Before and After: Landscape and a DIY Pergola

With Spring here, I figured outside gardening and landscaping plans are being formed by some of you, so I wanted to share this before and after of our former house’s front garden area where we dramatically changed the look by landscaping and constructing this DIY pergola from scratch. I hope it will inspire you to see what a dramatic difference landscape and details can make for your house too! Before and After Landscape and a DIY PergolaWhen we first bought our former house, back in 1996, this is what it looked like: before exterior garage door 001

I’ll let the picture speak for itself…

The house had been built about 10 years prior, but some things just had never been finished. Here’s what we did to finish the landscaping on the front of the house… well, more than just ‘finish’ it, we actually started over.

We started by ripping out the half dead bushes around the house. Then we needed to add a ton, (well actually tons!) of dirt around the house to properly slope it so the water would run away from the house when it rained, instead of towards the foundation.

After the fill was graded properly, we then had our contractor install a sidewalk and patio pad around to the ‘front’ door.

From that point, we laid black landscape plastic on the new backfill, for added insurance to control the water runoff. (we were finishing the basement and for sure didn’t want any leaking in there. We also added gutters too.) A little trick I came up with, while laying the landscape plastic down, was to lay it all the way from against the foundation of the house out to actually lay over the top of the cement walk a couple of inches. That way, the rainwater would continue it’s path away from the house, on top of the plastic, and just flow across the sidewalk, away from the house. This would help prevent it from eroding under the new sidewalk. I then laid the antique bricks on the edge of the cement sidewalk, sandwiching the plastic between. brick holds edge of plastic on top of sidewalk

Then to cover the plastic between the bricks and the house, we laid pea gravel over it. Whew, I still remember that day… it was blistering hot and muggy. Our teenage kids, my husband and me were working like crazy, shoveling and dumping and spreading all that rock all the way around the house, to get all the plastic, rock and brick laid. Then at one point, we got so overheated, that we just decided to all go down to the river and jump in. Boy that cool water never felt so good as it did that day.

The old bricks that I used in the landscaping, I got for ‘free’ from someone in town that had taken down an old chimney. They were glad to get rid of the pile of bricks in their yard. I say ‘free’, but I did have to work a bit, besides the obvious hauling… being from a chimney, they were covered with the old mortar of it, so with a hammer and chisel working outside on a tarp, I knocked off the mortar. It took time, but worth it… I love old bricks.

From the sidewalk toward the front of the yard, we added more garden areas, defined with a small iron fence and ‘stone’ posts. front garden with fence and topiary bushes

Here you can see the fence, it was purchased from Menard’s and is a cinch to install. Once you have marked a straight line with a string along where you’re going to put the fence, then you just push the rods into the ground, connecting the panels together. No digging necessary. Except for the faux stone posts… They too are from Menard’s, and are composite post sleeves and caps that slide over 4×4 posts we put in the ground setting the bottom of the post below the frostline. Which up here in NW Wisconsin, that means around 3-4′ deep at least!

The arborvitae are now topiary form, after the deer found them one hard winter and munched a bunch of foliage on the bottom. So the following spring, I just cleaned up the bottom branches with pruners and actually liked them better this way. front garden with pergola

On top of the patio pad we had the contractor pour for us, we built this pergola (in real time, it was a couple years after the patio was done)

It really was very easy. It took us, my husband and me, (two carpentry novices!) a couple of days to complete. pergola front

The front three found columns are fiberglass support columns from Menard’s. Once we figured out how to attach them to the concrete pad, (special cement screws and a rented impact driver) the rest was pretty easy. front pergola angle

I drew out on one of the large 2 x 12’s a curvy end pattern I liked, then copied that to the other 2 boards. To cut it out, I just used a jigsaw.

The same process was done for the smaller 2 x 4’s that run parallel with the house. pergola from side toward early sunset

We devised a bracket and pin design for connecting the pergola to the front of the house. In case the patio moves up or down, we didn’t want the front of the porch posts to be stressed from the pergola moving with the patio, so it now can pivot in the bracket system it’s mounted to the house with. front of house with landscaping

There were other things that we changed in our house’s exterior as well, like painting the cedar siding, re-roofing, adding trim around the windows to create contrast from the siding, renovating the garage into a dining room and adding windows to that room, but the landscape and pergola was a huge change and upgrade to the way this house looks.

I hope you’re encouraged to realize the worth landscaping can add to your property too. One thing that I think is important to mention, although this finished landscaping actually took us several years to get completed, we had the plan for it from the beginning, and worked to get the end of that plan over the course of the years. That way with a good plan from the beginning, you can avoid ‘doing’ and ‘undoing’ to ‘re-do’.


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Reader Interactions


  1. Patricia Krank says

    Dear Liz – I LOVE the before to after transition of your yard. We recently moved to a new (to us) home and the yard is well established but lacking charm. I have a vision of what it will become and your pictures have now been added to my inspiration board. Hubby really misses our old outdoor space on the lake but I keep promising him that over time out backyard will be spectacular. Thank you so much for the inspiration. I’m headed off on a tour of local gardens this morning to see what grows well in our new Southern home.

  2. Rita C at Panoply says

    Oh my goodness! I love this and have wanted a pergola for sooo long (still have the tear out sheets for inspiration from pre-Pinterest days)! We did a yard reno 11 yrs ago, and had a brick courtyard already existing at the time that I’ve always wanted to tie to the yard in a better way. Your property looks beautiful – congratulations. Visiting from Share Your Style – congrats on the feature.

  3. nikkifrankhamilton says

    This change is almost unbelievable. You did such a great job. I love it all. The house is completely transformed. It is so cool that you made a plan and stuck to it, two years is a short time compared to the value that you have added with all your hard work!

    • LIz says

      Thank you so much Nikki! Yes, the landscaping we did for sure helped us when it came time to sell… Be sure to check back here to see what our new house (which is 100 years old) is like and the projects for it!

  4. paperworx4seniors2 says

    Be glad you have cooperative hubs, wants to continue making his home nicer as time goes by. Mine doesn’t think it’s necessary and boy could I cheerfully thump him one. Even painting inside house seems to be too much for him even when I buy paint and do all the work. He’s good at making any improvements I try to do as difficult as possible. It took 8 yrs. to get living room and part of kitchen painted after much “discussion and more discussion”. Obviously we were raised with very different ideas and we’re in our early 70’s. He says he’s worked hard all his life and has had enuf. Not like we don’t have the time, both retired (him especially). I thoroughly enjoy fixing up our home as much as possible even tho our money is short to come by.
    So glad to see what you have done on your homes, it’s so important to keep upgrading our homes, makes us feel better, like we’re working for something important and lasting besides just keeping the bank happy. Give your hubs an extra hug/kiss, think you’ll appreciate him even more after reading what I have to put up with. Your place is looking so exceptionally nice, worth all that work. I’m quite envious.
    Happy rest of week and weekend

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