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How I Rebuilt My Entire Backyard and How You Can Too!
If you’re an idiot that is.

If you’ve ever bought a house you know the two main things that will sell you on it are the kitchen and the bathroom. Those are the areas we are told time and time again a homeowner will always get their investment back on.  That and an actual living gnome in the garden who acts out The Sound of Music every weekend.  That’s an investment you’ll never lose on.

So when, 12 years ago, my real estate agent brought me to see an historic 160 year old cottage in Southwest Ontario I couldn’t wait to see the kitchen and the bathroom.  I was hoping for a restaurant style kitchen and a bathroom with a dual head, rainforest shower.

Much to my surprise, when we arrived at the house my real estate agent didn’t take me in the front door. Instead she said we’d go in the back door. To do this we had to pass through a gated arbour at the side of the house covered in climbing roses. It led to the nicest backyard I had ever seen in my life.  Aside from the super-cute courtyard backyard Barbara Ryan had on As The World Turns in 1984.  (obviously)

The entire backyard was paved with beautiful dark grey slate. Not a blade of grass in sight. There was a natural looking pond in the back corner by a very cute potting shed. The entire space was framed by huge handmade cedar planters that bordered the whole backyard. Birds were singing, fish were swimming, fuzzy caterpillers with big smiling face were looking up at me and winking.   It was perfect. Within 30 seconds of looking at the backyard, I had mentally bought the house.

In case you’re wondering, the kitchen and bathroom hadn’t been updated since 1940 and there was a mouse skeleton in the ultility room.  I didn’t care.  I had a fetching backyard in which to throw garden parties.  (I knew I would never, ever throw a garden party but I liked the notion that if I wanted to, I could)

just starting to pull apart pond. stupid.

Fast forward to March of 2007.   The stunning slate had deteriorated to the point of mush, the planters surrounding the backyard were rotted and falling down and my pond had a leak which the fish weren’t too fond of.   Even the birds had taken a hike.  Literally every single thing that initially sold me on this house had turned into a great big load of crap at the same time.  It’s like it was on a timer or something.

So … being a fairly handy and incredibly cheap kind of gal, I figured I could do something about it myself. Heck, I used to host a show that had the word “Handyman” in the title … I was MORE than qualified. I figured I could fix this sucker up in no time.   3  weeks maximum.  Maybe 4 if I took it at a leisurely pace.

It took longer. And there was nothing leisurely about it.

Along with being cheap, part of the reason I decided to do this little project myself was because of an incident from a few years back. I needed a section of my fence replaced so I called around for someone to fix it. Shouldn’t be problem, right? Easy enough job. Pretty basic. Here’s what I ran into. At least 8 companies that didn’t have time to do it, 2 companies who just didn’t show up and one guy who politely did show up, and was courteous enough to bring his own booze.

The fellows I did end up hiring (because they actually showed up and appeared to be sober) ended up building my section of fence 6 inches shorter than the rest of the fence and nailed it together with nails so long they protruded by 2 inches on the other side.  I was the girl with the porcupine fence.  Suffice it to say, that’s around the time I decided by become handy(er).

square-cut flagstone

So in the very early spring of 2007 I started planning. I decided I wanted my new backyard to go from looking cozy and naturalistic to something a little more contemporary. Sleeker. I needed a new stone “floor”, new planter beds and a new pond. I wanted to use a manmade stone product instead of the slate, in the hopes it wouldn’t flake, crack and basically rot away to nothing. Slate has a tendancy to do poorly in my area of Canada because of all the freezing and thawing. It’s made of many shaley layers that just fall apart over time.

Problem is, no one makes a manmade stone that had the look and size I wanted. So, I ended up choosing a dark grey square cut flagstone. It was small enough for me to handle (athough each piece was still over 20 pounds) and came in the rectangular shape I wanted. Going with flagstone ended up tripling the cost of my backyard.  That’s what’s known as “unforeseen costs”.  Turns out my flagstone was coming from India, so that quadrupled my timeline.  That’s what’s known as “sucking”.  They were running on a decidedly more casual pace in India so it took reallllyyyy long to get the stone.

By the way, if you’re doing a largish job by yourself, you have every right to ask your supplier for a contractor’s discount. I got 20% off my flagstone which was a huge savings.

While I waited for the flagstone to show up, there was the matter of ripping every single thing out of the backyard and taking it to the dump. I pulled out every piece of slate, planter bed and all of the huge landscaping rocks surrounding my pond. By myself. Like an idiot. (my 6’4” fella had JUST had shoulder surgery and couldn’t help me with anything) I’m not sure how, but I believe he planned this.  Actually, that’s a bit of a lie.  He did help me, broken shoulder and all move the huge boulders.  I was afraid if I told you he helped me move the boulders you’d assume he helped me with other stuff too.  He didn’t.  I did it all myself.  Like a dumb-dumb.

And just think ... this is only one corner of the backyard you can see.

It was approximately the time this photo was taken that I started to think this was a bad idea.  The one positive was that I had made a new friend in the form of a chipmunk who crawled all over me, but I was sore, tired and not at all sure about how to do any of this. And my pal Chippy wasn’t any help.  Mostly he ate like a pig and watched me.

I had ripped my entire backyard apart with not much of a plan. Enter the Internet.  Even though the Internet lies, if you properly research and cross reference you can actually learn how to do stuff from it.  I didn’t have a clue how to do any of this.  But I  knew I wanted a new backyard and I knew I wasn’t gonna pay someone else to do it.  So I researched, jumped in and gave it a shot.  I taught myself to juggle.  I could teach me myself how to build planter beds and lay a patio.

I housed my fish in a kiddie pool while I rebuilt my pond. I figured it would take 4 days. It took about 2 weeks. I had to redig the pond, build a wooden box to act as a rectangular form, line it and level it all. To be perfectly honest with you, the hardest thing about doing this backyard wasn’t the physical labour, it was the mental.   (insert Karen’s dumb joke here) Trying to figure out angles, and slopes and grades to make sure the flagstone was laid in such a way the rainwater would drain away from the house and the pond would be level and … holy crap.  It made that soft spongey thing in my skull hurt.

big bone i dug up. ick.

