Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

or
clock menu more-arrow no yes

Greenery Scenery

It's hard enough keeping grass alive for any length of time, let alone creating a lush, thriving yard filled with colorful flora and relaxing water. But you readers proved that with enough hard work, sweat, and creative vision, a yard can be your own private oasis. Here is a look at the top yard makeovers, chosen by the editors at This Old House.

After you've browsed these fabulous yard revamps, you can see all of this year's entries here.

Backyard Pavilion: Before

Who: Terry D.

Where: Marietta, GA

Our backyard before was not usable due to rain and drainage issues.

Backyard Pavilion: After

Who: Terry D.

Where: Marietta, GA

We turned a problem area that was constantly wet and muddy into a fully-functional yard. The pavilion functions as both a quiet getaway and entertainment outlet. The formal English garden provides a soft, natural pathway to the kid's playground, a fun sand oasis with hammock, and a hidden nature trail. We love how the natural river rocks, plants, ferns, flowers, water, and lighting contrast the large use of stone in the patio, stairs, retaining wall and waterfall. A unique hardwood ceiling blends color tones of the stone into the pavilion. A formal garden, arched bridge and sand oasis add additional color and interest.

Who did the work: I did most of the work myself

Cost: $1,000 to $5,000

Brought Back to Life: Before

Who: Chrissie and John D.

Where: Avon, CT

We bought the house in 1985. Chrissie was pregnant at the time we bought the house and we had four months to complete the renovations before our daughter, Cecily, was born.

Brought Back to Life: After

Who: Chrissie and John D.

Where: Avon, CT

This is part of a larger whole house remodel. We have never stopped loving and caring for this house. We have three acres of extensive gardens that we have created. We open our house and gardens to benefit many charities. We will never leave this old house as long as we can still pick up a hammer and paintbrush.

Who did the work: I did all the work myself

Cost: $50,000 to $100,000

Spacious Vegetable Garden: Before

Who: Erin E.

Where: Nyack, NY

We had a messy, sloping backyard nightmare before

Spacious Vegetable Garden: After

Who: Erin E.

Where: Nyack, NY

I love the separate spaces in the yard that create a feeling of space, and the diagonal angle of the deck and vegetable garden fence that create interest in the layout. I love the large, irregular stones we collected from the woods. I love the plants my father gave me that traveled 10 hours by car. My husband and I did all of the work ourselves: removing the mangled chain-link fence (we gave part of it away on Freecycle), building the new cedar fence, installing the deck, carrying stones from the woods for the raised bed, and planting the gardens.

Who did the work: I did all the work myself

Cost: $1,000 to $5,000

From Shady to Sunny: Before

Who: Laura K.

Where: Seattle, WA

Though I love this yard, it was crowded, chaotic, and overwhelmingly shady. I had to work up the courage to cut down several significant trees.

From Shady to Sunny: After

Who: Laura K.

Where: Seattle, WA

I love having a sunny place. We can now grow herbs and roses! The paved area with the four cardinal points marked is pretty and unusual, and reminds me of the sun's path. There are several places to sit, and many ways to enjoy this space. I like the vistas from one part of the yard to another. I drew up the topography. I created the design. I drew the plans and the details. I hired a really good contractor so that the work would be done correctly and beautifully the first time. I researched and selected all of the sun-loving plants. My husband and I did the planting and mulching. This garden is a long-term labor of love.

Who did the work: I did some of the work myself, but a contractor did most of it

Cost: $5,000 to $10,000

Full of Surprises: Before

Who: Joyce H.

Where: Natick, MA

Our backyard was pretty bare before and needed some yard. It took years to design and plant the various gardens.

Full of Surprises: After

Who: Joyce H.

Where: Natick, MA

The sense of accomplishment is wonderful. We never thought that the end result would be so beautiful. Gardens evolve over time; it was not possible to visualize this as the end result. The yard has many "rooms," and there is a surprise around every turn. We did so much of the physical work ourselves, only hiring when we absolutely had to. The labor was back-breaking, and finding all the right plants was not always easy. Some plantings did not work the first time, so they had to be replanted.

Who did the work: I did most of the work myself

Cost: $50,000 to $100,000

New Yard for 250-Year-Old House: Before

Who: Richard and Bonnie K.

