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Our Backyard Evolution – The Changes I Didn’t Tell You About And How The Trees Are Doing After The 2017 Massacre

Four years in this backyard and many many memories made. The nature scavenger hunts, snow cone parties, but mostly just the kids having total freedom from us helicoptering since it’s just so safe. The things you want as a parent seem so boring, but once you become one you realize that all you/I want is a flat, fully enclosed, shady (in the summer) backyard that feels like a park so you never have to load the kids in the car to run around on grass. And this one delivered. With the slide, rock pit, and swing set, the kids have to much to do. I realized as we were shooting the backyard recently that there were a few things we changed since the original reveal that you simply must know about.

Here’s what it looked like when we bought the house. It was shady and flat (not tiered – very usable space) with old-growth trees and a swing set.

We loved it when we saw it. And fun fact, the cement pad to the right in that photo is actually covering over cement from 100 years ago because back then you just, yep, burn your own trash in your backyard. We thought it was a pond, but nope – trash pit!! Of course, back then their “trash” was like food, wood, and paper, before plastic or anything too toxic. Imagine if we all had to be fully responsible for our own waste and trash?

The Tree Saga

As a reminder, to those of you not fully stalking my mental health throughout the years… right after we closed on the house we had our wonderful gardener come “trim” the trees. It was 95 degrees in August. I had a 9 month old and 2-year-old – both wildly fair-skinned. We were moving from a house that had a deck overlooking a cliff (for a backyard) west facing and pretty vulnerable to the sun – we literally bought the house for the shade. I’m from rural Oregon where my childhood was surrounded by greenery and yes, so many trees. You know where this is going.

I popped by the house to check on the renovation and found the trees in the above condition. Butchered. And it felt like a sauna. I was truly horrified and the sounds that came out of my mind reminded me only of the last contraction of Charlie’s natural birth. I wrote a whole post about it here (the trees, not the birth but you can read about that here) but in short, I’ve never in my life had such a physical and emotional reaction to something seemingly so trivial – thus revealing my true level of privilege.

Our poor gardener (who we LOVED) felt HORRIBLE – clearly we hadn’t communicated well and he wasn’t the only one at fault. I learned the hard way what “tree trimming” means and you guys THAT PHRASE NEEDS TO BE REBRANDED. It’s truly more of a butchering to help future growth and health of the tree, but for about a year it looks like all the limbs have been cut off at the shoulder. Anyway. Because of that, I went ALL OUT on the landscaping. We planted like 4 trees (two of which have grown so big!) and a lot of plants.

So 3 years ago we revealed all we had done and I split up into a few different posts (this was when I realized how popular exterior design posts are as they were 3 of the top 10 posts of the year). I wrote about the castle, the landscaping, and of course the reveal.

Here she was in 2017 – after we landscaped and ready for her reveal:

And here she is now. There are a few basic changes – the trees on the perimeter that we planted grew much taller in the three years (which is great because it blocks a newer apartment building) and when we originally shot it it was early spring so it was more lush and flowering (opposed to our below august shoot).

You’ll notice that the trees are BACK. Not only were they back but our real estate agent told us we needed to TRIM (shaky/horror movie font please) them back substantially and lift all the canopies before it went on the market. Obviously, because of my previous tree trauma, I was very NERVOUS but they had grown a LOT and yes, it was mostly shady (thus making it hard for the grass to grow). I insisted on being there along with Howard, our real estate agent, and we carefully chose each branch. They would bend it so we could visually see how it would look without them and then I would nod or give it a thumbs up. It took a couple of hours and admittedly it looked WAY better than it did that morning. I think we could have even clipped more to make it feel bigger and brighter, but I was so nervous, truly, to go any further. By the end, I was being very liberal with my thumbs up and it made me realize how we need to do it at the mountain house because the canopies are like 3′ off the ground (which is actually a very dangerous fire hazard. Update: FIXED!

So yes everything grew taller and aged as they do – some plants overtook others, some didn’t thrive where they were planted (once the shade grew in they didn’t get enough sun – OH THE IRONY). But besides that, there were a few changes that I don’t think I officially blogged about.

