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Our Backyard Makeover, Part 2 – The Process

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Yesterday I began posting about our backyard makeover (don’t continue if you haven’t read that post), which proved to be very dramatic and emotional (for me) reliving of a (now) hilarious tragedy. By the way, turns out writing about it helped and all your supportive comments made me feel less crazy. My friends and family can now make ‘you butchered your trees’ jokes without my eyes glassing over, followed by them sheepishly apologizing with a quick ‘too soon?’ Today’s post is more about the process/breakdown after hiring our designer, Pete from Deluxe Plants (I mean financial breakdown, don’t worry – no more tears were shed during this process).

The first thing that Pete wanted to lock down were the large trees to ground everything and help create zones. Trees are like the walls of a backyard. He kept sending us photos of beautiful trees he picked out for us, but ultimately I needed to see them in person. Not sure if I’ve properly drilled this into your heads, but I AM VERY EMOTIONAL ABOUT TREES. He was like ‘ok, ya nut, I get it, you need to pick out your own trees.’ It would be like a client needing to sit on any potential sofa – he got it and so did I. We went up to some farms in Fillmore together and chose some beauties:

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We only wanted evergreen trees because why plant a tree that is going to be bare for 3 months? We bought 2 evergreens, 2 oaks of some kind, 2 strawberry trees, and then 6 large dodoneas, which are more like large shrubs (that change colors four times a year). We then added a magnolia espalier (whatever it’s called when it’s on a big wood grid thing) and some bougainvillea to climb along the back fence. I think our total tree bill was around $2,500. My favorite trees we chose are the evergreen pears which are green all summer/fall/spring and have beautiful white blossoms in the winter – right when everything else is dormant these guys are dripping with flowers (OH the shoots I’ll be able to style them in!). We spent 2 hours or so shopping and really locked down a handful that could help break up the hedge (that had recently been cut down by a neighbor) and create some zones.

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Next we went plant shopping, with our eyes closed apparently. Pete is going to kill me but somehow this is the only photo that I took of him there. I thought about photoshopping on some eyeballs but that seemed weird and offensive. Instead I found this one:

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That’s better. Who doesn’t want a strapping Australian to design their landscaping?

That day at the nursery we pointed to plants we loved and nixed what we were less into, but we left it up to him to curate, determine the the amounts and sizes, and make sure that we were choosing plants that could live next to each other, and not need too much water (we live in Southern California after all, so this had to be a modified “English garden”). He ensured us that there are some flowering plants all year long (and so far so good, it’s a flowering wonderland out there). I believe we spent $6k on smaller/medium plants, including some citrus trees that we ended up planting in the front yard. Here is the plant list and pricing if you’re interested. We were going to create a big mood board but instead we pinned them all (check this board). If you want exact species and quantities here you go:

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At this point the sponsored event that I was supposed to host in the backyard was a few weeks away so we bought more than a normal person would buy to ensure that it looked full immediately. Plants grow fast in spring and some of ours have doubled in size already. We bought more and larger than you probably should (unless you are having a huge press event weeks after being planted). Again, all the plants are pinned on a pin board but here are some of my favorites (not necessarily in the color that we bought):

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Lastly we needed some rocks. We needed pebbles for the moat, boulders to help create zones (and for hide and seek), and flagstone for the meandering path. We went to Bourget Bros. in Santa Monica because, well, they have the best selection of rocks and such nice customer service.

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We chose these pretty amazing white granite boulders and while we didn’t exactly tag the exact ones we wanted we took photos and told Pete to choose low and wide boulders and no sharp jagged edges. Next the stones for the path:

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For some reason I was obsessed with putting in this pretty stone path back to lead you to the sitting area and the castle. We chose tumbled bluestone because the tone of it was good and soft, it went more ‘old world’ than some of the other options and had no jagged edges.

Once everything was picked out Pete set up a schedule for demo and install.

First up, he wanted to kill the grass to put in fresh sod. I guess this grass was full of weeds, was a particularly thirsty variety, and both he and Brian really hated it. I didn’t really care, and I respected Pete’s work enough to let him do his job.

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They sprayed it with a plant killer, that as you can imagine is probably not amazing for little lungs to breathe-in (although the website claims it’s safe for children and pets in small/temporary doses . . . I still wasn’t going to let them roll around in it). So once the spray started, the backyard was off limits for a couple weeks (they had to come three times to spray, then they removed it with picks and shovels). It was definitely not beautiful back there and I was super anxious to get some plants in. Pushy Emily was out and annoying everyone, wanting updates 🙂  And yes, they avoided the tree roots as to not damage my precious trees.

Once it was all dirt, it was ready for the castle and stones.

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They came with semi-truck worth of stone. The stone layer that we hired came out earlier to gauge how much we wanted and frankly he far over-estimated. The cost of the stone was $5k and his crew’s labor was $2600. I think we could’ve DEFINITELY saved on the boulders and medium sized rocks.

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Brian, Pete, and I kept looking at each other and saying where are all these rocks going to go?? We ultimately had to remove a bunch out of the pebble pit as it felt more like a head-splitting-open pit. To be fair, doing a pebble moat wasn’t something anyone had done before and the stone dude didn’t have kids so I don’t think he was thinking about how kids like to jump off the top of slides (which is against the rules, but ideally we want to make sure that everything is safe in case they break the rules, too).

