Front Yard Landscaping

*I gotta preface this. I’ve been sitting on my posts for the past few weeks because I don’t at all want to contribute to a “business as usual” vibe and be all “yay for my house!” while children sit in detention centers alone in fear and their asylum seeking parents live out a nightmare. It’s one thing when human rights violations are happening on the other side of the world, but when they occur inside your nation AND ON YOUR BEHALF, it’s a whole new level of sickening. These families, not our house projects, are the ones constantly on my mind. Many hours of the past weeks have been spent reading, learning, thinking, praying, giving, and acting. If you have intentionally zoned out from the news and retreated to your bubble, I get it. This stuff is heartbreaking and it’s easier to go about our life and let the people in charge handle it. Except, the people in charge aren’t handling it. This is a disaster at every turn. Here’s the latest in a nutshell. Although a judge has ordered that children be reunited with their parents, very few have. They are spread out all over the country. And organizations on the ground report staggering numbers missing parents. And even when children have been able to communicate with a parent, this is what separation sound like. This is what reunification looks like. I can’t read/hear/see any of this without imagining my own children, who could easily be in this situation if fate would have landed us in other lands. And I know what I’d want the people of privilege and freedom and voice to do. Citizens, humans, we need to get these kids reunited NOW. I urge you to speak up, to donate (we gave to Together Rising, but many other worthy organizations here), and to demand just immigration policies for our nation and for the world. I don’t have a huge platform but a good handful of you show up here every time I post (thank you!). Today, I would much rather you click on through, educate yourself, and snap to action than read about my inconsequential front yard project. Our family is not business as usual and I hope yours isn’t either. xoxo Jenny


Landscaping the front yard was our big summer/fall project last year and it was mostly finished by the end of the year. I actually photographed it last December but it happened to be the week of those horrible fires and the light was just too apocalyptic and sad to share. Then Spring showed up with 26 million weeds which took me, our resident weed puller, a few months to sort out. But I’m here now, only 6 months late! I haven’t shared much of this massive project yet, so I might get a little lengthy as I cover some ground…ha. (And please excuse our house’s pathetic exterior state, we desperately need to paint it but WHEN?!) Much like our backyard landscaping, I’m really really proud of this DIY project because plants and yard stuff is not something either of us are naturally drawn to. But we did it 100% ourselves and saved a ton of money. I have a plant list and budget breakdown at the end, if you are curious.A brief history: Our front yard came to us with a patch of thirsty grass with a crumbling and steep drop off and an assortment of random flowers and bushes. We stopped watering everything when we moved in and let it go for a few years while inside projects demanded attention, turning the yard into a ratty weed/dirt patch (sorry neighborhood!!!). This is on a very good day after rains turned weeds green:
When the time came to tackle the front, we knew we needed some sort of wall along the top of our slope to delineate each section and offer more usable, flat square footage above (you can see the gentlest part of the drop off above). The border wall was born. We added a swoop of flexible composite edging on our driveway side to finish the rock/mulch separation where there is an awkward elevation change but we still needed definition.

Next, we ripped up all the irrigation and nearly every plant. We put in all new drainage across the top level before covering it with a thick layer of weed cloth and float rock.

Then I spent a good six months slowly finding plants, planting them, and moving them around until it felt right. I tried to work in a few existing plants in an effort to save money and labor (you can kind of see my attempts to integrate them in this post), but in the end it wasn’t worth the effort. We ended up keeping nothing except two crepe myrtle trees on the slope, our huge beloved dragon tree in one corner, and our huge palm tree in another. It was scary to have such a huge blank canvas to fill up with plants and money, but once we actually got rid of things we didn’t like, it made it much easier to design a landscape that we truly love, that we are able and willing to take care of, that better goes with the look we are going for, and that fits into our low maintenance/low water needs. More about plant selection and specifics way down at the end.

Next, we mulched the slope areas with gorilla shred. The sea of brown isn’t my favorite, but the slope is steep and we need something that will stay in place and couldn’t find a better solution. The lower and upper garden beds have black mulch, which I love the punch of color it brings and wish I could somehow do black on the slope…though I recently saw a similar slope in black rubber mulch that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I may look into that further on down the line.

With our driveway and garage entrance in the back, our rambling ranch’s length is overly emphasized from the front. Our slope landscaping provides enough lushness that the top doesn’t need a ton of plants, but we did need something big to break up the long monotonous expanse of house frontage. We settled on building a decorative screen. It was originally supposed to hide a terribly placed electrical box floating in the middle of a wall, but I last-minute moved it. And then loved it so much that I decided we definitely needed a second one to cover the electrical box the original one was supposed to. Screen #2 coming soon.

The new front door and mailbox has immensely classed up the joint.

Time for so many photos.



