“I love my new yard!”…Backyard Makeover Tips


There are few things that satisfy me more professionally than seeing pics like the one above and hearing words like “I love my new yard!”…especially from my youngest of clients. And that’s what eventually happened after I got a call from a good friend of mine late last spring…asking if I could help them figure out what to do with their yard.  Although the Sklar’s story was very personal to them and had its own set of unique challenges…the general storyline is one that I hear quite often: family with young kids; been in their house for 5 to 10 years; life is really busy…and any spare time and money have been spent fixing up the inside of their home; but now…with their kids getting older and wanting to get outside more, their focus has turned to the backyard.

Although I’d like to think I had something to do with their backyard makeover, the reality is all that I did was give them a little push…they did all the rest.  After I reassured them that their backyard wasn’t destined to remain a barren wasteland and then drew up a conceptual design showing them some of its potential, they were literally off to the races.  And given the expression on their son’s face, we all agree that they succeeded in their ground redemption efforts.

After thinking through what made their project a success, I thought that some of you might like to hear what I gleaned from my time of reflection.  So here it goes…5 Tips for a Backyard Makeover:

1. Make a Decision

I’ve found that most families seem to be paralyzed from doing anything in their yard…unable to make a decision. The reasons why run the gamut:

    • Being overwhelmed with all the options of what could be done.
    • Analysis paralysis…not being overwhelmed necessarily, but postponing bringing life to their backyard because they just have to look at every friggin’ option out there. I’m all about doing research, but not to the point where the research ends up trumping the overall objective of living outside.
    • The husband & wife just can’t agree…on a major issue or even the slightest of issues.
    • Thinking that it’s going to cost them more than they can afford – thinking being the key word…because they haven’t done anything to quantify their thoughts.
    • Believing that they have to do everything at once.
    • Just not knowing where to begin.

Backyard Makeover Tips - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comIt’s usually a combination of several of these things…but the result is the same – they are stuck inside their homes and nothing is being done to unleash the potential of their outdoor spaces.  So the first tip in redeeming your yard is: just. make. a. decision…to do something. Make it a priority and just make a decision to start the process…you’ll find great power and added energy once you do.  That’s what happened with the Sklars.  After our first meeting and a decision to move forward had been made, Lady Sklar was chomping at the bit to rent a Sawzall to go to town on their deck. So just make a decision to do something.

2. Get a Third Opinion
As I referenced above, one of the things that I’ve found that keeps families from moving forward is that the husband and wife just can’t seem to reach agreement…and it can be on the most inconsequential of issues that sinks the whole project.  Not so much the case with the Sklars, but I have found that a good deal of my job falls into the counselor category. So if you can’t seem to agree…ask for a third opinion…because apparently your two opinions have gotten you nowhere.

It’s amazing how much easier it is to receive the suggestion of someone else…if that someone else isn’t your spouse. I’ve had husbands and wives whisper to me after their spouse has gotten beyond earshot…“I’ve been trying to get them to agree to that for years.”  So…if getting a third opinion will help you move forward…by all means, get one. (And by the way, Britt and I are no exception to this reality…it just seems to be the way things work.)

3. Define Your Spaces

I’ve mentioned this on previous posts, but one of the first steps in helping you move your outdoor spaces forward is simply determining what you want to do outside and where it makes most sense to do those things. All the other decisions will come a lot easier after that…and can come later.  The Sklars…for instance, wanted to have a place to hang out, a spot for their trampoline, a lawn space for their son to play in, somewhere for their dog to do his business (besides the entire yard), and potentially a fire-pit.  And they wanted to do all of this in a not-so-big backyard.  But after answering just a few strategic questions, we found that it all could be done…and in a way that flowed well and made sense:

    • Where will grass grow best…or not at all?
    • Are there existing spaces that could be leveraged to extend into other spaces…uses?
    • Do you want your hang-time to happen close to the house or farther away?
    • Do you want to walk through Rover’s business to get somewhere else?
    • How will these spaces flow together (think in terms of rooms and hallways inside your home)?

Armed with answers to these questions, as well as some other preferences the Sklars had voiced to me, I went to work on a conceptual design…and they literally took it from there.

Backyard Makeover Tips - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.com

4. Break Your Project Into Phases

Don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once.  With an idea of where you eventually want to go, you can break up your entire backyard makeover project into smaller pieces that fit with your reality.  Sure, as a designer, I’d love to see my entire design come to life sooner rather than 10 years from now…but it’s not my yard, my bank account, nor my schedule…it’s yours.  So if it makes sense for you and your family to not do it all at once…don’t. Break it into phases. Don’t wait until the whole thing can be done at a time that fits perfectly into your schedule or within your budget – that day may never come…and many great times outside will be missed if you do. So bite it off one phase at a time.

This is the approach the Sklars took.  They hired someone to put in the lawn space…and then they tackled all the hangout and play spaces themselves…and are waiting to install the plant material for some time in the future.  Sure, it’s not the lush space that they want to eventually have…but that will come in due time. Until then they will be outside enjoying their new spaces vs. peering through their window in frustration, watching their dog walk back and forth doing what dogs do.

Backyard Makeover Tips - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.com

5. Do Something!

I guess this isn’t as much of a tip as it is a final plea! As my dad has always said, the only bad decision is indecision, followed by inaction.  So if you’ve been talking about doing something in your yard for.eh.ver…make a decision to do something and then do it.

If you do, I think you’ll find yourself saying something similar to what Lady Sklar shared in email to me:

“This picture [the one featured at the top of the post] was taken at the moment that our son was running through the sprinkler…when he threw his arms up in the air and exclaimed, ‘Yay! I love my new yard!’.  It was priceless!!!!  THANK YOU so much for helping us redeem our ground.  We had 20 people over to the house for a cookout this afternoon and had a wonderful time.  There were plenty of places and opportunities for conversation all around the yard.  We’ve lived in our home for 7 years and this is the first time we’ve taken the party outside! Thank you for helping us realize the potential for our little postage stamp yard.”

That basically says it all…at least for me.  Now…you…decide to do something that will help you and your family to start enjoying your outdoor spaces. Mark my words…you’ll be glad you did.

Take care,
Doug initial

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  1. Susan Reel on July 26, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Beautiful fun-yardscape! The use of color is beautiful and inviting!!
    Great design and execution Doug! I love seeing the happy boys enjoying their new space!
    I also love the “no decision” adage from your Dad..

    • Doug Scott on July 26, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Thanks for your kind words Susan! Seeing kids playing in spaces that have always been there, but just not as “playable”…is why I do what I do. And yes…decision by indecision was one of my dad’s favorite quotes while growing up…along with – Where’d you park your squad car Dick Tracy? Take care Sue! – D.

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