We placed the path together, as I wanted to make sure that it meandered and wasn’t this super perfect edge to edge path. It took 3 – 4 days I believe, while the castle was going up.

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The plants started going in and finally it was time for sod.

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Now I hesitated posting this project at all because of the potential grass-backlash. Grass-gate 2017 can commence! I get it. I’m not terribly proud that we chose real grass either (because we live in Southern California) nor do I want to encourage you do to it if you have an alternative. But the options were either a.) artificial turf or b.) no grass. Mr. Henderson really, really, really needs a grassy backyard so the ‘rocks and cactus’ thing wasn’t going to work for him, nor our two very young kids. And ultimately the idea of artificial turf in that particular backyard was just something we couldn’t do. I’m actually shopping for some for another project whose yard lends itself well to artificial grass, so I’m truly not opposed to it full stop and I’d love to encourage you to do it if the style of your backyard is simple. But it just felt so, so, so wrong for this house with this style of landscaping. Our cousins have it and it looks so great. All I can say is we will monitor our water bills and if the drought returns we’ll consider some alternatives. Pete told us he would get the least thirsty, most durable sod, and that most of the plants he chose were California natives that didn’t need a lot of water. We just wanted real grass for our kids, and Brian wasn’t accepting the false version. If anyone in the comments wants to share their experience with artificial grass and can recommend the most real brand possible I’d love link to it and explore it for this other project.

Tomorrow we’ll do the big reveal ….

Meanwhile here is the big labor breakdown so you can see what goes into hiring a landscape designer and executing a full backyard renovation. Labor is different everywhere, and know that many of you might want to do this on your own so I broke down how much time it took with the labor involved:

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If you are handy or know landscaping much then this is something you might be able to pull off on your own, but this way you know roughly what it takes to execute a job this size.

*UPDATE: I originally didn’t put the design/labor cost because there is an unspoken rule in the design world that you don’t expose someone’s hourly rate, but enough people asked about the total of it and it was just shy of $10k. And yes, that is what we paid, and there was no discount because he is a small company with a family support. That includes his crew, so all in all I think its a good price. And that makes the grand total $29k (which somehow feels wildly better than $30k).

Here is what materials cost for us. We paid for it over 6 months and in small bite-sized chunks so I hadn’t added it up until now. Once it’s all together it’s a bit nauseating, but things cost what they cost and while it is a lot of money, I’m not shocked at the cost.

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Remember, we wanted it to be instantly beautiful without any patience to let things grow for a couple years. Most of you wouldn’t need the amount of rocks/boulders we needed (we didn’t even need that many) which was the most substantial part of the job (about $8k). As for the plants, I’d say if you have more patience then you’d only need about 1/2 or even 1/3 the plants we bought and instead wait a year for them to grow in and spread. We had to shoot it for a sponsor (the castle) and we thought we had this big event in our backyard in the spring so we needed it to look amazing RIGHT NOW (and thought we had the budget to do so, from said big event), but unless you are in that situation you wouldn’t need to invest so much, so quickly into your landscaping. We needed to, and man, we paid the price but it was worth it.

We are so happy to have had Pete curating all the plants and trees, and advising us on all sub-contractors, managing the labor, and keeping things moving. I wouldn’t have been able to it without him, and because of him we are lucky enough to have our backyard finished. Plus he’s guaranteed that not one plant will ever die (HA) and that it will look beautiful forever, despite the fact that the kids jump on plants, cut my favorite flowers, and do what small kids do – not care or notice how lucky they are. We’ll drive it into their small heads as much as possible . . . for the rest of their lives 🙂

Come back tomorrow for the reveal . . .

 

If you want all the backyard posts leading up to this post and the reveal, here you go.

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

***Sneak Peek photography by Sara Tramp

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  1. I am so excited for the full reveal! This stuff is so complicated and I love hearing about the process. We recently did a backyard renovation here in the Dallas area, and we ended up choosing artificial turf because our backyard is almost completely shaded. I know yours is less shaded because of the tree situation (so sorry!), but did Pete choose a special grass that does well in shade?

    Also, did you already have a sprinkler system or did you have to put one in place? That was one of the reasons we chose turf – we didn’t have a sprinkler system or grass (just an ugly dirt pit that backed to a beautiful creek full of trees) so we didn’t want to invest in the sprinkler system and sod only to have it die because it couldn’t get enough sun.

    Here’s a link to our backyard makeover with the synthetic grass. We also built a stone retaining wall and laid a slate patio at the same time. My husband handled all of the labor but did hire some of his former high school players (he’s a coach) to help out. It was quite an undertaking, but man did we save some serious money on labor. We absolutely love the turf. One thing to consider if you go the artificial route is that if your yard isn’t shaded, turf can get pretty hot in direct sun.

    http://www.thehappyhomebodies.com/2017/03/huge-backyard-makeover-featuring.html

    1. your grass looks wonderful!!!
      welldone!

    2. Wow this came out amazingly!!

    3. i have zero issues with your choice on grass. I have a large shadey yard with no sprinkler system, and would like to do some artifical…. i really hope you will share the yard you are working on with it. i’m in a 1950’s rancher, and i’m hopeful it can “work” here.

      Thanks for sharing all this.

      1. ops!! above was meant as a general comment, not another reply. sorry.

