From Flooding to Flora One Homeowner’s Front Yard Transformation
Homeowner Kristy Hitchcock recently transformed her yard from gray to green with an incentive from the Urban Conservancy’s Front Yard Initiative, a program designed to catalyze homeowners to remove excessive paving on their lots.
Urban Conservancy’s Blake Allen sat down with Kristy to talk about her design decisions shortly before her “Porch Party” where neighbors and friends came to enjoy King Cake and coffee and to celebrate her new, charming yard.
Kristy, an avid gardener for many years, grew accustomed to having a prolific garden to complement her home in her native Arkansas. Upon moving to New Orleans from Little Rock, she ran into a problem with continuing her work outdoors; the front, side and back yards of her charming Irish Channel shotgun were covered with concrete, leaving very little space for planting, and lots of space for flooding and pooling water. Kristy enlisted the help of the Front Yard Initiative to make her new house her home.
The concrete that dominated Kristy’s yard made it hot and shadeless on sunny days, and made flooding a major problem for her; she needed rain boots to walk along the side of her house in order to access her backyard on rainy ones, even long after it had stopped raining. Kristy suspected that the concrete may have had something to do with the flooding, but her largest concern was removing it to make space for gardening.
Kristy had been removing chunks of old, loose concrete by hand where she could, but when she heard about FYI, she saw her chance to remove all of it at once. She kept costs relatively low by doing a lot of work herself, but she hired a professional for the front yard, as removing paving in that area can be tricky due to buried utilities. She estimates “concrete removal was $600, the permeable pavers cost $750, hiring someone to build the patio cost about $1800, and the FYI reimbursement came out to be $893.”
The project began in early October and was completely done the week after Thanksgiving. Kristy already had many ideas about her new yard’s design, a step that can be time-consuming for homeowners just beginning the process.
Kristy is enamored with her new green spaces, and recalls the times before the transformations: “I love being outdoors. Before I did this project it just wasn’t enjoyable to be out there, it wasn’t an inviting space. I found I was spending a lot of time sitting on the side gallery because it was where I had shade, rather than in the backyard.”
After getting rid of 344.5 square feet of paving, Kristy now has a host of plants and trees like Louisiana Phlox, Swamp Rose Mallow, and Louisiana Irises spread throughout her property. One of her latest additions, a bog garden, contains more unusual natives, like pitcher plants, that like more saturated soil. Kristy got most of her plants, from the Big Treesy (a tree giveaway program sponsored by the NOLA Tree Project), plant sharing with neighbors, and Urban Roots, a local nursery. She makes a point of getting most of her greenery from local vendors and organizations.
With Kristy’s yard makeover complete, she enjoys every inch of her yard, from partaking in the neighborhood tradition of drinking coffee and waving to passersby and neighbors from the front porch in the mornings, to private cocktails on her gorgeous herringboned permeable brick back patio in the evenings.
When asked what her vision would be going forward she says, “The vision is to preserve as much of the integrity and history of the home and the yard as I can. When this house was built these yards were not filled with concrete, these yards were gardens.” Although her project is finished, she says that her yard work will never be complete as she is a steadfast gardener. However, Kristy now has more time to focus on other activities, like participating in the Krewe of Nyx and researching the history of her and her friends’ houses at the notarial archives
Kristy’s vision for her home and yard and her research and involvement in groups around the city are all reflections of her deep appreciation of New Orleans. “New Orleans has such an incredibly rich history, and has been such a beautiful and fascinating city,” says Kristy, “I think everything we can do to preserve that beauty in the architecture, in the green spaces, and everything else New Orleans has to offer should be done because we don’t want to lose all the other beauty we have.”