The chicks and I have the pleasure of living above the most amazing neighbors who have become our very close friends. They are the parents of two sweet kids, aged three and five, who play with my chickies almost every day, often more than once a day. Honestly, they are more like cousins than friends.
Last fall, we decided together that we wanted to turn the lower half of the backyard into a natural playscape. We had no experience in this realm but had some ideas of what we wanted, so we spent the winter brainstorming and researching options.
The lower (back) half of the yard is about three feet lower than the front half. We learned from neighbors who had been here for ages that the lower half used to be an alley, and before that, it was part of the trolley track for the trolley system in Montreal. At some point, they removed the track and turned it into an alley for buses, and then eventually they filled it in and expanded the backyards.
We decided to explore the "trolley" theme in the garden. We did some research on the trolley system in Montreal--when it ran, what the trolleys looked like, etc. We named the playscape "The Trolley Garden" and have incorporated trolleys into the garden a little bit so far, though we have more things planned for next summer. We even recently took a trip to Expo Rail, a huge Canadian railway museum near Montreal. The kids loved it. They have tons of cool old trains and trolleys, and they got to see and go inside the kinds of trolleys that used to run through what is now our Trolley Garden.
We spent our spring revamping the entire yard. I did not contribute nearly as much effort as my lovely neighbors, but I did as much as I could given my situation. Much of what is in the garden was either salvaged/repurposed or made from salvaged wood, etc., though several things (like sod and sand) were purchased. Almost every single plant in the garden was already in the yard; we just transplanted them to strategic areas. We did bring in some ornamental grasses from a nursery.
And now, onto the real fun--the photos! I took "before" photos in April, and I just took "after" photos today. I'll try my best to match them up properly. It's not fully "after" yet as a lot of what we planted still needs a lot of time to grow, but it's "after" in the sense that we're pretty much done with what we're going to do with it this year. Also, the "before" photos are slightly inaccurate in that I took them after we had been working on it for a couple of weeks. I wish I would have gotten true "before" photos, but these will have to suffice.
Let's begin with the entrance to the garden. Formerly, this was simply a three foot drop-off (and the original entrance was elsewhere):You can see a white wooden structure in the above photos. My neighbor built it from scrap wood in the garage to serve as a base for the hill we were going to build. We then had fill dirt delivered and made a hill out of branches, wood scraps, and dirt. We placed cement patio blocks for stairs, and we built in a slide. We initially looked at slides designed for natural playscapes like this, but they were insanely expensive. So instead, we went to ToysRUs and bought a standard plastic slide, removed the steps, and built the hill around it as we went along. Then my neighbor covered the hill with sod. Now we have a fun entrance for the kids that includes stairs, a hill for climbing, and a slide:
Here is the "before" view of the entrance from inside the garden: And here is the "after" of the entrance from inside the garden: Here's the "before" of the end of the end of the garden nearest the entrance:And here are some "after" shots, beginning with the bench (which my neighbors already had and which, I believe, they had gotten for free):A closeup of one of the beautiful hanging plant arrangements (which my neighbor made using old plant hangers from the garage, dried moss, and plants uprooted from the front yard):Stumps (found for free) for sitting/having tea parties. Eventually we'll have a taller, wider stump in the middle:Here's the "before" of the area to the right of the new entrance. That horrible cement stump was the original step down into the garden!:And here are some photos of what it looks like now. A row of pots along the top (with a flower garden behind it that I forgot to take "after" photos of):The corn and sunflower garden, including the beer traps to kill the slugs. We chose "corn and sunflowers" for one of the themes for our weekly playgroup, and as the activity for the day, the kids planted the seeds for these plants. They're still pretty small, but now that we're killing the slugs, they seem a little happier:Our bamboo pole bean and pea teepee. The beans just started to wind themselves around the bottom bits of twine today after the sun came out from behind the clouds:Here is the "before" of the end of the garden with the sandbox (opposite the end with the bench):Here are Ninna, my neighbor, and his two kids pouring the ceremonial first bag of sand. He built the sandbox from scrap wood in the garage and lined it with landscaping fabric:Here's that end after. First, the entrance to the path the kids walk down to get to the sandbox. It's like a jungle! It's just to the right of the teepee; you can see a popsicle stick labeled "peas" in the bottom left corner:The sandbox itself:Cute basket of impatiens hung at the kids' level next to the sandbox (basket salvaged from the side of the road, impatiens given away free by our borough as a neighborhood beautification effort):
Then, along the back wall, there's a path that begins at the sandbox (here's the entrance)...:...and ends at the gravel pit! This is one of my favorite things about the garden:One of my other favorite parts of the garden (ok...they're all my favorite!) are "the trolley tracks." We wanted a balancing plank to go diagonally across the garden, underneath my neighbor's clothesline. In order to make this, we got plain boards from Home Depot, and then, during another playgroup session (this time appropriately themed "trolleys"), we had the kids paint the tracks. We gave them trays full of paint from our craft supply stashes and handed them brushes and let them go at it. We LOVED the final result. Then my neighbor painted black "tracks" on the edges and varnished them with a waterproof varnish so they were appropriate for the outdoors:Whew! And there you have it, The Trolley Garden as of June 17th, 2010. I'll post an update late in the summer when (I hope) the corn and sunflowers are towering and the beans and peas are covering the teepee. And with that, I say "Good Night," as this post feels like the longest thing I've written outside of my master's thesis...