    4. We’re about to add grass in our backyard (too much sun for turf) but this was hugely inspiring!

  2. Emily, I’m still in shock from reading about what happened to your trees in part one. Holy crap, so terrible. I do not think your reaction overblown in any way. Looking forward to the full reveal!

  3. I also live in Northeast LA but have a drought tolerant yard. CORRECTION: I have a drought tolerant yard NOW. When my kids were actual kids and not adults we had a lawn for them to play on. They didn’t do that for long and once they were both at the end of their teens we pulled out the lawn and re-landscaped. The ‘we want to hang out at home and play in the backyard’ stage is short so enjoy it and the lawn while it lasts.

    1. So true, that’s really a great statement as to the belance between the needs of your family and the environmental impact. No cacti in my yard (yet) either, only in little pots …

      1. I totally agree. When the kids are older and aren’t rolling around on the grass so much I think we would opt for low-maintenance turf. In our front yard we some plants, and citrus trees but the ground is DG and not grass.

  4. I am really excited to see the reveal. Landscaping is so complicated, and I find it fascinating to see the process. We recently completed our own backyard makeover here in the Dallas area, and I have two questions for you: 1) Did Pete find special grass that would do well in shade? and 2) Did you already have a sprinkler system?

    We ended up installing turf in our backyard, which is unusual here in Texas. Our problem was that our home was built into an old tree farm, so our backyard is almost entirely shaded. No one in our neighborhood has had any success growing grass in their backyards. We also didn’t have a sprinkler system. We just had a huge dirt pit that backed to a pretty creek full of trees. We knew that if we wanted to lay new sod we would have to install sprinklers as well, and we didn’t want to invest in that only to see the grass die off because it didn’t get enough sun.

    Turf is expensive, but that’s almost entirely labor. My husband chose to do it himself (he’s a little crazy) and that saved us tons of money. He also laid a rock retaining wall, installed plants with irrigation and put down a slate patio. Our total cost was just over $8,000.

    http://www.thehappyhomebodies.com/2017/03/huge-backyard-makeover-featuring.html

    I will say, turf has come a long way. If you’re stuck in a situation where real grass doesn’t feel like a good long term investment, you may want to consider it. They have a ton of varieties and it looks very real compared to the old stuff. One thing to keep in mind is if that if you don’t have a shaded yard, some types of synthetic grass does get really hot in direct sun.

    1. That feeling when you retype your super long comment because the original didn’t post, only to see that you’ve now posted two comments with the exact same comment. SIGH. Feel free to delete! 🙂

      1. HA. at first I was like – oh wow, the should get to know each other – they both live in Dallas, they both …. wait … 🙂

  5. I don’t know how grass gate will go, but we’re in the desert and it does indeed suck to have kids who have to play amongst rocks and cacti. It’s all about the streets and public parks in my life. The yard looks beautiful, I’m looking forward to the reveal!

  6. It looks awesome! Real grass was a great choice. Suits your garden and your lifestyle. I know so many people are so against real grass (I’m in Australia – some people here act like lawn is the enemy! 🙂 ) but I think generally it’s so much nicer for kids to play on than artificial turf (which often gets really hot and too hot for little bare feet) and, it often seems like people forget that grass, just like garden beds of plants, produces oxygen too.

  7. I live in the North East….plenty of rain for real grass. I am curious and probably should not ask this question but would love to know how you handle your dog’s needs with the turf. I thought owning a white rugs with kids would be hard but turf with a dog seems so downright impossible.

    Sorry if this is tacky to ask.

    1. Julie, I am wondering the same thing!

      1. A friend recently installed artificial turf in her back yard and smell from dog urine is overwhelming. I would definitely not recommend if you have more than one small dog!

    2. Hi Julie – We don’t allow our dogs on the turf. Instead we blocked off the opening on our deck with a gate and gave them the entire side yard free to roam and do their business (it’s mostly dirty because they destroy everything). We knew that if we were going to make the investment in turf, we wouldn’t allow our dogs to ruin it! That said, they do have turf they claim is made for pets but I haven’t tried it so I can’t vouch for it. Our dogs are mostly inside dogs so between the deck and our side yard, that’s plenty of room for them.

  8. Oh that tree situation, I completely understand your reaction! When we became first time homeowners in NC, we were puzzled and slightly aghast at a common practice there called “topping”. Basically yard care companies would knock on doors for a weekend and offer great prices on the service, since they happened to be in your neighborhood. The service was similar in concept to the “thinning” result, but even more extreme. They would literally chop off the entire top of a mature tree, leaving just a small amount of branches at the top of the trunk, where eventually new leaves would grow. More likely the tree was permanently damaged and stressed. After a time the trees resembled giant lollipops, a huge 2 or 3 foot diameter tree with a dense ball of leaves at the top. Many neighbors did it, it was common practice, but it just seemed so wrong and bizarre. We didn’t have a lot of money, and I was afraid an arborist would be so expensive, but a few years later I got one to assess all our trees. He mapped out a care plan, we talked about a budget, we did maintenance work and figured out a schedule. And it wasn’t near as expensive as I thought it would be. We managed to save trees that we didn’t know had problems, and plant the proper trees that would thrive in our location. You are so right, you can always remove more of a plant later, but you can never put that old growth back on! Thank you for showing how you handled this, and giving us a little more knowledge on caring for neighborhood trees. And if you cut a tree down, please try to replace it! My parents once lush and shady neighborhood has turned into a hot barren strip of pavement with parched grass because as old trees died out and were removed few were replaced. It’s truly sad to see.

