How I outsource my life (Part III)

The homes in our Los Angeles neighborhood tend to have small back yards. We’ve struggled to make ours liveable for most of the 14 years we’ve been here. We wanted to have space to entertain and relax, as well as room for our dog to run and our daughter to play. What we wound up with was an awkward mash of concrete and brick, overgrown plants and a “grassy” area that was slowly dying, thanks to said dog. In a place with beautiful weather year-round, we rarely ventured into our own back yard to enjoy it.

We liked the concept of expanding our living space with an “outdoor room,” but weren’t quite sure how to pull it off.  My husband’s a skilled artist and designer, while I’m an amateur gardener, but we didn’t really have the skill set to create a functional, attractive space. We’d interviewed a few landscape designers, but their visions collided with my basic frugality. I really couldn’t stomach the idea of spending $40,000 to $50,000 on a few hundred square feet of yard. Ripping out everything that was already there, and replacing it with all-new materials, didn’t seem very environmentally friendly, either.

Enter Karen Miller, CEO and principal designer of Sacred Space Garden Design. She had a $40,000 vision as well, but she didn’t balk at scaling back to fit what we were comfortable spending, which was about $10,000. Even better, she was willing to collaborate. If we didn’t like an idea or wondered about an alternative, she was happy to toss around the possibilities with us.

We wound up expanding the brick to create a bigger entertainment area. Now we have flexible seating around a firepit, and everything’s moveable, so we can create new arrangements. A burbling fountain surrounded by potted plants provides a focal point we can see from the house. Not only is it a nice view, but it draws us outside. Our daughter’s Play-Well swing set stands in a field of rubberized mulch. She uses it daily; part of every playdate with her friends is spent swinging or swooping along the monkey bars.

Karen retained most of the plants we had, but trimmed them back and added new plants to give more color and contrast to the yard. She added succulents as well, and everything is on automated drip lines so I don’t have to worry about watering. We eliminated the grass entirely, and the small stretch between the brick and the playground is planted with elfin thyme, which is supposed to expand and fill the area. It’s still not clear, though, whether the thyme can survive the dog. If not, we may have to switch to a hardier surface.

All in all, we love our new space. We’re actually using our backyard regularly, instead of ignoring it. The money we spent adds some value to our home, but more importantly, it added value to our lives.

This is the third in a series about how I’ve outsourced certain parts of our lives. In Part I, I wrote about how we used a car concierge service to buy a new car. In Part II, I wrote about hiring a wardrobe consultant to help me sift through my closet and find flattering outfits.