Checking Out Renovations in PoPville – Vol. 24 – Backyard Landscaping

Ed. Note: If you have any renovation projects you’d be willing to share (inside or outside the house/condo) please send an email with a brief explanation, a few photos and cost to princeofpetworth(at)gmail(dot)com

“Dear PoP,

Since I enjoy seeing other people’s before/after, I wanted to share my newly renovated patio and personal beirgarten. I started with a compacted dirt and rock yard in which nothing would grow, and which had an unfortunate grading that resulted in pools of water against the back of my house and ended up with my own oasis in the city.

I did the roll-up gate from Pooner and Sons. They deserve every great recommendation they get, and were great to work with. For the yard itself, which had significant grading issues, I wanted to pay to have it done right. I was definitely not up for digging up and removing 6-10″ of soil from most of the yard. I worked with Greg Farrah at Capitol Hardscapes ( and it cost around $14k for the excavation, paver patio, parking pad, and sitting walls. It was not cheap, but I always have a dry basement and a wonderful place to hang. They have a great company with a very knowledgeable team of people to make sure it was done right. Finally, I assembled my own picnic tables and did my own plantings so I can say I had some hand in the backyard.”

Awesome, enjoy!

Birds eye view before and after shots after the jump.

79 Comment

  • Really nice! That grass will probably be a pain to cut with a weed-whacker and/or push mower though. I might have gone with a larger patch with the path on the side.

    • Naw, I use a weed wacker on our small patch of grass on both front and back yard. Super easy.

      I really like the symmetry of the central path. The whole thing looks awesome!

      • I swear the vigorous weed wacking I gave my backyard last July (a month’s worth of growth) is what ultimately triggered the rotator cuff injury in my right shoulder…

        OP, very nicely done. I envy you your bbq space!

    • Based on my experience the grass will die anyway. It doesn’t get enough light in these rowhouse backyards.

      • bfinpetworth

        Silly dismissive comment. If you look at the overhead photo, you’ll notice lots of sunshine. It depends on the alignment of the house. My rowhouse backyard gets so much sunlight that some of my potted plants are having trouble with too much sun.

        • Mine too. There’s so much sun in the back that I can’t water tomatoes enough to keep them alive.

  • Congrats – looks great and just in time for summer.

  • Anybody got a recommendation for someone in DC that is honest and responsible to do general yard work? Weekly watering and weeding and trash pickup, leaves during the fall, plantings on occasion etc. An hour or two per week.

  • What’s with that downspout? For $14K your contractors could have done something about that.

    • The downspout is a work in progress. It probably isn’t necessary with the new proper grading, but I’m too paranoid to take it out and risk water issues. I agree it is quite the eyesore and at least plan on painting it brown.

      • True. What about a rain barrel or rain barrels?

        • I definitely recommend rain barrels. We have two and use them almost daily to water our plants and trees. Great way to not only redirect runoff, but to save a bit on your water bill.

          • When you have rain barrels, is there a risk of them serving as a breeding ground for mosquitoes?

          • You buy special disks to put in the rain barrels that last a while and they prevent hatching, it’s some non-poisonous stuff.

          • Ditto on the mosquito dunks.
            I also have a piece of regular ol’ window screen over the top, so the mosquitoes can’t get in to lay eggs. Haven’t had a problem since.

      • ch is about to start a job at our place. so far, they’ve been fantastic to work with. if you have any particular insights into working with them, i would be grateful. thanks. -mc

    • I have a rainbarrel, mosquito screening on top. Overflow goes to a contraption I fashioned using aluminum guttering that goes on the fence similar to as shown, but lower. You can get aluminum gutter in brown, which blends better, and I have plants that screen it so you hardly notice.

  • nice work. we did something similar recently. expensive, but a well worthwhile investment. i understand creating an outdoor living room pays off as an investment better than most any home improvement. regardless, our place is much more attractive and we enjoy it a lot more now. think our neighbors are pleased too.

  • Looks great! Nice job.

  • Very nice!

    May I ask how much the roll-up gate from Pooner and Sons cost? I was thinking about getting something similar for myself, but haven’t investigated price ranges, etc.

    • i think it was around 8k, but includes permitting and everything so you know is done properly.

      • Hehehe…

        So to be clear, you spent ~$22K on a roll-up door and some pavers for that tiny area?

        I imagine when Websters does an update to the dictionary, they are going to put a picture of you next to the word “Taken”.

        • and a picture of you next to “douchebag”. Have you ever had either of those done well/correctly? Its extremely expensive.

          Its why I’ll probably do the pavers myself. At least I know who to blame when I get what I pay for.

        • Piss off, jackass. I am doing our backyard myself and it’s an unbelievable amount of work. I knew it would cost this much to have somebody do it, and chose to do it myself over time, but I can absolutely understand why somebody would choose to pay to have it done. If it seems high to you, I can only guess that you a) are not an experienced homeowner or b) have yet to meet a quality contractor.

