Before and After: A Run-Down Backyard Transforms into a Garden Sanctuary

published Jul 3, 2023
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Before: Backyard with large empty patio, worn-down grass lawn, and several bare trees.
Credit: HGTV

If you’re lucky enough to have your own outdoor space, you know that it’s just as much a part of your home as everything inside. Transforming those outdoor spaces can be expensive and time-consuming, so they don’t always get top priority above all the other assorted home projects that pop up. But this Santa Clarita, California, backyard makeover — done by actress Taraji P. Henson for her housekeeper, Jahel, for the most recent episode of HGTV’s Celebrity IOU — shows just how effective an outdoor redo can be.

“What I love about [Jahel] is that she loves planting, she loves the outdoors,” Henson told Celebrity IOU hosts (and Property Brothers) Drew and Jonathan Scott ahead of the renovation. “And so I thought, what a great way to pay it forward to her, to give her her own garden.”

Credit: HGTV

Jahel’s yard was in need of some major refreshing and reorganizing. In addition to being slightly worn-down, the space needed organization and a cohesive theme. Within a matter of four weeks, Henson and the Scott brothers turned that outdoor space from a run-down, basic backyard into a contemporary resort-style garden. 

Credit: HGTV

At the start, the backyard needed work from the ground up — literally. The team kicked off their renovation by digging up the old, deep-set concrete slab that extended from Jahel’s blue house out to the bare dirt of the yard. They also pulled up any stray tree roots that could get in the way of the new irrigation system. California often goes through intense dry spells and water-restrictions, so a drought-friendly yard was paramount to the redesign. Drew and Jonathan explained that the smart irrigation system that they were installing uses 50 percent less water than traditional irrigation systems, which would be beneficial to both the environment and Jahel’s water bill.

Credit: HGTV

After laying down new gravel (a mix of decomposed granite), the team finished the fence and lined it with drought-tolerant plants. They opted to paint the house a clean white with black trim and add black planter boxes to the previously empty windows. Henson also requested as low-maintenance a ground cover as possible. 

“We don’t want her tweaking her ankles,” she said. “So as balanced and flat as it can be, but still texture.” Instead of grass, which requires frequent mowing, the team picked out low-maintenance Dichondra (lawn leaf), which tops out its growth at just 2 inches tall.

The next issue to address was the initial layout of the backyard. “The biggest thing it was lacking was the fact that there were no zones created,” Jonathan explained. “It was just sort of a big space.” The team decided to create three distinct zones throughout the yard: a dining area, a lounge, and a relaxation space.

Credit: HGTV

The dining space was built right off the house so it could serve as an outdoor extension of Jahel’s kitchen. A massive white dining table provides plenty of room for friends to gather around in the contrasting black dining chairs, and the oversized umbrella provides enough shade for everyone.

Credit: HGTV

The relaxation space required some heavy lifting due to a calming custom water feature. The team also added a plant potting station, where Jahel could keep her work boots and tools, as well as a covered wooden bench in remembrance of Jahel’s late family members.

Credit: HGTV

The focal point of the yard, though, is the lounge area. There, Drew and Jonathan installed a cozy gas fireplace and large wooden pergola. They also brought in outdoor couches and a coffee table to create the ultimate decompression area. 

“I think a good yard design has to have a balance of softscapes and hardscapes,” Jonathan explained as they built the pergola. “And this pergola is architecturally going to add a huge element to the yard, but also the shade you need too.”

The end result for Jahel: a multifunctional outdoor space with distinct zones for everything — not to mention a lush new look that’s a veritable outdoor paradise.

Celebrity IOU airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV and Discovery+.