  9. Your yard looks great! Real grass was a great choice in this situation. I don’t think you over reacted to the tree butchering at all!! In fact, I would still be mourning them. I’d be crying right along with you.

  10. I’m from MN, so you would get laughed at if you put artificial grass down. But we also get enough rain throughout the summer, so everyone strives for a lush green yard. Then again, we only get to enjoy our grass for a few months out of the year.

    1. I’m from MN too, and even though our grass-growing season is short, I’ve thought about the artificial turf because my husband hates to mow. He used to have an old-fashioned push mower and was mowing the front yard one time when a family walked by. The father pointed and said “look kids, there’s an Amish man.”

      1. I’ve never commented before but this made me literally laugh out loud. Thanks!

      2. We recently bought our college-aged daughter one of those mowers for her very small yard because it was affordable and easy. She asked, “so how do you charge it?” 🙂

      3. oh my gosh, I’m dying laughing at this! And we live in SW Minneapolis where yards are tiny so our neighbors actually have a an old-fashioned push mower! hahah “an Amish man!”

    2. I live in south Minneapolis too. Tiny yards. Mature trees. I love how so many of us are turning the boulevards into easy-care gardens. Grass won’t grow under the big trees, winter sand and salt kill the grass, etc. It’s such a pleasure to stroll through the streets on a nice summer evening and see what people are doing. But yeah, kids need grass. And dogs need a little grass too.

  11. We built a home and lived with the dirt for 8 months until we hired a landscaping company (friend with no benefits) and we paid $11,000 for much less beauty than your place. Landscaping is just expensive. It just is. Not shocked at all with what you paid except that I might have guessed it would be closer to $30,000. It is gorgeous. Enjoy! Cannot wait to see the reveal tomorrow and follow as all the plants mature. BTW, our son is on his second summer of working for our landscaper. We figured that was a good, pre-college/kick your butt/good paying/lots of good exposure/experience to help you later in life for your own landscaping. All of that is true. But his reply. “I know exactly which plants/shrubs/trees I will NEVER plant. In fact, I will have no landscaping. I’m going old world with a house planted on the grass and nothing but grass to mow.” Bummer. 🙂

    1. The total amount she provided doesn’t include the labor, so it most likely exceeded your guestimate of 30k.

      1. It was $30k. Good guess. The design fee and labor added up to about $10k. He’s a friend but no discount as he’s a small company with a family to support. Maybe i’ll edit. Essentially there is an unspoken rule that you don’t give away someone else’s hourly rate, so that is why I didn’t. But all in all it added up to $20 (materials) + $10k (design/labor) = $30k. GEEEEEZZZZ. Also remember that doesn’t include the castle that was $6k. When our kid don’t want to go outside and play, i’m like YES YOU DO.

        1. We’ve recently sunk 70+k into a major master bath reno (that went from 6 weeks to 6 months(!) in scope but I LOVE it and am an “all’s well that ends well” kind of gal, so I totally appreciate and applaud your backyard. I would have been gutted at seeing the butchered mature trees as well!

        2. But you can write it all off as a business expense!

  12. I am so excited for the big reveal Emily! So far it is a total dream house for me … roughly what are the dimensions of your yard? In some shots is looks HUGE – and others it seems more standard close in lot sized.

    1. Oh good question! I have no idea. its not HUGE but its a lovely side. I’m not home right now (in Tahoe) but let me see if Pete knows. Tomorrow when you see people in it that might help give some perspective. I think the whole plot of land is only 6500 which includes the front yard (no side yard) and of course the house, but the house is 2 story so I don’t think it takes up that much space. I guess I’d say its maybe 3000 square foot?

    2. I was wondering the same thing! I tried to count the rows of sod (assuming they are 12 x 12) and I think it is at least 40 by 50 so pretty big!

  13. Not to get too far into the weeds (har har har), but I don’t see the pricing for labor anywhere. I know it’s tacky, but I’m so interested to know what a renovation like this would cost in full because your backyard is basically my dream!

    1. Yes, please. What’s the total price? We live in Eagle Rock and our big backyard is a blank slate. Would love to do something similar to what you did, but have sense of cost first.

      Thanks!

      1. I’ll edit. As I wrote above in a comment its kinda an uspoken rule not to give away someone else’s hourly rate, but i’ll just give the total which was just under $10k. So basically $30k for the whole thing.

    2. Emily did leave the labor hours, so I would just call someone in your area for an hourly quote. It would be so different based on where you live.

  14. We also decided to keep a patch of real grass in our backyard for the kids (during CA drought) and so glad we did. Zero regrets or guilt. We use it even more than expected. I was really grossed out by the thought of artificial grass trapping bacteria/mold/etc, not to mention heat. Plus we have a dog that does dog stuff out there…

  15. Lol-ed at ‘magnolia esplania’. Sounds like horticultural spanglish maybe? I believe you mean espalier! Can’t wait to see the full reveal, love the plant palette going on in there!

    1. Oops:) Thanks! xx

  16. Hi Emily, Hi Emily,

    I really need your advice, something simple is about my patio. I just painted my back house with yellow-cream color, the original color of the house. Then I painted my back doors with this color SW 6601 Tanager

    Now I just need a advice from you for my floor. Can I put brick or will be to much? My problem is the existent concrete is creaked. I do not know what to do. Please help me.