          Props to the OP for posting the pics and giving honest figures, and not going the all-too-common route of pretending like he/she got some sort of amazing deal like everybody else does.

          • Redact the “piss off, jackass” part. I hate when I type angry.

          • As a homeowner who has done a lot of work around the house and in the yard myself, I agree with you 100%. It’s a sh-t lotta work IF you want to do it right.

            Cut corners to save some money and you’ll be fixing it again in 5 years – or less.

            Oh, and I say leave in the “piss off, jackass”. It made me laugh.

          • Actually, 14k seems fair given the large square footage and the higher quality pavers, and the pattern that they did.

            If they’d gone with herringbone or a grid pattern with brick pavers it would have been cheaper, but I could see what they got for 16k-20k from other contractors.

        • after you spend a night bailing out your basement with a bucket you begin to reevaluate how much things can be worth to have them done right. The previous owner of my house didn’t appreciate the value of good grading nearly enough IMHO.

  • Beautiful. I am interested in your choice of trees – those look like maples which can get very large and eventually interfere with the wires, the patio, and each other – or are they some other type?

    • They are maples, the hope is that they don’t interfere with anything for at least 10 years down the road (the wires are only cable so not easy to trim around). I chose to go for quick shade and make roots a future-me problem.

      • Love this overall, but you should have buried or removed the downspouts and you shouldn’t have done the two maples. You may also find you are happier without the grass. Can replace them with a few bushes, ornamental grasses, etc and mulch around so you don’t have to water, weed, mow and otherwise deal with the headaches that are small plots of grass in an urban environment. Recommend folks copy your concept, but choose differently — grass doesn’t work well in these settings and those trees will be way too big and too close together soon — small crape myrtles, etc would be better choices.

        • What are crape myrtles like as far as roots?

          I was originally thinking about planting a crape myrtle in my south-facing front yard, as they’re so beautiful in the summer. Then I got a bit skittish after reading the PoP thread several weeks ago about the guy who kept decapitating the city-planted tree next to his sidewalk (because of his fear that its roots would mess with the water pipes).

          • My understanding from one of the nurseries is that crepe myrtles are great plants close to a structure precisely because their roots go straight down rather than spread out. We’ve had one within 10 6 feet of our house for about 15 years. And they bloom all summer and can be cut back.

          • Agree, crape myrtles are great city trees because they can be planted close to structures, easily pruned and don’t get too out of control (while still being fairly fast growing).

            I too think the owner will regret the choice of maples- especially 2 so close together. We made the mistake of planting trees too close together wanting a more immediate impact, but already in 2 years we are planning to take a couple down. And now have to find a new home for them and feel guilty about relocating a tree that may not survive a transfer. I suppose you can leave it as a headache for the next owner to deal with, but then instead of say having one beautiful mature, flowering tree in the yard, they will most likely have to take down both. I see this happen in my neighborhood all the time and wish that previous owners had planned ahead a little more.

          • Crepe Myrtles were my first choice but i let my desire to have “real” trees get the better of me. I’m already resigned to the fact that one of them will come out within the next 5 years to allow the other to flourish. I’m just hoping the other is far enough from the patio to not destroy it too quickly, but only time will tell.

          • As a child, we had several Japanese red maple trees next to our driveway. They’re much smaller, while still providing a good amount of shade, and have a much more compact root structure. The ones next to our driveway were mature, only about 2′ off the driveway, planted only 6′ apart, and didn’t break through the pavement of the driveway or the neighbor’s foundation (the house next door was only about 3′ on the other side of the trees). Bonus, they have really cool dark-red leaves which are a nice surprise from a landscaping standpoint.

          • Oh, and I should mention that they were the *PERFECT* size for 10-year-olds to climb. Best part, really.

  • Looks GREAT

  • Emmaleigh504

    What a great improvement! Well done!

  • Very nice!!!

  • I think it looks great. We would love to have a nice yard to sit outside in the summer but the mosquitos would make it impossible. We literally run from the car to the house in the summer to avoid getting devoured by mosquitos. I wonder, has anyone set up a screened porch or outdoor area to deal with this problem?

  • What a great job! It’s amazing how dividing up a space and putting things in it makes it look larger.

  • Well done!

  • Very nice! Looks like your neighbor also did some work.

  • pennyworth


  • andy

    How do I keep a rain barrel from breeding merskeeters?

    • Properly seal any openings with screen. Use Mosquito dunks every 30 days.
      Or a drop of dishwashing soap will essentially drown any mosquito larvae in standing water.

    • Pour a few tablespoons of cooking oil to float on the top. Since you draw the water from the bottom of a rain barrel it will stay at the top (until it comes time to drain it completely). Mosquito larvae can’t breed with the oil sitting on top (they can’t breathe). Alternatively you can get mosquito dunks, but with the design of rain barrels it may be hard to actually get them in to the barrel itself. Watch for standing water in the collection spout, too.

