DIY, Garden Style

DIY Backyard on a Budget: Bury Me in Gravel

We are almost to the end of “The Summer We Tried to Break Dave”.  We decided at the start of this summer (really late Spring) that we were going to attempt a major do-it-yourself backyard transformation.  When I say DIY – I don’t mean build an outdoor sofa out of pallets or plant new vegetable beds.  I mean rent a skid steer, buy 21 tons of decomposed granite and construct a curved rock wall.   We’re maybe halfway done and FINALLY the yard is looking like a yard and we haven’t even put any plants in yet.

For a very long time our backyard looked dreadful.  And when I say dreadful I mean that at first it looked like a new motor-cross course and then it looked like a used car lot.  Right now it’s looking like a yard that is “coming along”!  It’s something you could point to and say: “You see, it will look great someday,” and the person that you say this to won’t look at you like you’re insane.  This is a big step.

I thought it would be fun to show you some photos of the progress.  We have more to do, but at least we’re to the point where to an outsider, it looks like progress.  Almost like when a pregnant woman starts to look clearly pregnant when prior to that she just looked heavy.

before photo backyard
BEFORE: Yikes! There’s a pond to the left of the strange-shaped gazebo, my office is behind the tree and our detached garage is on the far right.
after skid steer photo
A small tornado did not touch down here – this is after a few passes with a skid-steer.
diy backyard with skidsteet
Now you’ve reached the motor-cross era of the yard.  
DIY rock wall
These are all rocks that Dave uncovered with the skid-steer. We added gravel and I took this photo right before Dave started building the rock wall. This was the highlight of his summer and, from what I understand, it’s what teachers prefer to do on their summer breaks.  I’m hoping the sarcasm reaches you.
after curved rock wall
Here’s the rock wall in all its curved glory with multiple tons of decomposed granite that Dave compressed.  Under this is landscape fabric.  

I started painting the gazebo a dark graphite color recently.  I’m not finished, but at least it’s not completely “Park Ranger Brown” anymore.  On the advice of a landscape architect friend who has been cheerleading, designing on the fly and coaching us through the painful backyard renovation (Hi Joyce!), we took out some railing and lattice on the old gazebo and will put in a new step.  The gazebo is a strange shape and it’s positioned oddly.   However, it shades our fish pond so we decided to keep it for now and just cover it with charcoal paint.  I spray painted the metal glider a baby blue and I think I like it now.  We strung up cafe lights on this upper area because I’m a big believer that string lights can make anything look good.  We also re-sided just a portion of the house for reasons that I don’t remember.  This is also something we haven’t finished; we’re waiting on special order long pieces.  I’d like to order a new black and white striped awning for the house (it faces west) but I haven’t done that yet.

diy fire pit
We put in a fire pit and have an almost finished flagstone patio around it! “Almost finished” are two words that make me flinch a little and I think they are the bane of the DIY homeowner.  Someone (me), didn’t order enough flagstone.

My landscape architect friend, who lives in Baltimore, will be out here in a few weeks for perennial plant purchasing and planting!  We’re going all native and/or drought tolerant plants and I’m excited to add a little western flair to the yard with things like Rabbitbrush and Yucca.  She would want me to tell you that this backyard is not exactly as she envisioned and that any mistakes are all ours.  Trust me – they are plentiful.  When she told us to lay the edging in a straight line and then saw our version of a straight line, she revised the plan to curves!

Fireplit diy
Here’s Charlie and Dave enjoying the flames. I haven’t bought new fireside chairs – these are hand-me-downs and I realize the red chair in particular isn’t working. I did paint the garage door pale pink and I have shutters coming for the garage window!

I’m looking forward to seeing it with plants.  At the moment though, I’m just happy that it’s finally looking like a habitable space.  I’m also encouraged that it will be below 90 degrees this weekend.  If you’re struggling with your space not looking perfect immediately, I hope this post helps you.  When you have a budget and you have to do it yourself, things take longer.  It’s not worth killing yourself over – just enjoy your moments of accomplishment and try to forget your to do list.  It’s there, it will wait for you.




4 thoughts on “DIY Backyard on a Budget: Bury Me in Gravel”

  1. Hi there! Just reading this almost two years later. I was wondering where you found the DG (decomposed granite)? I have only been able to find “breeze’ and it seems there is a difference. Also, has your DG gotten muddy after snows? Do you find you track it in the house? And is it comfortable to walk on? Thanks, signed new homeowner who needs to redo her yard.

    1. Hi Betsey, we bought ours locally at Santa Fe Sand and Gravel. We haven’t had any issues with mud – but it will track little pieces into the home – not terribly though and really no more than mulch/dirt or grass. It’s not comfortable on bare feet unless your feet are “hardened” 🙂 – hope that helps!

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