Our Backyard Makeover – The Final Reveal
Here she is, folks. The final backyard makeover reveal. Now if you are just getting here please read Part I (the before/tree butchering, and landscaping plan) and Part II (the process). We absolutely love it and spend most evenings and weekends out here. Right after it was done we joked that it was a frat house for parents of toddlers, because all our friends were over all day every day on the weekends. With two small kids, often being in nap-trap, having a yard has made life a tiny bit easier for us.
The path leaves from the patio and winds down to the guest room and back to the castle, and in the other direction it goes to a little seating area. We designed it to be meandering and look organic. There are some places where it’s 18″ and some up to 24″.
We could have just left it as grass and plants (which would have saved a lot of dough), but we loved the idea of it guiding you around and we definitely find ourselves walking on it. I wanted ‘English Country Whimsy’ and boy did we get it 🙂
There is decomposed granite in between the stones and little plantings that should spread. Some have really taken off and some are still growing slowly.
That is probably my favorite photo (above) as it really looks like a relaxed, happy colorful garden. I want to be there so badly and yes, we truly know how lucky we are to have it.
GOOD (NON-SHOCKING) NEWS: The trees and shade have definitely started to come back. The full canopy won’t be back for a while (again, read here if you don’t know what I’m talking about), but it looks good and healthy so I’m feeling much better. Thanks for all your concern and to those of you who sent flowers 🙂
We get enough shade throughout the day that we don’t feel like we need to smother our kids with sunscreen just to step outside.
There is always at least one big tree shading 1/3 of the grass, so it’s good. We survived. I lived through my emotional tree breakdown and I feel comfortable saying that in a couple years we’ll have more. But for now I KNOW that even 4 old growth trees as bare as they were, is an absolute rarity to have in a city, especially in a yard the size of ours.
The hedge is also back. It’s kinda unruly and messy, just how we like it. The trees planted along the perimeter help break it up. We still see the view but can block out some houses.
We hid the AC units, which are right outside the guest room. It’s a bummer for guests, but they can’t fit anywhere else without us paying thousands and thousands to move them. And we have nice shades for the guest room, so guests don’t have to stare at them ( our guests are generally family and are hanging upstairs with us).
Eventually it will be covered with pretty jasmine and you won’t be able to see those condensers.
One of the things that I love so much about the design of the yard is having conversation zones for adults near the kids play areas. We don’t need to watch them all the time, but it’s nice to feel like we are together without us actually having to be under the castle with them.
First up is the stone patio:
The yard slopes a little and the roots make the area on the left much higher. So we built it up for a little seating area. We put down there and it was such a lovely place to sit . . . until sap dropped all over the person who sat on the left. It covered the chair (and their hair) and was just a sticky mess. If anyone knows how to fix that let me know. It seems like it’s just one ‘wounded’ branch that drips, drips, drips (do you guys remember how our fig tree in our old house dripped sap all over our furniture/rugs? WHY AM I A VICTIM TO SAP?).
So when we shot the patio last week we took out the disgusting sap and dirt covered chair and left this one. So now it’s mostly a sitting area for one ’til I solve the problem:
And when friends are over we bring out more of those outdoor poufs. Obviously we could face it the other direction towards the castle but it’s so far cheated to the right due to the sap, so it just looks way better this way.
That’s me, watching Charlie pick up a handful of rocks and look at me with his ‘mama, I might throw these at Elliot’s face’ look.
Then over at the bottom of the slide there is another sitting area – a big boulder and a bench.
You can’t see it, but there is another big boulder tucked by the fence. Originally it was where the black bench is then one day (while auditioning for ‘Mother Of The Year!) we had some friends over, playing in the sprinkler, etc, when we thought – OOH LET’S MAKE IT A WATER SLIDE! So with the hose at the top of the slide Charlie took off, and flew down SO FAST, and he caught so much air his foot caught him a the bottom thrusting his face within INCHES of a huge boulder. It’s was like I saw my child’s life flash before my eyes. He ate so much dirt, covered in his teeth and eyes, but I was just so thankful that he didn’t knock all his teeth out or worse . . . The next Monday we hired some dudes to move it with a boulder jack and shove it towards the fence. That big one is way too far away to be a safety problem. Of course they can trip and fall into any boulder anytime, but that is a risk that I think is good for them. They can hit their head on concrete any minute of the day on the street and we think setting up these smaller, more manageable physical risks will help them in the long run (my mom is a children’s special education specialists and thinks that every fall that doesn’t lead to the ER is a physical success).
The boulders around the castle are also a great place for us to perch. They are typically full of chalk-drawings or water-colors, but I wear my “play clothes” so it’s fine.