Oh! And while digging my pond I found some kind of a femur.  Did I mention the femur?  Uch. I put it back where I found it and banished it from my mind until this very moment.

After completing the pond the flagstone still hadn’t arrived so I started building new planter beds. Much sleeker than the original ones, stained in a dark grey the same colour as my flagstone. By the way, if you ever plan on doing anything at all with wood, invest in a good sliding compound miter saw. It’s a girl’s best friend. I borrowed my sister’s at the time.  I now own my own.    I call her Sally.

The planter beds were finished and still no flagstone so I began lugging in the screenings to level the backyard. I would say I lugged and dumped approximately 3 yards of screenings. For those of you who don’t know how much that is … it’s enough to make you very, very cranky. Finally after weeks of waiting, my flagstone showed up and I cut and laid all 800 pieces of it. My backyard was done.

Looking back at what I’ve written here it seems like doing the backyard was pretty simple and straightforward.  It wasn’t.   If anyone had told me how much work this would have been I would never, ever, ever, ever have done it. I would have rolled out a bunch of  Astroturf and called it a day. Would I recommend anyone else do this? It depends on how cheap you are and how much time you have on your hands.  And how prone to nervous breakdowns.

My backyard cost me about $6,000 for materials. It would have been at least $15,000 plus materials for someone else to do it.   I would charge one bazillion dollars to do it for someone else. A day.  One bazillion dollars a day.

I originally calculated it would take 21 days to complete my project. It took 127 days of working a minimum of 12 hours a day. I can tell you it’s a lot easier to host a handyman show than to be a full time handyman.  I can also tell you I will never move from this house. Unless the backyard falls apart again.

The Before Gallery … (click on picture for full sized photo):

Pond before

cleaning the muck. yuck.

I made the pond form out of wood. Created 2 depths for interest for the fish and pond plants.

I built the waterfall around the pond with the useable leftover pieces of slate from the backyard. Bit of a struggle. Reduce, reuse, reanger.

See that big pile of dirt and rocks behind me? That's what I had to dig out to enlarge the pond. By hand.

bone

And this'd be the other side of that bone I found while digging the pond. I also found a few shards of pottery.

after the pond was done, i ripped out the planter beds and levelled and straightened the ground beneath for my new planter beds. I also needed room between the dirt & planters for a drill to fit.

Again with the clearing out the planter beds and dirt. You may notice the half-assed smile. That's about all I could manage by this point. it was also around this point I noticed big, mean knots forming in my shoulders.

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

To help support the planter beds I cut rebar and hammered it into the ground behind the planters. I then secured the bars to the back of the beds with metal clamps. Made this technique up. Still holding up 3 years later.

Using the miter saw to cut the planters. You may notice I am not wearing safety glasses. This is bad. You should wear them. I should wear them. But they're all HUGE on me and end up falling off my face. Plus they don't look cute in pictures.

Chippy not being helpful.

Normally you would have to pack the ground beneath your patio stones to compact it, but because mine had already been compacted from the previous slate it didn't need to be done. I just leveled the backyard with screenings and compacted by hand a little.

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

Levelling the flagstone to make sure I have the proper grade to drain away from the house.

Mmm ... not a lot of time for makeup when you're building a backyard. Side note - natural stone is all different thicknesses. That means each and every stone you place has to be individually levelled. This adds hours and hours onto the time it takes to lay it.

At this point I'm getting close enough to the end of the job that I can actually manage a real smile. Also I'm slightly delirious.

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

The After Gallery … (click on photo for full size)

Overview. Still need to paint the potting shed grey or greyish green.

Another angle. The endtable is a pot with glass on it by the way.

Eating area. For eating stuff. Like burgers.

wider view of side view so you can see planter beds better.

View of pond from eating area. where we eat burgers.

Lookin' down on eating area.

pond

waterfall at night

waterfall at night ... again.

waterfall again. i like my waterfalls.

lounge area

lounger. for lounging. i don't often use the loungers.

made the planter beds with a lip on them. rope lighting is hidden underneath so the planters all glow under there at night.

see? like this.

another shot of the lounge chairs that are rarely used.

there's that planter from Homesense ($18) and an old glass table top.

pond at night - photo courtesy of Joel Reynolds

Lighting is a big thing for me. Inside and outside. Waterfall is lit, planter beds are underlit, the umbrella is lit, there are brackets with lanterns, candles and standing lamps. Everything on timers.

the end.

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

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210 Comments | Filed Under: Outdoor |

210 Responses to How I Rebuilt My Entire Backyard and How You Can Too!
If you’re an idiot that is.

  1. Tricia Rose says:

    My goodness Karen, YOU DID ALL THAT YOURSELF!? It looks wonderful, so stylish and FINISHED, right down to accessories.

    You are a girl of many parts. Now go and rest them, and get the knots out of your shoulders.

    (Now I know why you have a chip on your shoulder)

  2. Crikey. The yard didn’t look so big in the first lot of pictures but by the end I can see how much work you must have put in. The pic of the chipmunk just about made be fall off my seat! so cute. The results look so pretty btw

  3. Liz says:

    Oh it looks gorgeous.

    That picture of Chippy is the kind of picture a person only wishes they could take. Do you still see him from time to time?

    • Karen says:

      Oh boy … do I have some stories about Chippy. I’ll be writing about Chippy in the near future! Oh, Chippy. I love that picture of Chippy too! It was completely dumb luck getting it. I have another Chippy picture where he looks completely drunk. I”ll use it in the “Chippy” post I write later. Hilarious.

  4. susan says:

    This is crazy lovely! Awe-inspiring, too. I’d say more but really kinda wordless in my profound admiration of your vision and accomplishment. Kudos!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Susan! It was a couple of years ago, but I’m still pretty tired from it. In fact .. I may need a nap right now.

  5. Amy says:

    WOW WOW WOW. I love to hear about other women doing their hard work too. I use to live in a 1926 bungalow and it was all the time in need of work. We were under the house, ripped down walls, in the attic, refinished wood floors and installed colums and completely redid the fireplace, bathrooms and kitchen. Then we sold it.

  6. morgen says:

    That was an amazing story! I can’t believe you did all that work. What in incredible back yard you built! xoMorgen

  7. Sherry (BTLover2) says:

    I basically read that post and looked at your photos with my mouth agape. I’m nearly speechless (nearly). I don’t know how you manage to do all that work yourself and have it be so breathtaking in the end. It’s right out of a magazine. I could use some help in my yard — what is your schedule?

