Planning an epic yard

As I was finishing up the new laminate tile floors indoors, I began to look ahead to the next project. Most of my projects take a few years of planning because I change my mind a half dozen times before making the first purchase.

The main reason that I know I need to change the front yard is this sidewalk:

2015-06-07 (09)

because roots from the sugar maple tree that towers over the kitchen are reaching into the foundation of the house.

Bad news.

It’s also dangerous for anyone visiting, especially in a wheelchair or walker which I recently discovered first hand. One of the things I look ahead for is making the house accessible in case we rent it out to someone with mobility issues.

The sidewalk becomes a pain when I attempt to move the full 96-gallon green waste trash can from the back yard out to the front not to mention rolling over it in the walker.

Another reason to revamp the yard is that with the California wide drought, my grass is rapidly dying and when I water 5 minutes/day it pushes my monthly water bill over $100/month. Ouch. So instead of letting it continue to die and look horrible, I’d like to create a drought resistant yard and fence off the majority of the front.

It’s not unusual in my neighborhood for the half-plexes to install a front yard fence and gate. Not only would this almost double the outdoor space for my dogs but also enable a bit more privacy.

True story, I’ve walked out my front door and been confronted by the neighbor’s dog off leash. It’s not exactly comforting.

Since work is needed I’d like to make it look awesome when it’s done.

Here’s what I’ve been daydreaming about doing…

The first major thing would be to remove the maple tree and level out the dirt in that area.

Second, extend the fence separating my yard from the neighbor’s yard another 24′ down the yard to the driveway.

I want the fence to have 2 sections, one behind a locked gate and the second open to the driveway but not visible from the street.

Here’s what the yard looks like now (in my mockup):

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 10.57.33 PM

And here’s how I want it to look:

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 11.07.44 PM

Doing this would allow me to create a small “entryway” for deliveries that would be blocked from the view of the street and measure 6′ by 6′ and I’ll probably add a small table or something.  The goal is to keep the gas and electricity meter to be outside the gate so it can be read when no one is home. On my mental to do list is another wireless doorbell for those outside the gate.

Inside the fence this would create a 4′ x 6′ alcove. I don’t want lots of grass here, probably a curved border with a few low water bushes at first like this…

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 10.50.02 PM


but could eventually end up like this:

grass path inspiration


Short term I’d probably install a container garden:

container garden inspiration


There are 5 rose bushes in the strip of garden along the garage and ideally I could move the orange roses and replant it along the new fence line.

2015-06-07 (10)

Additionally, these roses are in the way of the faucet so moving them means I could  turn on the water means without getting caught in the thorns.

Inside the fence, replacing the walkway is high on my priority list, I would like to move it over a couple feet so it’s less of a straight shot, still about 1 meter wide. Here’s my favorite inspiration pic for the walkway:

walkway inspiration 2


Another reason to bump out the walkway from the house is so that I can install more softscapes along the house, including window boxes like these:

windowbox inspiration


Or a pergola like this one around the kitchen window:

awesome window inspiration


Speaking of window boxes, I would like to install something along the side of the house. There’s no window on the east wall of the guest room but I could add a decorative window and box like this one:

window box inspiration


It would be great to include an outdoor sink for gardening, probably in the front yard

sink inspiration


By extending the fence I’d create a lot more shade in the yard which might enable me to plant more hydrangeas. I would love this:

hydrangea path

but I’m sure I’ll be lucky just to get one or two growing that bloom.

As much as possible I’d love to repurpose what I have in the yard already. For one, these cinder blocks around the tree can be reused in a bench like this one:

bench inspiration


with the addition of four 4×4 posts. Maybe that will go in the alcove?

I’d also like to fill in this small section under the kitchen garden window with cement:

2015-06-07 (06)

and I want to keep the potting bench here but don’t want to add cement just yet because there’s a sprinkler buried under there.

With the tree out there will be a 10′ wide yard all the way down to the new fence and a lot more room. I’ll probably move the grill from the side yard where it’s getting buried by lantana and set up a couple of comfy chairs. Maybe a bench with storage for all my outdoor pillows.

2015-06-07 (02)


I really only need one 6′ tall gate at the front of the yard so to save on costs I’d probably move the current gate that goes to the side yard and move it up to the garage. But since I like the idea of being able to section off the yard, in its place I’m considering building (or buying) a shorter fence, about 4′ tall:

short fence inspiration


I know it might seem overly complicated but it’s really nice to be able to work in part of the yard without the dogs underfoot. Especially since I’ve experienced that when I leave them inside and go garden they go a little nutty and get destructive. Last time Nixon stole my dust broom and chewed on the handle in protest.

The front front yard

Since the purpose of this whole plan is to create a nicer, private front yard, that’s where most of my plans have been so far. But from the street I don’t want it to look stark and lose all curb appeal. Outside the fence I’d like to create an area for new trees, most likely a crepe myrtle for some color.

tree inspiration


And ideally build a raised garden bed around 4’x6′ for the trees:

raised bed inspiration



I could install a raised garden bed along the fence and forgo the tree. I’ve been reluctant to make beds high inside the fence because the dogs might use it as a launching pad to escape. You laugh but Nixon is a wily little guy.

planter inspiration


One thing I do know is that outside the fence I don’t want grass or mulch. My uncle installed that on his front yard and it turned the yard into a litter box for stray cats. Instead I’d surround any planters or trees with gravel or landscaping stones as such:

gravel inspiration


The backyard

For the most part I despise the backyard, especially with so much grass dying thanks to the drought. Instead of reviving the grass I’d prefer to create more of a plan

And in the backyard I want to take out the patio in the corner which has never set up correctly:


and replace it with a garden bed that’s level to the grass like this:

corner garden bed inspiration


Instead of filling it with plants I would like to use the corner to plant wisteria and sink in some posts to build a pergola or trellis:

pergola inspiration


And lastly, I’d like to take out the garden box under the guest room window and replace this walkway with something more sturdy. There’s enough room here for a window box or umbrella and chairs.

The biggest project not yet mentioned is that I’d need to unearth, remove, plan and relay the entire sprinkler system. While the materials are usually pretty cheap it’s not an easy project to plan but if done right I’d be able to have sprinklers to the garden beds + possible tree and maybe run a pipe to the side yard for those garden beds.

I know this all seems crazy for such a small yard and looking over the plans it looks like thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. Which makes me think “worth it?”

I think yes for a couple reasons:

1. It improves the value of the property, especially getting rid of the crooked sidewalk and tree potentially damaging the foundation.

2. The expense can be spread out over many months and the biggest expense would be labor and I can provide the bulk of that.

3. I can reuse as much material and plants as possible to make it a great yard while learning some new skills along the way.

4. Having a private front porch would be awesome for the dogs and essentially double their outdoor space.


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