Our slope was very much inspired by the slope landscaping at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, CA. I fell in love with it last Spring when we were there because it is very colorful and graphic, simple but interesting, and lush feeling without water requirements. Our climate is similar so I knew it could work. The slope is where the bulk of our planting happened and is basically a repeat of agave attenuatas, blue agave americanas, black aeoiums, yellow jades, and golden barrel cacti. A few spots veer from the pattern: a couple variegated agave americanas (the green and yellow stipes), jades that the previous owner left us in backyard pots (heart), a pony tail palm, an aloe tree, a few other aeoniums, and a spiky furcraea macdougalii that isn’t doing so good. Up top we have more attenuata, a gigantic americana agave, a bed of sansevieria, and a pair of palm trees that need to be moved…they were planted with the intention of making a front-and-center V of twin palms, but it’s unlikely that vision will be realized while we own this house and they are taking up valuable real estate and looking weird and small.

Our choices reflect two landscaping goals: “as zero-maintance as we can get” and as free as can be. Low water landscaping is important in our state, and much of the west, so thankfully we both love desert modern landscape design and ran with that. Faking Palm Springs til we make it. Everything in our yard is a succulent and will not need regular watering after getting established over the past winter. I will probably hand water a few times on scorching days this summer just to be safe, but I don’t expect to do any watering past that. Rain water only. We’re irrigation free besides our small backyard lawn.Free plants are hard to beat. Many of our agaves, which make up the majority of our plants, were scores from trash piles, neighbors, our own backyard pups, and craigslist ads. Once you get a taste of free agaves, it’s hard to go back. Savings really add up, especially when you are talking about 100+ plants. My husband dug up and wheelbarrowed that huge one by the front door from a few block away. (True love.)

The great thing about agaves, attenuatas in particular, is their ability to multiply. You cut off the pups, the bonus agaves that grow from the mother plant, plop them in the ground and they grow! So easy. In a few years I anticipate the slope to be lush and full, but still minimal. But a note about agave americanas, pictured below. They also pup and multiply but they are sharp and their sap is a skin irritant. If you let them clump, you can have an unmanageable mess on your hands. My proactive approach has been to treat pups like weeds…when I come across them while weeding, I pull them out (easy when they are little) and toss them to keep things nice and ordered.A few special plants, like the aloe barberae, are from a local nursery. Everything else was filled in with cheap(er) plants from Home Depot…big box stores like that sell regional plant standards at decent prices. What they stock is at the whim of what their wholesale nurseries have available, so it takes multiple visits to gather all you need, but it’s possible and such a money saver!

Shout out to the tiny heroes of our yard: Golden barrels! Forever a favorite. They popped up last spring at our local home depot and I bought a ton! The sidewalk level “cutouts” as we call them, seemed like a perfect opportunity to display them symmetrically, in contrast to the more natural, lose placement of plants on the slope, where even more golden barrels dot the landscape. The cacti are only a few years old, and bordering on humorously tiny. And I know they are slow growers (they can reach 2 feet by 30 years). But the cost of older/bigger ones was more than I wanted to spend and specimens at any size aren’t something I find often in bulk locally so I am so thankful just to have ANY. They contribute such a fun pop, in both shape and color, and are the most commented on plants by passing walkers. Little balls of spiky chartreuse wonderfulness that everyone wants to hug.Some of our plant budget was literally thrown away on plant fails. I really wanted purple cordylines to line our rock bed, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t keep them alive. I threw close to $200 at them, they all kept dying, and I finally had to thrown in the towel and change course. Plants that continually die on you are not zero maintenance. My next attempt was Mexican fence post cacti but acquiring them here proved near impossible. Next experiment, San Pedro cacti, also failed: cactus sunburn. Luckily, I only attempted this on a small scale, mostly due to plant scarcity, and was able to move the burnt guys to the back. Going back to the drawing board for the 4th time led me to try Sansevieria, something I only considered a shade plant because they THRIVE indoors, but can actually tolerate sun. They are doing great! Only took 4 tries.

Things still look a bit sparse, but everything has already grown so much since Halloween. Hooray!



When going into a project this big with almost no experience, it’s really hard to nail down an estimated cost. We did get a quote for the whole thing with a concrete retaining walls on bottom and top, but it was in the $20,000-$30,000k range…what the heck even? If you are looking for motivation to do your yard yourself when you really don’t want to, just ask someone else for a quote. I promise it will provide you with the motivation you need! I know the price of materials and plants varies so much between regions and will definitely depend on your yard size, but if you are curious what we spent for our good-sized yard, we did everything for a little over $3000. AND A TON OF TIME. Here’s our break down:

Plants – $1200:

