Backyard Makeover Before and After

Backyard makeover with before and after photo gallery. Six years of backyard DIY projects to create an outdoor living space we love.

Having a blank slate in a backyard can either be a blessing or a curse. On one hand it gives you a fresh template to use your imagination and create the backyard of your dreams. On the other hand it chimes dollar signs in your head with all the things that you’d like to get done, but might not be in the budget for a complete makeover in T-minus 3 months.

So I’m here to remind you that even small steps on the weekends is still something to be really proud of. Weekends can get busy with family activities, birthday parties, sports and everything in between. Not to mention needing to find a time to do all the laundry and normal everyday chores.

A blank slate on a budget means compromises, and possibly temporary solutions until you can afford some of the bigger projects you were hoping for.

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As with any projects that are home DIY makeovers, you decide what the priorities really are. Most of the time that consists of indoor projects that’ll make your everyday life more enjoyable.

Eventually, you’ll get to the backyard but I’m hoping this modest-ish before and after over the years is something you can relate to and remember that you don’t need to keep up with anyone else.

It’s your home. Your budget. Your blood, sweat and tears that go into making your house a home and watching your beautiful family grow around you.

BACKYARD MAKEOVER – Six years of projects

Our adventure in this home started in March 2017. Being young and silly first time homeowners, we bought our house sight unseen while we were still stationed at our last duty station. Not wanting to wait three to six months in temporary lodging and concerns about keeping the dogs with us, we took a leap of faith and luckily for us it worked out.

The house was exactly what our young family needed but it came with a completely empty backyard. No deck. No shed. No trees. Just a few half eaten pizza crusts, a 12×12 concrete slab and a ton of weeds.

As we were settling in, the backyard was definitely not on the priority list. But once summer rolled around we were eager to start creating and enjoy a backyard we’d always hopped for.

Backyard with only a 12x12 concrete slab and green grass.


  • Deck
  • Shed
  • Swing set
  • Firepit
  • Garden
Patio table on a 12x12 concrete slab.


How nice would it be to just jump right into all of those things on the list! But realistically it wasn’t going to happen. A deck would need to be put on hold so we started with an umbrella.


The next thing we decided to invest in was a swing set for the kids. After stocking Amazon for a few months we finally found the perfect swing set that would grow with them and it was on sale!

Building a swing set.
Two little kids climbing the slide to their new swing set.


Then the Arkansas heat in August laughed at us and we realized we needed something bigger and better than a silly umbrella. As a temporary solution we bought two barrel planters and anchored them into the ground. Then we attached a large shade sail to some 4×4’s and our house, and created a large shaded area.

Shade sail in backyard with little girl fallen into bucket.

For the time being it was exactly what we needed to enjoy the outdoors, or so we thought. The heat still drove us into the house by 2pm but this gave us all morning and part of the afternoon to play.

However, we underestimated the high winds we would get here in Arkansas and every time there was a storm, we had to detach the shade sail from the house. I wouldn’t call it a complete fail since it still served it’s purpose, but we did watch the weather when it was set up.


The home improvement store can be a dangerous place for homeowners both new and seasoned. We could use this! Oh, I want that. Let’s go check out paint. And so we did! On the weekends they use to serve popcorn which would entertain the kids and we’d have a nice stroll window shopping around the store.

The garden section was by far my favorite area and one afternoon we found a gorgeous tree that the kids named Bob.

-Eastern Redbud Tree

Obviously he came home with us despite someone’s detest about having an obstacle to mow around.

For a few weeks in early spring this Eastern Redbud tree comes alive with beautiful pink clusters of buds that look like they are growing right out of the bark and branches. Eventually they bloom into delicate pink flowers before heart shaped leaves grow in the springtime.

Just planted Easter Redbud tree.
Eastern Redbud tree with pink buds along the branches.


Around the same time, we built both a storage shed and fire pit.

The storage shed probably came first since we needed to make a solid base for the rubbermaid resin storage shed to sit on top of. That particular want became a necessity as we grew with a lawn mower and other gardening supplies.

Backyard with storage shed and new fire pit.

Winter came and we held off on any other big backyard projects and started planning…. our deck!


After planning, phone calls, and material lists, our wonderful family and friends helped us build our very own dream deck with an eight foot wide staircase.

It was me. They tried to steer me away from such a large staircase but I wouldn’t budge. I had a vision in mind even if that meant loosing some rail space.

The frame for a new deck.
Eight foot wide deck steps with lighting.

We bought an even better Tri fold umbrella with cement stand and waited the full year, as recommended, to stain the deck. Have you ever had one of those renovations where you just stood back and just really looked at it. Maybe it was your kitchen countertops. Perhaps you replaced a shower. But that was this deck for me.

No longer would the kids and dogs trip down the three brick steps onto the cement pad because none of them could wait their turn. No, this was perfect.

Backyard with fire pit, play set, storage shed, kiddy pool and new deck.


Everything was beginning to come together and with some leftover wood from our deck, we had just enough to make a small planterbox garden. One that needed a little makeover with some artwork from our kiddos.

In our small garden we’ve planted basil, cherry tomatoes, peppers and mint.

Painting the side of a raised flower garden.
Planting tomatoes in a raised flower garden.


The next spring came in the blink of an eye and we were finally able to stain our deck and raised garden. Along the way we learned some very important newbie lessons and have become better DIYer’s because of it.

Newly stained deck.


As if that wasn’t perfect enough, that summer our family came down and helped us build a pergola on our deck. The Tri fold umbrella worked well but it just wasn’t large enough to keep the area shaded.

The idea was to build a pergola and add a shade sail to the top. That way we would get plenty of shade throughout the day and it would keep our kitchen cooler in the afternoons since we have a nice big window looking into the backyard.

New pergola on a rainy day.
Pergola with wisteria vine climbing up the 6x6 beam.

We also added heavy curtains in the front of the pergola so that when the sun begins to set during our evening dinners, we can close the curtains and continue with the nice cool shade.

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These curtains are amazing! Since they are heavy we can feel how much cooler it makes the area once they are closed, and since they have grommets along the bottom, we are able to slide a rope along the bottom to keep them from blowing around on breezy days.

Movie night under the pergola.


That same weekend we built the pergola, we also planted a Wisteria vine to climb up the post and onto the rafters as a sort of canopy after a few years. It can be an aggressive vine so it’s important that we keep it nice and trained along the path we want it to grow, all while keeping it trimmed.

Wisteria vine climbing up towards the pergola rafters.


From there we’ve stained the pergola to match the deck. Re-stained the swing set. Did our own DIY double fence gate. Added a small pool. Painted the backdoor blue and pulled out a ton of crab grass.

It’s constantly a work in progress but that’s part of these home DIY projects. To continue with small improvements and maintain what we’ve worked so hard to build.

Backyard makeover before with a 12x12 concrete slab.
Backyard makeover after with deck and pergola.

None of this happened overnight, so when you see those gorgeous backyard renovations, don’t be fooled into thinking that that is normal. That came with a huge budget and professional hired help. This backyard makeover and DIY projects took over six years.

I know this isn’t the most stunning backyard but it’s one that WE created. We put in the time. We put in the effort. We made this empty backyard a small little summer oasis. One that we enjoy watching the humming birds during breakfast, and listening to the kids play on the swing set as they ask us to watch them go higher and higher.

Two little kids blowing bubbles in the backyard.

Never feel like your outdoor space isn’t enough because even if it means a tiny garden, how cool is it that you can make some delicious sweet tomatoes right in your own backyard.

So enjoy your time. Enjoy the small moments and maybe every once in a while get your hands dirty.




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