  8. Langela says:

    Stunning, Karen! My back hurts just hearing about the process. BTW, I like the potting shed that color. And I love that photo of Chippy with the peanut! How nice to have company while doing all that work.

  9. Corinne says:

    Um, are you wearing CROCS?

    • Karen says:

      SHUT UP!!! SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! Yes. I am. They were the easiest things to get on and off in a hurry. SHUT UP!

  10. Yen says:

    Absolutely gorgeous. I cannot wait to find our first home and put these tips into practice!! Thank you!!

  11. Tickled Red says:

    I am just going to come out and say it…you put my lazy no good bum to shame. I have a backyard that needs an overhaul due to the beast living in there digging his way to china. I always look at it and think “there is no way I can do this on my own”. Well I guess I was just proved wrong. Now I will look at it at think “hells bells no more excuses” :) You did a great job by the way and I would pay you a bazillion dollars a day for work that stunning.

  12. princess lala says:

    You are seriously inspiring & I totally love having my coffee and enjoying your website! Good job as usual. thanks!

  13. You. Are. Insane.

    Also, I want a chipmunk. Or a squirrel. Ya know, something fuzzy, small, and squeaky… Adorable.

  14. Karen says:

    Wow, looks like something out of Sunset Mag! What a beautiful oasis you created. Now, go lay down and take some Advil. It made my back hurt just to look at those photos of you heaving big heavy stuff.

    • Karen says:

      Hee. Thanks Karen! I actually had to go see a massage therapist for only the 2nd time in my life after doing the backyard. In fact someone who was booked up took me as an “emergency” because I was walking all sideways and hunched up. LOL. Oh … the stupidity.

  15. Preet says:

    I think they should send you to the Gulf of Mexico to fix BP’s problems, because clearly there is nothing you can’t do!

    • Karen says:

      Hah! Thanks Preet. If you agree to help me understand why I’m the only self employed person I know who always has to pay the full 25% in taxes, I’ll agree to go fix the oil leak! Deal? Plus I’ll throw in a potted plant for you and your girlfriend.

      • Preet says:

        I can do that. I can so do that.

        Someone mentioned this, and I’m passing it on ‘cuz it’s funny: The big motor companies finally figured out how to get a car to run on water. Fill the water with oil.

  16. Kathy says:

    OMG your yard is beautiful!! Hope you don’t mind, but I may take some of your ideas for our new back courtyard that we will build soon. You have given me the inspiration! The rope lighting around the planters…GENIUS!!! Chippy is adorable. Thanks for sharing! I am having so much fun since I found your blog!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks! Oh heck! Steal away. I have a lot more helpful tips and tricks I’m going to post throughout the summer. Smart things in the backyard I bet you didn’t even notice! ;)

  17. karen says:

    i do believe that your biceps get noticeably bigger throughout the photo diary. Awe-inspiring!

    love, flabby karen

  18. Terri-Lynn says:

    for real, you look just like my mom in the title picture! omg!

  19. Laura says:

    you are my HERO!!! I love your yard and I love that you did it all by yourself. I, too, have a partner that is often injured at just the right time….for him.

  20. Lea says:

    Awesome job! I’d ask you to come to Finland and fix our garden for us, but I’m afraid we’re a few bazillion short right now.

    • Karen says:

      No problem! Lemme know when you’ve saved up half a bazillion and we’ll talk. By the way I just watched the Lost video on your Home Page. Thanks for making me start by day by bawling uncontrollably into my coffee. I miss LOSSSSSTTTTT. :( *sniff*

  21. kasia says:

    I haven’t even finished the post, and I am CRYING and Laughing so hard at that chipmunk photo! The comments previous to it had not prepared me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Ok, get a grip. I’m fine now. On to finish the rest of the post…

    :) thanks for the laugh!

    • Karen says:

      Kasia – Glad you enjoyed the Chippy photo! I’ll be doing a post on Chippy later in the season that will include many more flattering shots of my little nymph.

      • Louisa says:

        Did you ever do this chippy post? I did a search and couldn’t find it. From what I’ve read and what you’ve said about your response times, I’ll have to wait a year or longer to receive a response, right? ;)

        • Karen says:

          Louisa! Oh NO! You won’t have to wait a year for the response … just a year for the post. :) No. Haven’t done Chippy post yet. There was a slightly traumatizing event last summer re: Chippy. I’ll be sure to tell all about it in … the near future … Heh. ~ karen

  22. Shauna Wobeser says:

    WOW!! Inspiration to get my butt away from the computer to do my own yard!! Well, after I’m done reading more of your stuff of course! But you commented that your fella didn’t help after the boulders, but there sure are a lot of pictures with you in them….did he help with that? Not nearly the help you were looking for I’m sure! Beautiful yard!!

  23. Brittney says:

    Gorgeous!! I love all of the lighting. I think it makes it look so nice. Everything looks so sleek and modern, I bet you guys love it!

    • Karen says:

      Yes, we do love it! I wish I knew how to “relax”. Then I could actually enjoy it. Maybe I could take classes in lounging.

  24. ann says:

    Un. Flippin. Believeable. That’s one gorgeous yard.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you! I try very hard to rock. It’s quite exhausting actually. My new goal is to not rock ’cause that’s infinitely more relaxing.

  25. Jen says:

    This is amazing. Congratulations.
    Our beautiful yard was ruined last summer when we had heavy equipment drive through for an extension to our house. Every day I look out our super new floor to ceiling wall of windows at a wasteland (that used to be a lovely garden).
    You are inspiration to get off my butt and get out there!
    Thanks.

  26. Amber W. says:

    This. Is. Amazing!!! Not only is the end product breath-taking and refreshingly modern (but not sterile), but I admire how much time you spent making sure you did it right! The waterfall and lighting is my favorite. GREAT JOB!!!

  27. carole says:

    You did a fantastic job! And what a great place to relax (now that you can).

    Since we do all of our remodeling work ourselves, I love seeing stuff like this. :-)

    We own five acres and there are things that will always need to be done, but way up on my list is to remove the make shift back porch (previous owner) and build a cozy area around the house.

