Savor living by the sea ... in a corner of your backyard
DIY garden project
Thomas J. Story
Driftwood, geraniums, and grasses dot the "dunes" around a sunken firepit.

If the beach beckons you but time and distance discourage regular visits, try turning an unused corner of your backyard into a seashore. That’s what Test Garden coordinator Bud Stuckey did at Sunset’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Stuckey drew inspiration for the beachy strip shown above from the California coast. “I love sinking my feet in the sand, the scent of driftwood, the look of shivery grasses on wind-swept dunes,” he says.

He built this 100-square-foot slice of beach in two days for less than $200. First, he set the scene by painting a wooden fence to mimic sea and sky. Next, he formed the “dunes” by mounding decomposed granite and covering it with about 3 inches of sand. Finally, he added the firepit, plants, and pieces of driftwood.

Visitors to Sunset’s beach can almost hear the breaking surf just beyond the dunes.


Horizon To create a line where “sky” meets “sea,” Stuckey covered the entire fence with a light blue shade of soft-gloss exterior house paint. After it dried, he ran masking tape across the fence and applied darker blue paint along the bottom.

Dunes Stuckey put down 2 tons of decomposed granite and raked it into mounds, then scooped planting pockets out of tops and sides. To firm loose gravel, he watered it with a hose and allowed it to harden overnight. He filled the pockets with potting soil, planted, then covered gravel and soil with 1 ton of #1-size play sand.

Firepit The base of an old 22-in.-diameter kettle barbecue, with bottom vents open and grill in place to hold firewood, nestles in the gravel. Flagstones surround the kettle rim; a steel-mesh spark arrestor fits over the top. (Check local fire codes regarding firepit installation.)

Plants Eulalia grass (Miscanthus sinensis) and Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) mimic beach grasses. Martha Washington geraniums and ornamental oxalis add splashes of color.

Accents Pieces of weathered logs embedded in the sand recall a boardwalk through the dunes.

More: Our favorite backyard projects


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