Amazing home transformations

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3 great gardens from our readers

Our inventive readers show how to create the backyard of your dreams, even on a budget

  • Laura's Hidden Patio

    Laura's Hidden Patio

  • Dahlias

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Laura St. Leger-Barter • Sonoma • Landscape makeover in a month

My Inspiration: Snooping around the neighborhood to see what landscapes could suit my yard.

Challenge: The house required a ton of work, and I needed to fix everything on a single mom’s budget.

Life lesson: I learned my limits when I dropped a big jackhammer on my foot and broke my toe. Moral: Leave the jackhammering to the boys!

Advice: Look at lots of yards. Start small, a corner at a time. Find a theme, expand on it.

Now ... My garden is the private courtyard I head for every morning in my pajamas with a cup of coffee. It’s calming.


What did you tackle first? I removed some plants where I wanted my "statement entry" to go.

Did you install the paving yourself? No, I hired a guy to pour concrete for the courtyard, front walk, and footings for the pillars. He scored the concrete paving to look like 24-inch square tiles ― cheaper to do than smaller squares. I stained the concrete to finish it.

What about the front wall? I found two guys to help build it of cinder block and stucco. But I chased down all the materials, and that front wall ate cement like candy. I made about four runs to the hardware store, filling my car to the brim with cement bags. Still, the guys needed more!

The plantings are all yours? Yes. I chose lots of red phormiums; they’re like little flames all over my yard. By doing much of the work myself, I saved a bundle.

More:   22 favorite backyard projects


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