≡ Menu

DIY Sustainable Landscaping on a Shoe-string Budget?

A small bungalow front yard is reborn as a shady woodland oasis of natives centered by a naturalistic fountain accented with metal sculpture.  As you’ll read on, you’ll notice from the photo tour that this new garden shows that sustainable landscaping can be accomplished through DIY talent and on a shoe-string budget when working closely with a professional landscape designer.

The home owners of this Craftsman style home in College Park area of San Jose already prided themselves living a green and sustainable life style.  But there was still some unfinished business – their water thirsty lawn.  So they decided to say goodbye to their front lawn and concrete hardscape and figure out a way to design a new, water wise yard on a budget.  They were receptive to many sustainable suggestions including: turf rebate programs, lawn removal, water-wise irrigation, flagstone installation, planting natives and storm water management.

Fact is, if you have the time, patience and willing to learn, you can do a lot on your own.  Here is what I mean… Size of the lawn was 900 square feet.  For about $5 a square foot, I designed the plans and coached my clients through their installation.  They did the install themselves but I helped them locate materials and assisted them in receiving an $800 water rebate by removing their lawn.  Total cost?  $4,500. 

One could say it’s not exactly a “shoe-string budget” but considering that normally, as similar project, even when priced extremely reasonably, would cost one at least $15,000 it’s not so bad is it?

Here is typical front lawn with non-native planter beds before we started.

Here’s what the garden looked like after we sheet mulched the lawn.

What they ended up with six months later was a gorgeous dry creek bed that drains rainwater away from the house, marked by a rock fountain surrounded by California gray rush. The old concrete path was resurrected as decorative urbanite walls for native bunch grasses, Pacific iris, evergreen huckleberry and woodland strawberry.   Shrubs include coffeeberry and manzanita.

Another angle from the front:

Island alum root fills a large window box. A natural rock fountain and metal “cat-tails” bird feeders encourage birds to visit the garden often.  Now, Humming birds, squirrels and lizards frequent the garden.  The word on the street is people love it too…

As you see, these smart and handy home-owners turned a dull monoculture front yard into a diverse garden full of life.  They saved a bunch, enjoy less maintenance and feel good about doing the right thing for the environment.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave comments here and I will be happy to answer them.  Alternatively, you can visit my website or call me direct if you prefer.

Julie Orr is an owner of Julie Orr Design, a landscape design company specializing in eco-friendly gardens for every size bank account.  She offers different services based on her client’s needs and project complexity.  She also created a service where she brings her laptop to your home and together you talk, sketch and collaborate with the end result being a professionally designed landscape plan at a fraction of her full service fees.  http://julieorrdesign.com

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Kimberly Madrigal June 1, 2010, 6:48 pm

    Julie, I love the design. It would be helpful if you could break down the cost for us and perhaps compare it to the $15,000 budget you mentioned.

    • Julie Orr July 1, 2010, 3:00 pm

      Hi Kimberly,

      The breakdown of this project if they had hired a licensed landscape contractor would have looked like this:

      1.demo of existing concrete paths
      2.removal of lawn
      3. drainage and grading
      4. trenching for new irrigation lines (if applicable)
      5. hardscape- new flagstone
      6. plants, soil, mulch
      7. irrigation
      8. lighting

      Each of these line items adds up quickly and costs vary dramatically based on hardscape material choices.

      Good luck with your project and call me if you have any questions.

Leave a Comment