Before and After: A Tropical Backyard With 5 Affordable Ideas to Steal

published May 28, 2022
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Credit: Yardzen

This Miami backyard — nestled right in the heart of the city — is a modern oasis with multiple seating areas, a fire pit, a pool, and lots of lush greenery, but it wasn’t always. Homeowners Anna Anisin and Mitchell Hesse fell in love with their home because of the huge yard, where they hoped to entertain friends and family and even host local industry dinners, but it was in need of updating. 

The couple called on Yardzen, a landscape design company that offers e-design services (and is one of our 2022 Design Changemakers!). According to landscape architect Kevin Lenhart, the design director at Yardzen, their priority for this project was to have a “place to entertain, relax, and cook outside,” as well as a focus on family-friendly design. Plus, Kevin says, they were aiming for “a really bright, fresh, beachy feel, with mid-century modern elements thrown in.” 

While some of the redesigned elements are big investments (hello, pool!), there are plenty of ideas to steal for a yard makeover on a budget. Read on for details on some of our favorite features, like custom pavers and local plants — plus, advice on how to recreate them in your own yard. 

Credit: Yardzen

Try Concrete Pavers

The sliver of yard on either side of the house had been worn down from heavy foot traffic, so the Yardzen team suggested “steppers,” which are oversized square or rectangular concrete pavers. Not only do they look beautiful, they’re a very efficient way to create moden pathways in a yard. Plus, Kevin adds, “concrete is style-agnostic,” and goes with everything. While precast pavers (which are available at outdoor retailers like Home Depot or Lowes) are a budget-friendly option for lower-traffic paths (like side yards), Kevin recommends investing in custom pavers that are poured on site. 

When you’re choosing the size and distance between each paver, you’ll want to consider an average walking pace. For example, a standard combination is 30-inch pavers with a 4-inch gap, which will accommodate a wide range of people. As far as the surrounding material, grass works great in cooler, wetter climates, but Kevin recommends some sort of aggregate (such as rounded gravel, like Mexican pebbles or river rock) for drier climates.

Credit: Yardzen

Choose Raised Beds for Your Veggie Patch

Vegetable beds need to be in an area with at least six full hours of sun, but the home’s original vegetable patch was located in a less than ideal spot, so Yardzen moved the vegetables to a sunnier area. Kevin points out that raised beds can be especially great for dead zones in your yard that would otherwise go unused, like this back corner of the yard.

Credit: Yardzen

When choosing a raised bed, Kevin says to go the pre-fab route (like a galvanized trough planter), since lumber costs are at all-time highs these days. If you’re set on custom planters though, you can expect around $800 in materials, another $200 for labor, and several hundred more for soil and plants. If you’re going custom, Kevin suggests a bed height that’s easy on your back (read: not too low to the ground), and a pathway lined with small, decorative stones that are comfortable under bare feet. 

Teach An Old Fence New Tricks

This is a detail you might not notice upon first viewing of this yard, and that’s by design. The Yardzen team painted the existing fence a dark charcoal hue. “Clients often have a fence that’s structurally sound, it’s just a bit beat up,” Kevin says, so painting it is a great budget-friendly way to use what’s already in the yard. He notes that new fences can get very expensive very fast, so the team only added new fencing in areas where the family needed more privacy, and repurposed the existing fence by just giving it a fresh coat of paint. Kevin compares the new dark color to a black curtain on a stage: The dark hue makes the rest of the yard pop, while the utilitarian fence fades into the background. 

Credit: Yardzen

Lean Into Local Flora

In this Miami yard, the team went with a tropical vibe: lush, dark green leaves, lots of palms, succulents, and small pops of color, which happen to be what you would find in nearby nature. Yardzen tries to steer clients towards native plants or plants that have evolved in a similar region, because not only will they perform well, but they contribute to local biodiversity.

Credit: Yardzen

Pro tip: Whatever your climate, Yardzen emphasizes the importance of “focused” planting, which means committing to a certain style of planting.

Credit: Yardzen

Create Outdoor Rooms — With Plants

Of course, plants are an integral part of any landscape design, and the Yardzen team specializes in creating luxurious “rooms” by clustering tall plants around seating areas. In the fire pit zone, for example, there are a number of palm clusters, which stretch vertically and lean over just a bit, which paired with an oversize umbrella implies a sort of ceiling for the “room,” and makes the space feel cozy without cutting it off from the rest of the yard. Kevin suggests choosing trees that reach no more than 8 feet tall, like redbud, dogwood, even olive trees.