One of my favorite spots on the property has become this happy little corner of the back yard we created this summer.
Day or night this is an awesome spot to sit and enjoy a lovely beverage or a snack, or just stop and breathe for a moment.
It started as just another sunny spot in this new space, home to a falling-apart old rabbit hutch.
Our first spring we brought home a couple little grape plants from the Spring Fair at our local grange and decided this would be the perfect corner to start a little arbor.
JD had been clearing overgrown brush and dragging cool-shaped dead branches out of the weeds that we were saving from the burn pile because they were just too cool to waste. He lashed together a natural little arch and I loved it.
We get quite a wind through here so he installed the main “posts” in concrete, like fence posts. We didn’t get any grapes yet, but the plants seemed ok with the setup.
The second spring we came home from the Spring Fair with 2 more little grape plants and a plan to expand and reinforce the arbor with a second set of posts. We had been focused on building the vegetable garden all spring and had been creating support structures with more found branches and JD just kept finding more awesome pieces to work with. Although I thought the original arbor structure was amazing, he had been looking at it all year critiquing it with his perfectionist engineer eye, and was enthusiastic to improve on its design and stability.
2 more posts were installed in concrete, additional arch and support branches were wired together, and the new grapes got planted in their new home. After the structure was in place, we realized what a nice little spot it was.
I trimmed back some of the weeds and set my old garden bench back in there. The ground was lumpy, rocky and full of snowberry roots and weeds but it was kind of nice.
That year, we got tiny baby grapes on 2 of the plants but critters got to them before we did. Still, the plants seemed to be doing pretty well. I used a lot of the leaves when I canned pickles: the tannin in grape leaves helps the pickles stay crisp.
This last spring JD would disappear outside for hours: when I’d go looking for him, I’d find him dragging more and more cool shaped branches out of the brush, adding to his creation. He was determined to create shade in our little nest and was adding branches thick with usnea for even more protection from the sun. The whole thing started reminding me of Carol’s creations in Where the Wild Things Are (the movie). He’d lay out smaller, more flexible branches from thinned brush for me to “do my magic” with: braiding and wiring them in between the larger branches in swirly shapes.
The structure was solid but now it was time to focus on the inside.
We had some large, super-heavy concrete sample pieces we’d picked up for free from a local contractor that I’d been saving for another project but decided they’d be exactly what we needed for a flat, solid base for any seating or tables we’d want in there. While I spent hours on my hands and knees with a pick and shovel clearing out roots and rocks, JD was out back prying rocks from the back of the property and hauling them closer for me to build up the areas around it (fun fact, the “ridge” behind our house had been built up as railroad ballast so the whole thing is just…rocks. Big rocks, small rocks, crushed rocks. Lots. Of. Rocks).
We laid down landscaping/barrier fabric, crushed rock, and sifted/clean(ish) soil and set the pavers and stones in place. I built up a little terrace at the back and we planted ferns from our woods and laid crushed rock for a path along the back. I couldn’t wait to get my bits of mosses and Corsican mint planted between the pavers so that stuff went in next.
This was when the space named itself: The Grotto! Ferns and rocks always add a bit of magic to a space for me: I’m so grateful to live somewhere with so much of both all around me.
Once that was in place, it seemed like the little hill toward the dog-path behind it needed a couple stairs, so JD headed back out to the ridge for some flat rocks to use as stairs and I worked them into place. Then it seemed like we needed some smaller pavers heading toward those stairs to go with the larger salvaged concrete ones and decided to build them in place: we laid out wood scraps with duct tape at the corners in the shapes we wanted, and poured concrete to the height of the other pavers. I gently pressed pretty little rocks from my collection into the surface while the concrete was still wet.
While we waited for that to dry, I got back on my hands and knees with my pick and carved out paths on the hill behind it: using the trails where the dogs run as my guide, terracing as necessary with rocks JD had been hauling from the ridge. I finally started pulling some of my old rusty treasures out of the barn that I’d saved from my grandparents’ property. They had lived on a steep hillside with terraces and paths carved throughout the woods; I miss that place dearly and I’ve always wanted to create my own version. This is just a start.
I’m so happy with what we created so far.
I can’t say it’s finished because this stuff is always a work in progress.
As I unpack my buckets of rusty goodies from the barn, stuff gets added here and there.
Making this property into our own space is a lot of work but it makes me smile. This spot has been fun to share with our few-and-far-between socially-distanced outdoor visitors this summer…I kind of wish you could just join me there right now. 🙂
As for the grapes: well, that can be the focus for this space next year! The plants seem healthy enough, I’m just going to have to do a little research on how to keep them happy. I’ll keep you posted!