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Emily Henderson

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by Emily Henderson

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 ๐Ÿ™‚


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.

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚


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.

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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.

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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 (plus 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 two club chairs 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.

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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!)ย 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).ย 


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 Pete 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:

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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 Ojai Valley Inn (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 Target lanterns 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 pinboard 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 Deluxe Plants. 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.

Ideas for the most Family Friendly Backyard Ever | The Finished Patio (with Tile!) | ย Building Our Backyard Castle with Wood Naturally | Backyard Makeover Part 1 | Backyard Makeover Part 2

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 Deluxe Plantsย and photography by Sara Tramp

For more reveals from Emily’s Los Feliz Home: Powder Room | Jack and Jill Bathroom | Living Room Update | Charlie’s Big Boy Room | Master Bedroom | Master Bathroom | Living Room | Kitchen & Dining Room | Elliot’s Nurseryย | Closets | Laundry Room | Elliot’s Nursery Update | Family Room Update | Kitchenย | Updated Living Roomย 

  1. Gorgeous! I personally would invest in a $30K garden rather than a $30K bathroom any day!! Look at the usable square footage you have just added to your home … Your $$ were well spent , Emily.

  2. Not a yard question, but where is the dress you are wearing in these picture from?? It’s so great!

    1. Ha. Madewell but its not available anymore ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Which post is the process post? I’m trying to see the total cost from design to finish… Thanks!

    1. The process post that includes pricing break-down is Part 2: https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/backyard-makeover-part-2-process

  4. A little WD-40 on that swingset might help it not sound haunted. Worth a try ๐Ÿ™‚

    Such a beautiful backyard, I feel calm just reading about it!

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. What a dream garden. Lovely. Maybe you could turn your house into a B&B and spread the love???

  6. Amazing!!! What a difference. Looks great, you should be proud of how it turned out.

  7. Gorgeous! Money well spent!

  8. It is so perfect. and making a garden that looks so effortless and whimsical and organic is surprisingly difficult and very hard work, so huge kudos to your landscaper! I really love the stone path, especially.

  9. This is so beautiful! You and your family are very fortunate to be able to have a yard this amazing! You’re children will have the most amazing memories here with the castle and the swings and trees..ahh it’s all just so perfect.

  10. LOVE your beautiful oasis Em! You’ve done a lovely job with your new English country house and I really enjoyed seeing all of the before and after shots of the house. It always amazes me how updating the windows gives the whole home/backyard a face lift!

    Question…I’m having SO MUCH trouble with mosquitoes this year!?!?!? Do you have the same problem? Any suggestions from the interwebs is much appreciated. I’ve planted citronella bushes near the patio and have candles…I’m about to just succumb and start spraying myself with DEET if I can’t figure this out. Every time I step outside (even if it’s only for a few minutes) I get another bite! And they itch like crazy! ARGH!

    1. Not sure where you’re located, but I just realized this year that you can hire lawn care companies (like Lawn America… not sure if they’re national or not) to come and fog your backyard ~once every 4 weeks or so. It’s not 100% perfect [maybe 95%? ๐Ÿ™‚ ] but makes a HUGE difference in the number of mosquitoes. I highly recommend it!

    2. Please, I beg of you, don’t let a lawn company or anyone else bring poison to your house to spray around everywhere. The honeybee is essential to the survival of human beings, and killing mosquitoes will kill the bees as well. Not to mention all of that poison in the air which is frightening. Just say no! Okay, so what do you do? Try and be mindful of standing water where the varmints can lay eggs. You can get mosquito dunks for bird baths and ponds – they won’t hurt anything but mosquito larva. They work. Go to Lowe’s and get some citronella torches and some refills of the citronella oil. I have several of these around my patio and they actually work to repel mosquitoes while burning. One more thing, try and attract some bats to your house by hanging up a bat house. A single bat can eat something like a jillion and a half mosquitoes per night. Good luck to you. I sympathize as I have mosquitoes too and they think I am delicious.

    3. I use essential oil in citronella on my pulse/bite points. You may smell but it works and isn’t toxic. Also bat houses. They eat up to 1000 mosquitoes in an hour and they are not scary rather helpful ๐Ÿ˜Š

    4. Obviously where you live matters a lot! I live in the same part of the country as Emily and can say that mosquitos aren’t a huge deal here. If you have standing water around (i.e. a bird bath or the like) then you might have a bigger problem locally, but generally speaking it’s just not that big of a thing for us. I’ve spent time in the Rockies in summer though and OHMYGOSH is it terrible (and I can’t even imagine the South).

    5. A good temporary solution is an electric fan outside. Mosquitoes can’t fly in a light breeze. We keep one near for just this situation.

    6. I’m a mosquito magnet. There could be 1000 people around but they will all gravitate to me. I found out about oil of lemon eucalyptus this year and so far it’s been magical! I haven’t received one bite while wearing it. It’s even recommended by the CDC as a DEET alternative which I really love. I’ve just been applying some on wrists and ankles when I go outside and then mixing it in with lavendar and water in bowls with some floating citrus pieces as centerpieces. So far it’s working like a dream! I got my bottle on amazon for around $8.