    Thanks, Ingrid

  17. Hi Emily,

    I really need your advice, something simple is about my patio. I just painted my back house with yellow-cream color, the original color of the house. Then I painted my back doors with this color SW 6601 Tanager

    Now I just need a advice from you for my floor. Can I put brick or will be to much? My problem is the existent concrete is creaked. I do not know what to do. Please help me.

    Thanks, Ingrid

  18. The yard looks great so far, and no its not shocking in the slightest how expensive it was. We live in SoCal and end up spending thousands on landscaping every few years just to keep things really nice. One question and one tip.

    Which grass did you go with? We just sodded with St Augustine because of the deep shade part of the yard gets. I THINK you went with a fescue, but can’t exactly tell.

    The tip is to go ahead and look around for the most experienced gardener you can find. It pays to spend more on maintenance up front than end up with things diseased or mid-treated because of a cut rate gardener not managing your investments well.

    And I must say that these have been AWESOME posts. Thanks EHD!

  19. The amount of grass that you planted really is okay. It sounds like your landscape designer prioritized water efficiency and sustainability in the overall plan. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 2000 (and CA my entire life) and have witnessed many landscaping tragedies in the name of water conservation, some of which create yet more heat and negatively impact air quality. I’m not advocating blanketing every sq ft of Los Angeles with sod now that the drought is officially over (another drought might come along some day) but small areas like your back yard, where the lawn is integral to the function of the space, should be considered acceptable with our current climate. A 2015 LA Times article featured drought tolerant grass species that work well in the Southern California climate, there are many options outside the typical few varieties of sod sold at home improvement stores for those who want green spaces.

    1. THANK YOU. I was so nervous to come to the comments today for fear of grass-gate so I appreciate comments like this. (FYI we are now deleting super hateful, nasty comments as to not give negativity power over this blog, so if you want to say something negative thats totally fine, just do it in a non-hateful way,, and if you are nasty, we delete). I’ll announce the new policy later, I just wanted to say thanks for all being constructive in criticism and of course always appreciate supportive comments like this. thank you. xx

      1. Good! It was bumming ME out reading those comments and I feared it would affect how often and what you would post.

      2. I’m so glad, there is no need for nasty comments. Your blog is such a lovely place to visit, it’s a shame those people can’t just enjoy it.

  20. That last photo is so sweet! Look at that boy in “his domain” and that tiny little girl playing behind him. That is seriously so sweet – you must love that photo! Even though it’s not a professional photo or staged, I just love it! You can see how excited they are to have this outdoor place to explore! If I had the budget for landscaping I would not hesitate for a second. Love what you did and can’t wait to see the reveal!!

  21. For all of the work Pete put in and the killer design, the price seems super low! (Or does the $19K not include all of the labor? It is hard to tell.) It looks great and I think the real grass was the way to go!

  22. I totally get your need for real grass – my husband is the same way. I’m trying to sell him on an eco-lawn. Did you consider this? http://www.nwedible.com/how-and-why-to-make-an-eco-lawn/ (Not my blog just a site I like.)

    1. Thanks. I’d never heard of eco lawn. So basically it is a weedy lawn, that stays green? I like it!

    2. I’ve never heard an eco-lawn, thanks for the link! My front yard has 4 big oak trees so it is very shady and very root-y… basically it’s hard to keep grass looking nice. It’s all patchy and sad. I wonder if an eco lawn would help since I feel like clover should cover up the sad looking parts. Definitely going to look into this!

      1. I live in an area that frequently has water restrictions during the summer. When my husband and I re-landscaped our yard, we planted slow-growing, drought-tolerant grass seed. It’s fantastic. The “grass” seems to be mostly clover, which is nice because it’s pollinator-friendly (i.e. a great food source for native bees).

  23. totally jealous of your backyard! our old house had the english garden feel and it was such a dream to relax in with wine at the end of the day.

    check out my neighbor linda’s backyard. she used a company called Always Greener (http://www.agokc.com/) to do her front and back yards. It looks so amazing, people stop and feel it because they can’t believe it is fake! http://lindavater.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/DSCF9718-1024×768.jpg Best thing about AG? While based out of OKC, they have done projects in LA, too!

  24. shoot if you have the money to do I say go for it honey!! I can’t wait for the full reveal!! I can only imagine how gorg it’s gunna be!!

  25. I’m with the other commenter from Minnesota, except I’m in Iowa…..artificial grass just seems so strange to us! But, even though we go through dry periods, and even technically have actual droughts, we get enough snow/rain overall that we can have real grass. I have 1/2 an acre so cannot imagine anything but grass. I’m looking forward to your reveal! We just build a new house so we’re in an area with NO trees yet. We spent almost as much as you just getting sod, some plants, 2 smaller trees, and an irrigation system installed last year (1/2 acre is too much to haul around sprinklers!) , so your amount sure seems reasonable given the amount of plants you ended up with. Love the design so far!

  26. I have been thinking of an artificial lawn for my front yard for a long time. We live in what is considered desert, so it seemed responsible to do that. But now I am really conflicted about it because of my guilt over using an enormous plastic product that won’t ever biodegrade. There is no question I will keep my lawn in the backyard – we love it and use it all the time.