We Painted The Castle

photo by jason frank rothenberg | from: 6 quick & easy tricks for a fun 4th of july party (that look like you tried)

A few years ago I had a partnership with Wood Naturally and they wanted us to show off the grain of the wood and so I left it stained, but later I realized that I wanted it to be painted the same trim color as the house (Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball). I liked it a lot more as it kinda just receded and didn’t pop out as much.

The Garden Bed

As my souping and general domestic homestead personality reared its apron, we built a veggie garden. I was able to use it for last spring/summer and my gardener put drip irrigation in it.

The Hammock

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our backyard makeover – the final reveal

We originally designed this stone pad as a sitting area, 1-2 chairs for reading. But the kids took over and the last year we had a picnic table here (from this shoot). We would do arts and crafts on it and of course, eat.

But Howard suggested that we make it less “kid” and so I brought down one of our hammocks from the mountain house and I cried tears of regret for all the years that I could have been gently swinging in a hammock (if you are in the market we did a big hammock roundup post here).

The last thing that we did that we were on the fence about was replace the sod. Because it was so heavily shaded (because I didn’t trim the trees in 4 years) it was patchy. So we spent $3k to replace it and it looks so green and fresh (although it needed a mow in these photos, but you can’t mow it for a bit).

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our backyard makeover – the final reveal

All in all, I still LOVE this garden/back yard. The kids still play in the rock pit and on the swings. So many naked sprinkler sessions, ninja moves, picnics, birthday parties, forts, and flower picking sessions. And the number of times our friends have said “this is the easiest yard to parent in” is uncountable. We just sit at the patio table and know they are safe without us needing to actually watch them.

Here’s a little trip down memory lane (many involve people together, without masks which is just so odd to see now!)

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our backyard makeover – the final reveal
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a backyard summer snow cone soiree

From our “back to school snowcone party“. It looked so cute!!!

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a backyard summer snow cone soiree
photo by jason frank rothenberg | from: 6 quick & easy tricks for a fun 4th of july party (that look like you tried)

Remember our 4th of July feature in Rachel Ray? So many scavenger hunts…

photo by jason frank rothenberg | from: 6 quick & easy tricks for a fun 4th of july party (that look like you tried)
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: charlie’s superhero birthday party

We had nearly every birthday party back here for the last 3 years because it was so much easier than schlepping to a park (Remember going all out for birthday parties? I actually think I might decorate a lot this year only because it’s so fun to do with the kids and without a lot of friends decoration feels festive and special).

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: charlie’s superhero birthday party

I never posted about birdie’s rainbow-themed party but it was full of white cloud clusters and rainbow streamers (so cheap, cute, and high impact).

Time for someone else to enjoy this place. We sure loved it HARD for four years and the kids talk about it all the time. Clearly happy memories were solidly imprinted, and not just on them 🙂

Update: The buyers had to cancel escrow on the last day for personal reasons so the house is back on the market. So if you know anyone needing a park-like magical back yard, email Howard Lorey at to see it.

**Final Reveal Photos by Sara Liggoria-Tramp


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44 thoughts on “Our Backyard Evolution – The Changes I Didn’t Tell You About And How The Trees Are Doing After The 2017 Massacre

  1. Oh the trees! I keep personally climbing my backyard trees with a small saw, carefully selecting each branch to hack off. And every time I think of your butchered tree.

  2. Okay, I’m barely into this blog post and have to come comment this immediately.
    Emily’s comment: “Imagine if we all had to be fully responsible for our own waste and trash?” speaks volumes to my soul. Before my passion for vintage and design has been my lifelong main passion for the environment. I have always thought about how wasteful people are, ESPECIALLY with plastic. If every person had to deal with their own trash, I really believe we wouldn’t have as much plastic use. We would reuse things. If we had to limit our trash to our homes/yards, it would make such a difference.

    Okay, I just had to say this. Thank you Emily. I already love this post. Okay, going back to finish reading.

    1. I have heard of other countries where instead of paying for the trash pickup itself you pay for the garbage bag. The larger the bag the more it costs.