      1. Going to try lemon of eucalyptus. Thanks for the tip.

        Just a note on citronella candles. KEEP AWAY from children. We know a child who inhaled too closeto one and ended up in emergency with breathing problems. Happens more often than you would think apparently.

        Have been using catnip oil with some success. An electic fan in the yard works wonders! There are many natural remedies better for us and the environment (and our bee friends). Mosquitos are pollinators, too, i believe.

  11. Congrats on your magical fairy land. Its beautiful! As for the sap, I don’t think there’s much you can do. I’d just pop up an umbrella or string up one of those sail shades until it stops.

  12. I think you got pretty good value. It’s a very pretty garden and you were sooo lucky to have mature trees – I just can’t tell you how lucky you are. I know they were butchered but it was probably for the best in the longer term. Gardening is very different from other forms of design where there is more control over the final outcome. In my experience, to a large extent gardens design themselves!

  13. Great series of posts. Excellent content and beautiful pictures. Happy you shared about the trees. You are entitled to be sad/stressed about something without you or others feeling the need to minimize it in comparison to the world’s darkest problems. The feeling of stress or sadness is the same regardless of the source!

    1. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. So, so dreamy Emily! I’m curious about your choice of backyard storage for all of the kid-crap…. Where do you put it? Is my daughter the only one with hoards of balls, pool toys, and chalk stashed in an eye-sore container? What are your suggestions for squelching the ugly outdoor toy clutter? Thanks.

    1. Ha. We have a basket in the castle and on in the pebble pit. It al turns to garbage eventually, right? But we try to at least corral it so it doesn’t look like garbage strewn across my dream backyard ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. So beautiful!! I have a really fun logistical question–speaking of animals using the pebble pit as a bathroom… do you guys find that bird droppings are a problem with all your tall beautiful trees? We’ve had the same good luck to just move into a house with a few old growth trees and ahhh THE BIRDS. It’s a real downer when you’re outside trying to just chill while your kid plays and splat, splat, splats are happening all over the place.

  16. You really hit this one out of the park- SO GORGEOUS!

    1. thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Ah, this is stunning! So organic and lush! Looks like it has always been this way. I would love to spend afternoon there sipping lemonade and enjoying the beautiful space.

  18. This is a gd DREAM! Seriously can’t stop staring. Looks so inviting and amazing!

  19. Beautiful job Emily! Love your backyard. I have to say…when your adorable children are in the photos I almost forget what I am supposed to be looking at because I love seeing their cuteness….thanks for sharing your wonderful designs and family with all of us. Hope you have a fabulous weekend and that your adventure in Tahoe was the best!

  20. I have to say it’s refreshing that you didn’t replace the swing set! It looks solid and functional, though admittedly not gorgeous. I would have absolutely kept it myself. But I’d love hear your reasoning behind keeping it, since you seemed to have gone out of your way to redo anything not portfolio ready in this house.

    1. It is. its like SUPER industrial and brian wanted to get rid of it for months, but every day we sat on it and he starting coming around realizing that everybody loves swings – even grown ups. And why replace them with a less strong version? We all love them now.

  21. This looks amazing!!! I love the meandering path and this has totally inspired me to bring some of my perimeter plantings in towards the middle of my tiny yard more.


  22. Beautiful. It looks like it has been there for years. I love the plant choices and the trees are looking good. Everything mixes so well with the kid zones and your eyes are just drawn to the beauty of the space.

  23. Other than a few spelling/grammar errors (a great indication you are enjoying your break) a lovely post on a lovely backyard. My favorite pics: Charlie climbing the tree!

    1. Ha. whoops. Not surprised ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks!

  24. It turned out so lovely. It looks so established for such a recent makeover. I love it!

    Random question about the extra rocks you don’t need… Can’t you take them back and get your money back?

    Our local stone yards make you pay by the weight, and when you have excess you just return it and they weigh it to figure out how much money you get back. We’ve never had any trouble returning them. I just feel like that is free $$$ piled in your back corner!

  25. Beautiful! What a dreamy space to spend your free time. Regarding your power line – it’s probably not the city, but your power and communications companies, depending who owns the easement. Undergrounding the lines is expensive, and unless there’s a public project along the line that could require the utilities relocate to underground, or the power/comms companies experience enough outages due to weather, etc, that it becomes financially beneficial for them to do the work. It’s a big project, and requires a lot of coordination with multiple companies. It’s not impossible, but it’s not for the faint of heart to tackle! If you have enough neighbors who would also be interested in undergrounding the lines, that can also sway the companies to relocate the lines.

