Landscaping begins!


As the renovation continues (and continues and continues!), we’ve moved outside and have started on the backyard.  Last fall saw the removal of what remained of the old fence…..

…and the installation of the new one.  We chose to excavate back right to the property line, opening up a surprisingly large amount of space that had previously been unusable because of the overgrown slope.  The team from Chris Smith Landscaping arrived onsite in early October and quickly pulled out the old and got started on the new….

Because of the slope of the property, and the amount of traffic in the alley above the yard sees, we wanted something very solid.  Both visually and structurally.   The posts are 8x8 pressure treated wood, installed 6’ below yard grade.  They form continuous support upwards for the 3’ retaining wall (4x6 pressure treated lumber) and then the 6’ fence above the wall.  We’re pretty confident that the construction trucks frequenting the alley in the winters will not end up sliding into the yard now.

As it was late October by this point, we chose to put the rest of the yard on hold for the winter so we laid down landscape cloth to hold the worst of the dirt down for the season.  Given the lack of snow cover, this was a good choice.

As spring approached, we were in touch with Eagle Lake Landscaping to discuss pricing of their drought resistant fescue sod which contains a mix of sheep fescue, red fescue and hard fescue.  Fescue sod is relatively new on the market and has seen mostly commercial applications.  Eagle Lake generously offered us Freedom Fescue product to use in our yard as a test site for residential application.  We’re excited to see how it holds up to kid traffic.  (If you are in Calgary and are interested in seeing the sod in person, please contact us at

Fescue is a "non-conventional" turf in LEED environmental speak.  With its very good drought tolerance, reduced need for maintenance and care such as fertilizing, in projects pursuing LEED for Homes certification such as ours, sod like this can contribute points in Sustainable Sites.  

As soon as the sod was ready to cut, we jumped on it and were treated to the perfect weekend weather for sodding (rain and snow pellets).
Eight long hours of rototilling, raking, picking rocks and sod chunks, more raking, rolling, laying sod and more rolling...

The end of the day.  And the sun started to peak out.

Now at the beginning of August, the fescue sod is well established.  It is soft, whether left long or cut short, and a deep, lush green. As a fescue, even when allowed to grow in, it looks looks less unkempt that a regular lawn, thanks to a growth habit that leaves it slightly bent over rather than straight upright, and it feels amazing to walk on it with bare feet.  

We'll need to do a bit of overseeding next spring to patch a few small spots that didn't take or that we missed in the early watering.  These spots are minimal though and it is otherwise impossible to see where the sod seams w.
We've also discovered that, while tilling some of the old sod under kept it out of the landfill and left the organic material in the topsoil, it's added some lumps ad bumps underneath that we didn't manage to roll out.  Hopefully these will level out and soften as they start to compost!

Cut short it looks more like a conventional turf but feels softer on the feet.

So far our overall impression of this seed mix is that it is a fantastic.   What we have not yet had occasion to test is drought tolerance, since we’ve had so much rain, but it does stand up well to wet and to a wide range of lighting conditions ( we have full sun, full shade and partial shade in the yard)

The finished fence and planting bed!  In the corner is a Swedish Columnar Aspen, chosen to fill in the corner without taking over the yard.  We've also planted a few hops plants and plan to add trellising on the fence to encourage growth upward and outward to break up the height of the wall and provide some natural cooling.

Landscaping is a huge part of a sustainable home.  Outdoor water can easily exceed indoor use so water efficient faucets and toilets only can go so far.  Small changes to the traditional back yard can create a space that is still a very kid friendly play space without the water demand or maintenance of typical sod.