  • Blue Americana Agaves x so many, FREE (you dig from family friend and neighbors)
  • Agave Attenuata x so many, FREE (neighbor’s trash pile)
  • Agave Attenuata x 9, $100 total (craigslist neighbor)
  • Agave Attenuata long neck x 1, $75 (local nursery)
  • Jade Hummel Sunset x 9, $5 (Home Depot)
  • Jade x 2, FREE (previous owners left in backyard)
  • Golden Barrel Cactus small x 20, $5/each (Home Depot)
  • Golden Barrel Cactus large x 2, $20/each (Home Depot)
  • Black Aeoniums x 3, $25/each (local nursery, I split and propagated them)
  • random Aeoniums x 2, $25 (local nursery)
  • Agave Americana Variegata x 2, $20/each (Home Depot)
  • Aloe Barberae tree x 1, $45 (local nursery, I broke off one head noooo)
  • Furcraea Macdougalii x 1, $40 (local nursery)
  • Ponytail Palm x 1, $25 (Home Depot)
  • Sansevieria x 8, $20/each (Home Depot)
  • Mexican Fan Palms x 2, $50/each (Home Depot)
  • Cordylines x 8, $20/each (Home Depot, all dead)

Materials – $2000

  • border wall wood and supplies, $800
  • composite edging, $50
  • wood screen, $150
  • 3/4″ float rock x 6 yards, $250 total
  • gorilla hair mulch x 9 yards, $350 total
  • rock/mulch deliveries, $150
  • black mulch bags x 9, $30 total
  • landscape fabric, $250
  • round pavers x 30, $1/each

Not bad! I can’t describe what a joy it is to look out our window and see pretty plants instead of neck high weeds and dirt piles. The spiky plants feel more “me” and more ordered than the flower/lawn combo ever did. But really, having a done and clean yard is just such a relief. A front yard is not a project you can hide behind a closed door until you are ready to get to it. It’s the kind that stares you, and everyone else, squarely in the face day after day until you do the work. So glad the work is behind us!

Our future plans out here, besides painting that exterior ASAP, include rebuilding our falling down side fence and eventually laying a concrete patio outside our front door, the best views on our property. A giant circle seems right to me, but that is out of our DIY comfort zone, so we may just go for an easy geometrical patio out of square concrete pavers.

Phew, that was a lot! Thanks for reading and to all of you in the middle of your own yard projects, I feel your pain. xoxo



Excuse my brief blog hiatus while end of school year crazies and A KITCHEN PLUMBING/LAUNDRY FLOODING SITUATION took over our life! Ugh. We have put our laundry room back together, our new dishwasher is taking its maiden voyage as I type (!!!), The Beach Boys are filling my ears, and it’s officially summer break! I am back baby. I’m trying to put together a monster front yard post and realizing that I never shared our new mailbox. Shame. It’s adorable and deserves a dedicated shout out, so here we go!

You may remember this mailbox post full of beautiful modern boxes and wondering whether the cost of a new mailbox was worth the splurge for our new front door. While thinking on it, a sweet reader informed me that my dream mailbox from Modern Mailbox was on major sale at Rejuvenation (thank you Kieros!!!!!!!!). I took that as a go and immediately scooped one up. Then spent weeks agonizing over placement because that is what insane people do. Hi.A divorce was pending if I made my husband hold it up just one more time, so I went with hanging it on the board and batten to unclutter the doorbell side of the door but mostly because it’s easier to patch wood when I inevitably decide it needs to hang a smidge higher/to the right/etc. Obviously, I want the mailbox centered under the light, but think it might be weird floating on one batten, even with some custom trim. Which, by the way, isn’t something one should pursue when trying to shake the nickname ‘Custom Jenny’. As far as the mailbox goes, it’s perfect! The finish is gorgeous, it’s super heavy and sturdy, and it looks soooo good. You want to hug it, right??? In semi-related news, our big summer house project was supposed to be painting the exterior. But we have been frantically prepping for a super exciting photoshoot next month…more soon! At this rate, I’m not sure how we’ll get to exterior painting though it desperately needs to be done. I did take the important first step of choosing a paint color. And landed in the safety zone: painting it white. What do you think? Will I regret it? Does it show more dirt? Is it SOOO BORING??? Do you have a brilliant other idea (that isn’t black/charcoal because I don’t think it will fare well in our blasting sun and I’m thinking it was such a popular trend that it will look dated sooner than later and I need some color longevity). Thoughts please!

Happy summer to you all!

xoxo Custom Jenny

Orange Front Door!