  26. This is truly gorgeous. I want to hang out there all the time. My only thing is that I would check with an HVAC person about the jasmine around the AC units. It looks awfully close, and as it spreads, it could choke them, which will greatly reduce their efficiency and life span. It could just be that the photos make the plants look closer than they are, but if not, it’s something worth considering. (Also worth considering: If you need work done on the units, the plants will likely get destroyed.)

    1. Absolutely stunning and tranquil. Just looking at the pictures made me feel relaxed. Thank you for the wonderful ideas!

      Good point on the HVAC. I just had an AC guy tell me to hose down my unit for dust and dirt to run more efficiently. I told him I already cleaned out the leaves from inside. When he hosed it down, I couldn’t believe the dirt that it sucked up. He said that I could blow out my unit if it is straining to run. Might be worth a check to see if you need to have the AC unit vents clear.

      1. I put a bench in front of my A/C unit to hide them. The bench, with its back, visually blocks most of the A/C unit but also allows decent air flow around the units.

    2. Agree on the beauty of this project and also on the AC unit. My AC guy said to keep my AC working at it’s most efficient all plants should be 18 to 24 inches away from the unit. Never touching it. At best if they have to work on your unit they will teat out the plants and at worst it could seriously affect the efficiency of your unit. A lot of $$$$. But it IS gorgeous!!

  27. Im so relieved to see that your trees are looking fuller … I completely identified with your heartache over your butchered trees. When I was growing up there was a big old tree in our backyard that had some kind of arborial-illness and my mom was so upset that it had to be taken down… So didn’t think you were crazy at all.

    Your backyard is pure perfection. And little Birdie’s dr. seuss pigtails are the cutest!

  28. Thanks for covering your yard. I’m currently updating my landscaping and would love to see more examples. I live in Nashville and want the SoCal look. Currently, I have a desert like theme going. A few landscaping posts would really be appreciated. I’ve been looking at other sites, but none have that EHD flair. Thanks!

  29. Next get a pool! Makes LA childhood extra dreamy. Best $$ we ever spent ; )

  30. This is just beautiful! What a great design. I love English country gardens and you achieved a great effect in a small space!

    My only little quibbles as a garden fanatic myself would be that the path leading down to the stone patio on the left (looking into the yard) would look more like a path and less like border edging if you made it wider. As you can see the plants are already starting to spill over, an effect you probably want (I would), but your 18″ quickly gets taken over. Plus I think it would look more balanced. I’d also dig in the big boulders (especially the one by the bench) so they sit deeper in the ground and look more natural, rather than like they were plopped in.

    But the design and plant choice are fantastic! And I’m very happy to see that your “butchered” trees came back so well! What a relief.

    I would not add vines to your patio railing. Your before/after shot of that area reinforced it for me. It’s lovely to see the seating area through the railing when you look back at the house, instead of a wall of green. Invites you back in to the house, instead of throwing up a barrier.

    I would love to spend an afternoon in your backyard. #countryinthecity

    1. I totally agree with your constructive feedback and appreciate how thoughtfully you offered it. I too thought the path looked more border than path and love the open railing. Thanks for being kind in the way you offered your thoughts.

      1. Absolutely agree on the railing climber! In addition, we had one all around our yard growing up and viney plants tend to be difficult to manage, especially with some much else around, I would worry about them starting to strangle some of the other plants. Also, bugs, spiders, and lizards love them and while that’s an inherent part of the outdoors you may not want to encourage colonies so close to your eating/relaxing/entertaining area.

    2. I had the same feeling about the path/ border. Otherwise it’s such a beautiful beautiful garden. And I really love that you kept the old swing.


  32. Gorgeous! One question–How will HVAC guys access your AC units when the plants surrounding r full grown? (We have that prob here and they always give me such grief!)

    1. I just accept the occasional grief from utility and service men. Only affects me a day or two a year at most and so I have 363+ days a year to enjoy a nice view instead of catering to people who do not live in my house! Lol. Most vines are hardy enough they can be yanked and pulled aside when need be and still survive.

  33. A big investment, yes, but worth it in California where you can use it 12 months out of the year. And worth it for the type of lifestyle you have-young children, casual entertaining. When I design for clients, I always ask “where am I? who lives here? what is the purpose of this space?” A large yard in California for a young family is an appropriate place to spend a large chunk of change.
    Sidenote: I guess citrus trees wouldn’t work with the aesthetic, but I love the idea of being able have edible plants in the yard. Surprised you didn’t go that route.

  34. i am obsessed with it! we’ve been doing a front yard reno for 10 months (OMG) and after we put our last water wise plugs in and let the “yard” grow in, i’m moving onto the backyard to make it as play friendly for the kids as you have! CA backyards can be the best! and i would have been surprised at the cost last year, but now i know how much landscaping can be and i say you did an AMAZING job for the price.

  35. The garden is so beautiful, and it’s inspiring us to start working on our place. It’s English garden but looks modern, livable for a family. I noticed that the swing set is original but like how streamlined it is. Would you know where it’s from?

