Cleaning Up the Backyard

In the backyard we have a beautiful crape myrtle tree with a cluster of small trees growing behind it.

We couldn’t see the trees because they were being overtaken by vines, so we’ve been working to clear them out.

This is how it looked when we started:

During the winter it was kind of a mess:

The trees would have died if we let the vines continue to grow over them. It’s been satisfying to work in the yard and improve it noticeably in such a short time.

In the other corner of the yard, I wasn’t sure what kind of crazy bush we had growing there:

It was a completely dead bush, smothered in vines.

So we cleared that out too, and now we have a blank canvas to start with.

The kids have been digging and exploring.

I like to sit and look at our clear yard and dream about what I’m going to put there. I’m interested in reducing the amount of grass we have to water and creating hiding places for the kids to play.

I’m referring a lot to the book Easy Gardens for North Central Texas written by the senior horticulturist at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. The pictures are gorgeous, and it’s really helping me to plan. It’s an excellent local reference for which plants can do well and withstand the drought with a minimum of care and water.

What would you put in a backyard?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Rhubarb! We tried planting some but it never came up—our neighbor said we needed steer manure for it, and another neighbor said we probably bought old rhizomes from the hardware store. We’re crazy for everything rhubarb, including my UK mother-in-law’s rhubarb crumble ice cream.

    Your yard looks nice and big, perfect for playing hide-and-seek.

  2. We planted a peony bush last year- and it looks like it might bloom!! Very excited. If only the georgia clay was just an expression and not a reality.

  3. We’re working on our yard too. I’d really like to put in a bean teepee like the one at I also think it would be cool to put in a fountain, bench, arbor and maybe even an outdoor chalkboard. I saw some great ideas at They will have to wait until after we put in the irrigation, grass and garden. Can’t wait to see what you come up with for your space.

  4. a laundry line or veg garden

  5. Melissa says:

    A wisteria would look pretty in that bare corner, or a flowering pink crabapple. OR a white lilac. :)

  6. Now would be a good time to start planning a vegetable patch. Beans, strawberries & herbs would be good starters as the kiddies can help with the picking. Plant some fruit or nut trees now because it can take a few years before they start fruiting. Chickens for fresh eggs and fertiliser – there are some really beautiful heritage varieties you can get and they make great pets for young children. A treehouse or an English garden grotto. Firepits seem to be quite popular at the moment. Think how nice it would be to toast marshmallows in your own backyard looking up to the stars. Maybe even camping out overnight during summer. Oh, and a swing hanging from a tree branch.

  7. vermontmommy says:

    We have enjoyed trimming some of our overgrown trees and perfecting our back yard. We have gotten so much rain this spring that things look amazing. It makes me so happy.

    We are in North Texas and have found great luck with roses, honeysuckle, bridals wreath, wax and crape myrtles, sunflowers, pin cushions, rosemary, basil, and many other herbs.

  8. We’ve been working in our yard this weekend too. It feels great to see the progress and my daughter has loved exploring in the dirt.
    Steph´s last post…In Christ Alone

  9. I would put up a swing set, and a sand pile if I had kids your age.
    A grassy place to kick a ball around.

    I had trouble growing rhubarb bought from a nursery. I found someone with established rhubarb by putting a request on a local township website. Someone responded to my request and offered to let me divide their rhubarb in the early spring. (You need to do this to keep it healthy.) We prepared the area at our house first with a good hole and fertilizer (rhubarb is a heavy feeder) We brought our own large pots and plastic bags and gently split the plant down the middle with a sharp spade. Make sure you get a good strong root. We took it home and planted it right away. The original foliage died, but new leaves started within the week. Keep it watered well until it is established. I have passed it on to three people since then.

  10. I’m all about edible landscaping. I love to have beautiful trees, bushes, and veggie patches that provide something extra back for all the hard work. I just bought a new home that has ten citrus trees, four apple trees, a peach, nectarine, apricot, and a nice 4×10 raised vegetable bed. The first thing I did when we moved in was buy two plum varietals, an Italian prune, a combo pluot, three blueberry bushes, artichokes and as it was October I also planted an assortment of winter veggies and herbs in the bed. We love it and our 19 month old daughter now eats broccoli, collard greens, and carrots like crazy in addition to all the citrus and fruits just because she can pick them and they taste so much better than the store. She wants to go out every day to explore the garden and trees.

