Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Don't Try This at Home ... Or Do: Backyards in Charlestown

A new listing for a single-family house (asking $1.45 million) in Charlestown describes this backyard as a "stone patio":

 Photo: Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Charlestown, MA

You may disagree, but gravel is not my idea of a "stone patio." I hate walking on it in sandals, and it's torture for bare feet. When I saw this fenced-in yard and all that beige matter, I thought it looked like a human-scale litter box... with furniture that's ideal for scratching. Gravel is okay for parked cars, not outdoor living. And that black umbrella looks so summery and cheerful, doesn't it? Perfect for attracting heat on a sweltering day.

  Photo: Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Charlestown, MA

Notice how there isn't a single flower in this "garden," just a few, strictly pruned topiaries with some trailing vines. Green is the only non-neutral color. Flowers are not hip anymore. Cacti might be more suitable here than those topiaries, but cacti can't be tortured into pure geometric shapes.

Notice that those furniture cushions are GRAY. Why? Why? I guess colors aren't hip anymore., either.

In the 1980s, The Insiders Guide to Colleges said that part of my hometown looked like "a Soviet painter's interpretation of drabness." I'd say that fits here, don't you?

I like to do research. Here's how this backyard looked when the house sold in 2012 for $930,000:

  Photo: Hammond Residential Real Estate, Charlestown, MA

It had old bricks and stone pavers, and nice curbed areas for shrubs and ground cover. It's a nice urban yard. I'll take it! But it's gone; the new owners like gravel and gray. And if you did your math, you know that it's now for sale for a whopping $520,000 more, just three years later. (They updated mucked up the interior in a few predictably awful ways, too — painted the original walnut newel post and stair railing black, etc. But no actual renovations, just paint. Don't get me started.)

Here's another garden behind a similar Charlestown house, just to show you what can be done with the same space — with some imagination and planning, some carefully spent money... and some basic humanity:

Photo: Hammond Residential Real Estate, Charlestown

It's one of the very nicest city gardens I've seen. The house itself was beautifully redesigned, preserved, and decorated by its owners, who appear to be a pair of aesthetic geniuses. We loved their house so much that we thought hard about buying it even though it was in an inconvenient, slightly sketchy part of Charlestown and had a few other serious drawbacks for us. But, oh, the garden.... it has birch trees and planting areas, but the tiered deck really blew me away. Right outside the back door, there's a little bench under a pergola:

That level also has a grill and some seating on the far side of the yard and planters full of colorful flowers and plants. Then you go down those easy, interestingly angled steps to a real stone patio with a dining set, chaise, lush plantings, and a water feature — a bubbling fountain in a narrow stone trough with a rustic mirror over it:

I think I counted 18 urns and planters along with the trees, flowers, ferns, other shrubs, and flourishing vines along the fence:

Talk about an oasis in the city! I'd be out there even in the rain — and I was, in bare feet!

Or would you prefer cat litter and scratching posts?

Update: Somebody does... that house with the gravel yard went off the market after just a couple of days. These days, that indicates that someone made an offer that was much higher than the asking price and possibly an all-cash deal. 


  1. we built a house that promised a 'stone' driveway, I was sorely disappointed when it was the cheapest gravel out there.. yes, not nice on feet.. and OMG they ripped up that stone to do that?!? what on earth?? I mean if they didn't want to deal with grass I could forgive them for that, but there was no grass there.. well that wee bit in the middle, couldn't they have just put gravel there?? *sigh*

    as for litter box? yeah, no, the cats wouldn't stand on the driveway (we let the cats out for a short while once we moved but Tig disappeared so Em became an indoor only kitty and we haven't let any others outside)

  2. We have that awful kitty litter gravel on our side walkway. All the area cats use it as a toilet. It's the most awful surface around!


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