An Outdoor Room of One’s Own

Among the many transformations to my life when our family moved to the west side of Salt Lake City was a small, perfect, magical enclosed backyard. First and foremost, this gave Leah and Rev some much needed safe green space that we’d been desperately lacking. Secondly, it has one of the prettiest little souls of any place I’ve ever been.

At first glance, it’s not much to look at. Some patchy grass and old fruit trees which extend to a shared back alley. Fairly typical of a turn-of-the-century neighborhood. Because graffiti tagging can be fairly common on this side of the tracks, virtually no one has wooden fences. And that’s where the magic begins.


Instead, we have chain link which is overgrown with an incredible variety of greenery: edible grapes, Virginia Creeper, stunning pink and purple lilac bushes and numerous other roses and flowering bushes that create an inward facing springtime paradise I wouldn’t trade for all the deluxe wooden fencing in the world.

The house survived a few years of transitional neglect before we bought it, and even more impressively, it’s survived me learning how to properly care for it all. I’m a wild child myself, so I let the plants mostly do their thing except for what they need to be healthy. We modestly trimmed back a few of the bushes, pruned and fertilized the roses as I’d been taught in my rose keeping class at Red Butte Garden, and had Green Urban Lunchbox come out and prune back the fruit trees before they blossomed.

Otherwise, I mostly just let the yard be what it is. We were told by the neighbors that a Dutch immigrant woman named Nettie lived here and was the magical garden keeper. I tend to her roses, irises, daffodils and her seemingly impossible yuccas and feel satisfied carrying on her vision rather than tearing it out to create my own. If her legacy was her garden, keeping it happy is a pleasurable honor for me.

Divine white irises.

The only major changes we’ve made have been A) to xeriscape the front yard (but leave the rose bushes, of course) and B) a new project this year to put in a tiny patio in back where we can eat and play outside.

The front of the house fully xeriscaped, featuring my beloved hanging portulacas.

It’s a modest space of 15×15 and utilizes a silly little lean-to I built to store our outdoor things before I built our shed. I certainly never intended to keep the silly frame and corrugated tin ramshackle as a permanent fixture except… I loved it. I loved the little shade, the practical location, the way the tin bounces warm light into my office window.

To add to the insanity, I’m experimenting with incorporating in some pretty red and yellow cinderblocks I picked up for free when a factory in South Salt Lake went out of business. Cinderblock, tin, and 2x4s. Is it pretty? I don’t think so. Is it white trash? It really truly might be. Is it unabashedly west side in all the best and worst ways? I’m quite certain that it is. And so, it’s slowly becoming the frame for my future outdoor kitchen.

The future white trash outdoor kitchen!

I’m going into work late today while I await the delivery of the pea gravel which will grace the little patio, and I can hardly wait to get it all in place. They’re all inexpensive solutions to my little dreams, and that’s just how I like it. My patio isn’t for pinterest – it’s for me, and that’s all that matters.


The pea gravel made it! This will be a fun calorie burner.


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