Six Months of Landscaping

For the past six months the big project around here has been landscaping. Its been labor intensive and expensive, but the final product has been completely worth it. So let’s dig right in….here is our house in November of last year (at this point we had been living in it for about three months).

Our property is slightly sloped, so drainage is something we needed to address, and Adam and I also wanted a lawn. Real legitimate grass…not something that comes easy in hot, dry, rocky Texas. Most of the property we want to leave wild and not maintain at all, but right up next to the house it needed to be green and safe for the kids to play in. So we came up with a plan.

We decided build retaining walls and put grass from the front porch to the driveway, and the backyard would get grass in the courtyard area between the master bedroom and garage. We would have liked for the backyard area to be a bit bigger, but extending it out further would have encompassed a lot of trees. If you bring the soil level up too much around trees it will eventually kill them, which means we would have to build a separate retaining wall around them and keep the ground at its natural level. Instead we just made a nice straight line and cut down the two trees that were inside the wall.

After getting some quotes for the retaining walls we found a guy that agreed to do the rock work for $1,200, which was less than 1/6 the price we had quoted from a professional company. For the backyard he poured a footer before building the wall, since it was gong to be about 3 feet tall.

The front wall was a little simpler since it’s less than a foot high.

Next we set out to execute our best idea yet (I can’t decide if that’s sarcasm or not) of filling up the area behind the wall with rocks from around our property. Fill dirt is crazy expensive around here, plus our property is chock full of rocks (aka ankle breakers) that we would like to get rid of. So we bought this cart (best purchase ever) and got to work.

And for months, literally, we filled the backyard one rock at a time.

Eventually we ran out of patience and hired a tractor to bring in dirt and finish the job for us. I would have liked to get more rocks off our property, but more than that I wanted to be able to be able to let the kids outside without having them navigate over boulders to get to the trampoline. Also, summer was fast approaching and we needed to get sod installed before it got too hot.

Y’all, crappy fill dirt has never looked so good. We called it “safety dirt” and it severely lowered my mom anxiety about letting my toddler tag along with his older brothers outdoor adventures.

It feels like this is where I should say “then we installed sod and everything was wonderful”…but that’s not true. There were still a few issues we had to address, mostly in the backyard.

First we needed drainage. We priced getting gutters before starting the landscaping, but the quotes came back at about $4,000 so we decided to skip them for now and put that money toward starting the landscaping. We still needed to do something with all the water that comes off the roof though…it doesn’t rain all that often around here, but when it does its fairly intense.

So we dug down to where the drainage pipes were installed in the wall and added flexible tubing and drains. One drain went near the wall and the other went across that backyard to catch water as it came off the roof. Adam installed three of these where future downspouts will go, so that if we do get gutters we can easily tie them in and move all that water directly to the other side of the wall.

We then hired the tractor guy to come back and spread topsoil, since shoveling dirt for weeks on end sounded worse than handing over more money.

Then it was time for the sprinkler system. We learned from our last house that there is no point in installing grass in a hot dry climate if you don’t have a sprinkler system. You can’t hand water it enough to keep it from frying in the summer. Luckily our friend Darin (the one that is on this house building journey with us) happens to do sprinkler systems for a living, and he did the design, ordered supplies, and helped us with installation. Thanks goodness for friends, right?

So here is the front yard design –

and the back yard –

Then he and Adam spent an entire day installing it all.  My job was to fetch tools, move dirt around, take care of babies, and take pics for the blog. Tools were fetched, dirt was moved, babies were tended too…but I only managed to take one lousy photo the whole day. Fail.

After everything was installed we covered it up with topsoil and it was like that day never happened.

THEN (I’m tired just reading this) it was finally time for sod. We ordered seven pallets of Palisades Zoyzia, which a great grass. It is tolerant to heat and drought, does well in sunny and shady areas, and requires little maintenance or mowing. My kinda grass. (I just spent way to long trying to force a “I like my grass like I like my men joke, but I just couldn’t make it happen. Ah well.)

Now, the moment that was six months in the making…

Grass! Soft, pretty, flat grass … without rocks. My boys are in heaven.


The steps might be my favorite part though, they turned out really well.


I plan to put flower beds behind the wall (probably next spring), but for now I just need to clear all the debris away for when the boys inevitably fall/jump/get pushed off.

The sprinkler system is by Rain Bird and it is amazing.

It has a fancy control panel on the side of the house and you can set it to water on a schedule…and it even has an app so you can control it from your phone.

The sprinkler heads are adjustable and get the water only where you need it, they are able to soak our entire yard and hardly get a drop on the porches.

In the front yard we also created a walkway from the driveway to the door.

Adam and I spent forever debating on how to do this walkway. You see, there was this one little problem…

I mean, that tree…could it BE any more in the way? (I was channeling my inner Chandlier Bing there). We seriously considered cutting it down so we could have a straight path, but in the end we decided to keep the tree and work around it.

Here is the before photo, for reference (also, does anyone know how to get a stain out of concrete? Nothing is working.)

The actual pathway is made of decomposed granite, and we used this aluminum edging material. The whole goal with the pathway was to keep it simple and easy to maintain…our front walkway at the old house needed a ton of maintenance and I’m not doing that again.

Here is a before and after from the same angle –

In the front yard we still have lots of landscaping to do, but once again it will have to wait till next year. I plan to put flower beds between the wall and the driveway, plus the left if the house is a bit of a mess.

This is where most of the water drains when it rains, so we plan to put a river/dry creek bed area with lots of landscaping around it. This should also help the lawn look like less of a random green patch and more like part of and overall landscape design.

Okay, now for the numbers….here is how much this little project cost.