  36. It’s beautiful! Can you share how much maintenance costs? I assume you would use a landscape service rather than try to keep it all going yourselves.

    1. Yes, please share! I get overwhelmed trying to keep up with the landscaping we have year after year (pruning, planting, mowing, mulching, raking, watering, weeding!), and ours is much less than yours. Do you use a gardener, or did you purposely select low maintenance plants that will require little attention? Or maybe because of the difference in California and midwest seasons there just isn’t the same amount of work involved?

      1. All gardens require maintenance…it doesn’t matter which zone you live in. I am a seasoned home gardener myself and hire out as well as do a ton myself. I am guessing the Henderson’s are spending $1K/month for maintenance…more when they have projects like pruning. I also live on the West coast.

  37. Looks fantastic. The trees already look much better!

  38. lovely vibe, such happy faces

    would suggest 36 inches as a pathway, 18 to 24 feels narrow especially plants get bushier

    how about a trellis type fence with removable panels around AC condensers, for ease of service and to keep plant and pets away (cousin’s dog favorite pee spot was by/on the condenser), the damage was so bad they had to replace the thing, warantee was invalidated

    not super familiar with your climate…
    clematis is a beautiful and delicate climber.
    trumpet vine a bold (aggressive) one, has orange or yellow blooms

    Also would have loved lemon trees (are they thorny?) or avocado trees

  39. I love it, it’s beautiful. Worth every penny you spent. Congrats!

  40. So lovely! I have couple questions/comments:
    1. Regarding sap, like someone else mentioned, you’re only real option would be to put up some sort of canopy, which really could be gorgeous done right
    2. The swing set, I saw you replaced the bar and rings with a bucket seat, obviously makes perfect sense for your kids ages, but as they get old please consider adding on back. That was one of my favorite things in our yard growing up and is great for upper body strength, dexterity, and reasonable risk taking (hanging from your knees, etc)
    3. Do you have a gardener/garden company? Or do you care for it all yourself?
    4. Did any sort of small vegetable garden end up taking shape? I know it was frequently mentioned, but not sure if I saw it in the post.

    Gorgeous yard! You are lucky indeed!

  41. Are spiders a problem? How do you keep them away from all of your zones, rocks, furniture, lanterns??

  42. Really love how it looks timeless already. There will be some plants that need to be divided every year and pretty soon you will have an aha moment…”oh this is what a nursery does!” We often have a dozen or more plants that look just like they are fresh from the nursery on our street with a “free to a good home” sign on them. Our garden now is all about thinning out and scaling back so it doesn’t look like an overgrown jungle. Our neighbors scoop up the plants within hours! Once that castle gets weathered to silver, it will recede into the background as it should. I’m glad you kept the industrial swing set. It really suits the house and garden! Kudos to you and Brian and Pete!

  43. This is clearly a case of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Now, if only you had lemon trees the reference would be more meaningful. Love it! Gorgeous! Magical! I haven’t read the process post yet, but did you put in an irrigation system?

  44. It looks great, and I’m surprised at how inexpensive the cost was. Not that it isn’t a lot of money, but I got a rough quote from a few companies on just a FRONT YARD plan and most of them said it would be around $70k. I was truly shocked. Needless to say, we didn’t do anything. And I feel like L.A. is a much more expensive area than I live in (Austin, TX). Send your landscaping guy over here!

  45. Your new outdoor space is absolutely gorgeous! I am wondering about the cat poo situation, and this may be a totally stupid suggestion because I don’t know much about cats (I am more of a dog person) but what if you put a litter box outside for them to use? Would they use it instead of the space underneath the castle? Kind of like a diversionary tactic…

  46. OMG it looks SOOOO GOOD!!! I was very worried about the trees but they’re not even that bad now! Not HUGE and shady but totally adequate and you cannot even tell they were once butchered the way they were! So envious of your yard!

  47. I cannot get over the gorgesousness of this transformation. I moved into a little post war brick house two years agao and the landscaping needs so much help. There isn’t even a walkway to our front door! Any advice on matching lanscaping to the style of your house? For example, I can’t imagine using brick pavers to make a path around our brick house but I’m not sure what else I would use. I love the bluestone you used here but would that clash with the style of my house? I agree with the above comments about wanting more landscaping posts! We’re working hard on the inside of our house but we have to drive up to the outside every day and having it looks so overgrown and messy makes us sad.

  48. I had no idea you had a guest room! Haha

    Love love your backyard! So dreamy. I agree with another commentor – well worth the money considering the added square footage!

    1. That’s what I was going to say, no idea there was a guest room!! How did we miss that?

  49. What a lovely space!! Question for you, did you do or do you plan on adding any drama thru hardwired landscape lighting? Your trees would be heavenly uplit and glowing at night along with hits of light sprinkled in beds.

  50. From a northern gardener, Ottawa, Canada……I am so jealous of your 4 season gardening season. I loved reading the three part series, and feel your pain about losing trees, but the end result is spectacular! Well done!

