Behind the Scene Glimpse of My Yard…The Ugly Stuff

garden makeover

Like most gardeners, you probably like looking at photos of other peoples’ gardens. Oftentimes, those photos are on the Internet or in a glossy gardening magazine. They’re fun to look at, but they don’t always seem attainable for your own garden. I’m in the same boat. I’ve been on several garden tours during the last three weekends and saw some staggeringly beautiful gardens. I often pick up great ideas for my own yard, but sometimes I leave thinking, “My garden will never look that good.”

I love sharing photos of my garden on this website, (and I’ve even been featured in magazines), but those photos don’t tell the whole story. I tend to post photos of the prettiest parts of my garden. I don’t usually spend a lot of time taking photos of the wild and woolly parts of my yard, because frankly, they’re not very interesting or photo worthy. And just looking at them stresses me out!

But, after being on those garden tours I thought it might be useful for me to share what goes on behind the scenes in in my garden. To show you the parts of my yard that don’t see the camera lens very often. I don’t want you to think that my garden, or yard, is perfect. It’s far from it. (I wouldn’t let a magazine photographer anywhere near my backyard!)

One evening this week I walked around my yard and took photos of all of the nooks and crannies, or what I like to call “the ugly stuff”. Here it is in all its glory…

We bought our house two years ago from the family of the original owner. She was lucky enough to grow old in the house, but likely didn’t have the resources to keep things up. The yard was very overgrown when we bought it. You couldn’t even see the house from the street. We spent a lot of time chopping things down and clearing them out. The vegetable garden was the top priority and what went in first. The rest of it we’re working on little by little each year.


The biggest bummer about our yard is that we have an invasive weed you may know as snow on the mountain (or goutweed or bishop’s weed). Never plant this in your yard unless you want it for the rest of your life! It has taken over every shady area around our house and in the backyard. When you start to read about it you learn that it’s almost impossible to get rid of. We’re starting to experiment with several different techniques and the first one is just to cover it up with carboard and woodchips.

We ran out of woodchips on our last workday, so we have some cardboard hanging out waiting for the next pile to show up in our driveway.

Front yard garden tour

Goutweed is also why we don’t have any landscaping at the front of our house. We’re trying to decide whether to dig it out or smother it.


Same thing with the side of our house. There was no landscaping but plenty of goutweed. We’ve been slowly putting in trees and shrubs and waiting to see how bad the goutweed attacks them. Also, note the cable internet line that I loosened last summer while painting the house. I still haven’t put it back up underneath the siding.

Before garden

Our back steps from our kitchen are pretty rickety and the paint is peeling. We already tore down the low deck that was attached to it because our roofer and my dad both put a foot through it. Guess what we found underneath? You guessed it, more goutweed.

Garden Tour

Tour garden

This is the area of our yard we call the “back 40”. It’s a spot where the corners of four properties meet, and I think it’s everybody’s back 40, so there are lots of weeds running wild. This is where we dump most of our yard waste for now until we come up with a better plan.

back yard garden tour

We have a woodstove and my husband is an aborist, so we have access to a lot of wood for the winter. Up until now we’ve had several tarp covered woodpiles, including this one that collapsed within a week of us stacking it. And the one below, which is stacked against the back of the garage, preventing me from painting the last spot on my house painting to-do list from last summer.

tour garden backyard

garden before

In an effort to neaten up the yard and get our wood piles under control, we hired a friend to build a small add-on to the side of our garage so we can stack the wood all in one place.

Garden structures

He just finished, so we still have some of his leftover lumber laying around and non-wood stuff under the addition.

Before garden tour

Tour garden before

Here’s another wood pile that will hopefully be gone once we stack as much as can fit under the new roof and then give the rest away to neighbors. I hate this woodpile the most because you can see it from the street. It feels like an eyesore to me. We even built a berm with tree, shrub and flower plantings to try to present a better face to the street last year.

garden tour backyard

And finally, another view of our yard with a weedy combination of goutweed, ferns, hostas and other perennials. We’ll probably cover it up with woodchips for now and plant some trees and shrubs in the coming years.

messy garden

We’ve made a lot of progress in our yard in just two short years. When we get stressed out about the messy areas we just remind ourselves that gardening is a process and ours is a multi-year plan. Some of the gardeners on the recent tours I’ve been on lived in their houses from 20 to 48 years. Imagine what we can accomplish if we stay here for 20+ years!

