When we bought our developer home over a year ago we knew that the developer would complete the landscaping in the front of the house and we would be responsible for completing the backyard. We were starting from zero. The yard was nothing but dirt and rock, but more rock because of the rocky terrain in our area. We also had a steep slope half-way out from our house that ran the whole width of the yard that we’d have to deal with somehow. The backyard also extends into a side yard. It’s been many months in the making now from getting city approval to jackhammering holes in rock for plants, but we’re finally getting there.
First off, the backyard design plan. We could have certainly brought in a landscape architect to design the yard, but I knew this would be costly. So to save money we designed it ourselves. Mind you, at this point in time I had never purchased a potted plant from a home improvement store before in my life, let alone design an entire backyard from scratch. There were definitely lessons learned. I was also thankful to have my parents, who are general contractors, to consult along the way. Here are some before photos of our backyard so you can see what we were working with.
Our backyard wishlist
- The decks that came with the home are great but limited in size. We wanted to expand the living space out with a patio using a hard surface like pavers so we could put a dining table and seating.
- Grass area to provide some green relief from all the rock and dry terrain. And per my husband, a place to “kick the ball around”. I dislike grass and it requires a lot of water, so we settled on artificial grass.
- Fruit trees
- A succulent garden
- Planter box for growing vegetables
- Plants to cover the slope and break up all the brown
- Low maintenance – We are not exactly green thumbs and we live in an area where the temperature is mild but we get coastal fog and crazy winds.
- Drought tolerant – We live in California.
Here’s our initial design, drawn using an Excel spreadsheet!
Once we had our design we had to submit it to the City planning department and our HOA for approval. This took months and I won’t bore you with the details. While this approval process was in process, we decided to look for a contractor. With all the pavers, artificial grass, and our terrain we were not equipped to do it all ourselves. We reached out to a few contractors and ended up getting bids from three. One was a landscape architect and two were landscapers. We ended up going with one of the landscapers who my parents have worked with before. We also skipped the artificial grass because we found it was just as expensive as the pavers. We expanded the paved area to the full width of the backyard and then replaced the side yard with small pebbles to save on costs.
Learnings so far
- If you are undertaking a major landscape project or renovation double check if you need permits or approvals from your city or HOA, especially if you live in a planned community. Allow extra time for this process. We had several rounds of revisions and questions from the city on our plan. As tempting as it is, it’s not wise to start your project without the appropriate approvals.
- If you are designing your project yourself it is helpful to agree on the list of must haves going in and the things you can compromise or sacrifice if it came down to budget.
- Know your limits – If you’re handy and up for the challenge go for it. But recognizing the time, energy, and resources a backyard or landscape project takes will help set expectations and reduce frustration. The worst is to run out of steam and leave projects half-finished.
- Have a budget, even if it’s made up and pulled from thin air. At least you’ll start with a number you’re comfortable spending. Backyard projects can quickly add up and there will be so many enticing things you’ll want to add or think you must have along the way. Having a plan and a budget will help you manage it.
Check out some of the finished photos in my Summer Outdoor Living post.
Interested in more design project posts? Check out my Master Bathroom Refresh series starting with Inspiration for My Master Bathroom Refresh.