This year is a year of quests. In addition to spotting 100 species of birds -- I'm nearly halfway to that goal -- I've decided to completely overhaul my German Village yard for less than $250. For two reasons: I love working in the yard, and if I don't do something, my neighbors would have good cause to file a formal complaint. (They wouldn't, though, they're quite nice.)

A month ago, things were looking bad. The previous tenants started a garden, I'm told, but soon stopped all that. Apparently, they also stopped going outside, as what looked to be a decade of wet leaves were suffocating the lawn and sidwalk when I moved in last year. They were knee-high on the air conditioner last May.

A few bags of mulch, some white Christmas lights and two tomato plants made things tolerable last year. This year, I'm delving head-first into revamping my space.

Here's my progress so far:

Side yard before View larger image

The side yard looked absolutely awful this winter, in no small part because boxes full of garbage were left behind when the previous tenants moved out. I've been slowly removing old lawn furniture, candy wrapper, cigarettes, crumbling bricks, PVC pipe, juice glasses and other debris from the beds. Leaves, sticks and pine boughs had made a nice compost mix, but I had to take most of it out to get at the refuse and start fresh.

Side yard after View larger image

This section doesn't get good sun because of the house and a giant, beautiful black walnut tree that shades most of my land. So, for now, I chose to lay down some brown cypress mulch. The side needed about four bags ($3.87 per bag at Lowe's). Some tall wild grasses and a few flowering vines should start popping up in the next few weeks, and the mulch won't hurt it.

Back yard before View larger image

The back yard also was a mess -- the result of invasive weeds (especially pokeweed) ravishing beds and grass alike. I thought they were kind of cool last year, until they grew five feet tall and stole nutrients from the ivy, day lillies and tulips planted years ago. Remove these things. I felt bad cutting what looked like miniature trees; in the long run, I think, everything will be healthier if tended a bit.

Back yard after View larger image

I'm still in the process of removing heavier stuff from the beds. Already, the ivy has perked up, and the flowers have room bloom in peace. I was careful not to remove too much soil, because you need to leave a nice base for the bulbs to come in next year. A multi-tool pruner from Aldi ($4) has come in handy. It comes with a canvas carrying holster that I wear on my belt, to the embarassment of anyone near me.

Up next: This week, I plan to edge a border bed around three sides of fence and fill in grass that has been browned by a perilous lack of raking. This is where things get tricky. I'll be back in the next week or so with updates.