Bushwhacking: Part 1

Oh man, we were busy little yard bunnies this Sunday. As in, we probably logged about four hours out there. We started while Clara napped, which ended up being three hours (woot!) and then we each switched off watching Clara while the other finished a few things up. The mission? To have more than a few tiny slivers of grass in our backyard. See how that giant weedy-looking planting bed robs the yard of some great Burger & bean-friendly running-around area? The pictures don’t do it justice, but the planting bed is at least fifteen feet wide and the giant stick-like butterfly bush is around eight or nine feet tall.

You think I’m kidding, right? So here’s a shot of my 5’2″ self standing in the middle of that giant butterfly bush. Not kneeling. I’m totally standing up.

Here’s the same planting bed as seen from a different POV (the other side of the yard). Although we love the butterflies that come to visit The Biggest Butterfly Bush in the World (<–not a legally substantiated claim), we thought transplanting it our best bet at reclaiming the yard.

So the first step was to clip things waaaay back. This doesn’t hurt them (they die all the way back in the fall/winter anyway), but it makes digging it up a lot more manageable because you can actually see the roots without taking a stick to the eye.

When we got things clipped back we actually learned it wasn’t all one big bush, it was actually a series of smaller bushes that had joined forces to create The Biggest Butterfly Bush in the World. You know, like Transformers, except in bush form. So after we made that discovery, it was pretty simple to dig them out at the roots and transplant them all in the way-back part of our yard (which is a wild & woodsy area that we’d love to make a butterfly haven).

Then we had to dig out all the little weeds and roots to get the ground flush with the grass around it (so it won’t be all bumpy and raised after we seed it with grass). Oh and while we were digging, lookee what we found:

It’s a giant tree root, so we think there used to be a giant tree in this insanely giant planting bed, which makes slightly more sense (a big ol’ tree might have matched the enormous bed’s proportions).

Oh and as we were digging things out, John discovered this tiny guy on his shovel (snake warning! If you’re skeeered, don’t scroll!). He was only about as big as a worm, so he wasn’t too intimidating.

And see all of these border stones that once lined that planting bed’s perimeter? Picture me transporting them all from the backyard to the carport with my own brute strength (and daydreaming about Madonna arms the whole time – but so far, no dice on those). We’ve had some luck selling them for a buck a stone to some sweet neighbors of ours (apparently they’re $3 a pop at garden centers, so they’re happy to grab them for a dollar each), so that’s the plan. Here’s hoping we break even after buying grass seed with our hard-earned border-stone profits. Haha.

Then we got to work trying to level the dirt, which we did with flat shovels. It looked a little something like this:

After a good four hours of clipping, digging, transplanting, leveling, hauling, and raking, here’s what we were left with:

A nice big swatch of space to seed with grass… just as soon as we dig out the other giant butterfly bush on the other side of that liriope-lined path (yes, were that lucky – The Biggest Butterfly Bush in the World apparently comes in pairs). Hence the “Part 1” in the title. Oh well, slowly but surely. Did we mention we also want to dig up all that crazy path-encroaching liriope? I know, that’s a whole lotta digging, but we think it’ll be as dramatic as our front yard makeover if we can actually pull it off. Remember that one?

We worked on that on and off throughout the spring, so we’re hoping we can put in some time this fall to overhaul the back yard. It’ll certainly be a while before it’s looking as spiffy as the front, but for now we’re keeping morale up by staring at the then & now shots below and soaking up what a huge difference just removing that one planting bed has made. Woot.

What did you guys do this weekend? Did you get dirty or meet any snakes?

Psst- John’s gearing up for his annual health-a-thon. The name? Aquatober. The game? It’s all explained over on Young House Life.


  1. says

    Way to go guys! We are ignoring our yard until next spring. No point messing with it when it is probably going to snow in Michigan in the next 6 weeks. We got some organizing and “fluffing” done over here then took a much needed night off! We also hit 2000 page hits today and I know a lot of people pop over to our site from yours, so I wanted to say, Thanks! Love Ya!

  2. says

    Wow. You guys just really made me feel like a slacker. :) I spent 95% of my weekend on my couch, ignoring the rain out the window and watching bad TV. It was glorious.

    We did however get a couple open shelves put up in my kitchen. It started with me and my roommate (female) all gung-ho about it and quickly getting bored and distracted. My other roommate then decided to just do it for us. lol He got them up and they look pretty. Now I’m trying to decide what to put on them. :)

  3. GinaM says

    Oh My Goodness!!! That little snake is too cute!!! Were you able to determine if he was poisonous? I only ask bc the the baby poisonous snakes are the most dangerous bc they don’t know how to control their venom output and he doesn’t look like your typical variety garden snake!!!! Great work on the weeds!!!

    • says

      It looks like a little brown snake, and they are not poisonous. I wouldn’t worry about it.

      I appreciate you not killing the snake! They’re really good for pest control. Since you have Clara and Burger, I do recommend searching to figure out if there are poisonous snakes in your area and how to ID them. Most snakes are pretty darn harmless.

      And if you ever want to pick one up, pick it up right behind the head. That’s the safest way, because they can’t reach around and bite you then.

  4. Bonnie says

    Hi guys, I’m a big fan of your site and usually love what you guys do, but unfortunately butterfly bushes are very invasive and planting them in a wooded area or even nearby it is one of the worst things you can do. They’re a fairly recent introduction to the us, but already they’ve started popping up where they shouldn’t be and outcompeting native species. I implore you guys to consider removing them and all other invasives because they aren’t doing our native species (both plant and animal) any favors. There are tons of natives you can plant to attract butterflies and be ecologically conscious at the same time.

    On another note, it looks pretty great already. Wide open grassy backyards are the way to go with little (human) ones and (canine) ones too :)

    • says

      In the UK, they are called buddleja and whilst they do attract butterflies, they are also pretty much classed as weeds. They grow all over disused land and places like railway sidings. I wouldn’t bother replanting it anywhere – no doubt it self seeded in the first place and will regrow next spring regardless :)

  5. uzma says

    Goshhh….This one guy always remains in my mind while working in my garden , actually stops me to help my hubby ;), u guys r brave to continue work after having a meeting with this baby :). I would be scared of parents coming in search of their kid , lol

  6. becca says

    I don’t usually comment but I was amused this morning….I read john’s aquatober post first, and I had already sort of committed to that like two weeks ago (one glass of soda/juice/non water a day til thanksgiving). then I read this post and we definitely were out digging up weeds and rocks in an overgrown patch of our yard this weekend too. then I saw the snake pic and we have one of those snake in our backyard too. I think its a northern brown snake. funny story: first time we found it, my sister totally fell down the hill trying to avoid it as it slithered away. they’re just insectivores though, plenty safe enough!

  7. annie says

    Awesome work, y’all! And to answer your inquiry, I did indeed get down-n-dirty this weekend, but less so with actual dirt and more so with shellac primer, paint, and sweat in the process of painting our kitchen and the cabinets. Woo to the too! Only touch-ups left!

  8. Carolyn says

    I got a little dirty in the garden this weekend cutting down the giant (10′) sunflowers that have fed the goldfinches all summer. But better than that was a friend helping me for 5 hrs each day to clean up, clean out, and reorganize the basement. I’ve got my mom cave back!

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