CA water-wise, lawn-free, sustainable, front courtyard

jewelsSJ in San Jose, CA

I started a project at home in November of 2014 to re-do my front yard to make it more drought tolerant and water-friendly, using all FREE recycled/up-cycled materials, with no contractors or previous knowledge of construction, with the immense help of Pinterest for never-ending ideas, with my bare hands (and occasionally those of my kids and husband), with my friend's truck borrowed occasionally, with the generous donations of materials (pavers, bricks, cement chunks known as urbanite, moss, succulents, plants, mulch, gravel, sand, river rock, dirt, bulbs, plants, etc.) from dear neighbors and people on freecycle and craigslist.
18 months into this project I have learned so much, met so many amazing people and their dogs, and found that the act of creating something sustainable is very powerful and just takes a change in mindset and a vision.
I have also found that the thousands of hours I have already spent on this project have been very therapeutic and helped me process the recent death of one of my dearest friends, maintain stress levels from just living life as a perpetual volunteer/mom/wife/friend/neighborhood leader/school board trustee and given me an interesting place to host guests for meetings, and helped me find a new sense of personal accomplishment.
I highly recommend a project like this (although it is not necessary to do as much as I've bitten off). The entire thing cost about $3000 most of which was materials I couldn't source for free, plants, and several days of outside labor help when I was under a deadline.
I affectionately call it the "Stone Soup Courtyard Project" or SSCP - LOL!
~Julie RG <3

Before & After Driveway Front Yard Garden Hardscape Lighting Medium (1,000 - 5,000 sq ft.) Native Garden Path / Walkway Patio Pond Retaining Wall Step by Step Project Stone / Rock Water Fountain Water-Wise

1 of 30: November 2014 - BEFORE

2 of 30: That's me getting my first load of free stuff - pavers, dirt, concrete chunks (urbanite).

3 of 30: My first urbanite retaining wall/flowerbed.

4 of 30: The piles of materials are growing day by day.

5 of 30: My husband now calls me "Hobo Junkins". :)

6 of 30: This is made from concrete chunks - aka urbanite.

7 of 30: Things are slowly starting to take shape.

8 of 30: Urbanite retaining walls and stairs.

9 of 30: Lots and lots of free stuff!

10 of 30: More piles of free stuff!

11 of 30: The urbanite wall continues around the corner.

12 of 30: Another view of the urbanite wall.

13 of 30: After sheet mulching the lawn and piling up a few huge truckfuls of tree mulch, I started laying out the concrete chunks as pavers.

14 of 30: My favorite thing! Adds a bit of whimsy to the pavers.

15 of 30: Another view of the urbanite flowerbed and driveway area.

16 of 30: I like the eclectic style of random pavers so I took out the boring pink concrete pavers and did this instead.

17 of 30: See those rocks in the center? My kids helped me dig a huge hole and I lined it with newspaper and covered it with stones. Now it is a rain garden so water pools there and returns to the wat r table underground.

18 of 30: Still lots of materials in piles. I figured I got ~80 pickup truckfuls of free materials.

19 of 30: I had this sign up the whole time so neighbors would understand I was trying to save water by removing the lawn.

20 of 30: These are the other set of stairs on the other side of the yard.

21 of 30: Still working out where pavers will go. This took me the longest to build. I am still working on the courtyard pavers - August 2016!

22 of 30: Another view of the rain garden.

23 of 30: This is a HUGE inner courtyard space. This is a very rough version of it from Winter 2015/16. To give you an idea, it fits ten table and chair sets.

24 of 30: My original plan was to do this sort of decorative design for the entire 2000 feet of courtyard. It didn't turn out quite this intricate for the whole thing but I am slowly trying to even up the pavers and create some whimsy.

25 of 30: So the best thing about the urbanite walls is you can plant things in them! Can you say LIVING WALL?!

26 of 30: This is springtime and it's hard to tell but I planted hundreds? Thousands? of tiny sedums and succulents in the crevices.

27 of 30: This alyssum just showed up! It made the living wall very pretty and softened the ha d edges.

28 of 30: An out of focus shot of the living wall and parkstrip. I had thrown thousands of poppy seeds around the property and boy did they grow!

29 of 30: There were plants, bulbs, wild flowers, sedums, succulents and ground cover coming out of the living wall. It just exploded with life and color. The bees were very happy!

30 of 30: One of my favorite pictures of the yard. Drought-tolerant doesn't have to mean desert-y! I love the lushness and tropical feel of this garden!

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