7 Affordable, Doable Projects for an (Even) Better Backyard

Bookmark these for the weekend (thank us later).

August  4, 2020
Photo by Amelia Ross

Hunting down the perfect set of white outdoor pots was proving way more challenging than Amelia Ross expected. “We were walking around the garden section of our local hardware chain, and none of them were right,” she recalls. Some were too pricey, others the right shape but wrong color, and so on. It was time to get creative.

Ross ended up picking out some exterior house paint, snapped up a few terracotta pots in varying sizes and voila. For half the cost of store-bought pots, Ross had created the perfect co-star for the fire pit she and her partner had built to make sheltering in place a little cozier.

Like Ross, many of us are vacationing a little closer to home this summer. Way closer, in fact. For some of us, our backyards, balconies, and patios are probably the furthest away we will get. Because of this, many homeowners and renters, like Ross, are getting creative with their outdoor spaces. From playhouses to hanging planters, here are some DIY projects we came across that are both approachable and accessible, so scroll down to get inspired. Then, drop into the comments section below to tell us what project you are taking on this summer.

The Affordable Fountain

Photo by Jordan Reid

Jordan Reid, author of The Big Activity Book for Digital Detox, has been doing small things around her house to help her feel closer to nature while she shelters in place in San Jose, CA. One clever DIY she tackled was a solar-powered fountain. All it took was a bucket, flowers and two hours of her time. If you decide to tackle this project yourself, Reid recommends putting a wider lip around the fountain and including more flowers than she did. “The solar fountain does an excellent job of watering them, so they really flourish,” she adds.

The full DIY is available on Reid’s site Ramshackle Glam.

The Dining Table with a Secret

Photo by Erica Ashe

Rooftop patios are great but come with some unique problems of their own, like ill-placed mechanicals. Those on the roof of ChiTownHouse founder Erica Ashe’s home in Chicago, IL just happened to be right where she wanted to place a dining table. So she and her husband drafted a design for a table with a removable top just in case they needed to access the mechanicals.

It cost them a couple hundred dollars and ate up a Saturday, but they say it was absolutely worth it. “It has become our little slice of paradise during quarantine.” The view from the roof is not bad either. “We always get the best seat in the house,” Ashe says with a grin.

Head to Ashe's Instagram to learn more about the project.

A Playhouse Plays Dress Up

Photo by Tiffanie Ann Westgor

To keep her daughter Tenley’s idle hands busy, Californian Tiffanie Anne Westgor let her help add some custom touches to her playhouse. They painted it, added an awning (for seven dollars), installed a folding table and potted some plants in front. “She loved how it all turned out! She takes so much pride in it,” Westgor gushes. The pair is not done, though. Westgor is already planning on ways to add lights and a little kitchen to the inside.

Head to Westgor’s blog to learn how to create one for yourself.

Grocery Store Flowers for the Win

Photo by Grillo Designs

Medina Grillo, author of Home Sweet Rented Home, does not call herself an outdoorsy person and admits to neglecting her backyard because of it. “I’m most definitely a homebody,” she says. COVID-19, however, has her singing a different tune. For the first time, the garden in her Birmingham, England rental has become her “happy place” where she can escape for a bit of fresh air.

To amp up the space, Grillo put together a hanging planter. First, she used a masonry drill to put holes in the corners of a set of simple outdoor planters. She then strung rope through them for hanging. Instead of heading to a crowded garden center to find blooms to fill them, she maintained her social distance by picking up flowers for the planters during a trip to the grocery store.

Follow along with the DIY on Grillo Designs.

This Air Conditioning Cover Gets an A+

Photo by Jackie Virgilio

After spending over a year looking at her backyard’s unsightly AC unit, Chicagoan Jackie Virgilio was over it: “Our yard is small, so there was no way to be outside and not look at the giant eyesore.” To cover it up, Virgilio hit the internet for inspiration. Most of the DIYs she came across featured old-fashioned lattice, however, which was not modern enough for her and her husband. It was customization time.

The pair collaborated on a fresh design using simple wooden slats. Two hours (and $45) later, the project was complete. “We love that the AC is no longer visible. Plus, we get lots of compliments on it, and it has even come in handy as a support system for our lumbering Joe Pye Weed,” Virgilio says.

The $100 Fire Pit

Photo by Evette Rios

The 36” fire pit Evette Ríos concocted for her home in Pennsylvania’s Poconos serves two purposes. Yes, it is the ideal place for burning all the brush she collects when cleaning out her large backyard, but it is also perfect for roasting marshmallows with the family. Ríos tells us, “Staring into a fire is a calming, meditative experience, and with us being under so much stress (aka the quarantine blues), it has given (our) family a beautiful place to zone out.”

To create one yourself, first decide how wide of a pit you would like and purchase enough stones to complete the circle four times. Once you have them, lay out one row of stones and make shovel marks round the edge. Remove the stones, dig up the grass in the middle and apply a layer of paver sand. Finally, build up your layers in a circle and drop some lava rocks in the center to help with drainage.

Now, for that grill:

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jeri Tuttle
    Jeri Tuttle
  • Patty
Garrett Fleming

Written by: Garrett Fleming

Interiors Editor & Art Director


Jeri T. August 30, 2020
That fix around the ac unit looks great, but you also have to think about air flow. My AC guy advised me against it.
Patty April 14, 2021
I know it's been nearly a year since you posted.
I wanted to let you know that we did the pallet around the ac unit with great success.
Apparently, the spaces between the slats does allow for adequate circulation.