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Rundown Backyard Makeover

This deteriorated backyard gets a makeover using unusual fabric sails to shade the new seating area and a hand-crafted copper fountain.

While Kevin Boerner's parents have been on an extended vacation, their backyard has deteriorated. Kevin wants to surprise them with a backyard makeover, including a new water feature. Landscape designer Bridget Brewer incorporates new landscaping, a seating area and a fountain to bring this rundown backyard to life.

Bridget sees a lot of potential in incorporating the view of the San Francisco Bay bridges. Kevin knows his parents will enjoy a seating area and water feature.

Bridget plans to add a path to a south-facing area, in which she will build two fabric sails for shade and a fountain that mimics the shape of the sails. His parents own a window-covering store, so Kevin offers to make the sails.

Day One

Kevin chooses a semitransparent, rust-colored fabric for the sails. The fabric for this project would normally cost $500 to $600. He cuts the fabric into two triangular sails and lays laundry line (figure B) along the edge of the fabric. He rolls the fabric over the line and sews the fabric edge, with the line inside, using a strong needle.

Meanwhile, the crew removes the lawn from the new seating area, a sandbox and the fence that is blocking the view. In the patio site, they spread out a 4-inch-thick layer of sand and tamp it down. Then they lay a brick patio, tapping on each brick with a rubber mallet to sink it into the sand.

With a budget of $550, Bridget selects 4-inch and 1-gallon perennials that will offer lots of color. The plants include razzleberry, orange Osteospermum (figure C), and yellow Marguerite daisies. She uses a shovel blade to measure the approximate depth of the plants in their containers, digs holes to that depth and then plants the flowers. New sod is laid in the rest of the yard.

Day Two

The crew uses 1/2-inch galvanized steel pipes for the "masts" of the shade sails. The design calls for a pipe to curve around a tree with two trunks (figure D). Another larger pipe is attached to a wall post for one end of the curved pipe to slide into.

They slide the fabric sail onto the curved pipe and the small pipe into the larger mounted pipe. They tie the sail in place with a thin rope through a grommet on the sail. Another curved pipe and sail are mounted, slightly overlapping the first sail.

Meanwhile, Brewer starts building the fountain, using a round metal plant stand for the base. About five inches of the plant stand legs are cut off to achieve a good height. A wire mesh goes on top of the base, with a hole in the center for a small potted plant.

Brewer uses two triangular pieces of old copper flashing with an aged patina as the spillways for the fountain. Copper can be cut into any shape, but the edges should be crimped so that they're not too sharp. Salvaged copper pipe is used for the fountain plumbing, but PVC is a cheaper alternative. The pipe is attached to flexible tubing, which leads to a pump in the bottom of the pot basin (figure E). A spigot is welded to the top of the copper pipe and the copper triangles are welded below it.

A potted plant and river rocks go on top of the metal mesh around the pipe. Figure F shows the completed fountain.

With the innovative sails in place (figure G), the new seating area is comfortably shaded. When Boerner's parents return home, they are surprised and delighted with their new seating area, fountain and landscaping.

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