    1. I was just thinking the same thing! So wish we had that kind of growing season in Iowa where I am because then my brand new wide open 1/2 acre yard would look lush already ๐Ÿ™‚ However, I am loving this English garden meandering look and think I’ll have to use some as inspiration!

  51. This post makes my heart happy! I didn’t expect to see the trees looking so good so soon, and I’m SO glad they do! And great idea to cover your A/C unit with vines. Thanks for showing that not-so-perfect area of your yard also – I’ll look into that idea for my house as well ๐Ÿ™‚

  52. Hold the phone. You have a guest room? I swear I have read closely but never realized that. That is awesome–seems like it makes the size of your house much more manageabel!

    1. I was going to ask about that as well. I think I also saw a reference to a basement once. Are you keeping those spaces private or will you be sharing at some point? No judgement, just curious. It would explain how you’re able to have such a fabulous wardrobe with a small closet!

  53. Well, damn. Now I care about outdoor design too.

  54. Love the content in these last 3 posts!

    These were definitely grab-a-snack / take-a-break / shush-anyone-who-tries-to-talk-to-me posts. Don’t-bother-me-I’m-on-the-last-10-pages-of-my-book posts. Pause-and-look-into-the-middle-distance-as-you-imagine-doing-the-same-thing-to-your-home posts.

    So inspiring!

    Have fun on your vacation!

  55. Thanks for the blog and for the Nice green photos..

  56. Hi Emily! Can you give me an idea where I find the swing set? Need one . Your backyard is BEAUTIFUL!! So relaxing!

    1. Look for “single post” swingset frames.

  57. Love, love everything you’ve done here! Especially the evergreen tree varieties. When you first mentioned it in this past Spring, I did wonder about the pebble pit and cats/raccoons. Where I used to live in San Jose, CA (north) we had a HUGE stray cat problem. They were everywhere! My west facing front yard smelled like holy hell! I’ve used an organic coyote urine powder repellent and it worked well. Coffee grounds also work although I’m not sure you want them mixed in with the pebbles and kids. Although I have to say, now that the critters have found and marked their ideal outdoor potty spot, they’ll keep returning so you’ll need to treat the area regularly. I am sparing you my “cat rant” but suffice it to say, I am not a fan! Good luck.

  58. Love, love, love it – you are multi talented, in doors and out, what a wonderful home you have created for your family and friends to enjoy. How inspiring, I just can not believe the difference in the before and after photos, a total transformation into a very special place. I totally get the idea of having a space where children can safely play and use their imagination while you can watch, relax or get a few things done, and also totally support the idea of getting on and getting it functional ASAP while they are young so you get to enjoy it while they are young. Your Mum sounds wonderful (“any fall that doesn’t result in a visit to the ER is a success” – I am a paediatrician – totally get that sentiment!).

    Enjoy your vacation, your home and your beautiful family, I hope you make many precious memories in the wonderful space you have created.

  59. It looks beautiful! I also love how honest you always are – you could’ve gotten away with saying Birdie was eating a carrot. lol ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s all just really, really pretty. Thank you for sharing.

    I was looking at your book (again) yesterday and I’m curious – where would you put “California Casual” on the style wheel? Your style wheel really helped me hone on what my style is… slowly our house becoming more cohesive, so thank you for that too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  60. Is farrow and ball paint recommended for painting fences? I thought stain was recommended for wood fences and that paint was supposed hard to maintain over time. Did you paint the fence yourself or was it already that color? What was involved in painting it? What type of wood is it? I’m considering installing a fence in my backyard and need ideas! Most wood fences start to age within a few years and require a lot of maintenance. Thanks!

  61. Coconut oil for your squeaky swings. WD40 stinks and has a tendency to transfer to hands and clothes in a messy way. Wear a pair of disposable gloves and massage coconut oil into the chain. It’ll last for a whole season.

    1. That is genius!

  62. Emily, this is so beautifully done!! It is worth every single penny! You have created a magical yard and childhood for those kids, and a gorgeous space for you and Brian to share with friends and family. There is nothing better than a thoughtfully put together and visually stunning yard like this, especially living in So Cal where we can actually enjoy it for most of the year!

  63. I love the backyard and I appreciate all of the details that you have provided (even financials). I have spent the afternoon trying to find the iron chair (and companion pieces) online! Can you please tell me where I can find them (if they’re still available)? Thank you!

  64. Non-water related maintenance question here: what does it take to keep this going? How often do you need to weed? How often do you need to fertilize, or replant, or prune??

    Ps: the fig tree is really looking nice in the after shots.

  65. Gorgeous!!!! I’ve been waiting for this post and it certainly didn’t disappoint. And although this sounds weird, $30K on a yard this big really isn’t bad – so good job on the budget!

