A Total Yard Revamp: By the Numbers

Okay, folks. Here is the part I am usually most curious about: how much stuff did I buy for Operation: Chaos into Beauty?

Note:  I did not include the driveway demo/install here, because that was a unique requirement and didn’t have that much to do with turning a lawn into a garden.

The purpose of this post is to give those of you out there with a desire to take on a similar project some idea of the cost. As a reminder, here’s the plan of my yard:

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Each of those grid blocks is 1ft x 1ft, to give you an idea of scale. Now let’s get to those numbers!

10

From my first trip to the store to filling in my walkways, this project took 10 weeks to complete. Could it have been finished sooner? Of course. But I had evenings and weekends to work (and one of those weekends was spent on a mini-vacation).

162

This project took 162 retaining wall blocks (lined up along the left edge of my garden), about 40 more than I’d calculated. This is a prime example of project creep.

101

101 bags of mulch ended up going into the yard. Could I have used more? Yeah. This is another area where the number kept creeping up. Next time, I’ll rent a pickup and buy in bulk. Granted, this can be difficult to coordinate when you’re one person, working full-time. But we aren’t doing this because it’s easy, right?

15

I drive a RAV4, which has excellent cargo space for something so easy to drive and park. However, the size of my car means that I took 15 trips to Lowes for materials. Although I ordered some things online and shopped at a few other places, Lowes was my main source for piecemeal materials because they offer me a 10% veterans discount.

Now let’s talk money!

Y’all. I didn’t have a firm number when I planned this project, and it ended up costing me. I don’t have any serious regrets, but I spent more than I would’ve guessed.

(quiet sobbing into my empty purse)

But on a serious note, I could afford it. Don’t take on a project like this unless you have the cash. How much cash?

$2,080

Let’s break that number down:

  • $409.89 in plants (this also includes plant-related items like weed cloth; the tiller rental cost also went here)
  • $195.49 in mulch
  • $155.87 in irrigation (I splurged on automatic timers for my soaker hoses – these are an essential if you live in a hot climate)
  • $429.59 in what I called “hard materials,” which includes things like retaining wall blocks and plastic edging
  • $417.18 in fencing (including the stain)
  • $286.05 for the dry creekbed materials
  • $185.59 in decor (including things like the glider bench and birdbath)

There are definitely areas that could’ve been slimmed down. The dry creekbed was more or less a whim . . . that ended up costing major moolah. That was a planning (or lack thereof) fail. And if I’d bought my mulch in bulk, I could’ve saved money there. I was actually surprised to see my plants total because I was buying them on clearance and in seed form – except that I’d buy plants on almost every trip to the store.

All in all, I’m very happy with how the yard’s looking so far. If you plan to undertake a project like this, here are a few tips:

  • Take advantage of discounts and sales.
  • If you’re on a tight budget, start with a small scale and build up from there (so you can avoid an expense whim).
  • Work at a slow and steady pace so you don’t burn yourself out.
  • Be prepared for a ton of neighbors to come out of the woodwork and talk to you while you’re trying to shovel mulch/stain a fence/etc. It won’t matter if you look like garbage and have earbuds in your ears. They will force themselves in your way.

But the most important tip:

  • Do it. If this is something you really want to do, don’t wait.

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The Final Step: Walkways!

I’ve spent the last several weeks or so tromping around on paths that were black weed cloth held down by landscape staples. They were ugly, and neighbors kept asking if I was putting in a water feature (I don’t know why that was the though process, and not “hey, that’ll be a path!”).

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What took so goshdarn long to get my walkways filled in? Buying filler material, whether it be mulch or sand or gravel, is way cheaper in bulk. Wait – didn’t I buy my mulch by the bag? Yes, and it was a pain in the butt and took several trips back and forth from the store.

I decided to fill in my walkways with a layer of sand to help block the light and prevent weeds and then top them off with pea gravel. I would love to use crushed shells at some point (just for the aesthetics), but my go-to materials yard doesn’t have that at the moment. My immediate goal for the walkway is just to have something to help maintain the shape of the paths and be easier to traverse than cloth over slippery clay.

While I adore my RAV4, it’s not great for hauling bulk materials. Therefore, this process required some strategy. The guy at the materials yard suggested I visit U-Haul for a pickup truck. All in all, that was a great recommendation. The rental was easy, and it was way cheaper than paying $150 for two deliveries (the sand and gravel would require separate trucks). I’ll include a cost breakdown at the end of this post.

My main concern with renting a pickup was damaging the truck bed, so I laid a heavy-duty tarp across it before the first load.

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So. Much. Sand.

I bought one yard of pump sand – the cheapest stuff they had – because it was basically a filler. It took me about two hours to shovel all of that onto the paths. A yard ended up being more than I needed for the paths, so I topped off my turfstone driveway and piled the rest in place that will eventually become (another!) garden.

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The ground beneath the weed cloth isn’t particularly even, but I tried to rake the sand to a somewhat level surface. Since I’m not using pavers, though, I spent most of my energy on slingin’ sand instead of making it look perfect.

After a quick lunch break, I headed back to the materials yard for the pea gravel. Because I ended up with so much extra sand, I opted for half a yard of pea gravel. Was it enough? Of course it wasn’t. There’s a few feet of path that’ll have to get covered in bags. 3/4 yard would probably be the optimal amount. Oh well.

The gravel also took a few hours to spread; it’s heavier than sand and I was beat to a pulp by that point.

Have I mentioned yet that my front yard is in the full, blazing sun?

And that my house is located in southern Louisiana?

Let’s take a glimpsie at the weather station to see how the day felt:

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Oh, it was only 104F!

*cries in sweat*

But it’s (more or less) done! Eeeeeee! Much excite! (and you can see a bit of my bird-luring efforts in the left photo – more on that in a future post).

Now for the cost breakdown:

  • U-Haul pickup truck rental:  $65.71
    • Includes $19.95 base daily rate, $10 insurance (because I live in a place with terrible drivers and I’m not used to driving a large pickup truck), mileage rate, and gas.
    • Delivery, as stated earlier, would’ve cost $150.
  • One yard of sand:  $27.50
    • The same amount of sand bought in bags from a big box store would’ve cost about $190.
  • 1/2 yard of pea gravel:  $38.50
    • The same amount of pea gravel bought in bags from a big box store would’ve cost about $170.
  • Even though I already have the spare bags of pea gravel needed to cover those last few feet, I’ll throw those in here:  $15.20.
  • Total cost:  $146.91

I didn’t include the tarp because that’ll be used for future projects. I can always use a good tarp!

Now that I’m more or less done with the transformation, I’m working on a total cost breakdown of Operation: Chaos into Beauty. I might also write up a list of things I wish I would’ve done differently, though I’ve mentioned bits and pieces along the way.

If you’re taking up a project like this on your own, I have two important tips for ya:

  1. Plan hard (and budget deviations from the plan).
  2. Hydrate.

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