    “and there was a mouse skeleton in the ultility room”

    Boy, could I tell stories about our kitchen remodel…..lol

    • Karen says:

      Pftt! I guess by the sounds of it, a mouse skeleton wasn’t so bad. :) 5 acres! You’d never be done. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever could you be done. Big job! On the upside, I’m sure you never get bored. Or rested. :/

  28. I am so impressed! My fiance and I dug up a 30×12 ft space in our side yard and installed 6 pallets of concrete pavers for a patio. I feel your pain. Moving 11 tons of dirt and gravel is no good. I would never have been able to do it solo, so you are my new home renovation goddess! So glad I found your site, I will browsing all day I’m sure!

    • Karen says:

      Sara! Thanks for visiting my blog. In exchange … I went to visit yours! You did a great job on your patio. I had the same feeling of “will it withstand the winter” that you did. :) Oh … and why not spray paint your red vase, white? It’d look great. Of course … I pretty much think everything looks better spray painted white.

  29. dianna says:

    Wowzer, what an amazing job youv’e done. Excellant, it looks so lovley.
    Well done to you. Enjoy it now x

    • Karen says:

      Hey Dianna! Thanks for the compliments! I’ll enjoy the backyard when everything else is done. Which is code for I’ll never actually enjoy the backyard.

  30. Cielo says:

    Increible!!!!!!!!! inspiring and incredible well designed.. im about to start my own paradise like yours in mexico! welcome to come!!!!!!! enjoy it for all of us please!!!!!!

    • Karen says:

      Well I may just visit! My mother would come for sure! She loves Mexico. I’ve never been. I’m too busy rebuilding yards and stuff! :) When your paradise is done email me pictures! (the contact request is at the top of the website.)

  31. sandra says:

    love your new backyard!

  32. Alice says:

    Wow.. You are like super woman! I LOVE the chipmunk photo too! He was definitely chowing down those peanuts. Gorgeous!

    • Karen says:

      Super-duper-dumb woman is more like it! Wow. I’ll never do that again. No way, no how! Glad I did it the once though. Even if it was just to meet Chippy. :)

  33. Monique says:

    I saw your story on Design Sponge and I had to visit your site. Wow! You are amazing. Beautiful job on your backyard. I’d never leave it if I put in all that time and labor.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Monique. I appreciate you hopping over from Design Sponge! I’m actually answering my comments section in my backyard right now! Thanks again.

  34. Luka says:

    Wow! If I had a bazillion dollars I’d hire you. Looking forward to the Chippy post.

  35. Evalyn says:

    Wow Karen! You’re such a great inspiration for me!! I am a single woman that takes pride in doing a lot of diy projects myself. I hate relying on anyone and greatly admire women that just get things done such as yourself!! Your design sense is spectacular as well. I also came across your photos on design sponge and had to visit your site. Needless to say your site is now bookmarked on my computer. Keep up the good work, you rock!! Go girl power!!!

    • Karen says:

      Evalyn! Wow. Thanks for the compliments! And thanks for bookmarking me! It’s way more fun to do all this stuff if I think someone else will get something out of it! That’s kindda the point actually. :) Thanks again. – Karen

  36. Kristan says:

    So amazing you tackled that by yourself. I’m dealing with the mountain of imperfections that came with my first home and it helps to see the beautiful results of your work.

    Oh, and I grew up watching As The World Turns and remember Barbara Ryan’s backyard!

    • Karen says:

      OMG!!!!!! I am SO excited that you remember Barbara Ryan’s backyard on As The World Turns!! I’m actually kind of freaking out over it. Such a dork I am. It’s midnight and I’m actually considering calling one of my best friends from highschool who also watched As The World Turns to tell her! But I won’t. Because I can show restraint. Good luck with your first home!

  37. Terri says:

    Wow! Your backyard looks amazing and I feel for you and all the hard work you have done! We bought our house for the backyard too – the kitchen and bathroom suck, although after 9 years of owning we’re finally fixing the gross bathroom and have stalled on the backyard. Watching your arm muscles get bigger and bigger in all the photos gets me thinking I should get back out there!
    Love the whole backyard. Especially the patio stones.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Terri! Hah. Someone else mentioned the arm thing. I don’t see it, but I DO remember by the end of the 3 months my arms were HUGE. Didn’t last, but it was fun at the time! btw. I’ve been here 11 or 12 years and the kitchen and bathroom …. are still exactly the same as when I moved in. :) One day …

  38. gina says:

    Lovely reno! That’s a crazy amount of work to do by oneself…

    P.S. I DIED laughing at the Chippy photo – it is my new favorite photo. My stomach hurts… :D

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Gina! Yeah, that Chippy photo was my screensaver for a longggg time. My mother’s too! (I put it there … and she had no idea how to get it off)

  39. Keli100@yahoo.com says:

    Absolutely beautiful. You’ve done a marvelous job!

    What might you have used rather than natural stone to save on the extra work of individual leveling? I am thinking about doing a *small* area around my existing patio in some sort of brick, stone or paver to make a lower terrace area. I’d love to avoid the individual leveling bits. Ouch!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Keli – I wanted something that DIDN’T have to be individually levelled but couldn’t find a stone that was small enough for me to handle. The manmade stones are all really thick and big so they were a lot heavier. And a lot of them looked like crap. It was 2 years ago that I did the backyard tho, so you may be able to find something now. There was a company in Quebec, Canada that had stones I liked but you couldn’t order them in just one size … only a mixed assortment. You’ll find something. I definitely recommend trying to find a manmade paver/stone. Soooo much more pleasant to work with.

  40. celia says:

    Amazing…you’re amazing. I am guessing you’re telling yourself that all that heavy work is worth it because your garden is beautiful!!!
    I am thinking…I can give my garden a shot now – and hope my husband doesn’t “accidentally” hurt himself.
    THanks for the inspiration!
    Celia

    • Karen says:

      Give it a shot! Nice purses on your site by the way! I especially like the leafy one! You probably have no idea which one I’m talking about.

  41. Tatiana says:

    Congratulations!!! Your garden is gorgeous.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you so much Tatiana! I went to look at your site, but alas … I couldn’t understand a thing! :) I did understand the spoons as plant markers though! That is brilliant, isn’t it? Love it. Thanks for visiting my site!