What about you? What’s hidden in the dark corners of your yard? What would you be embarrassed for people to see or what would you love to change?




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  • Like you, I returned from the GBFling feeling both uplifted by what I saw and discouraged by what I came home to. And now it is too hot to go outside and attempt to hack away at the ugly bits. Some of my “experiments” did not work out this year, but there are quite a few of new plantings “sleeping” – once they wake up (in a year or two), hopefully things will look better.

    • I try to remind myself that there’s always next year! Some of the gardeners from the Fling have been working on their yards for a very long time. We’re in year three over here and doing pretty well!

  • Hi Megan,

    Thanks for sharing your pics! You certainly have come a long way in a short time and your hard work shows! How well has your cardboard and mulch combo worked for you? Are they areas that you intend to plant in the future?

    • Joanne- Thanks for stopping by! We use a ton of cardboard and mulch in our yard. Sometimes it’s in areas we’ll plant and other times I find it easier to just cover up the weeds instead of pulling them – like the perimeter of the veg garden outside of the fence. It always gets weedy, so every year I just lay down some cardboard and woodchips to neaten it up. We’re not sure about the goutweed areas yet. We want to see how/if we can get rid of it before we plant too much. I’d love to have a shade garden but not if it’s going to be swallowed up by it.

  • I’ve had success in getting rid of nasty Gout weed by 1. Cutting the stuff as short as possible, then covering it with black plastic. Once everything under the plastic turns brown your good to go, and 2. Burning the weed with a propane fuelled weed torch made expressly for weed control. You just have to burn part of the plant to kill it right to the root.

    • Thanks for the tips, Hilary! My husband wanted to try out our neighbor’s flame weeder, so I think you’ve just given us the push we need!

  • Gail Zalewski

    I love the pictures of the wood piles. We have a walk out basement, and it has a block wall that had no insulation when I bought the house in 2008. It was cold in winter. I was lucky enough to meet someone who would stud out & insulate the outer wall and put in a wood burner down there. Well. . .then came the chain saw, the wood splitter, the trailer, etc. Our lot is long and narrow, so it seems like we have stacks of wood everywhere too. I’m glad to see I’m not alone! 🙂

    • Gail – Thanks for stopping by! It’s hard not to have woodpiles when you’re a woodstove user. But, it’s worth it in the winter when we’re warm and cozy on a frigid day, right?

  • Thanks for being honest and being “human” like the rest of us. We all have to-do lists for the exterior, I’m sure.

    • Gloria- You’re welcome! I don’t want to create a false impression of my yard. I love how my veggie garden looks, but the rest of it, that’s another story!

  • I really appreciate this post! I, too, have some cardboard down that didn’t have enough mulch to cover. but at least it’s still stifling weeds! it’s good to remember gardens/yards ARE a multi-year project. If you’re just a regular person who likes to do other things besides perfect the yard!
    My most troubling spot is in between my house and the next door neighbor’s house: it is a pretty small corridor, maybe 4 feet wide and always shady. But out of control weeds have no problems growing there. I’m not sure what to do with it. I have this idea that if I cardboard and mulch it, that might force rainwater towards the foundations, since it won’t be able to sink in everywhere. Do you have any thoughts on that? (I realize that might be a hard question to answer without pics or more info)

    • Hi Ali- It’s always smart to be thinking about rainwater and its path! We’ve used cardboard and woodchips up against our house in places where we know the rain doesn’t flow heavily. What if you paid attention to that area in the next few rain storms? If there’s no water flowing freely in that spot you’d probably be okay. The cardboard does break down quickly so water should be able to get through after awhile. You’ll also want to make sure the soil around your foundation slopes away from your house. We had to fix that in a few places at our house.

  • Your mess is tame compared to some of our LOL! We have a huge chickeweed problem. A huge Hummingbird vine problem. And some vine covered with tiny thorns that runs along the ground faster than you can say BOO (which means there is no impromptu pulling of it, you’ll be shredded in .07 second). Pigweed too. And some bird decided to drop catnip seeds and we suddenly have a spot that I’m barely keeping contained, never mind eradicating. 2 sections have become overrun with creeping Bermudagrass, so it’s probably going to have to ALL be dug out and totally redone 🙁 It’s definitely a never ending challenge!

