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.



One of the big bones I dug up.



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 pond before


Cleaning the muck.


I built the pond form out of wood and made it 2 depths to create interest for the fish and places to put plants.


I built the waterfall around the pond with some of the slate from the backyard I could salvage. Reduse, reuse, reanger.


See that big pile of dirt and rocks behind me?  That’s what I dug out to create a bigger pond.  By hand.  With my hands.  I’m sure you can see the word forming on my lips.


Another one of the huge bones I found. I threw them back where I found them and reburied them.


After the pond was done it was onto the planter beds around the perimeter of the backyard. And then it’s straight to the store for more ugly shoes.


By month number 2 of the backyard overhaul this was me standing as straight up as I could.


Best little sliding compound miter saw around.  Wish I owned it. It’s Pink Tool Belt’s.


Hacking off some rebar for building the planter beds.


For real. That is how much time I spent outside that summer. I was literally crawling with wildlife.


Now the beds are built and stained, the pond is completed, all that’s left is another 17 million days of levelling the backyard and laying the flagstone.


Because these are natural flagstones, not manmade cement pavers, each stone is a different thickness which means each one has to be hand laid and levelled.


Again. I’m not sure if you can make out the word that’s forming on my lips.


I’m close enough to the end of the project that I can actually start to smile again. Also I’m slightly delirious.




DSC 0296



Update:  The backyard has changed even more in the past few years with the addition of a midcentury modern chicken coop and a ridiculously fantastic (and relatively easy to make) pizza oven.  


  1. Holy crap! I can’t believe you did all this in 127 days by yourself…you’re only little you know! You did a beautiful job with the lighting and the pond and well…everything actually! I’m trying to go back and read some of your earlier posts as I read my daily humour from you! xo

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. Kory says:

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. Amanda says:

    O O
    ( o )


    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.

  9. 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!!!

  10. 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

  11. 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)

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. Karen says:

    Loveya – Mmm. O.K. ~ karen

  15. LOVEYA says:


  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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

  19. Peter Solti says:

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

  20. 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.

  21. 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!


    • 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!

  22. glaucia says:

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

  23. 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

  24. Ana Laura says:

    Parabéns pela coragem! Seu jardim ficou maravilhoso!

  25. 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

  26. 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

  27. AnnaA says:

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

  28. 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 :(.

  29. 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…

  30. Luka says:

    Do you and Chippy still see each other?

  31. 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

  32. 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;)

  33. 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

  34. Leslie says:

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

  35. 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

  36. 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!

  37. 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!

  38. 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!

  39. 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.

  40. Valda says:


  41. 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!

  42. 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.

  43. Shannon@bakeandbloom says:

    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.

  44. 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!

    • 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!

  45. 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.

  46. Dean Hutchinson says:


    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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  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!

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