From junk heap to beautiful backyard

This is the story of how our backyard went from being a disaster to being a beautiful oasis of grass and bricks in just two short weeks. Five years and two weeks.

When we moved in to our brownstone the backyard was a complete mess. It had a hideous plastic and wood “shelter” built on to the back of the house that contained two hornets’ nests. There was a cracked and ugly cement patio, a mess of wires covering the back wall, and ugly weeds and bushes everywhere. The ground was littered with glass, metal and rocks, and it wasn’t just on the surface either: decades of abuse had filled the dirt with layers of garbage. It wasn’t just ugly, it was unusable. and dangerous.

For the first couple of years we didn’t care much. We were only living in the top half of our house, so we never came into contact with the backyard, except out of the windows. As our renovation progressed more junk got put back there: wood, pipes, two big radiators that no longer worked, a bathtub, and other contractor junk.

Backyard reno (1)

Backyard reno (2)

Backyard reno (3)

Eventually my husband started tackling the backyard. He had a plan: he would dig down a couple of feet and “sift” the metal, glass and rocks out of the dirt using a big wood-and-chicken-wire contraption he built. Some weekends the kids would help him. I begged him to just hire someone and get it done quickly, but honestly I think he was enjoying taking things into his own hands.



He dug for two summers. As much time as he spent on it, he seemed to be making little progress. He did find some interesting things though: old bottles and coins, a pipe, and most impressively, an almost-intact toilet buried in the back next to a tree.

Backyard reno (4)

I’m not positive what pushed him over the edge this year, but I suspect it was visiting a friend’s renovated house. He decided to give up on his little project, and hired the same guys who had done his friend’s backyard. They got to work two weeks ago today.

Backyard reno (6)

The first step was to break apart the old cement patio. The crazy thing is, they found a layer of blue stone under it, which my next door neighbor’s husband happily took off our hands. After that mess was cleared out, the bricks and sand and cement mix started coming in.

Backyard reno (7)

And kept coming.

Backyard reno (8)

And kept coming.

Backyard reno (9)

The raised garden beds were the first to go in. We had them bury some containers in there so that we could grow vegetables without our dirt getting mixed in with the completely leaded Brooklyn dirt, and we’ll be putting in a bunch of flowers too.

Backyard reno (11)

Backyard reno (12)

Days of leveling and brick-laying followed.

Backyard reno (13)

Finally our lawn was pieced together. That was the day I almost cried. And in the three days that we’ve had grass I’ve turned into one of those lawn-obsessed people. Thank goodness it’s behind the house, so I only have to chase my own children off of it (I’m not being mean, we have to water it three times a day and treat it very gently for a few weeks, until the roots take hold in our dirt).

Backyard reno (16)

The very last thing left to do is to put a big awning on the back of the house over the patio (our backyard gets sun pretty much all day), and that should be done tomorrow, so basically it’s finished. I keep glancing out of the window expecting to see the hideous mess that I’d been looking at for so long, but instead I see a gorgeous space that I’ve been looking forward to for years.

Backyard reno (15)

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. Tiffany says

    Beautiful! Now I am totally inspired to (pay someone to) do something with our backyard. We’ve been here 5 years& it is still untouched. Yours turned out beautifully! Enjoy your new space!

  2. says

    Oh, Lovely!! I absolutely love renovations! It looks fabulous, now you get to go shopping for patio stuff and plants! (you can tell I love this stuff!) Congratulations and have fun:)

  3. says

    Oh, kudos! It is such a massive project to take on. (doing it right now myself, and it’s taking a lot more than two weeks) The patio is stunning.

  4. Elissa says

    A great backyard is like an extra room in your house! Enjoy it to the fullest – it’s gorgeous!

  5. says

    They did an awesome job! Congratulations! I know the feeling of joy it is to suddenly have grass. last year we transformed (did it ourselves in a much bigger area) our back ‘yard’ from a slippery muddy slope to a lovely terraced area with retaining walls we put in ourselves with the help of a couple of friends. Then we added some sod to the smallest elevated area and seeded the rest. Words can’t express the feeling of calm that comes from just seeing lush green where you were sued to dirt and mud. Anyway, yeah I know the feeling. I’m happy for you!

  6. says

    That looks amazing. Honestly, I had no idea it would look that great when it was done — I’m looking at the pics in awe. You guys must be thrilled!

  7. says

    Ooh…. it’s so fun to see before and afters. You must just sit out there and look around at everything and feel all happy. And I really hope you worked the toilet back in somewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>