Back yard make-over

This post isn’t about organic gardening at all – it’s all about a massive transformation to our living space – but of course we still used organic principles throughout. The goal was to transform our ordinary backyard into a wonderful enjoyable living space with fun play areas for the children too.

Where we came from

We started off with a pretty little pergola area, surrounded by a lawn that got progressively worse the further from the house you went. The children could play up to the pergola, but anything further afield was a minefield of mostly spiky burr weeds and dry cracked up soil in summer. To the left was a chicken coup which the previous owners seemed to use as a dog kennel – neither of which was of interest to us. The pergola was pretty with paving stones and ornamental vines but it had a few shortcomings. As soon as you had more than 8 people in there, it got very crowded. It was relatively far from the house so often the barbeque “chef” mostly sat there on his own – in the wind. It was so open, the wind just howled through you there.


Backyard before make-over 0

Original backyard and pergola


The big picture

So the intended backyard make-over consisted of three separate but integrated projects – to extend the house patio to make room for a large under-roof barbeque and entertainment area that we could use all year, a large lawn with a play area for the children and a natural water swimming pool. Oh and a few other things thrown in as we went along! We’ll cover the pool in a separate post. We got the pergola dismantled quite quickly – the kids quite enjoyed battering down the little wall – and eventually we re-used all its components in other projects. We had the patio extension built in quite quickly too and it created a wonderful new extended living space, which is still amazing to have to this day.

However, then we got stuck – we had our ideas roughly what we wanted, but couldn’t get our heads around a design that would integrate it all. We eventually got in touch with Mal Heppel from DMS Landscapes. We intended that he would manage the pool building process, because he had previously done a few natural water pool implementations. Little did we know he could manage the entire makeover, and a few side projects to boot.

The works

After a lot of delays – almost a year – all the projects were approved, permits were in place and Mal moved in with his guys and started transforming our ideas “on-the-fly” into a design. Mal is very creative, has great ideas, has a really good eye for design and knows where to source almost anything. He also gets his hands dirty and gets things done.


Backyard before make-over

Backyard in its driest state marked for make-over


With Mal game a great bunch of guys. There was nothing young Gus couldn’t do – fences, concrete, digging, laying, whatever had to be done – he even helped us with our vineyard move, which had nothing to do with the whole backyard reno. The other guy we nicknamed the “cowboy”. He rocked up with a huge truck containing not one but two very small but super powerful bobcat type machines. He drove then off the truck using a ramp that looked like a 45-degree angle. Everyone, including Mal I think, was weary when “cowboy” fired up one of his machines – he worked at such a fast pace, it was scary. I never understood the phrase “with total reckless abandon” until I saw the cowboy in action. But he dug the pool, moved tons of dirt, levelled ground, created paths, carted many tons of topsoil around, spread it perfectly evenly, dug holes for trees and did many more things you wouldn’t even think those little machines were designed for, in spaces you couldn’t ever imagine them fitting in – all at top speed and… with total reckless abandon! That he didn’t fall into the pool, dig up a cable, knock over one of our precious young fruit trees or bounce his machine off the trampoline was a miracle.

Mal really went out of his way to satisfy our “organic” requirements. He sourced roll-on lawn that had never been sprayed with pesticide. I remember we were even a little bit excited when some weeds started sprouting in the new grass – well, that joy didn’t last long… Furthermore, Mal sourced a pool fence made of untreated wood that really fitted well into our rustic look. He sourced organic topsoil and organic compost. His guys got rid of weeds and whatever else without herbicides – often through hard labour or by roping the cowboy in. When they left, nothing was left behind – no piles of dirt, no old broken fences or tools, no building rubble – that is really a great finishing touch. They even carted away some of our predecessor’s rubbish too.

Of course the children loved the renovation project. Lots of activity, lots of machines buzzing around, lots of new friendly faces and lots of new and changing play spaces where they could get dirty and play their little lungs out. At this stage they had almost outgrown their Tonka trucks and excavators, but these toys got a new lease on life as everything that happened in the backyard was re-enacted.


Backyard during make-over

Re-enacting the make-over as it takes place


Living space

So one sunny day in October, after many, many months of temporary fences, constant great friendly and capable company – who regularly enjoyed Patricia’s healthy cakes and teas, noisy machines and a general hustle and bustle of activity, Mal’s landrover and Gus’ Ute pulled out of the driveway and an eerie serenity settled over the place. We decorated the “hill” (which was formed from the pool’s excavated dirt) with some fairy furniture that was lying neglected under a eucalyptus tree in the front yard.


Summer 2015 - decorating the hill

Fairy garden on the hill


The kids ran, rolled, biked, swam and played to their hearts’ content. To this day they do. We were blessed with an amazing and large joyous living space!


Backyard after make-over

Backyard after make-over


Lessons learnt

Although this was an amazing project, with a great result, I guess no project of this nature is ever perfect. So we did learn some lessons:

  • One of the big maintenance nightmares we have is to whipper-snip (weed-eat for our international readers) the grass growing between the pool fence. At the time they aligned the fence poles on the grass so that the juice cyphering out of the poles don’t stain the concrete. Looking back, I would’ve dealt with a few small stains much easier than the fence grass nightmare. With our rustic look, we just leave the grass to grow tall along the fence. We don’t need a garden and home award.
  • All the irrigation pipes and pop-ups were laid next to the paths or next to the pool fence. Have you ever noticed where grass grows the lushest, and where you need to do the most maintenance? Sure – next to fences and paths! At the start of summer, it’s even a bother to cut the pop-ups open so that they can work properly. If I ever do such a project again, I would have the irrigation pipes and popups all half a meter away from any paths and fences. Even with our harsh summer, we don’t even need to water the lawn right next to the paths or the pool fence.
  • Using a skilled and experienced landscaper on a project of this size was definitely worthwhile. But it may be a challenge to get a really good one at the right time and right place. We were very fortunate. Good on ya Mal.
About (204 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

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