Landscaping Reveal + a Budget Breakdown!

Today we’re sharing the before + after of our urban front yard landscaping project. Keep reading for what we hired out, what we DIY-ed and how much it all cost.

Our front yard landscaping is complete! Can't wait to watch this view grow year after year | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
porch makeover | porch light | pavers | bench

It’s official, we’ve nixed all the green grass from our front and back yards, and it feels… like a relief? Magical? One less thing on the to-do list every Saturday morning? Yes, yes, and yes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a grassy lawn (see exhibit A right here), but the yard we’d worked hard to manicure for years was no longer working for us. It’s a pass through to the backyard, and sometimes, we’d lay down a picnic blanket and eat takeout on the small patch of lawn.

More than anything, it was feeling untidy after months of construction work on our home’s exterior, and the juniper trees we planted 7 years ago were unruly – beautiful, but unruly nonetheless. We craved a landscape that would provide more interest, more color and more to explore, and so, we came up with a plan:

Landscape plans for a small urban yard in Chicago | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas

Front Yard | Before

Front Yard | Today!

Our Chicago front yard! | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
pavers | bench

We don’t miss that tight + tidy manicured lawn for a second. We’re thrilled with how this all came together! This feel much more like ‘us,’ and considering that this is only year one, we cannot wait to see all our plantings form into one cohesive, natural living thing. With the help of our landscape consultation, we’ll have varying heights, blooms and ground cover that’ll take us from spring through fall – and you can see we still kept one of our evergreens for winter color, too.

The Starting Point

Below, you can see a glimpse of our completed front porch, which included taking down the lattice and adding a for-looks-only support in the center. This opened everything up and gave us a starting point. From there, we went to Lurvey’s Garden Center and picked up every plant on our list. When we got home, we followed the design sketch to lay out the plants and see our plan take shape:

Not long after plant shopping, you might remember that we added an Underground Downspout to the far corner of the front yard. We also hired a contractor to knock out part of our concrete sidewalk that would soon be replaced with pavers. That brings me to…

Laying the Pavers

… laying the pavers! And wow. Wow, laying pavers is no small feat. We shared in real time our struggles with the paver layout, and we ultimately had a friend (thank you, Toby!) help us finalize the pattern. But I would say the hardest part of the job is moving each paver, digging into hard soil, moving the pavers again, grading, and moving the pavers yet again (and probably one. more. time. after that). Pavers are heavy, but hey, we got a little buff in the process!

Prepping the yard for pavers | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas

Speaking of which, the process was straight forward, but time consuming. I have so much respect for anyone who does this for a living! Here’s a simple breakdown of each step:

  • Remove the grass and grade the soil | For our small lawn, we used a shovel to remove and dispose of the grass, but a larger yard would benefit from using a tiller.
  • Dig down 4″ along the paver path | This sets the stage for 1-2″ of paver base + our 2″ thick pavers. Below, you can see that we used string to ensure level from front to back. To dig down, Scott and I both picked up our shovels and got to work!
Prepping the yard for pavers | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
  • Lay the paver base | Laying paver base makes for a more level surface and prevents pavers from sinking into the earth. We used about 1″ of crushed limestone on the bottom, followed by 1″ of paver base sand to fill the cracks. If you’re local, we purchased the limestone and base from Chicago Land Materials, and we had an awesome experience with them!
Laying paver base | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
  • Lay the pavers and level, level, level! | Then it was time to lay the pavers! We used these 12″ x 24″ Unilock Arcana pavers in the color Lugano, and we ordered them through Lurvey’s Garden Center. Despite all the grading and leveling we’d already done with the soil and paver base, we still measured and leveled each paver as we set them down.
  • Back fill and mulch | With the pavers in place, we back filled around them with soil, put our plants in the ground and mulched. Whew, we did it!
Measuring and leveling pavers for our front yard landscaping | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas

Here’s another before and after, because they’re so fun! You’ll notice that the row of hostas lining the fence are missing in the ‘after’ photo, because we’d already cut them back for the season. We can’t wait to see them fill in next spring!

Front Yard | Before

Front Yard | Today!

