Our Pea Gravel Patio, Garden Lights, & Your Other Backyard Questions Answered

The sheer number of questions we got on this instagram post made it clear that we haven’t kept you sufficiently updated in the backyard department. We’ve had some MAJOR changes – including hiring out some professional landscaping, which was the best backyard warranty we ever bought into (you can hear more on why two DIYers would outsource backyard planting in this podcast about it). And with some more major backyard changes on the agenda – and so many of you guys saying “wait, when did that happen?! How do you like that?! How did you do that?!” – we thought it was a good time to get everyone caught up.




Update 1: Removing The Deck

Your last memory of our backyard might look something like this, with a giant deck spanning the back of the house.

Well, as we detailed in a podcast way back in June of 2017 (Episode #51: Why We Want To Tear The Deck Off Our House) we had fallen out of love with our deck. For one, it was quickly deteriorating. It was already on its last legs when we stripped and stained it after moving in, and that proved to be only a temporary improvement. The wood continued to degrade, nails constantly popped, and boards kept curling and warping.

Plus, with our kids past the age where the fenced deck helped “corral” them – the deck started to feel more like a jail that kept us all from seeing and enjoying the grassy backyard. So last fall we paid a local handyman to help us rip that thing off the house.




We talked more about this in Episode #67, but the removal left lots of mess in its wake. We had to have our HVAC company out to move the air conditioning unit closer to the house (it had been next to the deck), our electrician came out to tidy up some of the wires, and our tree guy finally ground the giant stump that had been lurking under the deck. Oh, and we powerwashed the brick to get rid of all that green slime that bounced off the degrading deck and stuck to the house…

By Halloween-ish last year, we had a fresh, clean slate to start from (this is before we power-washed, so don’t mind that greenish deck scum):








Update 2: Getting Professional Landscaping

After a few failed attempts at growing lush screening plants around the perimeter of our backyard ourselves, we were tired of pouring money into plants that lasted right outside the warranty period, only to die on us. So we decided to call in the big guns. A neighbor recommended a local nursery because their program includes a free landscape plan if you buy plants from them, which they then dig in professionally so that they can – and this was the deal sealer – give them a complete 2-year warranty! If anything dies you don’t even have to dig it up and treck it back to the store – they come out and replace it for you – completely free of charge. It was the plant insurance policy that we desperately needed.

Here’s what our backyard looked like shortly after we moved in (we planted all of the grass ourselves over the course of a few years):

And here it was last November after the crew finished planting some screening plants around the perimeter. It’s basically a mix of perennials that will grow and provide some nice privacy (mostly holly trees and ligustrum) and some ornamental trees and shrubs for some color/beauty (a weeping cherry, a gingko, and two new Japanese maples).

Relying on landscaping pros has been one of the best decisions we’ve made lately. Not only was it a crazy amount of labor that they tackled in just a day and a half (would have taken us a solid week!), but the “insurance policy” has already paid off. We’ve had seven bushes replaced (yes, SEVEN!), including one of the large hollies after they didn’t survive the harsher-than-usual bomb-cyclone winter we had. Plus they’ve been able to advise us on our deer and pest issues (we recently had a Japanese beetles scare) over email. Basically, they’re the only reason we didn’t just spin our wheels for another year and waste a ton of money on plants that later gave up the ghost.




The landscaping still has a long way to go until it looks full and provides the privacy we’re going for (in the winter the large trees drop leaves and it still feels somewhat bare), but we’re excited that things seem to be “taking” and the plants that were replaced have all thrived this second time around. Barring any insane winter again next year we think they’ll do just fine. And the warranty RESTARTS whenever they replant something, so those 7 new bushes are guaranteed for another two years from the day they went into the ground. It’s a pretty amazing program.




Update 3: The Gravel Patio

This got the most questions on that Instagram photo “Tell me more about that pea gravel patio! How do you like it? How did you do it?!” Sherry and I were surprised by the interest because it was kind of a throwaway decision.




Eventually we’d like to put a nice big stone patio there – maybe pavers or maybe something more like slate or bluestone to mimic the darker tile in our raised sunroom area. Either way, we’ve decided to hold off on installing it because we want the ground to fully settle. If you’ve ever had a tree die or a stump ground, you know the area sometimes sinks afterwards as the roots underground decay, so we didn’t want to rush into a patio that later sunk into the ground and got all uneven. The only issue was that the existing area was just dirt and mulch after we ripped off the deck, and we didn’t want to live with a mud pit out back while we waited the year or so for those roots to settle.








So while the landscapers were there last November doing everything else, we asked if they could haul in some basic pea gravel (like this) to fill the area. It was less than $100 for the entire thing!!!  And we should be able to reuse it as a paver base for the eventual patio. We didn’t ask them to do this, but before dumping and spreading it, they dug out the area about 2 inches shallower around the two edges that meet the grass – which helps the gravel stay contained to that area. It really doesn’t travel very much at all thanks to that trench that holds the rocks in.




There’s no sort of weed barrier or anything under it, but we don’t have much of an issue (weeds that grow on top of all that rock can easily be yanked out – and there aren’t many). Even though it’s just a temporary solution, we are happy to shout from the rooftops that we don’t hate it! My main peeve is that it’s slightly annoying to move your patio chair when you’re sitting in it (it kinda of drags and gets stuck) but that might be solved by having the stone fully tamped down – ours was just kind of thrown and raked – and it is pretty thick. So maybe a less deep layer of gravel would actually make that easier?

The happy accident is how much the new pea gravel matches this old aggregate path that leads to the patio area – which is nice because it doesn’t look as choppy as it could have (Burger is basically laying on the edge where the pea gravel meets that path). We’ll eventually replace the old path with a stone one that matches the new patio, but for now it’s not too bad.




So will we keep the pea gravel patio longterm? Nope, we’d like a hardscaped patio. But that doesn’t mean we don’t think it’s a great option – especially if you’re trying to save funds! We actually considered doing it at the beach house! It’s just probably better suited for patios where you’re not moving the furniture a lot (think fire pit, picnic table, or lounge area with a stationery couch).

Update 4: Hanging Garden Lights

Even though our patio isn’t in its final form, Sherry couldn’t resist the siren song of an extra long strand of garden string lights.




It’s kind of an awkward space because we don’t have too many available anchor points, but we discovered through trial-and-error that one 48-foot strand would do the trick.




We originally tried two strands, swagging it from three points on the covered sunroom – but it was looking too clumped on the other side where we only have one anchor point (the one I’m touching in the photo below). So it took us an hour or so to figure out that two strands that converge at that point were the best configuration.




To attach them we just screwed some white cup hooks directly into our wood siding and then looped the cords over them. The hooks aren’t technically outdoor hooks, so we’ll see how they weather – but the white blended nicely and I’m hoping the vinyl sheath discourages rust. For now, everything is plugged into a white extension cord that runs unceremoniously down to an outlet in our sunroom.




Eventually we want to tidy up the plug situation (right now there’s lot of excess extension cord) and maybe get a smart switch or something that will allow us to keep them plugged in all the time. But for the time being it’s not too cumbersome or too ugly. Heck, it’s hardly noticeable in these photos!




So hopefully that answered most of your burning backyard questions. We’ve turned most of our focus to the beach house backyard for the rest of the summer (apart from making sure to keep our plants here alive and uneaten!) so stay tuned for updates on that!

P.S. Did you know that we send out what basically ends up being a bonus blog post each week?! Sign up for our free weekly emails to get them delivered right to your inbox. Sherry loves putting them together for you, so thanks to everyone who already signed up! 

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