      1. I live in Kansas City MO and we are allowed to put out two bags at the curb each week. Trash is paid for by the city – so having a minimum is smart and also keeps it accessible to all households without a turn on fee, etc. However, if you have more garbage than two bags, you have to buy bag tags that attach to any additional items you put out (you can get them online or at our local grocery stores). Bags theoretically have a weight limit, although that probably applies more to what a bag could hold when you pick it up (they aren’t in bins).

        I compost, so I don’t take even a bag a week to the curb (I’m down to maybe a bag every 8 weeks or so), but the way the system works here definitely made me think about trash differently. There’s not some dumpster you keep that you just cram things in and mindlessly fill!

        Recycling is also paid for by the city (taxes :)) as well and there’s no limit to how much you can put out. Again, love that everyone has an automatic opt in to this and because of fees on trash, you’re more likely to sort what can get picked up for free. The exception is there’s no glass pick up (although paid services exist) – but we do have public glass collection (google ripple glass) in various lots around where we just take our glass to once we fill a bag or a box up.

        1. Wow, 1 bag of trash every 8 weeks is amazing! I was patting myself on the back for putting out one bag of trash every other week. I compost and recycle also.

          1. Ah, I love hearing that, Angela. You’re doing great! I’m obsessed with finding other people who are dedicated composters 🙂

            It’s taken time for sure. I do have to note it’s also just my husband and I – no pets or kids in the mix. We’re really lucky to have access to an incredible farmer’s market not far from our home that I get 80% of our food unpackaged from (and have the funds to do so) for a large percentage of the year. Anything in packaging (like eggs) I can also return the package back to my farmers for reuse. We do have the option in our town for glass milk (that also is returned to store for reuse), etc and more shops have opened for things like refillable shampoo. The main thing I’ve done is question if I truly need something, or just wait a day or two to make a purchase. Usually I forget about it. Or decide I can wait. … and then that waiting just turns into never buying the thing. 🙂

            The other thing is to just review one thing at a time, and if you can tackle one thing that you know you throw away on a regular basis – even better. For instance, I still feel like a super hero every time I survive my period without anything disposable. Switching to a cup was a game changer for me and waste I had been generating each month! Highly recommend trying a cup to everyone with a period – especially if you’re still WFH right now as it’s great to get the hang of it while you have a private bathroom. Rags for paper towels? Cloth napkins?

      2. Good afternoon Elizabeth :),

        In the Netherlands it differs per city! In some city’s you pay for the bags themselves and do not have to recycle, or you pay for the amount of bags you reclycle. Also it becomes way more cheaper in my hometown to divide plastics and composte on which you pay a small standard fee, and all the other waste you pay under €1 per bag. Hope that helps! Have a nice day, Fooky

    2. And if companies were held responsible for the level of waste in their packaging! Imagine all the refill at the store options we’d suddenly have!

      1. Yes. Yes. Yes. We have allowed companies to create waste while making individuals and the communities where they live responsible for the economic and environmental costs.

    3. This was my initial thought too — maybe we wouldn’t waste so much if we were responsible for our own!” Then my jaded-ness flipped on and I realized that if we were responsible for our own garbage, there would be a lot of dumping. In other people’s back yards, out in the country. Don’t kid yourself, it’s great in theory but there are a lot of thoughtless people out there.

    4. If NYC didn’t have free household trash pickup I’m sure the under-resourced neighborhoods would be a mess. Fortunately there are a lot of laws about recycling and it’s not 100% perfect but a lot of stuff gets recycled.

      Here’s an idea: what if the product manufacturers were responsible for the trash? Possibly the quickest way to see real change…

      1. Our state is starting 10 cent refund for all recyclable containers, bottles, aluminium cans etc. From next month, kids will be doing the goid work like we used to back in the day.
        Every little action counts.

        Oh….people with kids…please don’t buy juice in throw away boxes. They are NOT recyclable. Buy a big bottle of juice and decant into kid sized drink containers that you wash and reuse.


    5. We have a rubbish (trash) bin and a recycling bin.
      Mi d you, there are issues with recycling being contaminated by people putting the wrong stuff in (e.g. soft plastic, foil lined drink boxes) so a whole huge amount of plastic isn’t able to be recycled as a result….they can’t pull each piece out due to cost….so it still goes to landfill.