Our urban front yard in Chicago! | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
pavers | bench

The pavers really helped us achieve a proper path from the front of our home, around to our back patio. Our back patio is a gathering hub for most of our block, whereas the front yard sets the tone for how we want our home to feel. Manicured, but layered. For the first time ever, the pavers guide our friends around the back, down our Chicago gangway and into our backyard oasis.

Overhead view of our small urban yard | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas

Before + After

Unilock Arcana pavers in our landscape design | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
pavers | chelsea boots

Let’s Talk About the Plants!

We’re big plant lovers, and over the years, we have a mostly green thumb. But one thing we’re not good at – at all! – is understanding when a plant blooms, how long we should expect blooms to last, and how tall + wide each plant will be at maturity. This is why we hired a landscape designer to consult with us! We described our style as quirky and whimsical, and we let him know that we prefer white and purple flowers. I mean, give us whimsy, but we still want a little bit of control, haha!

catmint lining our paver path | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
catmint lines the pavers
euonymus inspiration | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
we love the variegation in euonymus
cotinus winecraft, aka miniature smoke bush | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
this is a cotinus winecraft, a miniature smokebush
low creeping juniper in the front yard landscaping | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
low creeping junipers line the fence
Scott watering our new hydrangea! | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
this hydrangea bush will produce floofy white blooms!
Cheyenne Sky grass | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
Cheyenne Sky turns red in early + produces blooms in late summer

There are a few plants that have dropped leaves since planting, but our landscape designer assured us that if we scratch the stem and see green, they will be just fine. (We did, and they’re green, phew.) Perhaps the plant I’m most excited to see take off is a Syringa, aka “Miss Kim,’ and no, not just because we share a name, ha. It’s a form of lilac that produces the prettiest purple blooms, and I have dreams of hoarding fresh clippings for our dining room.

And above, do you see that reddish ground cover near the Cheyenne Sky grass? That’s sedum we had in our garden that we saved and dispersed throughout the landscaping. It has a reputation of taking off quickly, and the hope is that the sedum will cover most of the mulch in a year or two!

A Place for Coffee and Sandwiches

In sharing our beautiful bench being delivered on Instagram, I made the offhand comment that it will be the perfect place for ‘morning coffee and sandwiches.’ Scott hasn’t let me forget it, and now anytime I make myself a sandwich, he asks if I’d like to sit on the garden bench. Very funny, Scott! Joke’s on him, because why yes, who wouldn’t want to eat a sandwich on this bench?

Budget Breakdown

Now for the final tally of how far we could stretch our garden funds! I’m breaking down how and where each dollar was spent, in case it’s helpful as you make your own plans. All costs include delivery of heavy items, such as the limestone and paver base.

  • Landscape Designer consultation + plans = $350
  • Underground Downspouts + materials = $100
  • Plants = $470
  • Crushed limestone + paver base = $320
  • Pavers for a 15′ path = $350
  • Mulch = $40

TOTAL = $1,630

What the total above does not include is landscape lighting! We can’t decide which route to take. Path lighting? Solar powered? Wired? Smart lighting? This is a project we’d like to tackle by spring.

Scott and Catfish enjoying the front garden | via Yellow Brick Home | small yard ideas
pavers | bench | dog collar

Thank you for following along as we shared the process on the blog and in real time on Instagram! I’m looking forward to sharing the progress of the yard as it grows year after year. Is there anything we didn’t answer? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think! xx

PS: A throwback to the exterior ‘before,’ the completed porch makeover, and our urban backyard.

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  • Vickie10.27.21 - 4:43 AM

    Looks great!
    You probably used one, but wanted to be sure to mention – tamper (tool) for pounding down the paver gravel base, makes a big difference in leveling and having stones be very solid/no wiggle. Also a regular woodworking level helps a lot.ReplyCancel

  • Stacy10.27.21 - 6:46 AM

    I love small yards, and what the two of you have been able to accomplish with yours is so beautiful! Visually, I think removing the lattice was a great call – is there a noticeable difference in the light coming into the garden apartment now that it’s so much more open under the porch?
    P.S. That last photo with Scott and Catfish is so sweet! Olaf has the same spots on his belly ❤ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.27.21 - 9:11 AM

      Yup, SO much more light in the garden apartment! We also added crushed limestone under the porch to brighten it up as well. And aren’t those belly spots the spots?! I can’t resist them.ReplyCancel

