Summer Staycation

Lazy, Hazy Days in Lakeshore

Story by Karen Paton-Evans
Photography by Michael Pietrangelo

Like many homes in Essex and Kent Counties, one local backyard was subject to frequent sogginess. For years, the homeowners resigned themselves to not using the back half of their one-acre lot.

“In the spring, we’d have water in a good quarter or more of our property. It made it really tough for the growing season, especially for grass,” the husband says. Adding to the challenge were over 90 mature maple, oak and ash trees casting shade everywhere and preventing grass from growing well. The family lived with the resulting brown patches because they loved their trees far more than having a lush lawn.

Opportunity was forced upon the homeowners when an emerald ash borer invasion gnawed through Lakeshore. “We lost more than 70 trees that were 80 to 100 years old,” says the husband. Hundreds of trees died throughout the neighbourhood. After the dead trunks were cut down, sunshine lit up the yards.

Before the emerald ash borer attack, “everyone’s property in our neighbourhood was wide open, with mostly minimal fencing just around swimming pools,” the husband says. Trees standing on property lines formed natural fences in the parklike setting.

Glorious during the day, the property is enchanting in the evening, when gas lantern standards made in New Orleans and soft landscape lighting wink on.

To deal with a “bit of a swampy area on the flood plain” now exposed by the absence of tree cover, the neighbour next door decided to build up and raise his backyard, then redo the landscaping. “It turned out so well, we were inspired,” the wife says.

Work began in the late fall of 2018. Winter came early, delaying the completion of the long task sheet to early summer 2019.

“First, we had to bring in a lot of fill and topsoil – about 20 one-tonne loads,” says the husband. “We pumped out excess water and then put in a drain at the back of our yard to capture water and prevent it from pooling after spring thaw or heavy rains.”

The bare earth was covered in a carpet of new sod.

“Now, we have really beautiful grass that we never had before. It’s so much better in the backyard with more sunshine. And we don’t have to worry about tripping over tree roots,” the wife notes.
Grateful to be able to save 15 big mature trees in the front yard, four in the back and two on the property lines, the couple was disappointed when a dominant green feature had to go: a 60-foot long Chinese wisteria that was planted after the house was built in 1979. Its thick tough vines were intertwined with an old wrought iron fence guarding the pool. “We couldn’t save the wisteria, but we did salvage the fencing and repurposed it when we built a new fence around our yard’s perimeter,” says the husband.

Flames fuelled by a natural gas line dance over rocks.

More than the pool’s fencing required attention. “Our old inground pool’s walls had deteriorated, so everything had to be re-dug and rebuilt,” the husband says. Thinking of their young grandchildren, the deep end was made shallower and the diving board disappeared. “The new liner looks like the blue of the Caribbean.”

Upgrades were introduced to elevate the pool’s style and extend its life. The stairs were refinished and the ladders replaced. The former plastic edge bordering the pool was swapped out for manufactured stone paver bullnose coping. Stamped aggregate concrete forms the decking around the pool area. The coping material is repeated in the freestanding water feature wall and the raised patio overlooking the pool. The wife is pleased “there is virtually no upkeep with the stonework and stamped concrete.”

Hassle-free was also the goal in replacing the big old wooden deck with composite decking. “We decided we wanted to get away from the maintenance of caring for wood,” the husband says. TimberTech natural-looking, sustainable decking in a pecan hue was selected to complement the house’s earth-toned brick and stucco exterior. The product is fabricated with capped polymer material, protecting against mold, mildew and damage from moisture. Best of all, the couple never has to stain their deck again. They just hose it off when needed.

“The deck’s surface doesn’t get super-hot so it is easier to walk on barefoot,” the wife finds. “Its hand-scraped finish is textured so it isn’t slippery,” an important consideration year-round.
One of the backyard’s several sitting areas is comfortably grouped on the deck in the shade of the house. Farther along the platform are the grill and ice chest.

When dinner is ready, the couple have their choice of eating at the raised bar area, which seats four and overlooks the pool. Or they may plop onto the grey and tan cushions of black wrought iron chairs and set their plates on a large round cast iron table that can easily convert to a fire feature when desired.

A long wrought iron dining table is surrounded by a dozen chairs in preparation
for guests. Tan market umbrellas shield everyone from the sun.

Reinvigorated with hardscaping and furnishings, the property deserved fresh landscaping. Reveling in sun-loving options, the couple handpicked evergreens and birches for privacy and ornamental seasonal colour.

Maintaining their longstanding tradition, the couple once again rolled up their sleeves and planted exotic flowers and bulbs in 28 medium and large pots. “We put some on the deck, patio and tucked in the landscaping,” the wife says. “Normally, we go as a whole family on Mother’s Day to nurseries in Ruthven and get exactly what we want. The grandkids get right into planting,
helping out and learning. It’s fun!”

The husband also had family top of mind when he shelved his notion of reserving a small area for practicing his golf game. “Our kids have children and dogs who all love going into our huge backyard and running around. Watching them is my favourite pastime.”

Suspecting the backyard makeover has increased the property’s value, the couple believe their true investment is paying off in the pleasure it gives their family and friends.

“This year, people aren’t able to travel like they used to,” the wife says. “We are happier than ever that we have this resort right here.”

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