I live for summer. If you know me and/or follow me on Instagram you know how true this is, as each day when the weather is decent I would head outside (on weekdays at about 6:30 am) and put out all the cushions outside, feed the birds, squirrels and chipmunks, get my cats and I settled in the greenhouse and I’d work out there all day, then go inside, make dinner, then hang out outside until the darkness settled in. I’m not sure who loved this routine more – me or the cats. Especially Lucky, the cat in the photo below. He was always at the door asking to go out in the backyard, which was cat-proofed so they could not leave the property. It melted my heart seeing how much he loved it out there. And when we had to let Lucky go on October 21st (the third of our cats we’ve said goodbye to since the pandemic) I was just so grateful he had the best summer of his life out there.
Since it’s been a while since I shared my backyard oasis I grabbed a bunch of my favourite photos from this past summer I had on my phone for an updated post, and as a tribute to Lucky. It won’t be the same back there without him 🙁
The greenhouse was the best project and investment we’ve made with this house. I’ve had to work from home since the first day of the pandemic and I spend all summer working out in the greenhouse. It also was the perfect spot to hang out on a rainy day, perfect in the evenings if it was a bit too cool to hang out outside, perfect if the mosquitos or wasps were relentless (it’s all screened in so no bugs get in) and a couple of times we even watched movies out there on a projector. The cats would sit at the greenhouse door asking to go in, and would nap in there for hours on the weekend while we puttered around the yard.
The yard was constantly crawling with critters. There were always at least 2 of our cats out there. The bird feeder was always jammed with a flock of about 25 house sparrows, Cardi B and Reginald – female and male cardinals – visited daily, near the end of summer I had 3 blue jays regularly show up and squawk at me to throw them peanuts, the bird bath was always jammed with birds drinking and bathing. Then there was Sherman, my sweet grey squirrel who visited for her third summer and loved to be hand fed, but unfortunately got sick or injured and passed away. There was a chipmunk named Scarface who would climb all over me looking for peanuts, and about 4 regularly visiting black squirrels one of whom now takes peanuts from my hand. It was truly a magical space and was essentially my own private zoo (there are some videos in this IG highlight of my interactions with them).
My husband had a great idea for our little pond as the fountain spout we had bought on Amazon was always clogging up. We had some leftover copper pipe from some plumbing work we had done in the basement so he made an L shape and drilled a bunch of holes in it. This really helps drown out city-living noise.
My handy husband also built me a modular sofa, which turned into Lucky’s favourite spot to lounge, and it even included steps for him to climb up easily (all of our cats who were allowed out in the backyard were geriatric age so we always made sure they had steps). After dinner that was where you would always find Lucky and I lounging.
I also completed a bunch of projects, like painting the ugly white garage (that husband built new doors for), the newly re-built front porch, and the back porch (the colour I used everywhere is Peppery by Behr), and finally landscaped the front yard which we had started completely redoing in the fall of 2019, and hopefully next spring the final touch of porch railings will happen.
And some remaining photos from around the backyard. Boy this is going to be a LONG winter!
At the beginning of August I received a surprise direct message in Instagram from local photo-based artist Christine Fitzgerald. I recognized her name immediately because I have admired her work that is sold through Studio Sixty Six, an art gallery here in Ottawa. She received a government grant for a project and decided to photograph gardeners in the time of the pandemic, and to my absolute delight, she wanted to include me. Her process is very antiquated, involving wet collodion photographic plates and the subject standing completely still for upwards of 12 seconds. Christopher Snow, a videographer, produced a video on Christine’s process and this latest project of hers which explains more in detail of how she created these incredibly beautiful photos.
For those who don’t know what I look like, this was my photo, shot in my backyard with my potted flowering hostas in front of me.
I am so honoured to be part of Christine’s project. It’s been a very tough year for me, and the month of August in particular as my husband spent it in Prince Edward Island saying goodbye to his father who passed away a couple of weeks ago and on my birthday (while my husband was still away), I had to make the really heartbreaking decision to have our sweet cat Milo, who had been with us about 16 years, put down due to the sudden onset of an apparent brain tumour. Seeing the results of this photo shoot and being a part of something so special is something I will not soon forget. My backyard had been my refuge during all of this so it really meant alot to me.
I wanted to share some screenshots of Christine’s work available at Studio Sixty Six. Each one is just stunning.
And because I am slightly obsessed with this 8mm film filter I found on Instagram, here are some photos I snapped around the yard.