  42. Linda says:

    My friend MaryFrances showed me your blog. I am “speechless”. I consider myself to be a do-it-yourself gal, but you put me to shame! Wonderful oasis you made. I love it. Kudos to you – be very proud of yourself!!! You are a strong woman – that’s because it takes one to know one….lol.

    Linda Langevoort

  43. Julia says:

    I laughed so loud when I saw the Chippy picture it scared my cat! You are my new hero. I once renovated a 300 year old farm house – learned how to use a jackhammer, a sandblaster, power tools. I feel your pain but your finished result is incredible. I love your blog = looking forward to Chippy stories!

  44. ModFruGal says:

    Just found you via Design Sponge…way to go…as awful as it was…I bet it feels amazing to sit and admire all that hard work! Beautiful…the waterfalls are stunning…just right.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks! I had to go and look at your site ’cause of the name of it. I LOVE the tables you redid. Pretty, pretty. Great colour. Love the site. Good job.

  45. Laura says:

    Your backyard is AMAZING! I am in disbelief. I would be impressed with the design alone – but that you did it all by yourself (with a chipmunk on your shoulder!!)? Whoa! Thanks for sharing!

  46. beanie says:

    Beautiful work! I hope you can spend many years enjoying the fruit of your labor.
    My two cents: DON’T PAINT THE POTTING SHED. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL AS IS, especially with your renovations.

  47. Gayle says:

    I bow down to you … you super woman you!!!
    WOW you did great!

    Popped over from design sponge

    Enjoy the fruits of your hard labour.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Gayle! I’m glad you came over to visit from Design Sponge. Not super woman by the way! Well …. a little bit maybe, but not completely. :)

  48. Monika says:

    WOW! WOW! Unbelievable. I’m not worhty. I’d come over and cook for you and make my hubby help you lug. You’re amazing! Now, get a massage. And an alcoholic beverage.

    • Karen says:

      Monika! Thanks! I love cooking, but it’s always better when someone else does it. I request something … um … good. Just anything really good! Thanks. I’m waiting. – karen

  49. OMG you are amazing! Not inspiring, honestly because there is no way I would ever take all of that on, but amazing! I do think I have the energy to go home and whip out a few coat hanger boards now. ps SUPER cute chipmunk! You have a new fan!

    • Karen says:

      Colleen – that’s funny! Not inspiring .. that made me laugh. Thanks for visiting and please come back anytime!

  50. Lisa recko says:

    Fabulous job. I laid a lot of 1/2 to 3/4 inch bluestone (18X12s to 18X24s) in my backyard, by hand, just me and my trusty trowel, many years ago and then revised the layout several times over the years. Too bad the original owner didn’t use bluestone because they don’t fall apart. We have very stable clay soil here, so I was able to lay them right on the dirt, after a lot of individual leveling. So I absolutely appreciate what you did. Very inspiring!

    • Karen says:

      Lisa. Well if anyone knows the pain, you do! 18 X 24 is a pretty stinkin’ big hunka rock! Send in pics if you have em!

  51. Paul Davidson says:

    Out of curiosity, are you happy that you sank most of your budget on the flagstone? I’ve always balked at the prices, but love the finished product.

    Congratulations on finishing your project. It’s gorgeous.

    • Karen says:

      Paul! I’m not gonna lie to you. I wish it had been cheaper. :) I would have been perfectly happy with a manmade, rectangular, grey stone. But … since it didn’t exist … I got the natural stone. It is beautiful and although I would have preferred spending less … it does look much better than a fake stone would and I haven’t regretted spending the money for a minute! So there’s your answer.

  52. Lori says:

    I love, love, love your new backyard! Good job! We installed new flower beds this spring and it took me a week to recover. Major props to you on completing such a large scale project all by yourself. Where did you purchase the outdoor furniture? I am currently looking for new chairs for our backyard, and I love the clean lines on your pieces.

  53. Kimberellie says:

    This is AMAZING. Wow. I love it. And the waterfall? Wow. You are so darn impressive!!! Beautiful. You have given me great ideas for my backyard (which is currently all concrete!!).

    The waterfall IS amazing as well. I am just very impressed.

    ps. I will so come and lounge on your loungers any day.

  54. Dean Hutchinson says:

    Hi,

    Garden looks fantasic, how did you wire/attach your lights to the bedding plants.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Dean. Thanks! I think you’re talking about the rope light around my planter beds. I just stuck them underneath and then drilled a screw underneath to keep them from falling down. I didn’t want to attach them too permanently or make it too difficult to get them out because they’ll eventually need to be changed when the rope light wears out. If you’re laying on the ground you can see the screws holding the rope light up a little bit, but you can’t see it if you’re standing.

  55. Allison says:

    Just read your backyard makeover story and I am inspired…and humbled! What a huge job! I just moved into a house with a square patch of grass in the back and a postage stamp deck that my guy is going to rebuild. The square patch of grass stares at me everyday daring me to get creative on it. I don’t have a creative bone in my body! Not sure where to start! Any suggestions?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Allison! It’s pretty hard for me to suggest something without a picture, but f you’re not all that creative feeling at the moment, the easiest thing to do would be to dig out a bed all around exterior of the square patch of grass then put in plants of varying heights. If it’s shady use shade plants, sunny .. plants for the sun. Makes sense, right? :) You could also get fancy and add a small tree in one corner and a small bench under it or in the opposing corner. That’s just off the top of my head. Again, w/put pictures it’s difficult … but it’s at least an idea for you. Thanks! – karen

      • Allison says:

        Thanks! But I should have also mentioned that around the perimeter of the yard (on three sides) we have cedar trees, with wonderful patches of weeds beneath them. The yard faces west and gets full sun. Apart from that, it is just grass. Sorry I forgot to say that in my earlier post…but I get on here once my 9 year old is in bed and I am tired! So I forget stuff. Would you like a pic of the yard? Can I put one in here? Ok….chat later! Love the frozen yogurt btw. The story…. I mean. Haven’t had to do that to myself. Okay..gotta head off to bed.

