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Creating Your Own Outdoor Retreat: Before and After of Our Backyard

Over the past few months we have been working hard to turn our backyard into our ideal hosting and relaxing spot. With the pandemic changing many of our summer plans, I know a lot of people have been looking to have a relaxing outdoor space at home. I wanted to share our adventure of transforming our outdoor space.

Before we started working on the backyard, we had a small concrete patio. It wasn’t wide enough to fit a dining table and chairs which was really annoying when trying to host dinners. We also had wooden fences on three sides of our property and a chain link fence on the last. It was not ideal from a cohesive or privacy perspective. The back garden was empty and in need of some TLC. It also also had a weird shape and was awkwardly placed in the middle of the grass. There were preexisting garden boxes but they were overgrown and not in the greatest shape.

Here are some photos of the backyard before:

Step 1 – The Deck

We knew eventually we would love to build a deck instead of the concrete patio. I have always preferred the look of wood for outdoor spaces for its warmth. A plumbing issue in the winter forced us to dig up the concrete patio, so this spring seemed like the perfect opportunity to make this happen. Jonathon built the deck himself over the spring during COVID. We added a large step that runs the whole length of the deck to help it flow into the backyard. He also built a barbecue shelter and pergola to provide cover for the back door, cooking, and our patio box. My other favourite part about the deck is the built in planter box at the end. I find it adds so much visual interest and warmth to that end of the deck- otherwise I think it would look too stark.

Step 2 – Landscaping and Gardens

The next big project we tackled was the landscaping and gardens. The grass in the backyard was in rough shape from having been dug up in the winter (that damn plumbing issue). We laid sod in areas that were past the point of no return. We added top soil to areas that were sparse or uneven before adding grass seed (Jonathon swears by this brand – and I must say it worked like a charm). While not perfect, the grass is at least on the mend!

We decided to move the back garden into the corner of the yard. We also removed the weird bump out to maximize usable space. To add some height and visual interest, we added a tiered section to the garden using existing bricks that we already had. Our goal was to make sure the garden would require minimal maintenance so we only planted perennials. The other thing that made a big difference in making the garden look finished was adding mulch. We chose black to match our awnings and doors of our house.

In the deck planter box we initially planned to fill it with dirt and then plant directly in that. However, after some timely advice from my in-laws, we decided it would be easier to maintain to just put pre-potted annuals inside. Im so glad we did.

The last big garden endeavor was the garden boxes. Jonathon rebuilt the boxes out of cedar and lined them with landscape fabric. We planted vegetables, herbs, lettuce, and tomatoes. I love being able to have fresh produce grown in my backyard!

Also, I hate to admit it, but the most convenient part of the landscaping is probably the in-ground sprinkler system Jonathon installed. I was skeptical at first, especially when he tore up the lawn. It looked like we had a giant gopher infestation! However, it’s nice to know that the lawn and all of our plants are getting water when they need it. I was skeptical when he said “I think I can do it myself” but sure enough he pulled it off.

Step 3: Create Privacy

Privacy was very important to us in creating a relaxing space. The first thing we did was take down the chain link fence that bordered the neighbours closest to us. We rebuilt a wood fence to match the rest of our yard. Having all four sides have wood fences made the back yard look warmer and maximized our privacy. The other addition was a row of cedars along the new fence. The cedars added some much needed green to the corner of the yard. Once they grow, they will hopefully add even more height and privacy.

Step 4: Shade

A must have for a relaxing space is shade. It is no fun to be roasting in the hot summer sun. We are fortunate that our entire backyard is shaded by a big tree. Since our house also faces north-west, our deck is in the shade in the afternoon (the house helps blocks the sun too). However if you have full sun in your yard, there are other ways to add shade. You could plant trees, add a pergola, build a California-style shade wall, or utilize umbrellas.

Step 5: Furniture and Accessories

I really wanted to create an outdoor living area and dining area. For the living area, Jonathon built cedar chairs and a couch. The furniture will last for years and years, we will just have to change out the cushions. He also made the arms of the furniture extra wide, as per my request. This allows them to act as little side tables where you can put your drink or plate down.

The best purchase we made for the deck was this fire table. It is great since it doubles as a coffee table by putting the grate/cover on. For those chilly evenings, we remove the cover and it transforms into a warm cozy fire. When it is just Jonathon and I, we love to just sit at the fire table on the cedar furniture.

The other important area is the dining spot. We added a dining set with a table and chairs for six. When hosting a dinner or party I always find you also need somewhere to set up food and drinks. We use this awesome foldable bar cart for either helping to serve food or set up as a bar. I also always make sure to have an ice bucket around for keeping drinks cold or blankets for chilly evenings.

It has also been important to add warmth by adding lighting. We made wine bottle lanterns, added candles and are thinking about adding some string lights.

Finally, any deck must have – a speaker system. Jonathon hung outdoor speakers on the pergola and wired a built-in bluetooth speaker system.

Jonathon’s DIY-ing tips:
  • Hire someone to do the fence posts and any concrete footings (fence, deck, etc.). He figures we saved about 60% compared to if we had done it ourselves.
  • Work with what you already have for the landscaping; when we moved in, we found a bunch of brick that we used as edging for all of our gardens. We also transplanted or split a lot of our existing plants to utilize what was already there.
  • If you are going to DIY it, get yourself the proper tools for the jobs. Jonathon swears by the Dewalt 20V Cordless line and any of the hand/corded Mastercraft Maximum tools from Canadian Tire.

I am certainly fortunate to have a partner who loves renovations and projects! My dad joked the other night “forget the tools, where do I get myself a Jonathon!”

Have you undertaken any renovation projects during COVID? What makes your outdoor space feel like a retreat? Do you have any favourite additions to your outdoor space? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A lifestyle blog inspired by all of the things I share with my twin sister. Skincare and style finds, food ideas, health and advice.

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