  27. Love this post. Great pictures. Excellent, specific information and a very realistic, if not hilarious, narrative. Love the bit about trees. Feel the same way in a “Certainly I’m crazy and no one else could possible understand my affliction,” sorta way. Ha! Absolutely love your blog… and the green grass… really 👍

  28. I appreciate water concerns but I think grass seems like the best choice- especially given the beautiful setting y’all are creating for your kids to play and explore. Who wants to picnic and roll around on turf? Also, I live in HOT Houston and two friends that installed turf had to subsequently install sprinklers to cool said turf because they and their pets couldn’t even walk on it. It seems you always try to make economically and environmentally thoughtful choices, so I wouldn’t sweat this choice. Can’t wait to see the full reveal!

  29. Love this post. Great pictures. Excellent, specific information and a very realistic, if not hilarious, narrative. Love the bit about trees. Feel the same way in a “Certainly I’m crazy and no one else could possible understand my affliction,” sorta way. Ha! Absolutely love your blog… and the green grass… really 👍

  30. I have been doing my own yard renovation, and been doing all of the labor myself, including hardscaping. There have been a few times when I seriously thought I was going to die or pass out from exhaustion! That bill looks totally reasonable, and also a nice thing to have in my back pocket for the next time my husband accuses me of plant hoarding.

  31. I’m happy to read you went with some native plants, having a lawn is necessary with kids and with some pets. Your back garden is beautiful.

  32. The beauty of real grass is that in drought it goes dormant and will come back. May not be nice to sit on, but at least it isn’t dead.

    Artificial grass is controversial. Sure grass takes water, gas to mow it and fertilizer, you can get a rechargeable mower and use organics to fertilize, so it does not have to be totally ungreen. Plus to have earthworms and robins on your grass and ants, bees and other crawlies is better than artificial.

    Killing the grass with Round up 3 times is what get me. Despite what the manufacturer says about it , the research proves otherwise. Those earthworms, bees, ants and crawlies in your weedy lawn are now dead. I’ve brought really shitty lawns back to life with organic matter, aeration, overseeding and the addition of clover which is soft and lovely and has flowers for the bees and the wild bunnies love it. I think your landscaper should have had the grass removed the way sod farms do.

    1. Totally agree, grass is controversial round here but better than plastic, etc., etc…

      Everything seemed totally ethical and kosher until I got to the Roundup part — it’s literally the worst thing in the world for nature and owned by the worst corporation that’s ruining the world — so that was sad. I would think that such a great landscaper would remove the sod in a wiser way.

      Also, I love all the details – as someone who insanely decided to landscape her own front yard DIY – (ask me where you can get rocks, mulch, & compost for free in LA) – but just to be super nit-picky, it doesn’t look like *that* many of the plants are actual CA natives. A handful, for sure.

    2. I was worried about the Round Up as well. I think if they make sure and leave the grass clippings on the yard, that will be a good start. The kids would probably enjoy vermicomposting as well, whereby the family recycles kitchen waste and gives to worms in a bin. They could then periodically have a “worm release,” as well as occasionally distributing the castings on the new lawn. I’m just glad they didn’t go with turf, which is unimaginable to me.

    3. Agree. Round up is dreadful for the environment.

      1. What? Roundup? Oh no…! That is a big NO!!! There is no way ever I would let someone dump this poison next to the playground of my children. Health over style any time, Emily.

        It ist interessting to see that Emily’s blogpost about trashbags got a lot of backlash- now most of the readers seem to be fine with astroturf that is basically sealing your garden with plastic.

        Except fot the Roundup part I’m loving the new garden. And I strongly support the new comment policy.

  33. Your backyard is sheer perfection for kids and so much design inspiration! I have to agree, grass is the only way to go with the littles. Artificial turf is nice if you have a little shade but it sure gets warm on the feet for kids. We’re in Southern California too and redoing our large backyard for our grand littles, 6 and 18 mos. We love your swing set design. Would you happen to have a general plan and where you purchased those materials? It’s such a nice, sturdy simple design. Thank you again so much for the detailed plant/tree/sod information, so incredibly helpful! Enjoy many, many happy times in your gorgeous backyard with the kids!

  34. You can’t play ball in a cactus garden! I live in the SoCal desert and had back lawn for my girls-because children need to play outside on something other than gravel! Now my daughters are a little older (10&12) we’ve replaced the back lawn with a pool and more minimal landscaping, but we still have some grass in the front, under the tree swing. Other than those two cents, I love the landscaping pics, price breakdown, blog. It looks beautiful!

  35. I am so sorry about your tree debacle. Where I live, a tree trimmer actually made newspaper headlines when he lopped off old trees at the TOP and people went ballistic (rightly so). After that news, I’ll always watch tree trimmers carefully.

  36. As an east coaster, I never imagined that people judged others for planting real grass. The more you know…

  37. For people doing the labor yourself, never underestimate hiring work out to high school/college guys. They have so much energy are are so much cheaper than a pro. We’ve had a 19 year old out this summer digging out a concrete wall and pond and filing it with sand. And a sweet 13 year old girl helping me with weeding and trimming plants. 100% worth the small cost.

  38. The garden looks lovely. I like all the choices for trees and plants. I am sure you and your family are making wonderful memories. as far as sod versus artificial turf,; everyone should do what works best for them and the style of their house.

