backyard makeover after photo

Concrete backyard makeover

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.

Before photos

My backyard was a sea of grass surrounded by mismatched walls. A real snoozefest.

After photos

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.

backyard with grass removed

Backyard after digging out grass

Created a landscape design drawing

I hired a landscape architect to design the new concrete backyard keeping these things in mind:

Backyard landscape drawing with concrete pavers

Backyard landscape drawing with concrete pavers

Modern design
Gopher and termite resistant
Weed control
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.

24" concrete patio pavers installed

Patio pavers installed

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.

concrete walls painted purple

Concrete walls painted purple

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.

DIY garbage can fence made from roofing panels

DIY garbage can fence made from roofing panels

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.

outlining flowerbeds with concrete bricks

Outlining flowerbeds with concrete bricks

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.

The photos below show the addition of an air conditioner fence and a small privacy screen.

I moved all that gravel, five yards worth, using nothing but a five gallon paint bucket.

A mountain of gravel in my driveway

A mountain of gravel in my driveway

Bought patio furniture and umbrellas

The backyard started coming to life when I put the furniture in. I got it from, 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.

New patio furniture and umbrellas

New patio furniture and umbrellas

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!

Umbrella with solar lights at night

Umbrella with solar lights 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.

my vegetable garden

My small vegetable garden with lettuce, parsley, jalapeños and yellow squash

The other flowerbeds are planted with flowering trees, shrubs, annuals and ground cover.

Installed solar lights as hose guards

I got these wonderful color changing solar lights to put in the corners of the flowerbeds. They were installed in a way that also makes them work as hose guards.

hose guard from solar light

Hose guard from solar light

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.

fire pit in center of patio

The fire pit doubles as a grill

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.

A picture tour of the new concrete backyard

6 replies
  1. Erick
    Erick says:

    Very nice project, I’d like to do something similar with pavers like those,where they pricey because of being custom ordered?,also could you share the info on the landscape architect.

    Thank you.

    • [email protected]
      [email protected] says:

      Hi Erick, yes the pavers were more expensive because they’re a higher grade and more durable than what’s offered in the hardware store.

      As for the landscape architect, I cannot recommend working with this person so I’m not going to publish the name. I would, however, suggest looking on yelp for designers who are well-established with lots of good reviews. And expect to pay $500 to $1,500 just for a drawing.

      Hope that’s helpful and good luck with your project.

  2. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    You are officially my new hero. This is inspiring. I live in a townhouse in Seattle with a back yard/ patio that consists of one 5 year old maple, a pretty nice Japanese maple a 10×10 concrete grid and a moat of rocks surrounding it. I’ve been wanting to paint my ugly privacy fence metallic gold ( on the inside ) and the concrete grass green, replace the rocks with tiny flat stones, put in some no-maintenance native plants, get a big, pink, off-set umbrella, make a doggie bathroom box and call it good.
    This design is so bold and your colors are nuts and I love it. I’m going for it.

  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    That was amazing! Thank you for sharing. Can you tell me where you bought the concrete pavers? Do they come in different sizes? I’d like to do something similar, but with rectangles.

    • [email protected]
      [email protected] says:

      Thanks, Chris! The pavers came from South Coast Supply in Los Alamitos (562-596-6666). They had to be special ordered. I don’t know what other sizes they may have. You’ll have to check with them.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.