  11. i would add a compost pile/box/tumbler… whatever style you like. and i would add a garden if you have the right amount of sunshine. in our garden, we started small and over the years made it bigger. we tilled the grass, and don’t have raised beds. (cost less money, loses less moisture) and we water with a soaker hose. it’s not the cheapest way to get veggies (especially with our north texas heat) but it has taught me and my children so much. eggplant and basil do amazing things in our heat! i have dreams of things like backyard chickens, a chicken tractor, etc. but this is not the season of life we are in. we don’t believe in the big swing set stuff (expensive for quality ones, will be outgrown, parks are free, etc.) but my children play in the yard everyday. looking for bugs, writing with chalk, playing with toys they only get outside. have fun with your blank canvas!!

  12. Your back yard is so nice. I would love to live in a house and create a garden, but at present we live in an apartment. In my hypothetical garden I would plant stuff that smells nice, like basil, jasmine and probably a lemon tree.

  13. A lilac!

  14. I would also put up a swing set, but like the idea of a veggie garden too! You could consider a playhouse too.

  15. Love what you’ve done in the backyard so far. I am just getting into gardening so I started out small.. I’ve only bought some plants for my planters on my front deck.. A few years back my husband planted trees in the yard.. A pear tree, an Apple tree and a Japanese Cherry tree for me :)

  16. We would love to have some veggies! And so would the racoons and rabbits and cats (they love fresh dirt, especially) and possums that find their way into our patio grden from neighboring creeks, etc. So, taking out the too-large plumeria – was told we needed 3, one would have been plenty – and planting Mexican heather – grows a little bushy, but not too high, with pretty purple blossoms, that will allow the azaleas a little more impact. For me, gardening is a journey. Especially in Texas!

  17. I love springtime yard chores. It is so therapeutic to dig in soil and get close to nature. Your yard looks great!

  18. Kelly N says:

    A lilac bush, I love that smell and it is always a welcome sign of spring.

  19. We are in the process of adding a firepit, plus a few trees. I’d like to plant some dwarf fruit trees. I am really wanting to grow as much as possible, and if I have to plant a tree, I’d like to get something out of it as well. Also planning to do some square foot gardening.

  20. I’m starting to get our vegetable garden going, but also am planning on converting an old wooden swingset frame that our previous owners left behind into a tent covered with runner beans. I’m also planning on planting a sunflower house with morning glories running across the top for the boys to play in.

  21. My challenge of late is my veggie garden, but blisters aside, it’s coming along well. Our yard is 4 acres in size so it will never be neat, but we do our best. Your garden is very neat, well done.
    Tasmanian Minimalist´s last post…My Garden

  22. You have a nice sized yard. Looking good!!

    Our backyard is short but long. I want to do two things. Plant some flowers. And put up a removable clothesline so I can take photos of my quilts.
    Donna´s last post…Making Progress… One Bingo Block Finished… One To Go

  23. I’m a landscape architect & for your garden you could try planting shrubs or trees along the fence (give them enough space to grow)that will reach 2.5-3.5 meters in mature height (and not too wide). This will screen both the view of the fence and help hide the neighbor’s roof beyond. Hopefully you end up with an extended garden view from your planting to those trees in the background.

  24. I would deffinitely put something up for the children. A swingset, playhouse or a trampoline. This will give you peace to work on your flower or veggie garden:)
    Parfume´s last post…Sådan vælger du en god parfume

  25. I just finished a little backyard project of my own, adding a little play area for my boys. It’s wonderfully peaceful while at the same time very playful. I used a lot of natural materials and the tree stumps have been a HUGE hit. The boys can jump between them or use 2×4’s to make bridges and teeter totters with them as well.

    Take a look at the blog link, the pictures are better than me trying to describe it. It was cheaper than a swing set and can be easily be changed around when little people get bored of it.

  26. Hi Rachel — The link for the Fort Worth Horticulturist’s book doesn’t seem to be working (and I’m in Austin, so I think it would totally be worth a look!).

    Thanks for your wonderful blog — I’m always excited when one of your posts is on my list to read!

  27. Sue H. Porter says:

    Love that wheelbarrow! Those handles look great instead of straight poles.

  28. Step away from wisteria!! I actually thought the bush you pictured might be one. Our thirty year battle with one is ongoing. Our nextdoor neighbors and ourselves have lost bushes and a tree over it. Perhaps ( and that is a big maybe) a defoliant would kill it but we won’t consider it – a lovely nearby maple tree. I am an organic garden who looked up chemical solutions in an act of desperation. IMHO only those who have personal gardeners can consider this despicable plant. Let me know if you need pictures to be convinced. Sorry Melissa.