  39. This is exciting! Looking forward to part 3. I’m sorry about the trees and am happy to see it is looking amazing now. I also think your reaction about the trees is completely normal and agree the real grass is so lovely for this. Living in a hot city you need to get all the nature you can!

  40. Oh, those trees would have made me cry, too. I do agree that in two years it will look fine, but holy Moses in the meantime. As for the expense, I love that you share the nitty gritty. It is definitely pricey, but you will never regret that investment! Plus, you live in a place where you’re truly outside all year round. You would have easily spent that much or more on an addition to a house, for example, and this is basically an extension of your home. Totally worth it. I can’t wait for the full reveal!

  41. Emily, thanks so much for sharing this story. I love to see projects like this on blogs, but most of them don’t address cost. How are we supposed to know if we, too, can have something as fabulous if we don’t know how much it cost? Let alone what was involved in the journey to the finished product. Honestly, for your area of the country, I was not shocked at the total cost; don’t get me wrong, that’s a lot of money, but as one astute reader noted, think of what you would have spent on an addition to the house. Then it doesn’t seem so bad. It was a great investment that will pay for itself in the joy you experience seeing your family use it. I like it that you are so honest about everything: why you chose to work with Pete, your devastating experience with your “gardener,” your care for the world in which we live, what steps you took, and all of the details. I am a Master Gardener and plant freak and I LOVED reading every bit of this. You did the right thing for the people who will be using the space – your family. It’s a good indication of how you deal with clients as well – good for you! I hope you really enjoy your new space.

  42. Also looking forward to the final post of this series ! It’s like a happy ending story with a really, really depressing beginning (still not over your butchered trees…).

    A post I would absolutely love would be about “basics for landscaping”. Your analysis on how to design for Californian drought was very informative for me, but I live in a place where I worry more about rot due to humidity. Very, very rainy climate. So I wondered if you and your gardener would consider sharing some advice, in a more general manner ? Like, do’s and don’t for every climate ?

  43. I am so excited to see your reveal post tomorrow! I am obsessed with the English country style garden and all the plants on your pinterest/mood board are so lovely! We bought our first house 1 year ago and I’m just starting to get into landscaping the yard.

    The previous tenants redid the landscaping to sell and overplanted EVERYTHING. Seriously, there are trees tucked into corners and places where they just don’t have the room to grow (like trees behind trees jammed up against fences). It seems like they might have planted and maybe had overestimated on their hibiscus count and just decided to plant them in any open spot left over. There are hibiscus bushes everywhere. It sounds like a great thing but it’s way too much.

    I know you mentioned you bought more plants than you needed so that it would look lush and full for your upcoming events and photoshoots. I was wondering, did you just buy more mature fully grown plants or did you actually fill in the extra space with extra plants? You might be going over this tomorrow but I was curious if you were going to need to remove some plants as they age and get larger.

    Can’t wait to see it!

  44. You picked some great trees and plants. I think this is going to be lovely and fun for your family. Be aware the evergreen shrubs and trees are likely to have nests in them so don’t prune during nesting season [another thing Arborists know but many landscapers do not.] I do think one lesson people can take from this is that you shouldn’t do this type of work on a tight schedule. I am replacing some really bad grass in my yard and did it by laying down heavy cardboard and several inches of two types of mulch. It will lay there from spring to fall and then get turned in. This is more environmental [the dirt is full of living being that while not cute and furry contribute to the health and well being of everything rooted in the soil] than grass killer. And if you had more time you might have hired a real Arborist who would have told you that those trees needed to be carefully pruned over several years to fix them without damaging them. We haven’t seen your results but the other thing that people do in my neighborhood when doing insta-landscaping is put plants too close together. In a few years they grow into a hopeless tangle and some must be removed, damaging the ones left.

  45. I’m in Oregon and we finished a full front and bark yard reno last fall that included a drip irrigation system and rock retaining walls. Our cost all in was about $26K, so your tab doesn’t seem all that outrageous in comparison.

    If I may make on suggestion for the grass, if you end up having to replace or redo it and don’t want to go the artificial turf route, look into ecolawn. It was developed to be highly drought tolerant once it’s established, doesn’t need fertilizer or have to be mowed as often. There are two varieties that have things like micro clover, english daisies, chamomile, etc, in addition to the grass seeds, so it would go perfectly with your english garden style.

    We’ve used it at two houses now and have several friends that replaced their old lawns with it and we all love it.

    Looking forward to part three tomorrow.

  46. I would never put in turf- I think plastic made from non-renewable petroleum products that will eventually end up in a landfill and never decompose, and then end up in the ocean where fish and turtles swallow it, is way worse for the environment than living grass. Not to mention when it does rain, the ground will happily absorb it rather than the water running off and flooding your beautiful house.

    That said, your existing grass looked completely fine in the before pictures from yesterday, with an irrigation system and some fertilizer it would have flourished. I would have just left the grass and trees alone (and would have totally fired the gardener who did that to your trees- I don’t know how you managed to forgive him), and planted some drought-resistant flowering perennials, like you did. But the resulting yard- and paths- look wonderful! What are strawberry trees?

    P.S. I am of the same opinion when it comes to real vs fake Christmas trees 🙂 It is hypocritical of companies that are selling you plastic shipped from China to claim that they are somehow eco-friendlier.

    1. Same thing happened to me when my husband decided to hire someone to trim my beautiful pommelo and plumeria trees. They were hacked. I couldn’t look at my backyard without feeling instant sadness. The shade that the trees offered, which I depended upon, for my 3 young kids, was just suddenly gone. So, I can relate.

