The Backyard Redux

comments: 40

OldyardSo I was looking around the backyard this weekend as we straightened things up for Andy's mom's visit, and I thought I'd post the "before" and "after" photos for anyone who might be considering covering their yard in gravel the way we did. I can't tell you how happy I am with this solution to our problems growing grass in the backyard (we couldn't). If you are at all thinking about doing something similar but are nervous, the way I was, these are for you. I would so do this again (er, I mean I would so have someone do this for me again) in a heartbeat. This photo, above, is from April 21, and it was taken the morning the project started.

Yard1_1This is how the yard looked this weekend. Andy did such a good job on everything. I just couldn't be more pleased. The amount of time we've spent out here this summer has increased exponentially since the gravel arrived.

Yard2_1Andy said that it really wasn't that hard. I think he did it over two weekends. He took away the old, too-small deck and rented a machine to remove the top layer of grass stuff (I think it's actually called a sod remover or something). Then I think there was another machine that rolled over everything and made it flat. Then there was a layer of 1/2-inch crushed gravel that got packed in. Then on top of that went the "pretty" gravel (pea gravel). (Please use these photos as inspiration and get some professional advice is you are going to do this.)

Yard3_2So all there really is to take care of, then, is the little rectangle of grass, which is in the spot where the only nice grass really grew, and the tiny herb garden off the kitchen. Everything else is in pots: lavender, sage, oreganos, stuff like that that is easy to maintain and just sort of billows out nicely. I used that Soil Moist stuff in all the pots and only water them about once a week. A leaf blower, though loud and obnoxious, sucks up all the leaves pretty quickly once a week or so.

Yard4_2Saturday nights continue to be make-fancy-dinner nights, though I've gotten so lazy about inviting people over. This weekend it was Ina's spaghetti and meatballs, which I really liked. And like a true Italian, I eschew glopped-on sauce — give me about a tablespoon and a half and I'm happy. My father used to always tease me about eating spaghetti straight out of the box, too — I like it very, very al dente. I don't know if most Italian-American families are like this, but we are not too into most of what passes for Italian food in restaurants. My mother is an amazing cook, and though she is not Italian herself, she learned most of her recipes from my dad's Italian mom. I don't know that my mom ever had a cookbook, actually. She has a box of recipes, but no cookbooks, except for those holiday cookie ones that come out at the grocery store every year. Grandma had neither recipe box nor books — her repertoire was entirely in her head, alas. Usually, when I make spaghetti and meatballs, or what we just refer to as "sauce" in our family, I follow my mom's (and I guess my grandma's) very simple recipe and it is amazing, though Sauce must cook for several hours and contains short ribs, which can sometimes be hard to find.

Yard7_1But this weekend I felt like trying Ina's and I must say that it was great — and actually didn't taste all that different from my mom's/grandma's. The thing about Ina's recipes is that they really do make enormous amounts. Like the chocolate mousse that followed. We are pigs but hers are not often recipes suited for just two. And inevitably, every time I try to split a recipe in half while making it, I wind up not being able to do simple math, halving some ingredients and throwing in whole amounts of others, basically ruining the whole thing; so now I just make the whole thing. These meatballs got popped in the freezer.

Yard5_2Chocolate mousse is not that quick to make, I must say. There was the melting of the chocolate, then separating eight eggs, then beating the yolks and sugar, then washing the bowl, then beating the egg whites (which I overbeat, and I assume this is why the mousse was sort of grainy), then beating the whipped cream, then getting it all folded. It was really good but it took a long time, so if you are intent on making this for dinner, I might start it the morning of.

Yard6_1Because then you'll be able to spend more lovely evening time in your backyard, eating it, instead of in the hot kitchen. I hope everyone had a nice weekend. Thanks for all your sweet and funny comments recently. We laughed so hard at the ones about moving and couples thrifting. Always so nice to know we're in good company.


It's nice to know a yard has potential. Our yard looks similar to your before photos although we have a huge section of pea gravel that we need to get rid of. There used to be a preschool/daycare here. If anyone needs pea gravel and lives near Seattle with a big truck let me know. It's free. I hope eventually we can start working on the yard too after painting the house, fixing the inside up and so on.

Wow! Your garden looks SO pretty - I can understand why you want to spend a lot of time out there. What a fabulous job. I love your green china - beautiful. You have inspired me to start looking at some vintage pottery on eBay - I have spent many a happy hour over the past couple of days checking out 60's coffee pots!!

Such pretty pictures, once again!

I love "before and after" photos and those were fun. I also like the action shots that you do occasionally (like your hub bringing out the mousse and the 4th of July "sparkler" one you did a few weeks ago). Candid is good too even though your composed shots are amazing.

I LOVE Ina Garten's recipes and HER and just did a blog today about her latest book. I haven't made her meatballs but those look a lot like the ones that my MIL make. The entire family is in awe of them.