    A few gardener-y things (because its my fave subject I can’t cant help myself):

    1) while it’s so sad to watch trees get butchered, it was probably a really good thing for a new garden. It’s hard to get gardens established in the deep shade that mature trees bring – and given the that a lot of your beautiful plants like sun, you’ll probably want to keep them limbed up or your plants won’t flower well and will will get leggy (gangly looking).

    2) you mentioned planting in late spring – fall is an awesome time to plant, too! Plants like getting established when it’s cooler, and in most parts of the country there’s enough warm soil time that you can still plant in September and have lots of time for plants to get established before the ground freezes. And plants are oftentimes 50% off in the fall!!!

    Enjoy the gardening!!!

  66. LOVE!!! I wondered about the plants in between the stepping stones. It looks absolutely magical, but will that take a lot of maintenance to keep it in check?

    This was so inspiring! All the layering, all the shade, boulders as seating…love it all!

    1. I have many stone paths and two stone terraces in my yard and they all have ground covers in between. The key is finding the perfect ground cover for the conditions in each area. If the ground cover is happy and fills in, maintenance is almost zero. If it doesn’t fill in well, you’ll have to weed and that is a pain.

  67. This looks amazing! So well done. I really appreciate you breaking down the cost of your yard and telling us how much you paid and when you do/don’t get a discount. Like you said, things cost what they cost and if you want an amazing yard like yours–well you’ve got to put in the money, time or both.

    (Also, I have never heard of soloar powered candles and now I’m so excited to give them a try!)

  68. Absolutely love all of this!!! Where did you get the lovely lanterns hanging in the tree?

  69. Your yard is a fairy-tale dream come true! With all your generous detailed information, I’m inspired to start slowly and build towards something similar to what you’ve magically created.

    BUT! I’m in coastal Central California and we are restricted on water use. I’m curious how much water it takes to keep your plants thriving; I could leave out the luscious green lawn but love your natural looking English garden inspired planted areas. How many hours per week do you need to water?

    And…is it a lot of maintenance, or kind of freely growing, occasional trimming back?

    LOVED these posts and all the detail plus pictures!!!!

  70. Love the new yard! We had a huge cat problem in our new yard. It was disgusting. I bought a couple of devices at Amazon that strobe lights and play a high pitched noise when motion is detected. It has been six months and we haven’t seen any cats walking through the yard or any gross evidence. It also seemed to have dealt with the skunks and raccoons. Best $40 I’ve ever spent! Ours are plugged in but can also take batteries if you don’t have power back there. Good luck getting the cats out of the kid areas.

  71. How do you plan to keep your lawn green year round? The backyard looks lovely but as someone that also lives in Southern California having an expansive green lawn like yours is impossible if we follow the water restriction guidelines that are typically in place due to drought. I know the look and feel of your new home is meant to be ‘English countryside’ and I agree that it’s beautiful, it just feels incompatible with the climate of Southern California since we get such little water. I would have loved to see an alternative to grass that could have inspired my own yard. Either way, I’m glad to hear your family and friends are enjoying it, the ability to spend time outdoors year round is one of the greatest perks of living where we do!

    1. In Australia, we tend to install lots of water tanks around our house and yards to capture any rain water (which is a design issue itself to overcome!). Do Californians do this also?

  72. For your sap problem buy a neutral colored shade sail, either a triangle or rectangle depending on the location of your trees, and position it high but below the drip. We have a couple in our backyard to shade our patio and they look great. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Anytime I am looking for anything, I simply google “iron comfortable chairs” and then go to images and scroll til I find what i like and follow the picture up. You can usually find a source. If my first …or second or….wording doesn’t get me the right kind of pictures I just keep trying. Always works. I am doing a complete do over for a client’s huge house to Farmhouse and that;s how i find things . (Not using more expensive design sources.) Hope that helps.

  73. Absolutely gorgeous!
    A happy place for your family to enjoy!

  74. Absolutely gorgeous for you and your family and friends to enjoy.

  75. It is truly gorgeous and looks as if it’s always been there! Well done.

    I wanted to say thanks for sharing your frustration with us. Life isn’t perfect and things don’t always go as planned–even for a celebrity. ๐Ÿ˜Š I love reading your posts because they seem real and transparent–I can relate to that. Keep on sharing it all! Your beautiful design sense, AND real life.

  76. Beautiful yard and fantastic transformation!! One thing I’m wondering about, is if you considered relocating the stairs going down from the patio to the yard to the opposite side, close to your dining room door? Probably don’t want to do it now, but it would make the yard more accessible (and it’d be quicker to get to children once they are older and playing more on their own). Plus, then the patio/porch would be more of a enclosed room that wouldn’t require walking through. Also, consider getting your kids a small kiddie pool to play in. They can cool off, and then you can use the water for the grass and plants! Thanks for sharing, and enjoy your fabulous home!

  77. I would love to see it lit up at night with those lanterns!! And would also love to know where your dress is from…love!

