Grass is a high maintenance landscaping choice with very little payoff. You spend all week watering it so that you can spend all weekend mowing it. Just doesn’t make sense. And aesthetically, it’s ho-hum boring.
My lawn had also become an all you can eat buffet for gophers. I needed to get rid of both.
The design inspiration for this backyard makeover, since I happen to live in the city, was a concrete urban garden. I love rambling country gardens but I also happen to love the hardscaping in malls and industrial parks. So my thought was to combine a bit of both—modern concrete with bright, colorful flowering plants.
Because this is arid California, I wanted to use plants with low water requirements. I also wanted to keep the cost down by staying away from underground sprinklers, water features, gas or electric lines, or anything that would require a permit. And of course I wanted to do most of the work myself.
So now I’m going to show you the before and after photos, then I’m going to go through all the steps it took to get there. At the end there will be more after photos.
My backyard was a sea of grass surrounded by mismatched walls. A real snoozefest.
The new concrete backyard has walkways, sitting areas and flowerbeds surrounded by my signature purple walls. The color scheme is purple, blue, pink and white. Vibrant and alive!
Concrete backyard makeover step by step
Tore out the lawn
The first thing I did was to remove the grass. This took about three weeks with just me, a shovel and two pairs of gloves.
Here’s how it looked when I was done.
Created a landscape design drawing
I hired a landscape architect to design the new concrete backyard keeping these things in mind:
Gopher and termite resistant
Fencing around air conditioner and trash cans
Space for relaxing and entertaining
Herb and vegetable gardens
Low water plants
Color, color, color!
I ended up making a few changes to the plan as I went along.
Installed concrete pavers and gravel
This phase was one I couldn’t do on my own due to the size and weight of the 24″ x 24″ concrete pavers. You can read the details here.
When the work was finished it looked like this.
The rest of the gravel work I did on my own after planting the trees.
Painted concrete walls and planted trees
This was essential to bring color and uniformity to the walls. I painted them myself then planted trees, and here’s the end result.
Made a fence to hide garbage cans
I’d never made a fence before but I figured it out. I like the look of the galvanized steel.
Created flowerbeds and finished graveling
I went to Home Depot and got 4″ x 2″ x 8″ gray concrete bricks to outline the flowerbeds. They cost 29 cents apiece.
I used a level, tape measure and wood boards to keep the lines going straight. It was really tedious because if you start veering off the slightest little bit, by the end it’s way off.
And as much as I tried to avoid it, some of the bricks had to be cut. I learned how to do that using a hammer and chisel by watching YouTube videos.
As I was outlining the flowerbeds I also installed the rest of the weed block. When each section was done I spread gravel around.
I moved all that gravel, five yards worth, using nothing but a five gallon paint bucket.
Bought patio furniture and umbrellas
The backyard started coming to life when I put the furniture in. I got it from Walmart.com, their Mainstays collection. I was really happy to find this shade of blue which just happens to match my house! The furniture is very sturdy and sleek.
The umbrellas were from Amazon. I really agonized over this decision. The original plan called for sail shades which would have been ultra modern but turned out to be way too expensive.
Then I considered a canvas patio cover and that was also much more than I wanted to spend. So I ended up with these umbrellas because I like the offset design and the solar lights. Oh, those solar lights are magical at night!
Here’s what I did to make the umbrellas look more like a permanent installation. I buried them under the gravel with four heavy tiles weighting down the stand. Altogether they weigh around 100 pounds. The tiles came from Home Depot.
Planted the flowerbeds
Along the side of the garage I planted herbs: oregano, thyme, chives, basil and cilantro. The vegetable garden in front of the trash can fence has lettuce, yellow squash, flat leaf parsley and jalapeños, along with some pansies for color.
I’ve already been harvesting the lettuce and squash, but the parsley and jalapeños are taking much longer to come in.
The other flowerbeds are planted with flowering trees, shrubs, annuals and ground cover.
Installed solar lights as hose guards
Added a fire pit/BBQ
A fire pit was not part of the original plan but I needed to put something in the center of the patio. Having one makes the backyard an inviting place to hang out at night.
Besides being super affordable, the design adds a funky touch to the decor. You might have noticed I’m all about celestial art, so I was drawn to the cutout stars and moons. The color ties in with the rusty bougainvillea trellis and the cinnamon colored bark on my crapemyrtle trees.
And another really great thing is that it’s also a functioning grill!
Added a garden trellis as a focal point
Every room needs a focal point and outdoor rooms are no different. I couldn’t resist this freestanding trellis when I saw it and knew it would be perfect. Naturally I had to Lynda-fy it with color and bling. Read all about that here.
And that brings us to the end of the project after months of planning and labor. The total cost was just under $13,000 but would have easily been three times that much if I hadn’t done most of the work myself.
Now let’s take another look around my brand new backyard.