My Non-Consumer Backyard Project Is Finally Done!!

by Katy on November 18, 2008 · 15 comments


Stone Mosaic

I bought my house in 1996, partly because of the nice big backyard. I had all kinds of schemes for how I would tart it up. I drew fevered plans on graph paper and scavenged bricks for a fabulous patio.

And then I did nothing.

Worse than nothing. I let the somewhat verdant lawn turn into a moss farm. 

Rock wallAnd when my son wanted to dig holes, I told myself, “he has therapeutic digging needs.” 

In the middle of the lawn.

Then my divine sister Sara stepped in. She’s done some rock work and had recently completed a permaculture program in Canada.

So I snapped her up faster than you can say, “Pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaasssssssssse.”

Together we planned out a brick patio on a bed of gravel and sand, which would be sure to drain properly. And because that area is significantly lower than the rest of the backyard, she’d have to build a retaining wall.

This bummed me out majorly, as Portland is insane for retaining walls, and I know people spend tens of thousand of dollars on them. 


But we hatched a plan to see if we could get the materials for free. And you know what? We did. All of them. (Except for $55 spent on some amethysts chunks, a fossil, and black and white rocks for the mosaic.)

Craigslist and my mother’s keen eye was all it took.

So not only were the rocks free, but they came from close-by. Which meant I wasn’t buying rocks trucked from thousands of miles away. A green choice I feel good about.

And the bricks? All salvaged from local torn-down chimneys. I did score a number of brand new ones from some landscapers that I spied throwing them into the back of landfill-destined truck. These bricks were used for the round step element, as I didn’t want mortar in old crumbly bricks.

We did buy the gravel and sand. And we rented a power sprayer, tamper and plate compactor. All from nearby, locally owned businesses.

And I payed my sister an hourly wage. For which she worked her tuchus off.

All the leftover rocks were used to edge the garden, and the extra bricks were given away free through craigslist. Except for a bag of accidently moistened concrete, there was next-to-no waste.

The patio and rock wall are perfect. Absolutely perfect.

img_5505Not only am I happy with the job my sister did, but it was better than any experience I’ve ever had with a hired contractor. She showed up when she said she would, worked consistently hard and only complained a little bit when I sang to her to keep the momentum going. (Two choices — The “Sisters” song from White Christmas, or the “Sisters” song from Saturday Night Live.)

I do still need to re-plant the small lawn, but I’m waiting to find some free sod from craigslist.

Until then, you can find me in the backyard sipping tea from a Goodwill mug, and reading my library books.

Click here and here to read earlier posts about my Non-Consumer backyard project.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Theresa November 18, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Gorgeous! I don’t suppose your sister lives in Alberta?


Liz November 18, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Lovely. So, if it is not tooo nosy, what was an approximate total for the supplies you did buy and your sister’s labor? Just to get an idea of how much you saved.


tonifromtexas November 18, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Looks amazing, especially the mosiac.


thenonconsumeradvocate November 18, 2008 at 1:24 pm


I am awaiting my sister’s final invoice.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


thenonconsumeradvocate November 18, 2008 at 1:26 pm


I’m afraid that my sister lives on Cortes Island.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Theresa November 18, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Cortes Island! Oh my. I have wanted to visit the Hollyhock retreat there for a long, long time.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl November 18, 2008 at 2:16 pm

It’s beautiful! Very nice!

Are you opposed to buying grass seed?


The Frugalista Files November 18, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Bricks from old chimneys?! To say I’m impressed is an understatement. Maybe I’ll take on a project just to see if I have what it takes…


thenonconsumeradvocate November 18, 2008 at 4:15 pm


I’m not opposed to buying grass seed. It’s just too late in the season to be planting it. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been told.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


prairiepastor November 19, 2008 at 6:35 am

Your patio is beautiful! It’s amazing what can be accomplished with a little sleuthing, patience, and a strong will. I especially adore the mosaic. What a great place to relax and visit with friends.
The pastor’s spouse who lived here before me, landscaped the back yard with all found and donated plants. She hauled rock from farmers’ fields to border the beds, and planted over 300 gorgeous plants.


Loretta November 19, 2008 at 10:38 am

I like to cook so this year I used up the green tomatoes from our abundant tomato crop to make jars of green tomato chutney. I’ve also found a good inexpensive source for restaurant sized bags of lemons ($4.88 a bag containing twenty lemons) and also red peppers (a bag of 6 for about 4 bucks) at Cash and Carry. I’m going to make lemon curd from the lemons and roasted red peppers in olive oil for gifts. I figure I’ll spend about $25 for lots of little jars of fancy food to give to friends and family.


Nadine November 19, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Your back yard looks great. I will admit I am jealous!!!!


thenonconsumeradvocate November 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Thanks everyone,

I’d like to take full credit for the patio and wall, but my lil’ sis did the work. I was the boss, but the work is hers.

The brick pattern is from the ceiling of the Bagdad Theater in Portland, Oregon.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Lise November 21, 2008 at 9:55 am

Is that how you spell “tuchus?” NOW I KNOW 😉

I’m just utterly floored and impressed by your work.

Did you use Freecyle for any of the parts you needed? I know that would have been the first place I turned for free building materials.


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