4 min read

What's behind the curtain?

Before and after photos of the front yard.
What's behind the curtain?
615 Sunset Lane in January 2024, just before we bought the house.

I'd gotten used to people asking me if the house next door to ours was abandoned.

"Vacant," I would answer, "but not abandoned." But I had to wonder if my description applied to the yard.

Our former neighbors used to take excellent care of their garden. It wasn't fancy. It was real, and it made the pollinators very, very happy. Indeed, after we moved in to our home, we had modeled our yard on theirs, getting rid of all the grass and planting a plethora of flowering plants and shrubs.

But after our dear neighbors moved to California during the pandemic, nature stopped being tamed. Everything grew out of control. Especially the big yews in the front yard, as you can see above. The yard was sprouting gout weed and trumpet vine all over the place. In a few spots, we discovered poison ivy.

I'm not crazy. Before I signed the purchase agreement for this house, I got a bunch of bids from contractors to have some sense of what we were looking at in terms of costs necessary to selling the house.

One of the first bids I got before buying the house was from Tom Morgan of Bud, Branch & Blossom. I've known Tom since he and my son were in kindergarten together. I like to joke to Tom that his first job was at my house, when he and my son (a future engineer) together built a French drain on the north side of our house to stop the rain from coming into our basement. They were five years old.

Still, I wasn't going to hire Tom without getting competitive bids. And I tried. But out of four landscapers asked, only Tom was willing to take on this really challenging job.

Fortunately, Tom's price was reasonable given the extensiveness of the need. Shortly after we closed, Tom went to work for us pulling out the yews and flattening the front yard, mulching it over. Believe me, it pained me. The yews provided good winter habitat for critters. And our neighbors had put so much work into their front yard.

But the garden was completely out of control by that point and we couldn't expect a future owner to want to deal with what was there. So, with Tom's help, we are doing a major landscaping renovation to create a workable, attractive front, side, and backyard.

Here are some before and after images of the front. Tom hasn't done the new planting yet, but you can see the difference his work has made in terms of curb appeal.

Pretty dramatic, huh? I'm still getting used to it.

By the way, when I saw the shaping of the burning bush remaining after the yews' extraction, I asked Tom if he had trimmed it to give it that lovely sweeping shape. It looks so Japanese! But it turns out that was just the shape the yews had forced on the burning bush.

You can't tell in the picture, but Tom also saved a really beautiful azalea and a nice spirea. He also extracted a substantial eastern red cedar that had popped up unexpectedly in the front yard a few years ago (a lovely specimen about three feet tall!) plus two Norway spruce volunteers. He will use those trees in other projects. Fresh plantings will come soon, thanks to the mild weather.

Most of all, we were surprised to discover, after this change, how beautiful a shape the house has. We didn't really realize what a charmer it is in terms of its gable symmetry on the top and the attractive asymmetry on the main floor, the entrance tucked to the right.

The change has already made our house (shown to the right) look less lonely than it was looking next to the untended house.

Most remarkably, right after Tommy finished this stage of the landscaping renovation, a couple of people asked us about whether we would be selling the house soon. Not bad for a start to this project! I put them off, explaining we have more work to do before it can be resold. For one thing, we have yet to get the conservation easement in place to save the two trees.

And yes, that's Bob the oak tree in the front, just to the right of the entrance. Notice how Bob towers over the skylights in our third-floor bedroom and stands ready to shade us come summer. When we did the math of this purchase, we calculated that Bob was worth a lot to us...as does getting good neighbors who will love 615 and this wonderful enclave.