Upgrading Our Backyard

My fiancé, Jacob, bought our house just over 2 years ago, and I moved in just a few months after that. The place was move-in ready and gorgeous, but we still had quite a few projects in mind that we wanted to accomplish to make it a little more liveable (hi, we live in Southern California and lived without central air for a year… I’ve never been sweatier), a little less generic (our bathroom vanity was originally the cheapest, boringest one you could get at Home Depot, as were all of our overhead lighting fixtures), and a little “more us!”

Part of the “more us” part was throwing some time and effort into the backyard. There was nothing inherently wrong with it when we moved in, but it lacked character as well as some functional niceties we were itching to add. Here are some photos I scrounged up from the last two years showing how it started. Over the last two years we have embarked on a variety of projects for the space: replacing the fence, adding garden boxes, making a picnic table, lots of weeding and planting, and, most recently, installing some astroturf next to our driveway.

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One thing we were super amped to do was replace the fence. The old fence was rusted chain link that gave us a full view into our downhill neighbors’ yard. It made our yard feel less private and was just a general eyesore. We took a weekend and a half and ripped out all of the chain link and installed a new, redwood fence. The upper area is constructed out of framed lattice, and the lower section is framed vertical slats. It was a great project for the two of us to collaborate on as there were so many steps and lots of repetitive tasks that one of us could tackle while the other was setting up for the next step or completing a different part.

Jacob and I both come from gardener parents. His father has a veritable orchard of avocado trees in the backyard as well as tremendous tomato and pepper plants. My mother always has a bountiful vegetable garden in the summer as well as beautiful flower assortments throughout the year in yard beds and planters. My father also has quite the green thumb and even has a greenhouse that gets used throughout the winter, providing warmth for his and my step-mother’s citrus trees, herbs, and flowers (they live in New Hampshire and don’t have the luxury of a lengthy growing season like we do in SoCal). It only made sense for Jacob and I to get in on the gardening action, but nowhere in the yard was really set up for it. Enter, garden boxes! We constructed these two raised beds out of treated redwood 4×4 posts and 2×4 lengths, and lined with plastic. It was only an afternoon project, and we even ended up having enough extra wood to make two tiny garden boxes we placed in our parkway to house some plants. Just a few weeks later we loaded the boxes up with a plethora of tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, and herbs. The first year was definitely a learning experience in what plants did well, which needed special tending, etc., but it has made me even more excited for next years’ gardening ventures!

Garden boxes before

The area next to our driveway has been a constant struggle for us, as weeds have overtaken the area. Originally plotted with a filler of dirt and then a layer of gravel, it was ripe for weeds whenever it got even barely wet. My weekend to do lists almost always had “weed the backyard” and I was so tired of it. Jacob and I brainstormed a few different options to overhaul this area, including laying new concrete and getting outdoor carpets to cover it all, but finally landed on installing fake grass. Jacob did the lion’s share of the work on researching all the kinds of turf and learning what the best practices are for installation. I got to show up on the weekend we planned to install and just do the heavy lifting! And it was heavy. We ended up trenching down two feet and installing a bamboo barrier, excavating two to three TONS of soil by hand, filling in with another ton (or more!) of stone and sand, renting and using a gas powered vibrating plate compactor, laying down and perfectly placing and cutting the turf, and finally sweeping 250 pounds of sand on top! We. Were. So. Dirty! But now that area is one of our favorites to hang out in!

Finally, there is one other thing we’ve done to the backyard. This is a project I had no part in, except the ideation (and constant pleading for it to be done): our bunny hutch! It had been a lifelong dream of mine to have a pet rabbit, so last year for my birthday Jacob designed and built a bunny hutch! The thing had not even been completed for 24 hours before I brought home its newest occupants: our two bunnies, Chicken and Waffles! It is definitely one of my favorite parts of our yard, and everyone that visits is endlessly impressed by Jacob’s skills in designing and building it!


Laura Kinson is a self-taught web developer and part-time ukulele player by day at Fender. She teaches yoga on the weekends and is passionate about to-do lists, keeping her Yelp Elite status, and perfecting the poached egg. She texts with her right thumb & left index finger and is fully aware that it's weird.