A Thistly, Scraggly, Suburban Wilderness

I live in a new house, in a neighborhood of new houses, an entry level neighborhood in a rapidly developing area.  This implies a three things.

First, the builder just bulldozed down the area, added some sand for leveling and drainage, divided it up into streets and itty bitty lots, and started building.  Second, we have a more irrational than usual homeowner’s association which is unfortunately still owned by the builder.  Third, there are absolutely no trees.  Oh, sure, each house has “a hand planted oak tree in the front yard.”  This means there are no trees older than maybe five years in the whole subdivision.  In Texas this means no shade.

So our backyard (which was not sodded) is this unnatural wilderness of thistles, poorly growing grass, and fire ants.  It’s not like the native pine woods, small patches of which can still be found nearby.  It doesn’t have the wild beauty of the backyard of my parent’s house.  They left it mostly native woods, just cleaning out some of the understory.  If you like woods, and I do, it’s wonderfully peaceful.  Our backyard is not peaceful.  And I’m faced with the dilemma of just what to do with it.  It’s far too small to return to woods.

Let’s start with a description.  It’s a long and shallow backyard of about 1350 sq ft.  And I do mean long and shallow, 70 feet long, but 13 feet deep at its shallowest, where the dining room’s bay window sticks out in its center.  For 7 feet from the back fence, we have a utility easement.  Anything there might need to be ripped up if utility work is required.  Two of the three utility boxes are at the fence right across from the bay window.  Such a lovely view.

The backyard faces south southwest.  The western side gets a great deal of afternoon sun and some morning shade and the eastern side vice versa, but the whole area gets a great deal of light.  The western half is significantly larger.  This is the only place we could plant a large tree (requiring 160 sq ft) , but doing so would take up the whole western side.  The gate is on the eastern side.

The soil is a varied mix of sand and clay.  Some areas have more clay, some have more sand.  There was a huge amount of buried construction debris and litter that we dug up the first year we lived here, but there’s still stuff buried.  We found an 8 inch piece of 2×6 buried in the front when we planted a gardenia bush.

I have a potted tea rose that is recovering from my accidentally induced drought.  There’s my homemade compost bin, some potted herbs, three small vegetable beds.  And there’s a small bed of mongrel Louisiana iris under the bay window.  My friend needed to reduce her bed, so she dug some out for me and I planted them last spring.  I didn’t think they’d survive since I just put them in without any soil additions, but they did!  Today they started blooming, they’re gorgeous and purple.  That bed needs a companion plant.  All of this is hanging out on the slightly shadier eastern side.  But it’s the sum of my landscaping efforts.

It isn’t all bad.  We have a relatively big backyard.  There’s room to work around the awkward layout and do something.  I just need to figure out what.


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