‘Lazy gardener’ shares tips on how he created Irish pub in backyard

bar in garage in Tonawanda NY
A roof-covered patio is transformed into an Irish pub in this Tonawanda backyard. A bartender inside the garage can serve drinks though the window to people seated at the bar. Guests can also serve themselves from taps on the outside of the garage that are hooked up to the refrigerator inside the garage. Michael Ryan built the table in the foreground, which seats 12, out of pine. The materials cost only $100, but “once you stain anything, it looks like you put money into it,” he said.
gardens and Irish flag at front of house in Tonawanda
The Irish flag at the front of the house gives you a hint of the pub-themed yard hidden in back. There are lovely gardens in the yard as well as window boxes with lush annuals on the first floor. Since it’s a little difficult to get at those window boxes on the second floor, Michael Ryan uses plastic flowers there– You can’t tell. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
entrance to backyard with projected image
This is the entrance to the backyard from the driveway. To the left is a fence that closes off the yard from the driveway. To the right is a tall lattice trellis that covers up utility meters that aren’t needed anymore. Michael Ryan grows herbs in the troughs on the trellis. You can watch TV– It’s projected on the back of the house. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

It’s an Irish pub. It’s an outdoor living room. And it has gardens.

That’s what you encounter when you visit Michael Ryan’s backyard on Englewood Ave., Tonawanda. It’s the party place for his family and friends.

Visitors are amazed and assume he must spend lots of time maintaining his landscape, but he insists that he’s a lazy gardener who uses lots of short cuts.

“It’s two weeks of work at the beginning of the season, then it’s just watering,” Ryan said.

He shared his garden on the Ken-Ton Garden Tour from July 22-24, which included a nighttime tour on both Friday and Saturday evenings.

Hardscapes are important elements in Ryan’s landscape. Fences and trellises create the walls of the outdoor rooms.

A fence separates the backyard from the driveway so you don’t feel as if you are sitting in the driveway, Ryan explained. The fence is topped with a lattice that is open enough that he can still chat with his neighbor.

As you enter the backyard from the driveway, you see the outdoor living room. The focal point is a large curved sofa, which looks as if it is made of wicker but is made of resin. The cushions come inside for the winter, but the furniture stays outside.

Framed family photos adorn the fence behind the sofa– the pictures are laminated. They stay outside all year long.

Beyond the seating area, at the back of the yard, is an Irish-themed pub. It’s like a covered patio. Half of the roof is made of corrugated metal while the other half is clear plastic to let in some light. The “walls” of the pub are Ryan’s garage on the left, a mirrored fence at the back and a trellis on the right.

A bar is built into the garage. People can sit at the bar while a bartender inside the garage hands out drinks. Guests can also serve themselves using taps on the outside of the garage/bar that are connected to the refrigerator.

fence along driveway on Ken-Ton Garden Tour
A fence along the driveway creates one of the walls of the outdoor rooms in the yard of Michael Ryan. The fence is topped with lattice so he’s not completely cut off from his neighbor. Vines climb up the lattice. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

While hardscapes are important, plants are still an integral part of the landscape. While it looks as if Ryan must spend hours on maintenance, he insists he doesn’t.

“I’m really lazy,” Ryan told me. “My theory is, do it once and don’t do it again. Except for a few random annuals, everything comes back again.”

He uses hydrangeas, which he finds need a lot of watering, along with lots of hostas. There are many vines, including wisteria, honeysuckle, Boston ivy, clematis, Virginia creeper and chocolate vine.

Trumpet vine grows in three spots where Ryan wants it to grow, but it spreads where he doesn’t want it, too. He’s constantly mowing over pieces of trumpet vine that pop up in his lawn.

“If it could,” Ryan said of the trumpet vine, “it would be in the house ordering movies on HBO because it’s so intrusive.”

Other than that, he doesn’t have to do a lot of weeding because, around his perennials, he lays down weed block or landscape fabric, then covers that with mulch. That keeps down the weeds.

In addition to easy, Ryan also likes things that are cheap. He got many of his plants from friends– Hostas and other perennials spread and need to be divided every few years to keep them in control, and gardeners like to find good homes for them. He also noted that this is a good time of year to buy perennials because you can get large specimens and they are on sale.

In future issues, I’ll bring you views from the West Seneca Garden Tour and the Garden Walk of Niagara Falls, USA, which were also held this past weekend.

Coming up next week:

Garden Walk Buffalo will be held from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, July 30 and Sunday, July 31.

Maps for the tour can be picked up at the Richmond Summer Senior Center, 337 Summer St., and the Buffalo Seminary, 205 Bidwell Pkwy. (There will be only two headquarters this year due to construction at Evergreen Health Services, which had served as a third headquarters in the past.)

The tour is free and self-guided. There will be a free shuttle service available throughout the walk.

This is America’s largest garden tour with more than 400 residential gardens as well as many community and public gardens.

trellis with vines in Ken-Ton
A trellis serves as the wall in the pub, opposite the bar. In the center panel is a mirror. Behind the trellis is a garden of hostas and the neighbor’s garage; Boston ivy grows up the neighbor’s garage. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

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4 Comments on “‘Lazy gardener’ shares tips on how he created Irish pub in backyard

  1. I saw this yard on the garden walk several years ago. It’s nice to see the way it has progressed and grown over the last several years.

  2. Best yard I’ve ever seen!!! It’s definitely worth a visit. That part of the article about the trumpet vine though — I can’t stop laughing!

  3. I did a double take when I saw the first photo. A close friend of mine lived in this house for many years back in the 70’s. Brings back a lot of good memories. I remember the back yard was heavily shaded back then with just grass. I don’t even remember there being any shrubs or anything. My friend was not a “garden person”. It’s great to see what Mike has done with the place.

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