  56. sherry says:

    hi- i was wondering what you covered the wooden pond with so the water would stay in? was it a plastic liner? I wish you could put up more detailed step by step instructions!!!! everything is so nice!
    thanks

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sherry! The reason I didn’t put up more detailed instructions is because it would end up being more of a book than a post! :) But I’m happy to answer any questions. Once I made my pond form I dropped it into the hold I had dug. I then lined it with a felt pond liner. (you get this in a pond supply or garden store) Since there was no bottom on my box only sides, the felt helps protect the actual pond liner from rocks and twigs and tree roots from putting a hole in the liner. After the felt was down, I lined everything with my pond liner and smoothed it all out! You can’t use regular plastic, you have to use a thick, pond liner from a pond supply store. It’s rubber-like and is very tough so it won’t develop holes easily. It’s also safe for the fishies.

      • sherry says:

        thanks for the info! I have tried to work with that pond liner before and I thought it was hard to work with. I found it hard to get smooth(alot of bumps and waves!) and flat. How did you get around that? I would buy your book by the way!!

        • Karen says:

          Nope. There’s no way around it, pond liner is difficult to work with. The only thing to make it easier is to make sure you lay it out on the sun to soften up before you work with it. No matter what you do there’s going to be bumps and folds. I spent a long time working on mine to get it as flat as possible, but it still isn’t perfect. Just pray your pond becomes a little cloudy and you won’t be able to see right down to the bottom!

  57. out of curiosity, was it the ripping apart the old coutyard or building the new one that was the bigger pain in the hiney? Because I am planning on building a schmic new garden after I move house (no paving though) but there is basically nothing there now so theres no ripping stuff down to go through.

  58. Wow, you are one crazy Canuck! Glad to see the Timmies cup in one of the shots, I swear they put something in their coffee to cause addiction to it,lol.
    What an amazing project, love, love, love it.
    We have purchased a old home in Owen Sound, and I would love to build something like this behind the house, love the shape of the pond, I want something more clean then the boulder look you had going on before. Lots of fabulous ideas, thank you.

  59. ted says:

    Hey Karen, Wow, a really beautiful modern garden! I’d like to use it as “inspiration”. I was going to make a retaining wall by stacking 4×4′s, but I really like what you’ve done. It’s much more modern and elegant. How did you make your retaining walls/planters? You mention using rebar as a support. It looks like you’ve used a 2×4 and a 2×10 stacked on edge and then put a cap on? How did you fasten it all together? And what prevents the soil from pushing it all over? Any info you can provide will be appreciated!
    Thanks for finding a good use for rope light.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ted. Thanks for the compliments on my garden! It took a good lonnnnnnnng time to figure out how to do those planter beds! The people working in the lumber yards didn’t really think it could be done. That of course angered me, so I figured out away. I built the boxes like you thought, by stacking a 2 X 12 on top of a 2 X 4. (in other areas I did lower planters with different sized lumber). I drilled pilot holes and then screwed everything together with green wood screws. I then made “loops” basically out of galvanized strapping, which I loosely screwed to the back of the planter bed forms. The I had a loop near the top of the board, plus another one near the bottom. I pushed the planter beds into place and then hammered rebar through the series of loops I made on the back of the planters, into the ground as far as they would hammer. At least 2 1/2 feet into the ground. I then tightened the strapping around the rebar. This has kept them perfectly secure for the past 2 years and they don’t look like they’re going anywhere anytime soon. When everything was in place, I simply walked around and cut all the rebar off near the top of the planter beds with a zip cut or something. I’ll search through some of my pictures to see if I can give you a better idea of how I did it. If I find a good example I’ll send it to your email address. The cap was the last thing I did which is just a 1 X 4 on top, with a 1 X 3 (I may have ripped it I can’t remember!) hanging down to cover the rope light. Glad to have provided some inspiration. Phew. That was a long comment! Good luck!

  60. Valda says:

    Lindooooo!

  61. Zina says:

    Wow. Just…wow. You are totally my hero. I’ve done some landscaping work, plenty of digging, and shifted pavers around and blah blah blah. I can’t believe the scope of what you’ve done here. You are awesome!

    Also, Chippy is hilarious.

  62. Carol Hand says:

    That’s wonderful! I feel your pain. My husband arbitrarily began work on a patio (think pit in the back yard)right where one needs to step off the stairs from the deck (we built that also). Since neither I nor the dogs needed a broken leg (my husband you ask? hmmmm), I had a couple of weeks off from work…patio is 22 X 25 and odd-shaped in a formerly grassy area. Thanks to hubby had to dig down the whole area anywhere from 7″ to 16″ to even it out and accomodate the base layers, then move gravel (5 tons), sand around 7 tons, I think, and flagstone, I don’t even know the tonnage. I did this all by myself, by hand and wheelbarrow, unloaded from the trusty pickup truck. Rented a compactor (now that’s livin’ but, if you’ve never used a jack hammer, that’s still the best!) It turned out ok. I’m still replacing smaller stones (couldn’t find all the big I needed)occasionally…planters out of man-made tumbled stone. All of this to ask you if you had a bit more of a description about the planters you built? Already have the mitre saw, love it for my spatially and angle challenged mind! I need to build some planters and obviously the less wood I ruin, the better! Oh and Chippy is great! I didn’t have him, but I had one of those green lizards with the red throat that rode around on me for weeks one summer when I was re-glazing my windows (that will NEVER be done by me again, if I can help it!). His name was Stumpy (no tail!). Thanks for the site. I’m really enjoying it!

  63. Carol Hand says:

    Well now, duh! I just looked at the last entry and realized you’ve already given a better description of the planters…oops!

  64. Pingback: El jardín de Karen | Reformas Blog

  65. Emily says:

    Gorgeous! I just bought a house with a rather barren and very shady backyard (aside from some lovely ivy – not!) Living in Oregon, I would think we share a similar climate. Could you provide us with a plant list. I see your hosta, but I can’t ID a lot of it. That would be so appreciated!