      And…dontget me started about garbage disposals in the sink (Sara!?!? Hahaha). COMPOST IT PEOPLE!!!

      1. Oh my gosh, don’t get ME started on garbage disposals!! The amount of effort that goes back into our waste water treatment efforts is criminal. There are VERY few things that should be going down any of our drains and I’ll spare listing them for folks 🙂 but none of them involve just dumping out your forgotten food/left overs from the fridge.

  3. What a little Eden…bet those are the saddest potential buyers ever! One question on the original before pic facing the house: did that heat pump unit right in front of the left side windows get moved or did it have to stay for some reason? Hate those modern day mechanics but you’d sure miss them.

  4. Oh, those trees! It still kills me to look at those pictures. Truly a hack job. A piece of advice for readers looking for someone to trim their trees– hire an arborist, not a landscape crew! Landscapers are not trained to properly care for trees. I know, I was/am one. And I am also now an ISA certified arborist and spend a lot of time wishing I knew back then what I know now. A licensed arborist is definitely more expensive than Chuck with a truck, but if you have trees you love, the extra money is worth it. It’s also worth consulting an arborist if you want to change landscaping– it’s really easy to kill a tree slowly by adding fill over too much of the root zone, mulching too deeply around the trunk, etc.

  5. Your yard is truly beautiful and inspirational. I love it. I wish ours was this big to fit several areas.

  6. I hope you do other “after four years” assessments about the house. I’d love to hear (and SEE) your unlaquered faucets. Are they beautiful or still in the “gangly teen” phase? Also your hardwoods, have they held up? Do you still love them? What about the kitchen? Cabinets? Appliances? Marble? Backsplash? Patio tile? Bathrooms? Laundry?

  7. Your realtor seems amazing. It’s been surprising to me, esp since you make things beautiful as a profession, that he has given you such specific advice and guidance. I think a post with tips/tricks from him would be super informative and helpful for people who want to sell their space. He had you buy specific candles for crying out loud! The world needs to know more!

    1. Yeah. A little tone-deaf to victims of actual massacres happening in a lot of countries that are not the West. Think Rohingyas. Just one of many examples of innocent people being murdered, not trees getting a too short haircut.

  8. Em can you update on how the gravel pit held up with the kids? Would you still recommend? Did any of it wind up in the grass only to be flung out by the lawnmower?

  9. What a dream that yard is. Does anyone want to talk about swing sets? I need to find a swing set that adults can use (me!) but that can be transplanted to a new yard in a few years. I NEED TO SWING!!!

  10. Your backyard is delightful. Like others have shared I too have had the misery of mishaps with over trimming trees and thus became far more intimate with neighbors than I ever wished to be. I do have a suggestion about a play structure in your next home: Investigate adventure play grounds which are far more common in Europe than here. The goal involves parents stepping back and letting children build their own play spaces with materials you provide – hard to do but has multiplicity of benefits for children.

  11. Hi Emily! My kids are 4 and 1, and I followed your original posts about the backyard intensely because we have been considering turning part of our yard into a tree house situation, and I am very much inspired by your design. However, I wonder if you can comment on how much the castle has been really used by your kids. I have a fenced in, semi-shady area that could be “the dream,” but we’re on a budget so I’m afraid to add a major structure that might not be as utilized as hoped. Did Birdie and Charlie play on and around it without other kids around? Thoughts?

    Thanks so much for sharing. Best wishes on your sale and search.

    1. Annie, I have a house with a tree house that the previous owners built. It is so cute but my kids barely use it. It’s something about kids and novelty. When I take them to a public playground that has swings, slides and a sandbox, they play so well with them even though they have the same stuff at home. I will say that if you entertain a lot with other parents with kids, then those other kids will be the ones mostly thrilled about your play equipment.

