For the past six months the big project around here has been landscaping. Its been labor intensive and expensive, but the final product has been completely worth it. So let’s dig right in….here is our house in November of last year (at this point we had been living in it for about three months).
Our property is slightly sloped, so drainage is something we needed to address, and Adam and I also wanted a lawn. Real legitimate grass…not something that comes easy in hot, dry, rocky Texas. Most of the property we want to leave wild and not maintain at all, but right up next to the house it needed to be green and safe for the kids to play in. So we came up with a plan.
We decided build retaining walls and put grass from the front porch to the driveway, and the backyard would get grass in the courtyard area between the master bedroom and garage. We would have liked for the backyard area to be a bit bigger, but extending it out further would have encompassed a lot of trees. If you bring the soil level up too much around trees it will eventually kill them, which means we would have to build a separate retaining wall around them and keep the ground at its natural level. Instead we just made a nice straight line and cut down the two trees that were inside the wall.
After getting some quotes for the retaining walls we found a guy that agreed to do the rock work for $1,200, which was less than 1/6 the price we had quoted from a professional company. For the backyard he poured a footer before building the wall, since it was gong to be about 3 feet tall.
The front wall was a little simpler since it’s less than a foot high.
Next we set out to execute our best idea yet (I can’t decide if that’s sarcasm or not) of filling up the area behind the wall with rocks from around our property. Fill dirt is crazy expensive around here, plus our property is chock full of rocks (aka ankle breakers) that we would like to get rid of. So we bought this cart (best purchase ever) and got to work.
And for months, literally, we filled the backyard one rock at a time.
Eventually we ran out of patience and hired a tractor to bring in dirt and finish the job for us. I would have liked to get more rocks off our property, but more than that I wanted to be able to be able to let the kids outside without having them navigate over boulders to get to the trampoline. Also, summer was fast approaching and we needed to get sod installed before it got too hot.
Y’all, crappy fill dirt has never looked so good. We called it “safety dirt” and it severely lowered my mom anxiety about letting my toddler tag along with his older brothers outdoor adventures.
It feels like this is where I should say “then we installed sod and everything was wonderful”…but that’s not true. There were still a few issues we had to address, mostly in the backyard.
First we needed drainage. We priced getting gutters before starting the landscaping, but the quotes came back at about $4,000 so we decided to skip them for now and put that money toward starting the landscaping. We still needed to do something with all the water that comes off the roof though…it doesn’t rain all that often around here, but when it does its fairly intense.
So we dug down to where the drainage pipes were installed in the wall and added flexible tubing and drains. One drain went near the wall and the other went across that backyard to catch water as it came off the roof. Adam installed three of these where future downspouts will go, so that if we do get gutters we can easily tie them in and move all that water directly to the other side of the wall.
We then hired the tractor guy to come back and spread topsoil, since shoveling dirt for weeks on end sounded worse than handing over more money.
Then it was time for the sprinkler system. We learned from our last house that there is no point in installing grass in a hot dry climate if you don’t have a sprinkler system. You can’t hand water it enough to keep it from frying in the summer. Luckily our friend Darin (the one that is on this house building journey with us) happens to do sprinkler systems for a living, and he did the design, ordered supplies, and helped us with installation. Thanks goodness for friends, right?
So here is the front yard design –
and the back yard –
Then he and Adam spent an entire day installing it all. My job was to fetch tools, move dirt around, take care of babies, and take pics for the blog. Tools were fetched, dirt was moved, babies were tended too…but I only managed to take one lousy photo the whole day. Fail.
After everything was installed we covered it up with topsoil and it was like that day never happened.
THEN (I’m tired just reading this) it was finally time for sod. We ordered seven pallets of Palisades Zoyzia, which a great grass. It is tolerant to heat and drought, does well in sunny and shady areas, and requires little maintenance or mowing. My kinda grass. (I just spent way to long trying to force a “I like my grass like I like my men joke, but I just couldn’t make it happen. Ah well.)
Now, the moment that was six months in the making…
Grass! Soft, pretty, flat grass … without rocks. My boys are in heaven.
The steps might be my favorite part though, they turned out really well.
I plan to put flower beds behind the wall (probably next spring), but for now I just need to clear all the debris away for when the boys inevitably fall/jump/get pushed off.
The sprinkler system is by Rain Bird and it is amazing.
It has a fancy control panel on the side of the house and you can set it to water on a schedule…and it even has an app so you can control it from your phone.
The sprinkler heads are adjustable and get the water only where you need it, they are able to soak our entire yard and hardly get a drop on the porches.
In the front yard we also created a walkway from the driveway to the door.
Adam and I spent forever debating on how to do this walkway. You see, there was this one little problem…
I mean, that tree…could it BE any more in the way? (I was channeling my inner Chandlier Bing there). We seriously considered cutting it down so we could have a straight path, but in the end we decided to keep the tree and work around it.
Here is the before photo, for reference (also, does anyone know how to get a stain out of concrete? Nothing is working.)
The actual pathway is made of decomposed granite, and we used this aluminum edging material. The whole goal with the pathway was to keep it simple and easy to maintain…our front walkway at the old house needed a ton of maintenance and I’m not doing that again.
Here is a before and after from the same angle –
In the front yard we still have lots of landscaping to do, but once again it will have to wait till next year. I plan to put flower beds between the wall and the driveway, plus the left if the house is a bit of a mess.
This is where most of the water drains when it rains, so we plan to put a river/dry creek bed area with lots of landscaping around it. This should also help the lawn look like less of a random green patch and more like part of and overall landscape design.
Okay, now for the numbers….here is how much this little project cost.
- labor for retaining walls – $1,200
- materials for wall (stone, slabs, sand, concrete, etc.) -$600
- cheap fill dirt + delivery – $750
- topsoil + delivery – $850
- tractor work – $600
- irrigation and drainage supplies – $1,600
- sod – $1,400
Total – $7,000
If we had hired it all out it would have been probably three times as much, so overall all the work was worth it (I can say that now that it is finally over, midway through I might have had a different answer). Even though we saved a lot, $7,000 is a lot of money and we’ve pretty much blown our home improvement budget for the next few months. Hopefully this means we can finish up some of the things we already have materials for and I can catch up on blog posts for things we have already finished.