  66. Chikim Lopes says:

    maravilhoso seu trabalho, sua força, sua criatividade e sua paciência.
    O conjunto ficou perfeito.
    O lago perfeito a iluminação da cachoeira está espetacular… lindo mesmo!
    ah! gostei das suculentas tbm! abraço e ótimos hambúrgueres pra você nesta vista maravilhosa.
    parabéns pela força e trabalho!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks! I managed to make out marvelous, spectacular, lake and illumination. Hah! Also hamburgers. So, um … yes it’s a lovely place to watch the marvelous, spectacular, illuminated lake and eat hamburgers! – karen

  67. Leslie says:

    This is ridiculously gorgeous!!! I look forward to paying someone to do this for me someday!

  68. Monika says:

    so, i got inspired and ripped out much of my backyard. the property is about an acre so there will be many days of sore muscles ahead but i’m stupid and game. i have to buy a miter saw, though. to that end….any advice? thanks in advance.

    • Karen says:

      Hah!! Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Since I haven’t seen the yard I can’t really give you design advice, but … No joke. Book a massage for once a week the whole time you’re doing this. (if you’re going to be an idiot about it like me and kill yourself for 12 hours a day for 3 months straight) I almost wrecked my back, neck and shoulders. Make sure the mitre saw you buy is a sliding one. You can get away with a smaller blade (10 inch versus 12 inch) if you get a sliding compound mitre saw. I use a relatively inexpensive 10″ Ryobi. The reason I went with this one was because it was given to me by the fine folks at Ryobi. However … it is one of two that I was considering buying because of it’s size and weight. You want something you can easily lug around by yourself. Anything bigger or more industrial and you won’t be able to move it easily yourself. If you’re in an area of the world where it’s just becoming fall you might want to hold off until spring. That’ll give you the winter to plan out exactly what you want to do. You have an acre, right? That’s a lottaaaaa space. I spent at least 3 months deciding what I wanted to do and mapping it all out on graph paper. By the time to do the actual work came around I knew exactly what I was doing, how much materials I needed and how much it would cost. Please, let me know how it goes! – karen

  69. Sharon says:

    Hi, I just spent my entire morning perusing your blog, laughing and being impressed! I saw the shots of your interior and loved it. You have made a beautiful home. But your backyard, WOW. You give a new dimension to the word DIY. I bow down to you;)

  70. michelle says:

    as I was reading your incredible journey I could only put myself in it, as I have been doing the same thing for the past 4 months. Started what was meant to be a job to “just get rid of the grass” has turned into “what have I gotten myself in to”! I’ve built a deck, lay down pavers, making another paved area with crazy stone, I could not even count the amount of dirt I’ve moved, and the stones are still to come. Although it is not as intricate as yours it feels great to step back and see the job you produced yourself, and with the same minimum assistance of any testosterone. great inspiration, michelle

  71. Luka says:

    Do you and Chippy still see each other?

  72. soupprincess says:

    Um, so does Canada not have an anthropologist around, or do they just leave it up to home owners to decide what’s historically relevant and what’s rubbish? Also, perhaps your friend the bone is the reason the backyard was paved over and the house was sold…The place looks fantastic, and you kick nine kinds of ass for being able to accomplish all this, but that femur would totally creep me, in a great big Poltergeist-y kinda way…

  73. Irmak says:

    Wow! I wish I was more like you. Less dreaming more doing. Like now. I’m dreaming of doing stuff while not writing my paper which is due in like 3 hours :(.

  74. AnnaA says:

    I bow before you… You Great Queen of Handy!!

  75. Bobby says:

    Great job on your backyard! Where did you get the pavers and what was the pricing? We are looking for pavers like yours. Cheers

  76. Seiko says:

    God, girl, you worked really hard! O_o Congrats!!! And what about that bones and pottery, did you find more? Great work!!! A big bear hug from Brazil.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Seiko! That’s much better than a brazilian from a bear! I buried the bones approximately where I found them and hoped for the best. Thanks again! – karen

  77. Ana Laura says:

    Parabéns pela coragem! Seu jardim ficou maravilhoso!

  78. Shari says:

    Karen – you’re a woman after my own heart! I too had a cheesy experience with a contractor and swore from that day forward that I would NEVER hire anyone again. Of course I had to make an exception when it came to doing the roof: I don’t do heights! I’ve completed two landscape projects (both hardscape and softscape) and like you, I’m still recovering after three years. Other than the aches and pains, I have to say the most frustrating part was when I finished off our front walkway and one of our neighbours happened along, patted my husband on the back and said ‘great job on the front’. My husband didn’t quite set him straight (he did the digging and I did the base work and set every stone) and I’ve never let him forget it since. Is there no justice for us handy women?

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Shari! The truth is, my boyfriend moved some boulders out for me. (they were in my backyard and I didn’t want them anymore) I didn’t tell ANYONE he did this because I knew if I said he did that, they’d assume he did the whole backyard. I swear, all he did was move the boulders so a garden centre could come and pick them up. That was IT. Please don’t tell anyone. ‘Cause you and I *both* know what’ll happen. People will start congratulating him, and Oh … what a good job … Good work! Pfft. ~ karen

  79. glaucia says:

    Parabens….Sua iniciativa transformou sua casa ficou muito lindo parabens.

  80. Kendi says:

    Karen – I’m madly in love w/ the design of your space! I would love to add perimeter beds like yours but I am wondering, what material do you have between the bed and the fencing? Is it basically a wooden box set up against the walls/fencing?

    Thanks so much, your blog is wonderful!

    Cheers!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kendi ~ Thanks! It’s a bit of a crap shoot in terms of what you do here. There’s the school of thought that you should line the wood/fence with styrofoam or plastic to keep it from getting wet. Then there’s the other school of thought that states if you put a plastic barrier up then that just locks the moisture in once it gets wet and there’s no way for the moisture to escape if you have a plastic barrier. I tend to be of the second school of thought, so I didn’t line my beds with anything, OTHER than the base of my house. I put leftover rubber pond lining that I had around the cement base of my house. I just stapled it to the old wood siding. Then I had my house stuccoed over the rubber, therefore making it pretty difficult for any water to get “down” in between the rubber and the cement foundation. But … I just guessed when I did that! So … in answer to your question … do what feels right. :) If your fencing/wood is pressure treated, there really isn’t any need to put up any kind of moisture barrier. ~ karen!

