When we moved to Dream House Acres, I quit my full-time job to sponge off my husband. We moved here because of him anyway. He owed me!
We were on major budget. Since the interior of the house was just updated and in good, clean shape, we didn’t spend much inside. But the outside? Yikes! Tip #1: Leafless trees may be sculptural. But they also may be dead. A good chunk of our savings was spent to remove dead trees.
We also had to repaint the roof’s trim because it was already peeling (did they use interior paint?). The front lawn was mostly weeds and the mulch and rock hardscape next to home’s foundation quickly became overrun with weeds. Our driveway was cracked and, annoyingly, offered just a one-car access from street to the 2-car garage. The concrete path to the front door? Also cracked and offering a precarious welcome to all who dared enter. And the makeshift fence on the north side didn’t allow any passage to the back.
As everyone and their favorite home magazine advises, we took the first summer off. The second spring, Hubs rented a concrete cutter and started carving up the sidewalk on Easter.
Over the next five months, we graded the front yard, put down weed barrier, added gravel and pavers, pulled that all up to add sprinklers, put the gravel and pavers back down, pulled those up to add boulders and then planted grass.
With no outdoor landscaping experience, we planned a low-maintenance Xeriscape. We had big dreams but not the budget. Tempted by the ease of artificial grass, we got several quotes. But for our front yard, which would need about 800-square-feet of fake turf, the most affordable quote came in at $8,000. Pair that with repaving the cracked driveway and turning it into a real 2-car driveway, the bill jumped to $15,000. We didn’t want to spend our budget on just fake grass and concrete. So, we nixed both. Besides, a sample piece of artificial turf left out in the sun burned our feet!
On to Plan B: Cheap gravel and real grass
Did you know a ton of gravel can be had for $17 to $35? And have you heard of drought-tolerant grass?
Not just any grass. Low-maintenance and drought-tolerant meadowy grass known as Eco-Lawn from Wildflower Farm (more on the grass later). We got a lovely modern-landscape plan for FREE from a professional (toy) designer (aforementioned Hubs). And free labor (us + wonderful friends and neighbors). And we found some fab rectangle pavers on sale at what has become our go-to rock store, Santa Fe Sand and Gravel in Littleton.
Modern landscapes tend to be angular and boxy. Clean lines, right? We wanted to add some curves to give it that mid-century feel. We settled on two grass ovals straddling a geometric path of rectangular pavers. Adding his unique touch, Hubs also wanted grass mounds to offer height and interest AND use of extra dirt we scooped away to grade the yard. (Tip: Grass mounds need a special watering system to retain enough water, so beware.)
Lucky for us, as we began grading the front yard, my brother-in-law visited for a week. I have no idea how many wheelbarrows of dirt he moved, but he insisted! (Thanks Greg!) Once the yard was cleared and graded, the design began.
Hubs used his foot to help create the round mounds. And then the repetitive part began: Putting weed barrier down, laying the gravel and then pulling it all up as we realized we should add a sprinkler system. We repeated this a few times — again when we added giant boulders. Tip: If you are a DIY’er, please make a list of everything you think you might do and then put them down in the most sensible order. You can always go back and insert a step but it’s a pain.
Sprinklers added a few grand to the budget but since we are watering slackers, we felt the investment today was worth it. Plus, we were saving money on labor. Of course, this was far from our expertise so we hired Dean’s Sprinklers in Englewood. They did a fine and fast job installing rotating sprinklers, an efficient way to stream water at a lower rate to let moisture soak into the ground.
Ultimately, here were the steps we took to give our front yard a new look:
1. Removed old, cracked sidewalk leading up to house.
2. Dug trenches and buried gutters to eliminate the eyesore of open gutters.
3. Straightened out 3 window wells that shifted over the last 50 years.
4. Discovered and removed buried old fountain.
5. Graded front yard so land slopes AWAY from house.
6. Shaped front yard into two elliptical mounds with room in between for a paver walkway.
7. Observed how an inch of rain in 10 minutes wiped out many neighbors’ gravel, washing a ton of mixed rocks to the bottom of the street. Made a note to order larger gravel.
8. Put down weed barrier.
9. Oh wait! Upcycled cardboard boxes from move! Undo #8.
10. Laid old cardboard boxes and newspapers down. Redid #8.
11. Added lawn edging around elliptical mounds.
12. Decided to add sprinklers so undid #7, #8 and part of #9.
13. Hired out sprinkler installation.
14. Redid #7, #8 and #9.
15. Spread gravel.
16. Added modern-esque pavers for walkway.
17. Headed to store to order larger gravel for property border. Found giant Obsidian boulders on sale and ordered all of them.
18. Pulled up #14 and parts of #13 as boulders arrived and then placed.
19. Redid #14 and #15.
20. Added larger gravel near sidewalk in a wavy pattern (anyone noticed that?)
21. Planted grass seeds in September, the recommended time to do so (not so hot and fewer weeds).
22. Sipped homemade Sangria, said “Hi” to neighbors and watched the grass grow.
As for the budget? We actually didn’t have one. We just wanted to stay around $5k, which if you remember was cheaper than any estimate we got for a single new concrete driveway. So here is approximately what we spent:
$71.82 = 2 5-pound bags of Eco-Lawn Grass: $35.96
$131.88 = 60 yards of lawn edging (only used about 45 yards)
$27.76 = 12 metal stakes for edging
$2,500 = Sprinklers professionally installed
$1,011.62 = 8 boulders plus 5 tons of 1.5-inch blue-gray gravel (includes delivery and 2 hours of labor)
$680 = 68 light Travertine pavers, 12×24 inches
$367.41 = 10 tons of 3/8-inch granite chip at $35.95/ton
$90 = weed barrier
Total = $4,880.65
Of course, the price doesn’t include the tools we bought (and still use today) like the handy 4-wheeled dump cart ($129). Or labor. It took most of our summer 2011 weekends to complete.
The best part is that it looks like this year round, more or less. If you don’t mind the grassy meadow look (we don’t), you only need to mow the lawn once or twice a summer. And because the grass is drought tolerant, it only needs water maybe once a week (our summer water bill is around $30, which includes watering a huge vegetable garden in the backyard — more on that later too).
Now about that cracked driveway…