    2. Not a mum, but a former child 😉 My best friend had tree house in their backyard when we were young and we played in there for houuuuurs when I came over in the Summer, but we were also quite a bit older then I think – 5yrs and up. My family’s backyard on the other hand didn’t have a tree house or anything of that kind, but we had a small ‘forest’ at the back (i.e. 4 bushes and like small-ish 3 trees all clustered togehter) and we played ‘house’ and ‘we’re orphans who must survive in the wild’ and ‘we’re two little kitties meow’ and whatever else in there just as much and I mayyyybeee loved it a little more because this space could literally be anything and we felt like we had total freedom in our unsupervised ‘wilderness’ there, so personally I think both can work, but I acutally think just providing a place where your imagination can run wild might be more fun and get used even more (plus you don’t have to take it down when they’re like 15 and not interested in it anymore), but if you want to do it, I also really enjoyed the heck out of that playhouse!

  12. Your yard has always been my favorite and I have loved following along over the years. I can’t believe it was 2017 when the tree fiasco happened, feels like last year! I don’t think the “privileged” comment was necessary, though. You can be emotional about your property and landscape and not feel sorry about it. I can’t believe you guys are moving! Did I miss a post about that decision and what you are going to do with the Arrowhead house??? XO

  13. What an emotional roller coaster to be leaving a home you love… and then the potential buyers have to back out!!

    It really is a wonderful place, though, so of course it will sell <3

    Did your initial Oregon attempted-purchase fall through? I noticed your language about buying changed…

  14. That was not a “trash pit!!!” It was an incinerator. I’m old enough that I (barely) remember the one we had in our backyard in Culver City. But it was gone by the time I was only a bit out of toddler-hood. They weren’t removed so much because of plastics, but because any burning at all creates all kinds of pollution. Even fireplaces are essentially air pollution generators. And I have memories of being on my elementary school playground with tears streaming down my face because of air pollution. Things are so much better now.

    Morning glories! We had those same ones in my childhood yard, too. Brings back great memories.

    Re: pruning. Sometimes you need to prune what seems to be way too much to encourage healthy trees. It’s a both an art and a science. And rose bushes! When they are cut back they look like a bunch of dead sticks, but it’s the only way to have a decent amount of pretty roses.

  15. Hoping this just goes to a private message, I would want to know if it was my post—her name is spelled Rachael……….”Remember our 4th of July feature in Rachel Ray? So many scavenger hunts…”

  16. Gah! I remember the tree masacre and I actually felt it, phys, coz I’m such a tree person too, gaving grown up in Tingle tree cojntry in South Western Australia. Ooooh…..I love dem treez!!!

    The gardens, both back and front (now we’ve finally seen it) are gorg-eous!

    Sorry to hear about the buyers pulling out.
    I think the house didn’t choose them and the house WILL choose the right people who’ll love it just as much as you. That house is special and gas a presence, an energy.

  17. What type of trees did you plant that grew fast (and how big did they start)? We have the flat, enclosed grassy yard, but desperately in need of shade.

  18. Such a magical, wonderous land!

    Thank you for sharing it one last time, you made it so special for your children and everyone who visited or enjoyed it in photos!


