before & after: karen’s amazing diy backyard

i’m a huge fan of karen at the art of doing stuff. she runs a wonderful blog, has trained with MMA fighters (so jealous!), and recently she made over her entire backyard by herself. after hiring some help that only made matters worse, karen decided to tackle the project by herself and now that the entire process is finished, she’s sharing the entire makeover saga (laughs, frustrations and all) on her blog. when i saw the before images she sent and the sinking pond, i immediately said to myself “oh man, i would have hired someone to fix that”, but i was so impressed to see the final product and how amazingly handy and resourceful karen was. let’s just say i’d be beyond proud to sip a glass of tea in that backyard, let alone look around and know i’d done it myself. two huge thumbs up, karen. well done!

[have a before & after you’d like to share? just shoot me an email with your images right here! (low res, under 500k per image, please)]

CLICK HERE for more pictures of karen’s backyard makeover (including a close up of that gorgeous new pond) after the jump!

[pond at night photos by joey reynolds]

  1. Amanda says:

    this is a really inspiring project. i plan on doing something similar with my backyard, but with help from my hubby. i am blown away by karen’s skills and impeccable taste. well done karen!!!

  2. kohli says:

    Amazing. I am blown away, and still struggle with what to do with my overgrown back yard (tiny strip of land) in Baltimore City. Thanks for the demonstration that it is possible.

  3. LA says:

    I love it! What kind of stone or tile did you use for the patio and for the garden boxes?

  4. Maria says:

    Absolutely FANTASTIC! The koi pond is amazing.

  5. Sam Posnick says:

    That is an insanely beautiful backyard! Major wow factor.

  6. Cat says:

    This is totally stunning. I love seeing her use of plants that take to shady parts of the yard, too, since sun can be a little hard to come by in beautiful Portland.

  7. becca g says:


  8. Renee says:

    Holy cow, that’s incredible! I love her choice of plants and materials. What a talented gal.

  9. Hi all. Thank you so much for the compliments. Kindda makes the back breaking work worthwhile! In answer to your questions, the “floor” is square-cut flagstone from India. The planter beds are made out of plain old pressure treated lumber stained grey.

  10. carole says:


    We have five acres, but I’d love to have a cozy area around the house just like this one. I’ve got plans, they just haven’t been implemented yet.

  11. Lisa CCL says:

    Where is that furniture from? I’m on the hunt, and I love the lounger pictured!

  12. robin says:

    omg… i’ve been there…. i know how much hard work and body aches goes into such a beautiful backyard! amazing job :o)

  13. all of the today’s before and after’s are amazing. and what karen did here is so inspirational, even though i don’t have a backyard.

  14. rachel says:

    wow! I’m in love.

  15. MayDae says:

    WOW!! Can you please come to my house in Denver and do that?

  16. Evalyn says:

    Wow, Girl Power Rocks!! I love it when people especially women get are handy and not afraid to tackle hard projects. You have wonderful taste, just beautiful design!!

  17. emily rose says:

    AMAZING! My dream back yard. Can I come visit sometime?

  18. Lori says:

    Good golly! I had to do 10 double takes to make sure it was the same place. SOO impressed. Gotta look up this chickadee.

  19. Laura LaRue says:

    With all the outdoor living we are doing this summer, this is just what are patio needs. This is one awesome project. So inspiring!

  20. Me again! Thanks again everyone. I’m blown away by all the nice comments. Truly. The furniture was REALLY cheap from a grocery store. Loblaws/Fortinos if you’re from Canada. The black lounge chairs were $99 each from Canadian Tire. Again … in Canada. As the title would suggest. :)

  21. Cat says:

    What a stylish transformation…I especially love the pond with fishies!

  22. Andy says:

    Wow, how many years did that take that pine tree grew a few inches around.
    I like the pavers very much!

  23. Marivic says:

    Ooooh…such a heavenly transformation… I looove koi pond!

  24. Shannon says:

    I’m speechless. That is AMAZING! Please tell me you’re sipping margaritas out there after all that hard work.

  25. jonahliza says:

    oh my gosh- thats soo awesome! bravo… hands clapping :) beautiful <3

  26. calla says:

    wow….great compliment—>it looks unique, lovely and cool all at the same time! I´m jealous because my plants going bonkers—come to my garden in italy and do the same=)

  27. kalanicut says:

    Wow! I am impressed. Gorgeous and such a fantastic accomplishment.

  28. Gorgeous!! Great job and so inspiring!

  29. Tilt says:

    wow! Just WOW!

  30. laura says:

    what material did you use to make the walls for your raised bed – looks like you have grey flagstone on the ground but the taised beds are maybe a composite material painted? i need to find something inexpensive to do the same thing and the stone really adds up. thanks! great yard

  31. Kim says:

    Holy remodel, Batman! What an amazing transformation with gorgeous results. I am gobsmacked she did that all herself–manages to be both intimidating and inspiring.

  32. Mary Jo says:

    I concur with the other cudos on your project. It is a masterpiece! What is the black base on the glass-topped side table? Looks like painted concrete.

  33. woah, i LOVE a bad ass chick not afraid of a big project. mad props!

  34. DawnMarie says:

    She is my hero. What a beautiful job. Girl power!

  35. Dianne Rohr says:

    The results look really nice, bu the first thing I noticed was that it looks like she was photoshopped in to the work photos – she is too small for her surroundings.

    1. grace says:


      she’s not photoshopped, that’s really her ;) she’s standing in a hole in both pictures so maybe that’s why she looks small to you?


  36. This is fantastic! Props for doing this DIY all the way!

  37. Jane says:

    That is absolutely amazing! Just gorgeous. What an accomplishment.

  38. Yes, um … no … I have the therapeutic massage bill to prove I was not Photoshopped into my work surroundings. LOL. Plus I’m all of 5’3″ and 105 pounds. I’m not Photoshopped to look little … I am little!

  39. tilak says:

    Who are you?A goddess of garden miracles?
    Well done, you.

  40. Jen says:

    Wow! Fantastic job! After we get the bedroom done, the backyard is the next big project! This went straight into the bookmarks folder with for inspiration.

  41. Thanks for sharing this, Karen is amazing and hysterical :)

  42. Janick - Nea says:

    WOAH! How pretty and calming and I could spend all day and night there!!! *jealous* :)

  43. What a freaking legend!! I love it!!!

  44. Kate says:

    We’re in the process of redoing our back yard (and building a garage, and retaining wall!) and this article provided some wonderful inspiration, I love that your raised beds are made out of such a simple material, great idea!

  45. Danielle says:

    these before and afters are amazing!!! Love it!

  46. Marisa says:

    how did she get all the pond water into the kiddy pool?

  47. this is a great blog, thank you so much!


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