    • Jordana- Glad to hear that ours is tame! It’s good to get some perspective from other people. We use old billboards in non-food areas that are really weedy. Like next to our garage.

    • I wish chickweed was my problem. At least you can eat that, make pesto, and it has a lot of medicinal properties like cuts and scraps etc. I’m thinking of getting some chickweed seeds. Lol

  • Terrie Anderson

    I especially appreciated seeing your wood pile. A very large maple that was tornado-damaged came down a year ago, and we had the tree-removers leave the trunk for our outdoor fireplace. WIth other projects higher on the to-do list, that pile of trunk pieces is still aging gracelessly, awaiting splitting and piling. And our experiment with potential groundcovers around an ailing apple tree is now an intertwined mess of goutweed, wild ginger, a low-growing wild geranium, and the creeping charlie that crept in, with the apple tree long gone. We’ll get there…and we’ve been here 34 years!

    • Terrie- One thing that I’ve learned from gardening is that it’s always something! Just when you think you get a handle on one thing, something else comes up. That’s why I’ve been trying to just enjoy the ride and appreciate the good things.

  • I think your yard looks lovely! Ours is dry and barren, and despite our attempts to clean up, there always seems to be junk everywhere (or toys, cups, socks, anything and everything the neighborhood kids use…). Crab grass grows in the planter beds and not between where there’s nothing but dirt. Dirt is weed-free only where nothing will grow… LOVE the add-on hiding space!!! My husband is working on creating something similar in the little nook between our garage and side fence, there just always seems to be too much ‘junk’ and no right way to store it so it’s still easy to use. I’m thinking of giving up on starting seeds in the little mini-greenhouse and just going straight to the dirt whether it works or not, just to make more room. Thanks for always sharing fun info we can all relate to!!! 🙂

    • Thanks, Tammy! It is green and lush, which I know isn’t the case in a lot of the country, so I do feel grateful for that. It is hard to corral all of the junk, isn’t it?

  • Wow you did a lot in two years. We’ve lived at our house for 28 years now and my husband still has piles of wood (we have an outside wood stove also) and all kinds of crap lying around. He’s not as motivated as I am. You’re doing great. We have a large backyard, but I am too embarrassed by other parts of the yard and house to have many people over. It’s a shame.

    • Thanks, Teresa! We like to get things done around our house! But, we still have a list a mile long. We have lots of people over despite our messy backyard. I figure it’s a chance to see a real person’s yard, not a magazine yard.

  • Megan, I love this post! So real and honest and reassuring. 🙂 The goutweed sounds like a tough battle!

    Our 100-year-old house was my grandparents, and they didn’t get rid of anything! Our biggest eyesore are three sheds packed full (like to the roof FULL) that need sorting. We’re looking forward to having more storage space once we tackle that job. I love the look of your new wood shed!

    And of course, we have more than our fair share of weeds–a spready grass, morning glories, poke, pigweed and lambs quarters seem to be the most common. I’ll often let the lambs quarters go too long–it’s edible and not pokey, so I focus my efforts elsewhere and come back to a “tree”!? Like you, we do lots of sheet mulching. I’d like to try solarizing some planting areas next season.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Amy! We order old billboards from the internet and use them in tough areas like next to our garage or near the street. They keep down weeds and can be used to solarize. Cleaning out three sheds sounds like a big job!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Amy! We order old billboards from the internet and use them in tough areas like next to our garage or near the street. They keep down weeds and can be used to solarize. Cleaning out three sheds sounds like a big job!

    • Both poke weed and lambs quarters can be used medicinally I believe. You should look into it. 🙂

  • Any thoughts on getting rid of unwanted bramuda grass without chemicals? It takes over my garden and has even started coming up through my one garden box.

    • Hi Diane- Thanks for stopping by! I actually don’t have any experience with Bermuda grass. We don’t have it around here. Is there a local source in your area that could be of assistance?

  • Gardening is the best hobby in the world. It gives lot of happiness to watch the plant grow. I have my own small garden in the backyard. Thank you for the article.

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