Before & After: Back Patio Cleanup

Home-improvement magazines always seem open any article with a before and after comparison so… here you go:

When we first moved in, we didn’t think much of the back patio. It was small, overgrown, and not much to look at. Then over the winter, the fence fell over.

In the spring, we decided to replace the fence and clean up the space – our second outdoor space makeover! Here’s what we did.

Weekend #1

Size up the project. We measured the length of the fence, and the spacing between the posts. We went to Home Depot to pick out our wood fence – there were only two options, so that made it easy. We placed an order for what we needed, and rented a van to pick it up. The total was around $350.

Weekend #2

Call in reinforcements. Corey’s parents came over, brought tools, and were a huge help! Corey and his dad ripped out the old fence, dug post holes, and installed the new fence. Corey’s dad is a carpenter so… he made it look easy.

While they did that, Corey’s mom and I pulled out all the overgrown plants. We filled at least four contractor bags full of organic matter. Fritz helped by finding the tennis balls hidden in the overgrowth.

Detour for planting! While this was all happening, my friend Emily stopped by – she’s an avid gardener and had been growing veggies from seed since early spring. Despite my warnings that I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever owned, Em promised us that we’d be able to manage a garden. Corey’s mom brought over a rototiller, and we tilled the soil in 15 minutes – something that would have taken hours without it. We then lined the edge of the garden, dug holes, put in compost, planted, and watered. Em started us off with 10 plants and some marigolds.

Celebrate! After working together for about 5 hours, we had a new fence, a clean back patio, and a veggie garden. Not too shabby for a Saturday!

Weekend #3

Pressure wash and cleanup. It was time to take care of the concrete, which had gotten mossy and dingy with the overgrowth. A few hours of sweeping and pressure washing turned the backyard from brown-green to grey. We also had to call for someone to remove our landscaping and fence debris, which was about $250. In Maine we would have just driven to the dump ourselves, but the Boston metro area didn’t have that option.

Make it pretty. We already had furniture from when we lived in Maine, so we just pulled that out of the garage and set everything up. Our big new purchase: a fancy outdoor rug for about $100. We also picked up about $30 worth of plants at Lowe’s.

Weekend #4

Throw a party! We had just gotten engaged a few weeks before, so our new, cleaned-up patio was perfect for our engagement party. We had perfect weather! It was the happiest day, surrounded by family and loved ones.


The backyard has become an awesome outdoor living space for us. I’ll occasionally work out there, but my favorite is reading under the big tree on Sunday afternoons.

We’ve also found it to be a terrific place host dinner! A few twinkly lights from Costco did the trick.

The flowers lasted a few months, but have died off in the last few weeks because of cold weather and, let’s be honest, neglect. As for the garden… we’ve harvested about 40 lbs of veggies over the summer with very little effort – I think we watered once every two weeks. The tomatoes, eggplants, and jalapenos were delicious, but the cucumbers were a bit funky. Next year, we’re going to plant a few more rows of veggies, and see how it goes!

If you like reading about home-improvement adventures, here’s another set of Before & Afters, as well as a walkthrough of how I organized my rental kitchen in Cambridge. And if you just want to read about a ridiculous rental experience, check out how Emily and I evicted squirrels out of our living room ceiling.