Thanks for the "invite" to your dinner! We got to enjoy it on the blog which is almost as good as being there.

Wow, That's a big task. Well worth the work though because the results lokk fantastic! The gravel makes the garden look neat and clean. I love a good hammock!

Your background looks fabulous! I just have too much backyard... I do not even know where to begin, but this winter I want to sit down and try to plan out something for the spring. I know that at the end of my new deck I want to put an herb garden bed. I just need to plot it out and get everything ready this fall so I can plant in the spring. I want lots of sage and rosemary. Use some and let other go to flower : )

I finally bought the Barefoot Contessa this past weekend. I have vowed that next weekend will be a cook for her recipes weekend. I may make the raspberry corn muffins for breakfast on Saturday... too yummy... I just wish it would cool off here (high today in Tulsa, OK -- 101, yesterday, 105... blech) so we could go on the patio and eat dinner : ( This fall I forsee lots of dinners on the patio.

Everything looks great!

PS.. I have never been able to get mousse to work out perfectly, so I am right there with you!

ok. we (DH and fam) are at the beach and popped into the library so he could online for a bit. I showed him your yard-we have the same lack of grass growth problem-and he loves it. I'm thinking we'll be doing this!!! I am so psyched as I'm sure it is cheaper than decking it and/or laying stone. woohoo.

OK - now I'm hungry. Your yard looks GREAT! I love it and will definitely file the ideas away to use in our problem yard - right now it is so overgrown we lose the dogs. Thanks again - I think I'll go figure out wht to make for dinner now!

Chris Howard says: August 07, 2006 at 03:38 PM

Okay I'm caving. The AC is fixed and hubby looks so depressed at the thought of another round of sandwiches for dinner. I'm going to order the Ina Garten cookbook from Amazon right now.

I think the graininess might have something to do with not getting the sugar "melted" right. At least that's what it is when I mess up cake icing.

Your backyard looks so beautiful! It makes me wish that we were not renting so that I could do something cool like that to ours. What a fun place to hang out!

Wonderful inspiration as usual...both the yard and the yummy meal!

that is a truly amazing transformation. I never would have guessed it would look so nice with all the gravel, but I really do love it. I'm beginning to rethink the plan for our backyard.

nice job, andy!

oh, and the food looks scrumptious. I say here here to the small amount of past a sauce. I had no idea that was an Italian thing.

The backyard and your food look amazing!
One question: did he put something underneath the gravel so weeds wouldn't grow?
I am sending this post to my husband to see if he gets motivated.

looks fabulous! a wonderful oasis for sure. grass is highly overrated - we can barely manage ours.
i'm cracking up over your last post too - andy looks so much like my son (19) in his punisher tee! he just painted that on the hood of his car.

Always fun to be inspired by your idyllic storybook life. Yes, I do know its probably not but still, seems so .. lovely. (But we know the truth, somewhere there is a chewbacca mask.. )

How lovely -- so nice to eat outside!

Wow...your yard is amazing! It looks fabulous and it.

My parents are Italian and my mom and grandmother would make all kinds of recipes that were never written down! So hard for me...I need to know exact measurements! The sauce looks great! I also like my pasta al dente and would have to cook to mush practically when I cooked for my parents!!! Great blog...

Nice yard! It is nice to know that a yard can be beautiful even without much grass! We have the same problem.
Your blog is always inspiring.

Oh, pretty yard. And the mousse looks amazing!

Hi! this is a message for Veronica TM. There is nothing underneath the gravel to keep out the weeds, but there is a bunch of gravel. Probably about 2 or 3 plus inches of "3/4 minus" with barely any (an inch or less) pea gravel on top. The 3/4 minus was compacted. An occasional weed pops up which is really easy to pull. Any other questions?

I second what AnyDe said. We literally lose our dog and cats in our yard. We have two beautiful but large trees that make it all but impossible to grow nice grass back there. We have been considering the crushed gravel option.. its nice to see if work out so well. I think I am convinced, now just to get my hubby on board. Great work Andy!

Andy has definately worked very hard. It looks wonderful and relaxing. Those meatballs look lovely on your weil ware!

Lovely backyard. If my yard was mosquito free like you lucky guys in the NW, I would do something similar. Hey, Alicia--I have a great recipe for a very vintage punch on my blog. It's so good and it's icy, so great for the hot weather! Thanks for all the great summer reading. I'm addicted to checking Posy everyday!

Karla Neese says: August 08, 2006 at 05:37 AM

Just love the yard redo! It looks so awesome and inviting!

Ina's meatballs and sauce are my favorites too. But you're right, everything she does is such huge proportions. We did make her Tequila-Lime Chicken on the grill this weekend. Oh my - to die for!

Wow! Your backyard looks like a page out of a magazine.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.