  • Leslie10.27.21 - 9:14 AM

    The solar lights Sherry from @younghouselove absolutely loves and recommends!ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.27.21 - 9:46 AM

      We are considering those!ReplyCancel

      • Stetler Nancy10.27.21 - 8:54 PM

        Yes! These are the best and make such a statement!ReplyCancel

    • Carol10.27.21 - 4:02 PM

      We got those for our house in LA before we sold it!  Added a whole lot to our curb appeal at a really great price.  I wish I’d found them earlier so I could have enjoyed them for longer.ReplyCancel

  • jenn10.27.21 - 9:50 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’ve really gotten into gardening the last couple of years but have struggled with the planning. There’s so much to know! I’ve considered consulting with a landscape designer but am usually deterred by the unknown cost. But this is very reasonable. I’m also glad you shared the groundcover that wasn’t on the original plan because I was curious. Sedum is so fascinating to me. So many different types, and I love most of them! I cannot wait to see this fill in some more. Great job. ReplyCancel

    • Scott10.27.21 - 10:15 AM

      Thanks Jenn! We called around to a few different designers and the cost estimates varied WILDLY! One company estimated $1,250 to visit our home, provide a sketch and a digital rendering. We certainly understand the value for a larger space, but this yard is about 150 square feet. It pays to make some phone calls first!ReplyCancel

      • S11.7.21 - 8:42 AM

        Landscape architect chiming in here!  Definitely call around to a few designers, both for pricing and to get a feel for them and their work. There are landscape architects and designers who only focus on residential, and they will likely be more affordable (and won’t include things like a digital rendering, which is a wholly unnecessary expense for a small project like this, IMO!).  As an avid DIYer and an LA, I love to see people tackle projects themselves, and getting a professional’s input can be really beneficial for creating a holistic, cohesive space that you love. ReplyCancel

  • mh10.27.21 - 1:33 PM

    lovely. i live in eugene, or and my neighbors have a corner-lot xeriscape garden that is well established and is just GORGEOUS. look forward to seeing how yours matures and develops.ReplyCancel

  • Julie10.27.21 - 1:49 PM

    I love how it opened up some light to the garden apartment. I know it will grow in more, but I bet they enjoy the new view too!ReplyCancel

    • Scott10.27.21 - 2:10 PM

      The feedback from our downstairs neighbors has been overwhelmingly positive!ReplyCancel

  • Larson Kylie10.27.21 - 6:58 PM

    Tell me about weed management plans?? This type of layout is something we’re considering in part of our yard but we’re afraid it’ll look nice Year 1 and then take a lot of maintenance to weed by Year 3+. Any plans to combat??ReplyCancel

    • Scott10.27.21 - 8:08 PM

      Hi! Every yard takes maintenance, no matter how it’s planted. We try to tackle weeding weekly or bi-weekly depending on the season and we’ll simply have to stay on top of it. Keeping fresh mulch on top of soil keeps weed roots from penetrating too deeply into the soil, so they’re easier to pull. The sooner we can get to them, the less rooted they’ll be. Hope this helps!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren S10.28.21 - 9:32 AM

    Love the breakdown and the cost insights – a pretty reasonable investment for a big impact! While I know labor costs vary, is there a ballpark for subbing out the concrete removal?ReplyCancel

    • Scott10.28.21 - 10:46 AM

      We have a longstanding relationship with our concrete contractor, so he takes great care of us. He charged us $400 cash to remove and dispose of 10-12 linear feet of sidewalk.ReplyCancel

      • Maggie9.26.22 - 1:11 PM

        Would you be willing to share the name of your concrete contract?  We live in Logan Square and need to replace our front walkway. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Courtney10.29.21 - 4:59 PM

    I planted a Miss Kim lilac at our last home! It was an end of season clearance plant and in poor shape when I got it, but by spring it had bounced back and only got more beautiful every year. It’s still there and I admire it every time I drive past our old place. I will warn you if you’re sensitive to smell, though- it is a VERY fragrant lilac. I wasn’t able to take cuttings into the house because the smell was too strong for me. Hopefully you will enjoy it! The blooms are a lovely colour and size. ReplyCancel


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