When Karen and I retired from central Washington to Ashland in October 2009, it was an exercise in downsizing.
We moved from a house on a very high-maintenance half-acre with elaborate landscaping to a home with postage stamp-sized yards in front and back.
When we were house-hunting, we had two major requirements: a place to put our grand piano and a bit of dirt for Karen to play with. She looked forward to doing some gardening but not being enslaved to the demands of a large lot.
The house on Fair Oaks Avenue, the original DeCarlow-model home for the development, fit the bill. But the outdoor space had problems. The backyard was so steep that gardening would be tricky. The front yard had two small patches of grass and not much room for flowers.
We had some ideas, but we believed the project required the expertise of a professional, so we turned to landscape designer John Stadelman of Green Man Gardens in Ashland. Stadelman consulted with Karen about shrubs, trees, ornamental grasses and flowers. And we discussed ideas for expanding the rear deck.
A couple of weeks later, Stadelman returned with a whole-house landscape design, including plans for an expanded, two-level deck, and we decided to split the project into two jobs over two years to make it easier on our budget.
Last year, we replaced the flagstone front steps, which were in disrepair, with a curved concrete pour. Then we tackled the backyard project. We started the front- and side-yard projects in March.
Leveling the playing field
We gave top priority to the backyard. We wanted a more versatile living space outdoors for our first summer in Ashland.
There was a drop in elevation of more than 6 feet from the edge of the small, covered, rear deck to the fence along the alley. Stadelman's plan solved that problem with three new levels connected by steps.
His design extended the upper deck along the garage wall, covering the concrete steps. The L-shaped, upper deck has room for a large, outdoor-dining table and extra seating. The extension provides space for a propane barbecue and rolling, outdoor-kitchen cart.
On the west side of the original deck, the railing was removed. Three wide steps lead down to a second level of uncovered decking.
The lower deck has room for a second patio table and pots for plants. Two steps lead down to a gravel path, and two more lead to a sitting area utilizing flagstones repurposed from the front steps.
Also on the lower level are an espaliered redbud tree, a rose garden, viburnum and an ornamental pear tree. A rustic garden bench imported from England anchors the corner. Two 10-foot-high trellises and three Italian cypress trees provide the finishing touches.
The work was completed in time for entertaining summer visitors. A once-problematic backyard now provides pleasant, outdoor-living spaces that take advantage of the Rogue Valley's beautiful summer and fall weather.
Second stage: more curb appeal
This year, Stadelman again served as project manager for the front- and side-yard redesigns, securing bids and checking the project as it progressed.
Between our house and the neighbor's to the west, there was a small difference in elevation that made walking and gardening difficult. Stadelman had the contractor scoop away soil to make room for a level, quarter-minus gravel path that meanders between the houses. Quarried stones were hauled in and used to retain the soil next to our house.
The front lawn was removed, and the rocky, clay soil was amended to provide a more friendly home for new plantings, which include ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, evergreens and more quarried stones. Sprinklers were replaced with drip irrigation. Two quarter-minus gravel paths curve through planted areas on both sides of the front walk.
The result is not only more curb appeal but also a source of blooms for Karen to take inside the house.
And when I enjoy a cold one on the front porch on a sunny afternoon, I feel no regret over not having a lawn to fertilize, water, weed and mow seven months of the year.
Jim Flint is a retired newspaper publisher, and Karen Spence is a retired librarian. They moved to Ashland in fall 2009.