      But, on a happy note – 2 years later, they are full, look wonderful and flower/bear fruit, just like before!

  47. Can you tell us a little more about that charming seating area in your garden?

  48. Is the cost breakdown just for the backyard? I believe you did do your front yard as well using the same vendors, so was just curious. Looks gorgeous!

  49. This is extremely helpful! Can you tell me the exact type of grass you decided to go with? need to choose grass soon. Thank you!!!

  50. Love this saga and can’t wait for the full reveal. When our youngest son went off to college, sadly, our family dog died a few months later. We decided that it was time to turn our large yard from boys/dog/treehouse/football field into a garden. We brought in a Japanese designer and he patiently held our hands through 9 months of boulders, flagstone terraces and paths, an on-site Bobcat, irrigation installation, the building of a recycling pond water feature, and outdoor lighting installation. The more he did, the worse our pathetic one-car/no door garage looked. So we took that down and put in a legit two-car garage that matches our 100 yo house. Hundreds of trees, shrubs, perennials, and ground covers later and I do believe we came in over $100K plus $50K for the garage. Yikes. Good thing we love it. And it’s undoubtedly added great value to our home.

  51. I would have absolutely put in real grass if my goal was to create a space for my kids to roam and run around on a frequent basis. I don’t know what goes into those artificial turfs, and what chemicals get released when it gets super hot in sunny CA. The research probably isn’t even out yet, and the US is way behind European standards for testing long term health effects of chemicals.

  52. Maybe it’s because I live in Marin County, but that seems like a totally reasonable amount for the scope and size of your project. People who read this who don’t live in California will think I am crazy for saying so. I got several bids for a backyard project that were closer to 40K and didn’t include half as much work or trees or plants. It was going to be some shrubs.

    I think it’s beautiful and I am glad that you have created such a special place.

    1. Same here. I met with a Landscape Designer here in the East Bay and she was quoting me around $60K for my backyard and it’s probably 1/4 of the size of Emily’s! I think to get a backyard like that for $30K seems like a deal!

    2. I’m in San Jose, and I agree. Our backyard redo last year cost over $50. We included a lot of hardscape which was expensive. And no grass for us—we put in an area of artificial turf in the shady part of the property. It looks great and we are very happy with it. The kiddos ride trikes and draw with chalk on the pavers and they DO play on the turf. We have a small climbing structure that we move around on it. I don’t miss the old grass AT ALL !

  53. DON’T FEEL BAD ABOUT THE GRASS! We have artificial turf in our front yard, we love it! It’s shocking how expensive it can be! Our small front yard was over 4K. It can get really hot though, so not the best play environment. Checkout my insta @rick0 for pics. We have dogs-not kids- and we put in the real stuff in the backyard for them and we don’t feel bad! Nothing compares to real grass to play on. We also put in concrete and a long gabion wall bench to use less grass. Your kids will love that yard for years! Can’t wait to see the reveal.

  54. We have 3 dogs in Portland, OR. We got turf and love it. I don’t have to mop muddy footprints anymore 3x per day. We did have to get our windows tinted because light reflections from windows can burn turf and void turf warranties…so double check with installers. We have real grass in the front for our son to play on that is a no dog zone.

  55. My heart breaks for you! I would be DEVASTATED if something like that happened to my trees! Uh 🙁 I totally sympathize. Trees have history and cannot be replaced or fixed in the way a rug or piece of furniture can be. And beyond that, they’re a living thing, so to have them brutalized is heartbreaking. I’m so sorry and I totally understand your tears!

  56. I really like this blog, gardening and love toward the nature can be seen in this blog.

  57. Such a great and informative post! Thank you for sharing all the pricing broken out and detailed. It is so helpful to those of us with future landscaping projects. Your yard is gorgeous!

  58. Love your designs! I can’t say enough how much I love your transparency in cost and sourcing! So many other bloggers/interior designers ignore price and sourcing questions. Including this type of information is one of the reasons why I continue to be a regular reader of your blog. It really helps engage the average person and it feels like you’re helping us know what we can afford. Thank you!

  59. I realize that I live in a country that never suffer from drought ( Norway), and that as such, I am probably not really allowed to say what I am about to say, but I was shocked to learn (after reading your post) that artificial turf has become common in private gardens! Are you (as a nation) not concerned about the environmental effect of spreading microscopic plastic particles ALL OVER THE PLACE? In Norway it has only been used in public sports areas, and even there it has lately been debated to stop using it an to start the cleaning up from the spreading of the infill granules. It made me very sad to read that plastic covered ground has become so widely spread.

    1. I have the same thoughts, Margarethe. Considering the backlash Emily received for her trashbag blog post I’m puzzled that so many readers endorse artificial turf.

  60. As a plant nerd, I loved seeing the species list, but PLEASE be aware Stipa tenuissima is now considered an invasive species and you should really remove all 20 (!) plants. Your landscaper made a big mistake there and should replace them on his own dime, IMHO.

    It would be nice to see a detailed planting plan. You shared the original proposal but not the final, right?

  61. The first thing that Pete wanted to lock down were the large trees to ground everything and help create zones. Trees are like the walls of a backyard. He kept sending us photos of beautiful trees he picked out for us, but ultimately I needed to see them in person

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