      • “but with the design of rain barrels it may be hard to actually get them in to the barrel itself”

        Depends on the design. Ours have very large tops that just unscrew and come right off. About a foot wide. I could stuck my head in there! Great fun.

        Ditto the other suggestions… but I don’t find that I’ve needed to add oil of any kind. Screens are enough.

  • Nice work. I would have made some different decisions, such as leaving more green space and a plot for a garden instead of paving most of it and planting two future headache trees, but it’s a matter of personal preference.

    We also have grade issues in our back yard and it is a serious pain to deal with when doing real, permanent landscaping. Kudos for doing it right. I am so envious of that roller door.

  • Mild hijack here:
    I want to fix our space, but don’t want to give up the offstreet parking. We don’t have anything like the depth of the poster here.
    Is it legal/advisable to create your parking pad parallel to the alley? My lot is plenty wide enough for one car plus garbage-can-parking.
    The reasoning is that parking the car perpendicular to the alley would leave a strip of “yard” too narrow to do much with. Was thinking of moving the gate back towards the house, with a traditional backyard inside the fence/gate, and a parking pad outside. This would mean my parking space is ungated, but I’m ok with that.

    • We have that set up…… parallel parking space. Our backyard is wide but not deep also. A space into the yard would take up most of it.

      • We recently did the same thing to allow us more yard. The two downsides are that it is a tight fit. And that your car is kind of exposed when the garbage truck comes through. But to us it was worth it for not giving up the green space.

    • That is how our parking pad- and most in our neighborhood in fact- is.

      • Huh, really? I’ve never seen it. Thought I was being all clever. I’ll have to start driving down alleys.

  • I would have put fencing/screening between the lovely yard and the parking pad. The yard looks great, but in reality you’re always staring at your parked car.

  • Looks nice, but those tree roots are going to wreak havoc on your nice, level pavers in just a couple of years. Speaking from experience, it’s going to be buckle city.

    • btw, you and your neighbors are losing out on precious sq footage by doubling your fences. What is that about?

      • in my defense the double fence was there when i moved in, but still a horrible idea. definitely something that will need be discussed when one of us is ready for a new fence.

  • very nice, but one comment. Just to make it look great, paint the drain pipe to blend in with the fence. Other than that, great job

  • I’m curious what everyone’s fascination with the roller doors is. I don’t think it’s attractive at all. Do you feel more secure? I prefer a gate that matches the fence.

    • Are they perhaps remote controlled? I hate having to get out, open the gate, get back in, park, re-close the gate…

    • bfinpetworth

      I have an overhead door at the back of my yard and like it for the convenience – an enclosed yard and parking place (good for car and dogs), remote control opener, and a sense of privacy and security. Emphasize the “sense” in that statement, because just last week some jerks apparently jumped our fence, opened the overhead door, and stole an entire teak outdoor dining set. So much for security. Now I’m having to secure the door in a way that I can’t use the remote. I’m looking for ways to remedy the situation.

    • i don’t have one, bu ti like them because they don’t swing out into the alley and have a small footprint open or closed.
      but they’re too expensive for me.

    • I think a gate that matches the fence definitely _looks_ nicer, but I was thinking about getting a roll-up gate because I thought it would be more practical. I’d like something that I can easily open from either outside or inside.

      I might experiment and try moving the existing gate latch up near the top… but right now, I can open the gate only from the inside. So it’s a lot easier to park on the street in front of my house than it is to park in my own private parking space.

  • Looks great! What kind of pavers did you use? Are they on top of concrete and did you use morter? or did you do a dry pave with sand in between?

    • We had a large patio put in and they laid the pavers on top of a bed of granite gravel. This allows for it to drain while providing a very solid foundation. Putting these on a concrete pad, you might risk pooling water.

      And at the very least, it’s better for water to drain into soil rather than running off into the storm drain/sewer system.

    • EP Henry concrete pavers. Immediately by the stairs they are on mortar on the existing concrete, but rest on the packed bed of gravel.

      • Did you happen to look at pervious pavers (and factor in the credit associated with them)? Considering a similar project for our (smaller) back yard/lot, though minus the green space…probably just planters.

        • bfinpetworth

          What is this credit you refer to? I’m considering removing the small deck on the back of my house and replacing it with a brick patio to open up the yard a bit. Are pervious pavers those ones with openings in them that allow some grass or other ground cover to grow in them?

  • what’s your expert estimate for a more realistic cost?

  • this is the most helpful comment I’ve seen today! Thanks for your elegant insight.

  • This is wonderful and looks like a fabulous place to spend the summer… Congrats on your newest renovation!

  • bfinpetworth

    I love it too. There are so many back yards in this city that are wasted and could be so pretty. Bravo indeed!

  • Question for the OP: what are the dimensions of your yard? I think it looks great. Enjoy!

  • Nice work! With limited space to spare, they definitely did a good job on this. Giving life to an empty backyard gives you a rewarding feeling. I can imagine sitting on the patio while having a mug of coffee while the kids play and my wife doing some gardening. Congratulations to your new backyard! Cheers!

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