Johanna and Charlie give a backyard a spring makeover

So many great ideas to try out at home!
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It’s been a long winter and most of us are in need of a little sunshine… and that includes your backyard! Johanna Griggs and Charlie Albone are teaming up to give a tired garden and deck a spring makeover. By tackling a bunch of small and achievable projects, like adding some paving, plants and decorative screens, they’ll completely transform the space into one that’s fabulous and functional. The best thing about this makeover? It’s chock-full of great take-home ideas that you can do this weekend.

WATCH: Joh and Charlie’s incredible makeover

Our canvas was a small backyard which has served the young family’s purpose up until now, but with the kids getting bigger and it being the entertaining time of year, there is definitely room for a minor renovation to bring about some major change.

Our design brief was simple: modern, usable and practical.

We achieved all of this quite simply, first by addressing the privacy and slope, and then by adding a new lawn, new paved area, extra space to the existing deck and accessorising. Simple!


The first and most obvious issue in this space was privacy, or lack thereof.

While the fences were in good condition, they do nothing in terms of height and privacy for this backyard. Rather than add on extra height to the top of the fences, which would only add confusion to the already mixed fencing, the easiest thing to do was to plant our privacy.

Hedges can offer much more to a garden besides just privacy, depending on what you choose to plant.

Hedges like a Waterhousia hedge, featuring loose, hanging foliage, can offer interest and movement to your boundaries rather than a hedge clipped so tight that it looks just like another fence.

Hedges that are pruned heavily can make your space feel even smaller, as they can highlight where your boundaries actually are. However, with something that adds interest like a Waterhousia, you’re including your boundaries as part of your garden.

Waterhousia can get to a fair height, however they can also be kept to a much smaller, practical height to suit your space. The tip is to prune lighter more often, rather than heavy prune once a year.

Without a doubt, Waterhousias are easily one of the most modern-looking screening trees around and are hugely popular with landscaper designers, so just by choosing the right hedge you’re already creating a designer-style space.

Waterhousias will also attract all of the local birds and bees to your garden as they also offer a great show of flowers in early summer, so plant them now to get them established.

The fruit that follows is another added bonus to the East Coast native tree.

Deck screening

The end of the deck looked out onto the road that passes the boundary of the property, so we screened this.

  • The screens are a rusted screen with a geometric design.
  • The screens sit in two vertical studs. Once cut, they were fitted and held in position using an 18x18mm bead nailed around the edge of the screens on either side.
  • The new timber work was painted in Dulux Vivid White.

Mirrored wall art

To tie in with the screening around the edge of the deck, we made two smaller screens with the same design framed and hung on the back wall of the house.

  • We attached a piece of mirrored glass to a piece of plywood as the backing board for the mirror. The mirror was attached with silicone and held in place with double-sided tape.
  • The frames were painted with Vivid White.
  • The frame were cut and mitred around the screens. The screens were attached into the frames.
  • Next, the mirror with the ply backing was attached to the framed screen, screwed in position through the ply from behind.

Planter box for herbs

The planter box was attached to the balustrading along the back of the deck.

  • It was made from marine plywood – a simple bottomless box made to take two plastic tubs.
  • The plywood was cut to size at Bunnings.
  • The box was pre-drilled then glued and screwed together.
  • The box was painted with Dulux Vivid White.
  • To mount the planter box, a batten was screwed to the vertical balustrades at the right height so the planter box sat just under the handrail. This batten helps take the weight of the planter: the bottom of it sits on the batten and was fixed to the balustrades, screwed from inside the planter.
Herb planter boxes

Retaining and levelling

The yard had a light slope to it, roughly 300mm difference in height over the length, which isn’t that much, but it meant less usability in terms of seating and entertaining.

  • By levelling the surface, you make the size of the space feel much much bigger.
  • Levelling also increases its usability, which subconsciously tells you the space must be bigger, even if it isn’t!
  • We only needed to build a small retaining wall, so using 2 x 200mm treated pine sleepers to raise our height.
  • A rule of thumb for the supports of the wall is 400mm in height and 400mm in depth.
  • Set your two end posts in their position, run a string line between the two and dig out the middle holes every 1.2m for optimum wall support and strength.
  • We used treated pine sleepers with treated pine bugle screws.


Having two separate flat surfaces i.e. paving and lawn, is another design trick to make the space feel bigger.

  • A straight line or join between the paving and lawn would work against the space, highlighting the two separate areas. Instead, we used a “blend” design where the pavers bleed out into the lawn, so the lawn can grow in and around the pavers.
  • This is a modern design element specifically aimed at removing barriers between materials, areas and surfaces, and also works to soften hardscapes and maximise usability.
  • We used a textured paver in a 400mm x 400mm x 40mm profile, which allowed us to have fun with the 3-5mm joins and lines. We went for a stretcher bond layout which helped us achieve the bleeding out of the pavers, fading into the lawn.
  • A very modern mid-grey coloured paver provided a great platform to contrast with our foliage and furniture.
  • After we have installed the retaining wall, we dug out soil from the paving end and fill the raised end up against the new wall.
  • Removing the soil from the paving end allowed us to get to a good depth to install a solid sub base for our pavers.
  • First up is a layer of compacted road base to a minimum of 100mm thick. River sand went on top and was screeded level for our pavers to be laid on top.
  • To finish, a sand and cement mortar mix was laid around all edges of the paving to hold it all together.
  • For a final touch, we broomed in some Pavelock sand into the gaps.
  • Such a small project like this one will add a huge designer impact to your area.
Garden makeover

New lawn

The homeowners have two lively kids and also spend a lot of time hosting family with even more lively kids, so we needed to get the lawn right too.

With a busy work/life balance comes little time to tend to gardens and lawns, so a lawn like Sir Grange is ideal, as water and fertilising requirements and maintenance can take a back seat. It is the new designer-look lawn for homes that will give you the manicured look of a well-kept resort.

Once the lawn is established, it can all but look after itself – and it can also handle a junior soccer team and pets. You just have to allow it to establish.

  • Sir Grange was laid on a bed of washed sand to aid drainage, as having wet feet is the only thing that can set this lawn back. 
  • Sir Grange is a Zoysia Matrella with fine leaves, requires less mowing and fertiliser inputs and can handle shade. Once established, Sir Grange is drought tolerant. 
  • Super soft under foot, it makes for the perfect surface to go from playing field to a picnic area.


We added some extra softness to the hedge with a good mix of shape, texture and flowers. 

  • We spaced our hedge plants to make way for some small pockets of shrubs and perennials.
  • We used some potted plants to complement the garden and enhance the space (without taking up any usable space).
  • Pot plants are also mobile, and can be shuffled around to make way when entertaining.
Garden makeover


To finish, we needed a mulch that wouldn’t blow away in the wind or wash into drains or gutters – so something organic and chunky. 

  • We used Drought Master, which is a blend of composted materials that will break down over time and enrich the soil, leaving the chunky hardwood on top.

You might also like:

Before and after: From a tiny outdoor area to a spacious retreat

Before and after: Charlie Albone’s budget front garden makeover

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