  78. Wow, this is one of the most amazing before and after I’ve ever seen. Very inspirational. There needs to be an Emily Henderson of the landscaping world because my backyard is very depressing. Do you know where Pete falls along the landscaper cost spectrum? High end? I don’t even know where to begin looking to hire someone.

    1. Walk around your neighborhood and check out other people’s yards. If you see something you like, either approach the neighbor when they’re gardening or note their address and send them a friendly note. Simply ask if they had someone do the design or if they have a gardener recommendation. I have a lovely garden and frequently get asked and I also invite folks in for a tour if they’d like!

  79. Most beautiful backyard, Emily. Bravo.

  80. In AWE of those before and afters! This yard makes my childish heart skip a beat. <3 Plenty of grass to practice gymnastics tricks on, swings, AND that awesome fort! What more could a kid want? Plus it's gorgeous, and practically a wedding venue. Love!

  81. What a wonderful place – I’ve really enjoyed reading about the ups and downs of your back yard. I particularly love your meandering paths – there’s just something about a meandering path.

    The lantern tree made me think of a wonderful installation at the newly renovated Sculpture Garden at the Walker Museum of Modern Art in MInneapolis. It’s a tree full of beautiful chimes, so that when the wind blows the tree seems to be making music. For some reason, you don’t hear it until you are nearly under the tree. It is absolutely magical. My 6y/0 granddaughter sat under it in a kind of rapture until we had to drag her away. I’m determined now to recreate it on a smaller scale in my own yard.

    Also – Ikea Solar Globes= magic in summer evening trees and playforts. Just saying.

  82. First, your yard looks beautiful. Second, about your rock pit and cats. I don’t have cats but I’m assuming citronella deters them if you are spraying that around the pit. I have citronella plants on my patio to deter mosquitoes, since I live in south Louisiana. I’m not sure if the plants would live there, but it might be worth a try to have a few potted citronella plants around the area. Just a thought.

  83. Rubbing alcohol gets sap out of fabric/hair/skin

  84. No questions. Just love how beautiful it turned out. It looks so much bigger in the after posts than in the before posts when it was more bare. What a wonderful space!

  85. Maybe planting some larger Cypress trees. They grow so tall and if in the right spots could eliminate the power poles at least๐Ÿ˜Š

  86. Lovely! Did you sod or seed the grass? And do you have a sprinkler system? Also curious about the upkeep–do you have a weekly landscaper to mow, weed, etc. or do you do yourself?

  87. Wow! Beautiful. Thanks for the detailed post.

  88. Hi Emily,

    We’re undertaking a backyard renovation (and pool house construction) project. We’ve hired architects to design it all for us, but I still am not clear on when a homeowner needs a landscape designer, an architect and a landscaper? Does a landscape designer work with the architect to figure out hardscaping and plants? Can you help and explain this??? If so, your advice is very much appreciated!

    1. Also, I should have said to begin with, WOW. Your backyard looks amazing!

  89. I have major yard envy now! And dress envy! If that Madewell dress is your play-clothes you are officially my hero ๐Ÿ™‚

  90. Beautiful beautiful backyard! I have a question about the windows on your house; let me know if you addressed this question on a different page. I love the windows you installed (I’m looking at the before and after picture of the back of your house). I love old windows (or at least windows that look old) and it looks like you installed windows on your second floor that match the older style of your home. I live in a home built in the 1950s (for the suburb of LA I live in, this is considered old). I think that my old windows add so much style and interest to my home and I want to do everything I can to keep that (especially in my area where I feel all the builders forgot about charm). The windows are going to need to be replaced eventually; one has already broken when my 3 year old pushed too hard on its metal frame during nap time. I had a welder weld the broken piece back on. He was super nice but didn’t understand my love for the old window, and thought I was just trying to save money. Do you have any advice on what I can do to keep the integrity of the style of my windows for when they need to be replaced? I already have one large window that the last owner replaced. I’m sure it is much more energy efficient, and the windows open and close easily, but there is a clear difference in charm and style compared to the others. What did you do with your windows? Thanks!

  91. Wow! Thank you so much! This is series is wonderful, hysterical (we can all relate to it), inspiring & educational.

    I really appreciate you comparing landscape design to interior design, which makes this series all the more educational because as I read it, I can replay all the videos in my head that I’ve watched of you explaining the elements of a table vignette & the guidelines for choosing a variety of patterns for pillows. It all connects & is all so very helpful.

    You really did get the right designer for your backyard. I love the goal statement written with his design plan & it seems like he has truly achieved it. I love it! And I love all the textures & colors of the foliage & the natural-looking but not weedy looking flowers. It is stunning! I also think you got a very good deal, a steal even; many folks charge a lot more & aren’t able to create what Pete has created.

    You sometimes have guest contributors to the blog or guest collaborators; I think having Pete or someone else in his line of work doing a guest post or a joint post with you would be so helpful & educational: lessons from & links between interior & exterior design, furthering what you’ve done with this series.

    Thanks so much again!