This is the third house I have owned, and the first time I have really gotten to do some landscaping. If you know me, you know I detest winter and live for summer, so having a decent backyard space is essential to my mental well being. Throw in a pandemic and it’s a literal life-saver. We started this project last summer. Luckily we had a fairly blank slate to start. Not sure how no one had ever done any landscaping to this property since the house was built in 1940, but there was NOTHING but weeds for grass, and very wide, overgrown cedar hedges along the left side and the back. Above is right before we started the work, when husband brought home a fun mini-excavator to get this party started. Before this overhaul happened, we had at one point torn out the tiny back porch and built a massive 3 sided stair situation, and built the raised garden bed you see above (the odd white blobs are my massive fibreglass outdoor seating set I eventually sold). We tore out EVERYTHING – the grass, the hedges, the driveway. I’d love to say we tore out the garage too but that’s a makeover project for another time.
And this is what we ended up with. We are so sooooooooo happy with how this all turned out. Being total landscaping amateurs, we had a general plan for most of the yard and the rest was alot of last minute decisions and praying things would work out. We completed most of the structural work last summer (you may recall my “she-shed” post, now called the greenhouse).
We needed to rip out the driveway (the asphalt was in really rough) and rather than spend $8K replacing it, we figured it made more sense to keep the car at the front of the house and use up all of the backyard as hangout space. That area and the rest of the pathways are filled with crushed stone. It’s reddish, which I am not a fan of but all the quarries around here only produce that or the regular grey stone. The neighbour’s house (you can see it in the first photo) is about a foot from the property line and there are 12 windows that look out onto our yard, so one of the last projects which was a last minute design decision was to build some sort of fence to block their property. We found some online inspiration and came up with this haphazard design with some strategically placed cut-outs with views of a brick wall or the greenery in the neighbour’s courtyard, as well as a few shelves. Along this fence we created 3 zones. The first in the photo above is the sunny lounge area. The rope chair was from Home Depot, the bamboo lounge chair was $50 from Facebook Marketplace, the rest I already had.
Next to the lounge is a potting area. The pandemic has made it really tough to source the items I want for out here. The green table is not meant to be outside and I would love a really old wooden workbench, but maybe next year.
We ordered the hexagon picnic table at Rona and I painted it with a grey stain. This became our outdoor eating area. My husband wanted to build some sort of canopy for it, but I told him it was redundant, as the neighbour’s tree makes a beautiful canopy (I took these photos a couple of weeks ago and I’m amazed how much lower the branches are now). It’s really beautiful. To the left of the table is a wrought iron lamp that still needs wiring, and I found a bamboo plant pot in my stash and turned it into a lampshade.
At the beginning of May I placed an order with a local nursery for a whole pile of evergreens (which turned into a bit of a nightmare experience, but that’s pandemic life for ya). Since we live in Canada, and winters are long, I figured why put in plants that are just going to look brown and dead for 6 months? Evergreens look beautiful and alive all year.
Another last minute decision was to create a succulent garden. There were some cool engraved stones left in the garage when we moved in, so we buried some in the dirt and planted the succulents around them. To my surprise they are all thriving!
The back porch. We have a new door coming in October (?!) that we ordered a couple of months ago. We ended up tearing out the wood on the last 2 stairs and creating more herb/veg garden space because of the pandemic and wanting to be more self-sustainable.
The catio! When we initially built it, it went lengthwise into the yard and took up a fair amount of space, so another last minute decision was to take it apart and have it running width-wise which gained us about a 10′ square space. We also added a little addition in behind with an air conditioning cover box my husband had built but then didn’t want to use so we repurposed it for the catio. The ferals love this sooooo much. Just to the right of this photo is the BBQ deck/pad. We were able to move this closer to the catio when we turned the catio horizontally. You’ll see what we did with the extra space in a few photos 🙂
Another last minute decision was to reuse some of the leftover stone from the interlock driveway we put in and make a stone “carpet” in the large empty space within the crushed stone. We then hunted Facebook Marketplace and found a chiminea ($80) and the chairs ($40). We roasted marshmallows out there one night when it finally cooled down a bit. I loooove the smell of burning wood. And stuffing my face with perfectly roasted marshmallows. 🙂
Our raised vegetable and herb garden. Lots of goodies going on in there. The back corner is a massive tomatillo plant. I had no idea they grew so large. It’s taking over so I’m never growing tomatillos again. It hasn’t produced any yet!
Back to the other side of the yard. This area used to house the BBQ desk, but once it loved next to the catio we used the leftover space to put in a pond and bought a fountain pump! I really wanted to hear water to distract from the sound of traffic at the front of the house (we live on a busy street) and it’s been AMAZING. The bench is from Highjinx, that I reupholstered in black tufted marine vinyl. The statue is from Robert Plante and the pot is from my one and only trip to Homesense since the pandemic. (Man were the shelves empty!)
