Modern black and white yard makeover

Using a black and white color palette can sound a little bland and boring for a yard. However, if you know how to play around with the shades in between and add splashes of color here and there, you can achieve an amazing product with an impeccable aesthetic.

The main goal for this project was functionality: making it pleasing to the eye while accomodating to a number of needs and, at the same time, keeping it simple. As you can imagine, I had to find a way to fit it all in one yard and make it flow in a way that would make sense I didn’t want it to look like I had thrown it all together in the hopes that it would look good.

However, with the help of the client and their ideas, a few changes of shapes and shades, and some pretty plants, we achieved this wonderful look of Scandinavian-ish feel that met all of our expectations.

Let’s take a look at how this yard transformed into a place of modern magnificence.

Concrete driveway

One of the things that our clients had asked was dedicating a part of the yard to a driveway. You might think that something like that is very basic, and you’d be right. However, this became a challenge when we noticed that the house was on a slope and that the soil was very sandy —a.k.a very soft soil. This meant that the concrete that we poured might slide down the hill over time.

The plan that we went for was pouring individual concrete slabs with a 6” spacing between them, and keeping them connected underneath, in a way that would be invisible. That way, they will be held in place as they went up the slope. For this project, we used Davis colors’ Dark Gray (8084), reinforced with rebar. We also added a top cast that gave it a grainy texture and a slightly lighter color. We applied the same color for the retaining wall, but with no top cast to keep the original shade.

And, to make it pop, we added glacier-white gravel to the spaces in between the slabs. Pro tip: for projects like this it’s always better to choose a smaller stone to make it easier to walk on. It compacts better and keeps it affordable.

IPE deck

Because of the place’s distribution, we had to figure out how to connect the yard’s door to the entrance of the house. A pathway would’ve done the job, but it would’ve also split the yard in half. The client wanted to have a play area, so you can see how that was a problem. So what we did instead was building a boardwalk that connects the street level to the house,

Brazilian wood was our choice for this. It can be very pricey, but its density helps it last a long time while making sure it’s sustainable. 

Cor-Ten Steel Planters

These planters were the first splash of color in this black and white yard. Their rusty, orange color married perfectly with the Brazilian wood of the deck. We went specifically for Cor-Ten because it’s weathered steel, designed to eliminate the need to paint or seal the metal. The best part is that it can last a long time! As it rusts, it adds a protective layer on the outside, which makes the inside layers impenetrable from weathering.

To enhance that rusty look we —and by “we” I mean my buddy Ben— sprayed them with an accelerator (hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, and salt) and let it sit for a couple of days. We also sealed it, which isn’t a must, but we did it to lock in that orange color.

Another great thing about Cor-Ten steel is that you can fill them up with soil without having to line them with anything. This is what we did to purpose these planters as veggie beds. 

Succulent wall

Ever since we started working on the project, we knew that we wanted to have a focal point in the yard that gave the place that final something. We discussed it for a while until I came up with the idea of adding a succulent wall. These little buddies had their individual containers attached to aluminum brackets, and they sat in front of a waterproof membrane that stopped water and dirt from splashing on the wall.

What’s so cool about this grow-a-green-wall system is that the containers have a void at the top, which allows the water to drip down, so the irrigation would run at the top only.

It took me a couple of tries to get the correct system, but I’m happy with how it turned out!

Pro tip: make sure you don’t screw your brackets upside down, or you will have to redo everything…

A how-to tutorial coming soon, maybe? 😉

YouTube video

Side yards

Sometimes, to prevent a yard from looking boring, you need to mix it up in places and play around with the color palette. So for the side yards, instead of going with the same concrete and gravel as in the driveway, I changed it up a bit.

I also wanted to give the clients the chance to redistribute the places if they desired. So I got these 3×3 Valori Precast pavers in Blanca, as opposed to doing pour-in concrete. We spaced them just like the driveway slabs and added a slate chip mulch. In the case of the south yard, the mulch extended all the way to the front of the house, to keep that continuity. We also used simple L brackets for the lights that illuminate the pathway. Always keeping the black and white palette!

To add a final splash of color and life to these sections, we added some plants. For the south side, because it’s in direct sunlight and the light reflected from the wall, we went for Birds of Paradise and succulents, which would resist —and even love— that heat. On the north side, since it has more shade, we went for Snake Plant —also known as mother-in-law’s tongue lol.

Another reason why I chose these plants is that they don’t need too much irrigation, which is great. As I’ve mentioned before, this soil is very soft due to it being right next to the sea, so you really don’t want to keep that soil too moist. This, to prevent any accidents. 

Black Diamond Crepe Myrtle 

If you want to plant in sandy soil, you need to keep something in mind: this soil doesn’t pull a lot of nutrients which, surprise, plants need. This is why you need to add in some extra nutrients to make sure that your plants get enough of them.

For this beautiful Crepe Myrtle, I made a 50/50 mix of native soil and sand and added a ton of fertilizer, which I did add before planting because I wanted it to mix in really well with the soil.

In the case of the irrigation, instead of keeping it in the center, we put it around it because, when you water sand, the water goes down, instead of going wide. So this type of irrigation will ensure that the roots of the plant are going to expand and create a better anchor. 

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