  92. Garden and especially the planting: gorgeous. Not too keen though on the big boulders: a bit artificial-looking for my taste. Also I do not like the castle. It sticks out too much against the planting and therefore looks ‘cheap’. It would melt in much better if you would paint it in the same dark-grey color as the swing or if you would use a dark-grey/black wood-stain.

    1. the castle is for the kids. i think it’s supposed to stand out and be enjoyed as a major feature to the yard.

  93. it’s kind of wild that that is a backyard in LA! i tend to imagine more desert oasis than english country. love all the plants! the before and afters are really great in this one!! (did the bird of paradise get nixed entirely?)

  94. I LOVE the old simple swingset. Where can I find the same one?

  95. Wow, what a huge difference between the before and after pics. Looks amazing and so peaceful!

  96. It’s interesting to me how you packed in so much more, in the same size, and still the space manages to seem bigger. Layering is so important in adding dimension. Wonderful job ๐Ÿ™‚

  97. So this could just be me, but the website has been very slow to load lately. Like painfullyyyyy slow. Just wanted to mention it in case others were experiencing similar issues. PS – backyard is an absolute dream.

  98. I might be the minority but I like the swings! I currently have a huge swing set with playhouse contraption on my lawn… Your swings are so simple! I think with the paint they look great! I’d much prefer that to this huge hulking structure we have…. The poles must be set in concrete??
    What a wonderful space- thank you so much for the inspiration!!

    Would you mind sharing the color of the trim on your house? So pretty!

  99. It is amazing. Thank you so much for the plant lists. I’m using them as inspiration for my yard! You’re feelings are completely justified and I’m glad you’ve been able to make some peace with it โค๏ธ

  100. I LOVE the honest humor in this post! Your backyard looks great! I always look forward to seeing your projects, and reading your blog – you’re so real-life inspirational. Keep up the good work!!!

  101. You have a beautiful lush garden. Normally I would have thought 30k is too steep for the yard but in a climate like CA it is totally worth it. I have always wanted to move to california just so that I can get a garden like that. I like how the path creates an interesting border for the plants.
    Your landscaper did a great job. It looks like it has always been there.

  102. Fangirling here… I’ve been following you on IG for over a year and frequently read your blog posts (which I now subscribe to). Your story about the tree butchering spoke to me as I’ve also had similar experiences and feel your pain! I’m at a different life stage than you, I don’t look like you, I don’t live in California, but your blogs and posts are so relatable. My family just moved into a house we built and you have so many great ideas that I will incorporate. I love your personal and professional style, and how you write. And I applaud your cruelty free comment policy, as I enjoy reading the comments on your blog. So, way to go, you and your team are doing an awesome job, I wish you even more success!

  103. Backyard of my dreams!!!! Thanks for this.

  104. This outdoor space is absolutely gorgeous. You hit the nail on the head with the whimsical feel! I love it! You challenge me as a designer so much to really think outside of the box and embrace so many different looks and styles. I loved reading this outdoor process as I don’t have a lot of strength in this area yet!

  105. I’m so in love with it! Swoon, Emily, SWOON!

  106. Totally understand your tree-butcher meltdown. I had one as well when a new neighbor decided the wall of trees and shrubs between our yards had to come down. Despite that most was on my property. Despite that I told them I appreciate the privacy and they must observe the property line before their work. I was devastated to come home from work one day and find their house staring at me, yard cleared, with stumps 6″ inside my property left for me to clear. I committed to a landscape restoration plan, as you did, and never regretted it once. We lived in that house 14 years, so It was $ well spent. The relationship with the neighbor — it was never restored, however. And I don’t think any of my friends or family understood my level of despair when this happened.

  107. I was wondering if you are going to grow anything in between the stones of your path. Or are you just leaving it as is? I’m currently having a path put in and I’m not sure if I should have something Like thyme, grass or just leave it as is. Thanks!

  108. Wow! It’s enchanting I love it!

  109. This looks absolutely beautiful! I can’t believe you have that much space in LA. This post also made me realize how much work I have to do in my own yard, hence, a request: can you work on a design post for small yards? I know, I know, you are an INTERIOR designer, but I just love your work and judgment. My yard is small (under 1000 sq. ft) and all the design photos I see are of these huge yards.

    BTW, my favorite part of coming back from a month of travel is catching up on your blog ๐Ÿ™‚ Just read the post about the no nasty comments – ROCK ON.

  110. I’m a brazilian and I don’t have a good vocabulary, but I need to say: I really love your work, your personal taste, all your choices are amazing and inspiring… Love to read your personal posts about your house and all the drama, the breakdowns, because I really get it (you’re not alone, I also cryed a lot and sometimes felt like everything was ruined when reforming my apartment). Your blog’s great!

  111. Simply stunning. I am a gardening enthusiast myself and must say your garden is a dream. I love the flow of the garden and plant selections. It looks so natural and effortless. Bravo.

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