Felix LOVES drinking from the pond
The statue I bought several years ago from the One World Bazaar in Manotick. The scalloped pot I found at Rona or Lowes, and it became a water dish for the cats and my grey squirrel buddy Sherman who comes for daily peanut visits.
The greenhouse. I could not love this little outdoor sanctuary more. I have been working from home since “day 1” of the pandemic and as soon as the weather was reasonable I started working out there. It’s such a wonderful atmosphere compared to my regular office setting.
I’m hoping the neighbours paint this side of their garage soon, since they painted the rest a few weeks ago 🙂 I tried to hide it with these pots I found at a nursery. I could not afford really tall ones so I bought these @ $20 a piece, and then painted a wood door we had taken off a basement storage room with some leftover brown paint we had, and my husband made some legs for it. The tub in the background we bought recently while antiquing ($30). It’s an old bathtub that on hot days I will fill with water and soak myself in it.
You can’t see it clearly in this photo but another project we tackled this spring was husband built me a sofa for the greenhouse. On each end is a covered section with a hole cut out, and on the far side it houses a litter box. We built it to fit a twin mattress. Everything in here is either stuff I already had, or from Amazon (Macrame plant holders, sisal rug), Wayfair (fitted bed sheet), Indigo (some pillows) or I purchased from Mexico. The art of the wall was another Facebook Marketplace find.
The view while I work or when I spend time in there in the evenings laying on the couch and catching up on Instagram. We also installed a shelf on the back wall to hold a projector, and bought a fabric screen that is hung with hooks on the window wall so we can watch movies out there. We’ve done it a few times and it’s alot of fun!
I took this photo the night we roasted marshmallows. The string lights were from Canadian Tire, and the LED battery operated lights in the garden were from Indigo. It’s magical out there at night.
Hope you enjoyed my backyard tour!
When we first moved in to our current house for some reason I had the bright idea that we needed a really long dining table. Possibly because our previous house had no dining room and therefore the table was in the middle of the kitchen. My husband spent many hours and much $$$ building me a 8 foot long dining table out of hemlock (with a steel base we had fabricated). As shown above. I love that dining table. But it took up the whole room. Having to walk around it to get to the bluetooth speaker/radio my husband converted, or getting to the buffet cabinet was annoying. And there’s 2 of us. And we never have anyone over for a meal. We both agreed a round or oval table would be ideal that seat 6, and I would use the 8ft table as a desk in the living room (more on that another day). I went hunting on MarketPlace and Kijiji. For months. Then the pandemic hit and I was working from home and figured this would be a great time to get this going. So I changed my strategy and stopped hunting for the perfect table and opted to just find something that was the right size. I found a round office table for $50 on Kijiji and figured what the hell, I could pimp it out and if I end up hating it, I’ll get rid of it and try again.
This was the table 5 minutes after bringing it home and disinfecting it. Stains all over the top, and boring all around. At this point all hardware stores were closed here and only offering online ordering which takes some time so I decided to try and work with what we had. I ended up spending nothing to fix up this table. First we cut strips of wood from some Ikea shelving we were no longer using and trimmed out the base with it. I then stained the slats black. I wasn’t sure what to do with the top but husband wanted to try sanding it down and seeing what the wood looked like (turned out it was solid wood). In the end the wood turned out to have such a gorgeous grain we just used some Livos on it and that was it.
As soon as we had everything in place we realized this table was in fact too small and we could have gone for something bigger (that fit 6 – this one only fits 5). But it is such an improvement for flow in the room and we absolutely love it so we’ll live with it until my dream table is found. Welcome to my $50 dining table!
Also, I think this might be the first time you’re seeing my new Lambert & Fils light fixture. I love the smaller scale of this one compared to what I had before.
I had to add in some pics of a special piece I got my hands on this past Friday. I spotted a quirky little side table for sale in the Instagram stories of Toronto-based Bettencourt Manor a while ago but could not justify the 4.5 or so hour drive to go pick it up. Turns out the guys of B.M. were headed to Ottawa and they delivered it for me. I put it in the dining room for a quick IG story but it turned out to be the perfect spot so I left it there. I love the angles on it.
