke up the cracked and tilted concrete walkway with sledge hammers. The whole front area was graded and leveled for the new walkways and garden beds.

Final plan with revisions

Final plan with revisions

The final plan was taped to a piece of cardboard for reference. We used it for dimensions, notes and changes. There are always changes when a plan meets reality.

Layout for final measurements. Locals will recognize the lighter splotch on the drive as evidence of prior foundation work. They say their are two kinds of homeowners in this area: those that have had foundation work done, and those that will.  

Layout for final measurements. Locals will recognize the lighter splotch on the drive as evidence of prior foundation work. They say their are two kinds of homeowners in this area: those that have had foundation work done, and those that will.  

We laid out the longest row in each direction. The 2x4 was used for spacing. My plan was a paver short in each horizontal block to fill the space I wanted. Free ware is never as precise as you need.

But, you have to be flexible and we added 8 pavers to the count.

Work in progress

Work in progress

The pavers were close set in sand, leveled and checked for alignment.

New walkway to porch. Wide gravel area next to house.

New walkway to porch. Wide gravel area next to house.

Sand was swept into joints and rainbow rock fills the spaces. Metal edging delineates the paving area from the garden beds and grass.  

Stepping stones provide access to bench area and back of flower beds.

Stepping stones provide access to bench area and back of flower beds.

The original plan had the bench area at 3 x 4 pavers, but the crew all thought it was too small, so we added another row. Also, another row of 3 was needed where the walkway met the driveway. Grass was added up to the garden beds and where the old tree was.

Just as they finished the two day job, it started a light rain which kept up all night. How lucky for me and my new grass!

The next day I took my coupon to the nursery and bought a LOT of plants. I am still working on getting them in the ground, but here is a sneak peak:

Some of the new planting - dwarf Bottlebrush, Bird of Paradise, Foxtail Fern, Dianthus and Blue Salvia

Some of the new planting - dwarf Bottlebrush, Bird of Paradise, Foxtail Fern, Dianthus and Blue Salvia

I would have more progress to show you but we went off to Surfside yesterday chasing birds. The bed around the Crepe Myrtle will have Agapanthus (Dwarf Peter Pan), more Foxtail Ferns and Blue Salvia. And more perennials.

I am intrigued with succulents these days and I want to put some in pots on the entry area. The new tall planters are interesting... And maybe a shallow one at the front corner.

And an after photo taken this morning...

And an after photo taken this morning...

And here is how it looks today. I want to see about cleaning some of the brick and painting is high on my list as well. And getting a few more sprinklers for the new beds. And replacing the driveway.... a friend used to say a new homeowner's favorite word was "eventually..."

And the interior renovations? Well, I added some of those battery-touch lights under the upper kitchen cabinets to brighten it up and have gotten used to the Formica. It is a perfectly good work surface.  The blue bathroom doesn't bother me much either. If I still had to get ready for work each morning it would be much higher on my list, but now I just dress to get outside and do things. Like gardening and chasing birds.

Do you have major renovations planned for your house? Have your priorities changed over the years? And ... do you covet my bench? Let me know in the comments below.

Old BW

Old BW

Short Stories for March

Short Stories for March