Where: Brookeville, MD

We live in a farmhouse that's more than 250 years old. This was the front of the house prior to the fall of an ancient maple tree.

New Yard for 250-Year-Old House: After

Who: Richard and Bonnie K.

Where: Brookeville, MD

We are grateful for the sense of serenity and peace that our yard provides and how it has elevated a "poor-man's 1760 farmhouse" to a place of beauty. We love to show it and are so gratified to hear visitors' positive comments. We are lucky to have had the opportunity to create such beauty. The hardest parts were the back-breaking labor of digging, re-digging, planting, and maintaining the gardens and the sense of loss when an ancient tree fell or was in the process of dying, as well as the need to transplant or replace plants that didn't make it. Thankfully, I point, and my husband clicks!

Who did the work: I did most of the work myself

Cost: $50,000 to $100,000

Formal Victorian Garden: Before

Who: Diana K.

Where: Bloomington, IL

The yard was filled with brick and concrete from the demolition of buildings that previously sat on the site. Tons of debris were dug up and removed by hand during the course of the landscape work.

Formal Victorian Garden: After

Who: Diana K.

Where: Bloomington, IL

To preserve an 1894 Queen Anne house, for which demolition was imminent, we purchased and moved the house to two vacant lots in 2004. Our goal was to create a landscape befitting the architecture and period of our house, seamlessly integrating it into its new neighborhood. I think that we achieved our goal. We incorporated key elements of Victorian garden design into our landscape by creating vast expanses of manicured lawns decorated with formal and informal plantings. I love looking at, and being in this yard, and I am happy that neighbors, friends and passersby enjoy it too.

Who did the work: I did all the work myself

Cost: $5,000 to $10,000

Backyard for Kids to Play: Before

Who: James M.

Where: Jamesport, NY

The backyard before was bare with little room for my kids to play.

Backyard for Kids to Play: After

Who: James M.

Where: Jamesport, NY

When I first started this project, I wasn't sure if it was going to be worth the effort. The hardest part was lifting 250,000 pounds of stone by hand and setting it in place. I gained more space than I had anticipated and when I see my kids out there playing, I thank God that I did all that work. I love the fact that my kids have a place to play and enjoy themselves.

Who did the work: I did most of the work myself

Cost: $25,000 to $50,000

Garden with Many Rooms: Before

Who: Evan O.

Where: Princeton Junction, NJ

Before, we had a completely empty and boring backyard!

Garden with Many Rooms: After

Who: Evan O.

Where: Princeton Junction, NJ

The garden is divided into "rooms" in the English style: a rose garden with boxwood hedge, an herb garden, a long border with lavender and tree roses, a gravel path with rockery, a shrub border, and lawns. We divided up a large open space into "rooms" and made it seem even bigger. The back of this all-white house faces southwest. With a white concrete slab and white river rocks along the path, it was blindingly bright in the summer. We softened the white house with brick and gravel path and cedar structures and dark green hedges, which gave a wonderful frame for flowers.

Who did the work: I did most of the work myself

Cost: $5,000 to $10,000

Serene Koi Pond: Before

Who: Kristina R.

Where: Boonville, MO

This was a fenced-in area that was not being used.

Serene Koi Pond: After

Who: Kristina R.

Where: Boonville, MO

We love the serenity. I love to sit and listen to the waterfalls and watch the koi and watch the birds bathing on the edge of the waterfalls. I love the bridge and arbors our son built. It helps me relax from my stressful job. And it's incredibly beautiful! We did it all ourselves (saved $7,000). I used the bricks dug up from the old 1800s carriage house in the landscaping. The large rocks came from an old 1800s wine cellar up the road that was being dismantled. The man who built the old wine cellar was a partner with the man who built our house, making award-winning wine. They stored the wine in pottery jugs made here and stored it in the wine cellar now being dismantled. We brought pieces of history home, where it belongs.

Who did the work: I did all the work myself

Cost: $500 to $1,000

DIY Painted Pergola: Before

Who: Beverly T.

Where: Memphis, TN

This was the very beginning of the project. Our yard was weeds, dirt, and one large dead tree.