In the spring my husband and I had several conversations about all the yard work we had to do this summer. Almost every inch of our property needed work, with the exception of our back porch and raised vegetable garden, which we built a few summers ago. We got started with some fencing in the backyard, and once that was done we started discussing the structure I wanted at the back of the yard. I wanted a place to hang out in over the summer months, and the conversations started with a deck with pergola roof, then turned into a covered roof so it could be used in the rain, then turned into a screened-in structure because I hate bugs, which then turned into a completely sealed structure so I could also store our outdoor furniture in it in the winter. What was maybe a 2-weekend project turned into a 3 months of weekends project. While this endeavour monopolized our entire summer, I look at these photos and I start tearing up. This she-shed is my dream come true. And we built the entire thing ourselves. (Before you start looking for step-by-step instructions, let me tell you that you won’t find any. We “winged” this and while it’s totally sturdy and meets all of my needs, we’re no experts). Unfortunately we finished it with only a few weeks left of warm weather, but the fact that we finished it with only working 1 day a week is a miracle.
I would like to thank the wonderful people at Farrow & Ball Canada for once again supplying me with paint for yet another one of my painting projects. This was built with basic pressure treated posts and a sort of bead-board style rough plywood for the exterior (and plastic corrugated sheets for the roof) so what were inexpensive materials and not very pleasing to the eye. I knew I was going to paint this structure and lawd half mursey was that ever an undertaking! I used their wood knot & resin primer in eggshell, then painted the exterior with exterior eggshell in Studio Green, and the interior with exterior eggshell in Yeabridge Green, and decided to stripe the floors with both colours. I will always sing the praises of Farrow & Ball paints, and now I can do so with their exterior paint. It worked like a charm and the rough plywood exterior thankfully only needed one coat. The colours are gorgeous and add drama to the exterior and a bright and cheerful vibe to the interior, whilst blending in with the tree and eventually the plants I’ll have planted next year. I could not be happier with how the paint turned out.
I mentioned to my husband one day that we should try to find some old windows for the front wall. Having no real plan in my mind we started searching Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace looking for old windows, ideally a couple leaded or stained glass ones to group and make one large window. Then husband stumbled upon a Kijiji ad that turned out was posted by Northern Art Glass, a stained glass artists’ studio a few blocks from our house, who were selling off about a hundred windows they had removed from a home (and replaced with newer ones). We went to look at them and were thrilled with how beautiful they were (despite being in rough shape) and they were selling them for $30 each! We had already built the front opening of the she-shed so husband took some measurements and realized that we could use 8 of the windows of a particular size and have them cover the entire opening. If that wasn’t enough of a miracle, when we went to pick up the windows they told us because we were buying so many they’d be $25 each! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! A whopping $200. Another miracle. And our house has all leaded windows so it gives the impression that the shed has been there as long as the house has (1940).
We had a bit of a hard time figuring out what hardware to use for the windows so they could all open and close without us having to worry about wind blowing and smashing the glass, but in the end we ended up with simple chain and eye hooks to prop open the lower horizontal windows, and my genius husband found some bronze lid hinges on Amazon for $12.50/4 that work perfectly for the upper vertical windows. And then sliding latches on each one to seal them closed.
On each side of the she-shed we installed barn door tracks and went to Habitat for Humanity Restore and found 2 gorgeous solid oak doors for $40 a piece. On the entrance side (the photo above) my husband built a screen door, and on the other side the opening is a screened frame so on really warm days all the windows can be opened, and both doors can slide back for air flow from one side to the other. With those openings screened in, and all of the windows having screened frames, and with the floor boards being siliconed in each of the seams (I told you I hate bugs!) this is a completely bug-free zone. So no matter how bad the mosquitos might get, I can relax out here and not fret. I should also point out that this area of the yard is shaded all day except for maybe 1.5 hours in the late afternoon so the clear plastic roof was a great choice as it keeps the space really bright and should not get too hot when temperatures soar.
Before I get to the interior, I will warn you that aside from the polka dot rug (H&M) and the floor lamp and basket (Homesense), everything else was sourced from around the house. With this project and the subsequent landscaping projects I have coming, there was really no budget nor time to do much else. The art I bought a couple of years ago from my friend Sara for I think $40, and all of the textiles and the hanging rope chair are brought back from past trips to Mexico. I’m hoping I’ll have some funds in the spring to have husband build a platform along the back wall and have seat cushions made, and then we can buy a projector and screen so we can have movie nights out here. When I dream, I dream BIG! In the meantime I have gotten as much use out of the space as I can before winter hits. I have even worked from home several days and spent it out here, and hope to get a couple more days in this week too.
The day of this photo shoot I dumped all of this black mulch around the she-shed to hide the dirt. We have lots of landscaping work to still do back here but you’ll have to wait until spring to see what we do. And the day before the shoot I picked up these sweet retro Solair chairs on sale from The Modern Shop. I was sooooo relieved because I’ve always wanted these, and wasn’t sure what I was going to put here that would look decent enough to photograph. Score x 4!
Throwing in a progress shot below. You can see why this was absolute hell to paint. Add in 8 windows to get the full picture of how much time I spent painting.