  19. I have to throw in my contribution with equal frustration on the lack of trash control incentives here in california, as well as a completely incompetent recycling program which is almost nonexistent and will be very soon if they don’t completely overhaul recycling here. This is just one of many standard hypocrisies of living in a democrat controlled state- pretending to be so “green” and environmentally conscious yet having the worst policies in place to actually benefit the environment in any way. I’ll happily explain my comments with actual facts to backup my opinions for those who sadly still defend the party of california and toot their liberal horns despite blindly supporting officials and a state government who are far from trying to live green or eco consciously as they run on topics like the environment.
    The example of recycling being a joke in california- the first condo I owned in San Diego was in a newer complex and great neighborhood, but never even as much as provided a recycling option- for 3 years I pleaded with the association and other tenants expressing my shock when discovering I could not recycle if I wanted to because our building did not offer it and the city did not offer any other options. If your building didn’t charge for it and offer it as a service you were simply sol. As a new resident of california moving here from the Midwest- (grew up in Iowa and lived in chicago after college before moving to cali) I was blown away. In small town starting almost 3 decades ago we were recycling and actually recycling correctly. Rinsing out glass jars, tin cans, plastic bottles, etc. and followed very strict rules on what could and could not be recycled. If you put something in the R bin that was not clean and on the list of appropriate items you were fined $10 for every item they found. People were not recycling trash as recyclables or in a plastic bag (really? Why do people bother separating trash from “recyclables” they throw in a plastic bag and then the bag in the RBin?) Happens ALL the time here in california and our recycling system is basically ruined beyond repair because they never bothered to regulate it or teach residents of this state how to recycle so they just keep pretending they are in fact recycling rather than dealing with admitting and notifying the public it all goes to the landfill bc as it turns out they don’t actually care enough to do anything about it and again, actually recycle.
    2) hypocrisy #2 example- the worst public transportation I’ve ever experienced in any city or cities claiming to care about the environment. Having lived in chicago and barely driving my car, I was again baffled at the masses in california who drive EVERYWHERE & don’t even consider carpooling… why when they just add more lanes to the freeways destroying more land and water way in this state? Massive pollution from the massive amounts of “liberal environmentally conscious” residents of california driving solo to and from work and running an errand here and there. My favorite is the people who sit in their parked cars running with their air conditioner on while they sit on their phone for 45 minutes before going into the store or home or whatever their destination may be.
    3) hypocrisy #3 air quality and water quality in cali are horrible. Again, when you have cars burning gasoline up and down the freeways or parked on the freeways in massive traffic for hours in end all day everyday- the air quality will not thank you for being a hypocrite and doesn’t care what you preach- it’s only what you practice that matters. Our water? Well, it wasn’t more than 2 years ago we were in a major drought and water shortage crisis yet the democrat state of cali refuses to build water systems to collect water or prevent runoff and actually have their elected officials who OWN THE WATER- meaning for example, governor Jerry brown in San Diego owned the water rights and made money by charging residents to have the water imported from all over the country… why take the taxes you increase every year which we pay and agree and pass the bills you pretend are for fixing are water issues in california yet, the water plant bills kee reoccurring despite passing every single time. Where have the billions in taxes for the very purpose of fixing our water problems in california gone??
    4) the fires. Let’s not even get started on this. 2018 fires were REALLY bad and burned millions of acres- almost 3 million to be exact. Miraculously, 2019 fires were hardly an issue in comparison burning around 750,000 acres- ironically after a year of vegetation being destroyed from massive fires (2018) it was followed with a year of drastically reduced fires burning in cali – 70% reduction actually. So, great year in 2019 with hardly any fires in comparison to 2018, but in comes 2020 and what do you know? Massive fires, again! Is it possible the state of california neglected brush control and controlled burning to prevent overgrowth? Probably a lot more likely than climate change causing another fire year like 2018. California can’t blame the climate for its fires when it repeatedly chooses to be incompetent or proactive in prevention.

    So, Emily, since you were- according to your own words- being very “liberal” over the heavy trimming of your trees perhaps you can stop dropping your passive aggressive clues on how you vote because it is irritating to say the least when this is a design blog- especially when it’s a blind leading the blind way of voting proven everyday in the destruction actively alive and well in democrat controlled governments. Welcome to cali!
    Being Liberal became a trendy tragedy when too many people hopped on the trend train claiming liberalism and being woke 🤣, and die hard supporters of democrat politicians despite being completely fooled into the support despite them proving on the daily that they don’t actually care about or stand for anything they pretend to be about. But, hopefully you can be “liberal” self in your next backyard and take some time to inform your passive aggressive habit of showing how you vote. hopefully, all of us take the time to consider what the democrat party and their representation actually mean? What have they actually done for any of the persons, environmental issues, racial inequity and inequalities, or children they pretend to care so much about- they certainly talk the talk on these issues! But NEVER walk the walk. Look around california… the proof is in the pudding all across our country in democrat controlled cities and states. It is a Painful tragedy to ignore the facts. Liberals are in every party- not just the democrat party so maybe you’re voting for the party actually liberating and trying to make our lives better?

  20. Privileged? Give yourself more credit! You have worked your tail off for the position you are in. Celebrate your hard work!

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