Skip to main content

The after photo.

This is Part I of a five part series detailing the rehabilitation of a "plain Jane" back yard into a really nice landscape. My son and his wife live in a cool little town adjacent to West Palm Beach, Florida. Their home is somewhat akin to a "shotgun" style, with a similarly shaped back yard.

Over the course of a week, I helped my son with the latter stages of the plan that he and his wife had begun to implement shortly after they moved into their home. The back yard is now a very welcoming part of their home, complete with paver patios and walkways, a water feature, new sod and plantings, and provisions for the future expansion of irrigation and landscape lighting.

For all things neat about your yard, don't miss Diane Rixon's Avant Yard, here on DIY Life. Additionally, if you want to consider something other than pavers, take a minute and look at my feature on some of the options.

Check out the gallery for the process involved in the initial stages of the construction and, after the jump, we'll get into the fun stuff.

Build Your Own Patio - Setting Up(click thumbnails to view gallery)

Ah, virgin territory!The pad ...OK, where to begin?The edge of the patio.The beginning of the beginning.

My son and his wife (hereafter known as s/w) conceived and initiated the design several years ago. The first tasks involved some fairly extensive planting and transplanting and then moving parts of the fence some 20' rearward in order to accommodate the future expansion of the landscape plan. During that exercise, we relocated the back panels and gate and added new side panels. Additionally, my s/w purchased three pallets of brick pavers from a neighbor unable to use them. We subsequently moved them (in a thunderstorm, thank you very much!) to the backyard of their home.

This is what the backyard looked like, after the fence was moved, and just prior to the start of rehab project:

First off, safety: I recommend gloves, knee pads, and eye and hearing protection. We had only a water line to contend with (the power was overhead) and my son was aware of the location, otherwise we would have had the utilities marked.

Tools: we had all of these guys except for the rented tamp; if you had to buy them, you're probably looking at $150.

  • Shovels -- flat and round-point.
  • Rakes -- leaf and garden.
  • Wheelbarrow (optional) -- we had to move the debris only a short distance to the pile, but it would have been helpful for the big chunks. We opted for a garbage can for the dust and small stuff.
  • A vibrating plate tamp; don't get a "jumping jack" tamp used for compacting the soil in a trench; it'll crack the bricks and it's a beast to handle. Cost was about $200, delivered and picked up by the rental store.
  • A circular saw with masonry blades, to cut the bricks. In hindsight, we should have used a block saw or a brick splitter; it would have been more expensive than the three dollar blades for the saw, but immeasurably more labor-efficient . (My bad.)
  • Levels -- string line, carpenters, and torpedo.
  • A string line -- used to determine the grade over long distances.


  • The pavers, of course. As noted, my s/w bought three pallets from a neighbor for $700, about half the regular price; what a deal! You buy pavers by the pallet (generally) in about 125 square foot amounts for $3-5 a square foot, depending on the style. Pavers are available smooth and tumbled, in one-, two-, and three-shape combinations, in circle kits, and in mixed colors, as we had. I recommend that you accurately lay out your intended design before you buy the pavers. Failure to do so will likely cause extra trips, extra cost, and require you to possibly buy an extra full pallet to carry out your project when a small adjustment in the design would have saved you that money (of course, I'm not intimating that anything like that ever happened to me.) Don't forget to budget for the delivery costs.
  • Paver edging - runs about a buck a foot; get what you need for the perimeter plus 10% to accommodate the cuts.
  • Spikes to secure the edging -- we bought a box of the 8" size for about $72. You'll need one spike about every two feet of perimeter edging.
  • A half pallet of fieldstone for the water feature -- $100.
  • A small pond pump -- $125.
  • Plastic pond liner (discontinued, on sale) -- $75. In my contractor life, I would have used 45 mil thick EPDM liner, but this pond would be in the shade, it was to be quite small, and the price was right.
  • Preformed concrete steps -- recycled from the yard; see them in the photo above.
  • Bedding and top dressing sand for the pavers -- recycled from the yard; this was Florida, after all.
  • Top soil -- also recycled from the yard and used for planting and filling the low spots in the yard.
  • Sod -- about 800 square feet at $.45 a foot, picked up.
  • Palm trees and miscellaneous plantings -- bought and installed prior to, and after, the construction phase.

The process:

  1. We pulled up the step stones for later use in the pond.
  2. Then we transplanted, or set aside for the post-construction phase, the necessary plantings. We "heeled" the plants in to protect them from drying out.
  3. We then began the demolition of the back parking pad. We had some concerns, from our earlier fence-moving project, that we might face several unpleasant parts of the task, to wit: very hard concrete, and mesh rebar in the pad. It turned out that the amount of the mesh was minimal and the 3-4" concrete pad was sort of a "tabby" mix, made with an aggregate of sea shells (imagine that, sea shells in Florida) instead of gravel. We just pried the stuff up with the point of a shovel and broke it into small chunks. We had budgeted a bunch of time for this part of the project but it only took a couple hours. Very happy about that. We were additionally fortunate that we had to get the debris only outside the fence line, about 15' away.

OK, that's it for this portion of the project. Join us next week for Part II, when we begin the paver work.


  • Kelly

    Great article, Bill! A big undertaking as well. I'd get out and do something like it if it wasn't so hot!

  • Bill Volk

    Kelly--thanks a bunch for the compliment. It was a fun project, especially considering that I was able to work with my son and his wife.


  • 2 Comments / 1 Pages

Add Your Comments

  • New Users
  • Returning

If you are posting a comment for the first time, please enter your name and email address in the fields above. Your name will be displayed with your comment. Your email address will never be displayed.

Add Your Comment

Please keep your comments relevant to this blog entry. Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments.

When you enter your name and email address, you'll be sent a link to confirm your comment, and a password. To leave another comment, just use that password.

To create a live link, simply type the URL (including http://) or email address and we will make it a live link for you. You can put up to 3 URLs in your comments. Line breaks and paragraphs are automatically converted — no need to use <p> or <br /> tags.


Follow Us

  • No features currently available.

  • More Hot Topics The Daily Fix  •  DIY Warrior  •  Home Ec  •  Handmade
    DIY Disaster Doctor  •  In the Workshop  •  Product Picks

    Home Improvement Videos