It happened. I can pretty much retire from life because having an orange front door = I’ve made it. The ornate and scrolly front door that came with our house was obviously a more recent update from the wrong decade that didn’t fit in with the style of the house or its owners. We have been slowly bringing our porch back to where it belongs and replacing the door was a major piece of the puzzle. Sources below!A surprising amount of man and woman hours went into this very minimalist door:

The door is a cheap composite wood slab that’s been sitting in our garage for 3 YEARS. We considered hanging it ourselves but after watching videos, we got the feeling this is one of those rare jobs we should hire out. Thankfully, we had a family friend who was passing through town and was kind enough to do it for us. (Orange County friends: if you need a handy man/door hanger I am happy to pass along his info. He does excellent work!) It took him and my father in law a good 8 hours to hang with multiple specialty tools and years of experience. Our house is not even a little bit square, so this would have been a nightmare to DIY. Front doors aren’t one of those jobs you can walk away from and come back to in a few days/months, which is our coping mechanism when things go wrong. I planned on adding some kooky trim work once it was hung, thinking our house wasn’t modern enough to pull of the plain slab look, but after it was in place I loved it unadorned.

The hardware is part vintage, part new. As mentioned on my huge door hardware post from awhile back, this amazing brass escutcheon was a new-old-stock vintage find! Fear not: Rejuventation sells reproductions of the exact one. But I scrambled hard the night before the last-minute hanging to purchase a lockset locally and was thankful my top choice, this Schlage Bell lockset, was in stock at the third store I visited. While I wish the rosette was chunkier and I really dislike the ornateness of the deadbolt that came with mine, the knob has a good mid century shape, very similar to our interior knobs. The door color is orange perfection, Behr Fireglow, the same color we used on our master door and screen door and crazy backyard wall. With our old door, I took the opportunity to experiment with a few other colors (coral and turquoise), knowing orange would be the forever color when we upgraded. I surprisingly really liked the turquoise, a great compliment to our current exterior color and all our blue agaves, and was a little worried orange would clash in comparison. Of course, that shouldn’t stop you from painting your front door your favorite color right? Orange actually looks SO GREAT and I was dumb for even worrying about it.

One thing to consider when choosing front door paint colors, which I didn’t, is that darker colors combined with intense, direct sunlight make for greater heat. I would never think of orange as a dark color, but it is. This one in particular is a deep base paint, and you can feel the difference in thermal intake. By mid afternoon the door is hot to the touch. We’ve had trouble with our previously perfect fitting door starting to bow by the end of each day after prolonged Southern sun exposure with the unseasonably hot weather we’ve had in the past few weeks. By morning, it’s back to normal, telling me it’s not a water issue (I have never sealed a door so well!), but rather differences in temperature on each side of the door. I’m sure the slab, compared to our previous paneled door, is less able to roll with temperature changes, but I’m sure my dark color contributes too. Things to think about, and an issue we aren’t sure how we’ll address. I have a feeling that it will be fine for the half of the year it’s overcast and mild (which should be right now but whatever…)mid century front door porch turquoise bright blue aqua bullet planter cone light vintage mailboxAs far as actually painting the door, it should have been the simplest job ever right? WRONG. Painting this was a nightmare and I can’t remember a recent “easy” project that went so bad. I started with my normal preferred exterior paint, Behr Marquee, in a semi gloss. The same paint we used on our master/backyard door and screen door without issue. However, the front door is larger and has the sun directly hitting it for many hours of the day, showing every roller/brush mark imperfection in the sheen. I started with a 5″ foam roller and it was a disaster! I couldn’t get a smooth finish for the life of me, mostly because my paint was drying before I could get to adjacent areas, leaving differences in texture.

Before buying a sprayer or going with flat matte paint, I turned to IG for advice and got so many great ideas! Thanks to my friend Kimi (you must check out her AMAZING house and bow down to the queen), who coincidently got a new front door the same day as us and was kind enough to share what her professional painter did, I went with a different paint. An alkyd, similar in application to old school oil based paint, and what is often used nowadays for trim and doors in public spaces. It smells and takes awhile to dry, but I was easily able to brush it on and get an even finish over the whole door, though my roller texture from the first coats are still slightly showing through. Her painter took it a step further and rolled on, then brushed over for the ultimate in even coverage. I wish I would have known and done all this to begin with, but now I know for next time! Another great suggestion that also would have worked was adding Flood Floetrol to the latex paint to slow dry time (many thanks to the wonderful Melodrama for that tip – have you seen her adorable house???!!!). I bought some of that too for future use, especially on trim work!



knob – Schlage | escutcheon – similar | paint – Behr Semi Gloss Alkyd

mailbox – DIY | doorbell – Rejuvenation | address numbers – Home Depot (painted)

plant stand – vintage | planter – TJ Maxx | doormat – Target

sconce – vintage | entry mirror – Amazon | interior sputnik – Practical Props


Now that everything is mostly in place on our porch, and there is an abundance of brass, I totally have my eye on this mailbox. I quickly DIYed our mailbox with some bamboo and spray paint, but it’s time for something a little more durable. That white on white would be so cute, ya? Thanks for reading!! xoxo Jenny