DIY Painted Pergola: After

Who: Beverly T.

Where: Memphis, TN

We have added window boxes and an arbor to the west side of our house, which was plain and severe as the driveway abuts to the house as well as a swing in the front yard—a must in our neighborhood. At 65, I painted the pergola and railings and we bought all of the plants ourselves, planted them, and mulched. I love the wall with stone columns around the AC units and having an attractive deck to enjoy the outdoors.

Who did the work: I did some of the work myself, but a contractor did most of it

Cost: $10,000 to $25,000

Fit for Entertaining: Before

Who: Ken M.

Where: Glen Ridge, NJ

This 1880s Victorian home has a small yard. The yard when we purchased the home had basically been a dog run.

Fit for Entertaining: After

Who: Ken M.

Where: Glen Ridge, NJ

The space is a large area where we relax and entertain. The sound of the water falling in to the koi pond is so relaxing and the fish are fun for kids. The fireplace allows us to sit outside on chilly evenings with our friends after dinner. Outdoor speakers have a remote control eye for controls. We did the landscaping ourselves and purchased the stone and pond materials directly. The stone patio is durable and something we use nine months of the year. We couldn't be happier with the results.

Who did the work: I did some of the work myself, but a contractor did most of it

Cost: $25,000 to $50,000

Surrounded by Flowers: Before

Who: Ken M.

Where: Glen Ridge, NJ

Our yard before was pretty barren. It had only one big tree on the side.

Surrounded by Flowers: After

Who: Ken M.

Where: Glen Ridge, NJ

We had lived 29 years in our other house and it was landscaped extensively by my free time. Then we moved here three years ago, and I was given a blank ugly yard. I had a pond at the old house so I wanted one here. We have always loved to be surrounded by flowers. So now the neighbors come over for tours. They're amazed at the land that was just weeds—now gone and replaced by a chicken house. It is so pleasant to walk among the flowers.

Who did the work: I did all the work myself

Cost: $100 to $500

Raised-Bed Garden: Before

Who: Mike K.

Where: Pennsburg, PA

Three years ago, the backyard consisted of a falling down wooden fence.

Raised-Bed Garden: After

Who: Mike K.

Where: Pennsburg, PA

There's nothing better than relaxing on the patio on a warm summer's night knowing that I planned and executed everything myself—with the help of family and friends. I have never carried out a plan of quite this scale and complexity. I received the slate for free on the stipulation that I needed to remove it myself, and that helped out my budget tremendously. The slate alone would have cost thousands of dollars. I achieved consistency in the design and contrasted the gray slate by staining both fences, finial toppers, raised beds and Adirondack chairs the same color.

Who did the work: I did all the work myself

Cost: $1,000 to $5,000

Koi Pond and Waterfalls: Before

Who: Lisa C.

Where: Syracuse, NY

Our backyard before did not have many features, and we wanted to add a koi pond and waterfall.

Koi Pond and Waterfalls: After

Who: Lisa C.

Where: Syracuse, NY

We love how the pond looks, and we enjoy watching the koi and listening to the waterfalls. While redoing the pond, my husband fell down the basement stairs and broke three bones in his back. Our fish were in the garage in a 500-gallon holding tank and needed to get put in the new pond ASAP. Luckily we had some great friends and neighbors help move the rock back to the pond to hold the liner.

Who did the work: I did all the work myself

Cost: $1,000 to $5,000

Relaxing Deck: Before

Who: Richard S.

Where: Huntington, IN

The hardest part was finding time after work to complete in time for summer enjoyment. The hunt for the rocks and placement was very back breaking.

Relaxing Deck: After

Who: Richard S.

Where: Huntington, IN

The best part is the deck overseeing the pond. It is very relaxing and enjoyable to sit with a drink, listen to the waterfall, and watch the Koi. I saved a lot of money doing the project myself. Finding all the rocks on a farm only cost me a couple drinks for the friend that helped me find them and drop off in the yard. I would recommend to anyone that wants to do this in their backyard to consult a pond nursery for the best tips and information for a healthy pond. My wife and I love our backyard water feature, and I do not regret the backaches that had to get where the yard is today.

Who did the work: I did all the work myself

Cost: $1,000 to $5,000