  29. We just consulted with a landscape architect last week! Our yard is just a rectangle with some plantings around the edges. We live in a city, so we treasure our open green space. I dry laundry out there, the kids play and dig, and we have some raised beds for veggies and raspberries. But we’re ready to have an overarching plan to aim for as we make improvements here and there. We plan on doing the work ourselves.
    Margo, Thrift at Home´s last post…"Like Wheat That Springeth Green"

  30. study your views from the inside and “not straight on” – consider what you look at as you enter a room .

    First and foremost- start with the edges and work in. Consider this the “walls”of a room.

    You want a perimeter hedge – one that will grow taller than the fence. In fact you could consider painting the fence a greenish black (i forget the name of the color) but that would blend with the hedge. I would venture to guess in your area – a Ligustrum (Privet) would work well.

    Next consider the ceiling or trees. There are some roofs in the distance. Well let me back up – consider the overall tone for your garden – if i recall your interior style is swiss coffee white and classic. I would go for gray – blue stone tones, green, and green. Meaning layers of greens with different textures and colors, be careful with them, some take on a blue ish tinge.

    Based on your “orderly style” I would keep the garden “calm” meaning you can have (1) foreground shrub and put the “clutter” or drifts of color behind it….But really planting is the last consideration.

    What are your program elements

    – barbeque
    – fireplace or fire pit
    – entertaining area

    locate the barbeque where you don’t see it…
    Again for you I would suggest movable seating, rather than loveseats and couches. I would probably consider a blue stone, or brick or even pea gravel seating area. Left and right of that or on axis, I think you would like a rose collection for fresh cut flowers.

    I would use grass.

    In front of your perimeter hedge and behind the grass I would consider your aesthetic – drifts of “grasses” can look nice and it can look hairy and messy because “bunch grasses” require a regular “buzz cut”. I would opt for a more manicured foreground and consider your “clutter” behind.. You can go with drifts of purples – lavenders, catmint, and white iceberg roses and add a tuft of “rasberry” with shrub roses. Again, be careful with color, match your seatcushions. Nothing like hot fushia plants with red pillows….(kidding)…. If you are an evening person, around your seating terrace, nothing beats whites and grays under the moon.

  31. I want to plant a sunflower house for my daughter and nephews this summer. We are lucky to live beside an open field so I’m just going to plant the sunflower house in the field and then we won’t have to worry about mowing grass around it :) I think the kids are going to love it!
    I do need to get moving on some more outdoor plantings. We moved into our house in August 2010, and while I’ve been adding flower beds and a veggie garden, I could use to add a few more. Especially since I’ve been offered a ton of free perennial plants, and I certainly want to take advantage of that!

  32. What you plant would depend on what you want to do with your time –

    * honeysuckles are fun for the kids, but require constant maintenance by the adults because they are super aggressive. We have a nice honeysuckle intertwined with some knockout roses on the back corner of our property, but we are constantly having to thin out the honeysuckle so it doesn’t choke out the other vegetation.

    * fruit plants and tress are awesome, but along with them comes snakes and bees, depending on what is planted. We have a beautiful set of cherry trees, not yet fruiting, but lovely in the backyard, but I’m in North Carolina, not Texas. We also have a lot of pollinator attracting plants, so there are a lot of bees in our yard this time of year (but my son loves them.)

    * We have daylilies, daffodils, tulips, and roses in addition to azaleas and gardenias that the kids always loved to run around and hid behind when they were younger. Hostas are pretty and heat-tolerant and low maintenance, and they give lots of hiding spots if your kids like to have scavenger hunts in the yard because of the large leaves they produce.

    * A small water feature is fun if you are not afraid of the maintenance. My son loves turtles, but I don’t want them in the house. We do not have a pond at the moment, but are discussing putting in one with a nice water feature, calm and soothing aesthetic for the adults, and always fun for the kids, but my “baby” is 10 now, so water doesn’t alarm me as it would have if he were still 2-6…just random thoughts.

    * Listen to the above posts on layering, because my mother-in-law laid out the beds in this yard, and she did exactly that, and they are gorgeous!! Everything we add or maintain in the yard bears in mind the complementary pallets and layering idea, which is aesthetic and still LOADS of fun for the kids, because they can see the pretty blooms and use the areas for their hiding games quite well.

    You have a wonderful area to work with. Good luck!!!