In case you are wondering if the kids play underneath the castle the answer is YES:
They hide, under there and do treasure hunts, look for bugs with magnifying glasses, etc. The pebble pit has been great for trucks, etc. and Birdie likes to just put the rocks in a cup and dump it into another cup. One of the reasons we did pebbles instead of a sandpit is so that raccoons and our cats don’t use it as a littler box. Well guess what? Our cats are super flexible and happily adopted this area as well! It’s not that often, but it’s still unfortunate and we are spraying some sort of non-toxic citronella spray everywhere to see if that works. If not, we hear that coyote pee works which is disturbing. First off it’s DISGUSTING – it’s like if I don’t want cat and raccoon poop then I’m probably also the kind of person who doesn’t want coyote pee. Also how do they extract the pee or is it a chemical that just smells like coyote pee? It all sounds like a lose, lose. They only do it sometimes and it’s gross, but manageable. I just wanted to give that FYI because if you think that cats only want to pee in sand boxes, we just found out you (and I) are wrong. They don’t discriminate.
The kids really love that pebble pit and in fact play under there more than inside the castle – as I predicted. Goes to show that a much simpler fort would have worked, too, which we knew but had an excuse to do something more elaborate so we did (we rounded up a bunch of fort ideas here in the castle/pebble pit post).
Here’s Birdie eating her afternoon chalk snack. Look at Charlie smiling at her maniacally (I intervened, obviously, although don’t worry because it’s basically like eating Tums). In the background of the shot you can see where we put all the rocks that were removed from the previously super rock-heavy moat. Our rock dude bought way too many large rocks, so we piled them up in the back. A good tip is, if you are going to do this pebble pit idea, you just need a few around the perimeter and a medium sized or so clustered in the middle to give it that feel. There is a pond liner underneath (with holes in it for drainage) that keeps it from getting too dirty. But if you have a good contained area then you don’t need the bigger rocks either. Or of course you could just build or buy a box like a normal person.
Back to the landscaping. Yesterday I told you what all the plants were but today you get to see how layered them. It’s a lot like interior design, folks. You want a variety of heights, textures, and colors, with the taller/bigger in the back so you create vignettes.
The vignettes are created around trees or focal points (like the castle, swings, trees, etc). It’s kinda hard to see, but can you see where the path juts-out on the right in the photo below? Well Pete wanted to do that to create more depth and interest, so it wasn’t just a straight line down the back.
A kumquat tree was planted there and as it grows it will help give the yard more dimension. The tip: stay away from keeping your backyard a square box.
We always wanted nooks and little zones to help it feel bigger and more textured. Especially if you have a newer house that might just have a flat lot, don’t be scared to plant inside and not just around the perimeter.
I can’t believe how the plants have grown since mid-April when we finished. Some things have doubled in size and have some pretty awesome weeds that are alive and filling in (not sure Pete would approve, but we don’t mind them).
A few things have died for no reason and there are a couple areas where I don’t think the soil is great because the plants aren’t thriving enough. Meanwhile, one oak tree has doubled in size and the other hasn’t grown at all – so weird!
We removed the growth on the old metal railing when we replaced it and we are still debating a climber, but then I think that there is enough foliage, right? Calm down!!! We planted with layers and boy has it grown in:
Pete created more vignettes around this new strawberry tree, which helped create another zone. Also that power pole in the backyard is really bumming me out. If anyone knows how to convince the city to bury them let me know. We photoshopped it out of some of the photos (not to fool you, but just because it RUINED the photo) but it’s there and I just want to cover it with faux branches.
We hung lanterns in the big tree to help add some lighting at night, and while it’s not exactly the (they did that) it is really lovely. We use solar candles that turn on around 8pm and off when the sun rises. They are in inexpensive that I had left over from the patio makeover, hanging from black chain. I kinda want to wrap the tree trunks in fairy lights for winter so they can hang out there after dark, but for now this is pretty great.
Charlie loves climbing the Camellia tree, which is surely going to break at some point as he gets older, but it’s pretty cute.
Sara shot a lot of details of the flowers as they are blooming:
We have a with all of the flowers/plants and bushes on them, but here are some of my favorites (although not in the exact color that we have).
We honestly couldn’t love it more. There are few tiny things that I would change but nothing that is worthy of a tip or a lesson for you. I’d just say plant in late winter/early spring, plant about 1/2 as much as we did knowing that it will grow so fast. Think about plants and flowers that attract birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies and that give of a fragrance. And if you live in a warm climate then think about curating your plants so that something is always flowering.
Thanks to Pete Hieatt from . You were lovely to work with and made our backyard dreams come true.
Here are some very satisfying before and afters. I used the ‘before’ from right after the trees were butchered, as that is when this backyard became my true obsession:
We didn’t paint the house, it’s just warm winter light versus summer light. Also our contractor clearly missed finishing the trim on the roof-line … ha.
One thing you may have noticed – we painted the swing set the same color as the back-fence (Downpipe from Farrow and Ball) and replaced the seats with new ones from Wayfair (which match the slide). Just did it ourselves with exterior paint and it looks totally brand new, although it still creaks like a creepy playground….
So satisfying, and so finished. It wasn’t easy or inexpensive (the cost is in the process post, see below) but now that it’s done I couldn’t be happier. Ask any questions in the comments and we’ll try to answer them as best we can.
If you want all the backyard posts leading up to this post, here you go.
P.S. I’m still on our no-kid getaway and have slept 9 hours a night for 3 nights in a row! Sorry I was a little behind on this post, but by catching up on zzzzzzs I FEEL LIKE A NEW WOMAN. xx
***Landscape design by Pete Hieatt from and photography by