  • labor for retaining walls – $1,200
  • materials for wall (stone, slabs, sand, concrete, etc.) -$600
  • cheap fill dirt + delivery – $750
  • topsoil + delivery – $850
  • tractor work – $600
  • irrigation and drainage supplies – $1,600
  • sod – $1,400

Total – $7,000

If we had hired it all out it would have been probably three times as much, so overall all the work was worth it (I can say that now that it is finally over, midway through I might have had a different answer). Even though we saved a lot, $7,000 is a lot of money and we’ve pretty much blown our home improvement budget for the next few months. Hopefully this means we can finish up some of the things we already have materials for and I can catch up on blog posts for things we have already finished.


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  1. “I like my grass like I like my men…tough and low-maintenance.” LOL there you go! Looks great! And it makes me look outside at our tiered garden in our townhouse’s yard with new appreciation – I had no idea so much work went into it underneath the soil!

  2. I was just noticing that the space between the driveway and breezeway could probably use another granite walkway–otherwise, foot traffic will wear a path across you new lawn. All those hungry relatives, you know…

  3. I’m so glad you kept that tree! The curve of the footpath because of it looks lovely.
    Maybe try some Coke on the stain….?
    Sam Pereira recently posted..Melbourne Coffee SnobMy Profile

  4. I love the bendy walkway! Much more charming than a straight line :) I’m in Ireland and I have the opposite problem to you, our garden is so wet that it’s really hard to get anything to grow because it’s often waterlogged.
    Also, I’ve seen videos of people removing oil stains from concrete with coke?…..

    • That’s crazy about the garden, we definitely don’t have that problem. Do you do anything to dry and keep that water out, like a cover (though that would keep the sun out too). It doesn’t seem like there would be an easy answer to that problem.
      You are the second person to suggest coke, I will have to give that a try. It’s purple PVC primer/glue…Adam is convinced that we are join to have to chip it out and patch it.
      Ashley recently posted..The Most Organized Pantry in the WorldMy Profile

  5. It was all worth it – looks lovely. I’m sure it killed though handing over that amount of money. Hurt my penny pinchers just reading the numbers!

    Are snakes a thing in your neck of the woods? That’s all I could think about when I was looking at all the pictures of all the woods.

    • Thanks Jan! It was a lot of money, and we spent most of it last month. Defiantly have to dip into our savings for that one, now we have to build it back up before starting the next big project. Such a fun little game, haha.

      Yeah, snakes are a thing. Not only do we have all your normal friendly snakes, but we also have venomous ones like rattlesnakes, coral snakes, and water moccasins (since we have the creek). I’m sure the chicken coop will attract plenty of snakes as well. Last week I also found a tarantula in our house….like a giant, hairy, monster tarantula. I’m totally used to finding creepy bugs inside (like scorpions, spiders, and huge centipedes) but this was a first. How did it get in?! I try not to think about it when I crawl into bed at night.
      Ashley recently posted..The State of the House, 2017 – The ExteriorMy Profile

      • Laura M says:

        OMG! What horrors. Think about moving to Southern Ontario where we only have mosquitoes, ticks and poison ivy. ::)

  6. Congratulations on your yard renovation! The end result is beautiful, and we are glad you like the Rain Bird irrigation system you chose. Rain Bird is always excited to see how our customers use our products to make beautiful landscapes and save on water consumption. Thank you for sharing and enjoy your outdoor space!

  7. That looks fantastic! I agree that the curvy path is charming, and saving the tree was worth it. I just read about oxalic acid for cleaning concrete – available on Amazon for pretty cheap, and lots of people liked it (I haven’t tried it yet but plan to on rust stains on my foundation). Any chance you could share the name of your retaining wall guy? He did a fantastic job, I could use him over here in Wimberley ;-) Love the updates!

  8. Charlotte says:

    We have that wagon. My husband sprays it with water & we throw a quilt into it for the zoo. 4 grandbabies all under age 5 so it gets a lot of use when the little legs can’t walk any more & there aren’t enough strollers or stroller pushers.

    Snakes in South Texas – yeah, my daughter moved out to PIpe Creek & several months later discovered they have all 4 venomous snakes & a mountain lion. No kids outside after dinner now.

  9. I think you will enjoy the new lawn. It is quite an improvement from the before shot!!!
    Rose Lefebvre recently posted..NATURE “BATHING”My Profile

  10. Jan Horwood says:

    That looks fantastic! What a relief it must be to have the grass instead of a corral of boulders. I agree with the above commenters that I think the curved walkway looks way better than a straight one would have. Having grown up in Edmonton, where the houses and even the map itself is on a complete grid, I am almost allergic to having all straight lines.
    A tarantula in the house, holy s**t!! What did you do? How did you get it out? O_O

  11. Darlene Wilkins says:

    The overall effect of this project is just great. The curved walkway, the low wall in front…just everything is so visually appealing. Wonderful how its all coming together. I’ve enjoyed watching it all come to pass. Hate to hear about the critters, especially a hairy tarantula in the house. That will certainly give you a fright, just don’t run around at night barefoot. I moved out of a lakefront home a couple years ago, lived there several years and had removed a total of six snakes by the time I moved. Some of my family wouldn’t come visit in the warmer months….haha.
    Now if I can just find someone to build that low retaining wall in your front yard at my house!

  12. Debbe Meade says:

    This weekend my Hubby & I drove to Bryan and I can’t tell you how many homes that looked just like yours we seen. Here in Texas this has to be the hottest design by far. I wish I didn’t use that word hottest cause that season is just around the corner.I really have enjoy reading all about your adventures with building your wonderful home.My time is coming 1.5 years till we build our retirement home.

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