  81. Anne Parker says:

    Hi Karen–I loved the story of the reno of your back garden–I think I will just go with lots and lots of virginia creeper and ivy.
    Now that it’s done you could take up a much lighter activity–bird study–that’s an English robin in your story–seems too bad when we have so many beautiful birds right here in Southern Ontario and they can add a lovely element of natural beauty to go with all your wood and stone and plants.
    cheers,
    anne

  82. Peter Solti says:

    What a professional job Karen! I enjoyed the story and the pictures. Thanks for sharing it.

  83. Y says:

    Oh my… that backyard is simply stunning. It’s the most beautiful backyard i’ve ever seen. I love the water feature and the lighting you installed in it.

    Where’s the inspiration come from?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Y – Thank you very much! The inspiration actually came from the shape of my backyard and what I had to work with. Because my yard is small I could use high quality materials. There’s also a lot of corners and angles, and I wanted to take advantage of that with the planter beds to act as a sort of frame around the yard. I Googled pond designs and decided I definitely wanted a very clean, contemporary looking pond as opposed to the very rustic, natural pond I had before. The waterfall I just came up with. It was a great way to re-use some of the materials I was ripping out of my backyard prior to fixing it up. And the lighting … well … who doesn’t like some nice lighting? :) ~ karen

  84. Hi Karen,

    Being in the business myself, I have to give you congratulatory remarks for the job you have done. Good work!

    P.S. I love the water feature.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks! My back is still sore. The pond’s probably my favourite part too. Nice and sleek with double waterfalls! Two is always better than one. :) ~ karen

  85. maggie says:

    Great job Karen I only wish I had bazillions and I would get you up here to Buckhorn Lake to do a few hundred things. Oh well when I win the lottery a large one at that I will give you a call. You are one funny and talented woman. Oh by the way where is the chippie at this point.

  86. LOVEYA says:

    WOW I WANT YOU TO BE MY WIFE :O

  87. Karen says:

    Loveya – Mmm. O.K. ~ karen

  88. Shannon says:

    Just found your blog and this back yard blows me away! Fantastic!!! I’m relaxing just looking at the pictures from my desk.

    • Karen says:

      Shannon – Thanks! Building it was just as relaxing! Um … no it wasn’t. Building it was quite unrelaxing. The chicken coop I’m building right now, on the other hand, is quite relaxing! If you come back again, you’ll get to see it completed in a couple of weeks. (hopefully) :) ~ karen

  89. Undereden says:

    Hahaha everything about this made me LMAO!!!!
    tear up the entire backyard rebuild the pond ect SURE i can do that in a couple weeks!!! bwhahaha i do that all the time!!!! just this past winter i was under the impression that i could re-finish 3000 sq/f of hardwood flooring in a week!!! what was i thinking!?!?
    I have to say though us girls with power tools are more then just a pretty face:-) you took on a fantastically HUGE job there and anything i could say about how fantastic it turned out would be an in justice!!! you are a women to be reckoned with!!!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Undereden! You couldn’t finish the hardwood in a week? LOL. Cause that’s how long I would have given myself for it! Probably would have figured I’d be done by day 5, with a couple of days to admire too! Everything’s harder/takes longer than you think. Thanks for the backyard compliment. Ironically I just came in to get a drink and check my messages before heading back out into said backyard to work on building a chicken coop! ~ karen

  90. Undereden says:

    LOL well i might have been able to finish it if the previous owner hadn’t put urethane over wax over urethane over wax and the sander i rented from home depot actually worked!?! went back 8 times to exchange that…
    hopefully the chicken coop build is less stressful for you:-) and your enjoying the weather (im in Toronto and aside from the high winds its a gorgeous day)
    ~Laura

  91. Mary Anne says:

    Just a thought…did you ever get the pottery and the bone(s) checked out? What if it was a historic archeological site? Indian burial ground…etc?

    • Karen says:

      Mary Anne – No I didn’t get the stuff checked out. In the area I live stuff like that’s found all the time. The house I live in is 170 years old. I put it back where I found it and that was that. ~ karen

  92. Abby says:

    Ok, clearly I’m a little late to this party… but WOW!!! Your backyard looks absolutely AMAZING! Like I’m going Bananas over it! Totally jealous… in a good way!

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  93. Amanda says:

    O O
    >
    ( o )

    *whistle*

    you get a LONG whistle bc I am SPEECHLESS

    *insert favorite adjective here* seriously…write this comment yourself bc I am too stunned for words.
    coolsuperawesomefunamazingstunningunbelieveablewow

  94. Olga says:

    Im sorry I didn’t read through all the comments so you might of answered to someone else here…did you cut the flagstone with your meter saw? I’m currently in process of putting pavers in and I’m at the point where I need to cut corners and I’m not sure if tile saw will work. Flagstone is not pavers of course but it’s pretty thick too compare to regular tile, so I wonder if you have any tips in cutting it. Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Olga. No, you can’t use a mitre saw to cut any sort of flagstone or pavers. You need to use a wetsaw. For things like pavers the best thing to do is borrow one from someone who has them or rent a wetsaw from an equipment rental place. ~ karen!

  95. Jae8888 says:

    Your hard work paid off…really!!! Your yard is beautiful. The place to hangout…awesome. Really there are no words to describe the before and after. I may have to try this myself. You are an inspiration.

  96. Kory says:

    Your backyard looks amazing! Jealous much, especially as a gay man I need to out do you lol

  97. Michele says:

    Karen, girl, you are the BOMB!!! I’ve laid tile in my day, enough to respect and be totally in awe at what you accomplished. AWESOME, awesome, awesome!!! Beautiful results! And such gorgeous flagstone. I’m sure you’ll still be enjoying your backyard for years and years to come. Congrats!

  98. Berta says:

    From Portugal, I want to tell you that your work in the garden is wonderful!
    I have a garden with a lot of shadow because of too many trees I have planted. But I love them. The grass is over because of the shadow…
    May be I will put stones on the ground, like you did.
    Thank you for the good ideas you gave me.

    • Karen says:

      Berta – Bon Dia! ( or however else you spell it ) I spent a few weeks in Portugal years ago. Sintra, Cascais, Lisbon, The Algarve …. Love Sintra best. Good luck with your garden! ~ karen

  99. ev says:

    Wow! Good work Karen! It is a wonderful garden and an inspiration to us all. Thanks for sharing your odyssey and the resulting utopia.

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