Terrible to Tuscany Makeover

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In an outer Sydney suburb, Don and the Burke’s Backyard team transformed a daggy Aussie backyard into a Tuscan inspired entertainment area. They tackled several problem areas including an old swimming pool and an ugly fibro garage. The spectacularly stylish results were achieved simply with basic handyman techniques and at low cost. The cost of materials for the garage, entertaining area, barbecue and plantings was under $2000. With the help of new products such as Dulux paint finishes and Deco Gold® paving, you don’t have to be an expert or a millionaire to give your backyard a vibrant Mediterranean flavour.

The problems:
  • old fibro garage with flaking and powdery white paint
  • a functional but unattractive barbecue made from besser bricks
  • outdated swimming pool in need of a new filtering system, lining and edging
  • old swimming pool filter in the middle of the site
  • overgrown plantings around the swimming pool
  • overgrown Eureka lemon tree in poor health
  • uneven ground full of rubble and weeds
The solutions:
  • repaint the garage with a textural finish and a colour to tone in with the house
  • paint the barbecue in a contrasting colour
  • create a seating area by paving with Deco Gold®
  • decorate area with mexican artifacts
  • refinish pool lining with pebble crete and relocate the new filter out of site behind the garage
  • replace the old pool coping with a slate-like Wistow stone
  • construct a waterfall into the swimming pool to make both a visual and audible impact in the garden
  • replant the area around the swimming pool and fence
  • replace the ailing lemon tree with a more suitable variety and underplant with herbs
  • define the pathways with timber edging and pave with Wistow stone



Step 1: Remove the joining strips on the fibro and fill gaps with Sikaflex silicon sealant ($10.75).

Step 2: Remove flaking paint from the guttering and fibro using a wire brush.

Step 3: Wash down the fibro surface with sugar soap and seal with Dulux Sealer Binder ($60 for 4 litres) and allow to cure for 3 days.

Step 4: Apply two coats of mango colour Dulux Render Effects ($98.50 for 10 litres) with a roller or brush to the fibro and guttering. This is a 100% acrylic texture coating which produces a granular appearance similar to cement render.

Step 5: Brush a single coat of Dulux Tuscan Effects Roman Clay ($58.60 for four litres) over the render in a cross-hatch pattern. This enables some of the mango colour to show through.

Step 6: Attach shutters (available from most hardware stores) to the windows to create an illusion of greater size. We also made small cedar timber awnings with decorative side supports. Plastic, terracotta-look window boxes were placed under each window sill and planted with dwarf yellow calendula. An overgrown passionfruit was reduced to several leaders and trained up over the window awning.

Step 7: Paint the garage door in the mango colour and attach decorative strips (Roman Clay) in a diamond pattern.

The entertaining area

Ground surface

Step 1: Excavate the area to be paved to a depth of 20cm (8″).

Step 2: Cover the area with 12cm (5″) of blue metal road base or packed sand (available from landscaping suppliers). Use a vibrating plate or whacker (available from equipment hire companies for $69 per day) to pack the material into a solid base for the Deco Gold®.

Step 3: Using a rake, spread about 8cm (3″) of Deco Gold® over the base and pack with the vibrating plate or whacker. Add more if necessary to bring the level to the top of the timber edging. We used three tonnes. Once laid it forms a solid yet porous and highly durable surface suitable for pedestrian or vehicular pathways.

Note: Deco Gold® is an attractive golden coloured decomposed rock similar to decomposed granite. Its warm colour matches the Tuscan look of the garage. It is available from Australian Native Landscapes for approximately $55 per tonne. Decomposed granite can be substituted.


Step 1: Use stringlines to lay out the pathways around the pool and garage.

Step 2: Put down treated pine edgings 200x75mm ( 8×3″) to define access paths and retain the paving. These are available from landscape suppliers.

Step 3: Excavate the path areas to about 20cm (8″). Use Wistow stone as stepping stones in the pathways and secure each individual stone on a base of cement approximately 12cm (5″) thick) on top of the soil surface. Using a string line check that they are level with the timber edging.

Note: Wistow Stone is available in Sydney from Rock around the Block, 159 William Street, Granville, NSW, 2142, phone: (02) 9682 6999 or from Complete Natural Stone Pty Ltd, Cambelltown, SA, phone: (08) 8365 6522.

Step 4: Allow cement to set then pack the area between the stones with Deco Gold®.

The barbecue

Although ugly, the besser block barbecue was well constructed and functional. We gave this Aussie icon a new lease of life with a cleanup and paint job with Dulux Tuscan Effects Roman Clay. Pots and Mexican ornaments can be added to highlight the Tuscan colours and exotic feel. Blue violas were added to the planters on the barbecue.
Mexican artefacts and outdoor setting

The garage and outdoor entertaining area were decorated with Mexican artefacts available from Jaysun Pty Ltd, 77 Buckland Street, Chippendale, NSW, 2008, phone: (02) 9319 0339.

The solid teak table and chairs are available from Jati, 28 Dickson Ave, Artarmon, NSW, 2064, phone: (02) 9439 4727. The setting we showed cost $1450.

Kitchen garden

Step 1: Remove any existing soil and rubble and replace with a bulk organic garden mix .

Step 2: We replaced the old lemon tree with an advanced Meyer Lemon (Citrus limon), an ornamental species suitable for a kitchen garden. An average sized plant would cost about $25. Meyer lemons are suitable for any part of Australia.

Step 3: Underplant the lemon tree with a border of parsley and an assortment of culinary herbs including Burke’s Backyard chilli, thyme, mints and oregano. Total cost of herbs: $70.

Step 4: Mulch with composted pinebark

Swimming pool

Step 1: Drain the pool and install a new filtration system. The filter was relocated out of site behind the garage.

Step 2: Reline the pool with a pebble-crete finish and finish the pool edging in Wistow stone.

The pool was renovated by Award Pools and Landscapes, Lot 4 Old Windsor Road, Kellyville, NSW, 2151, phone: (02) 96293639.

Poolside plantings

Step 1: An old fashioned rockery was uncovered along the boundary fence next to the pool and was incorporated into the poolside waterfall.

Step 2: The feature plant behind the waterfall is a twin-trunked Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii), a slow growing palm that will only reach fence height. Underplant the palm with Philodendron ‘ Xanadu’ and Liriope (Liriope muscari) both of which will tolerate full sun to dappled shade.

Step 3: We planted Austromyrtus ‘Aurora’ at the rear of the pool. The regular flushes of bronze new growth on this rainforest native plant provide good colour contrast to the other plants and the nearby existing Dwarf Nandina (Nandina domestica ”Nana’)

Step 4: New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax) is an excellent choice for along the fence because of its upright, tidy growth habit that will not dirty the pool. Plant the background with standard varieties (green, burgundy and variegated) and the foreground with dwarf hybrids in mixed colours.

Plants are available from most nurseries.

Budget: Total cost of materials (excluding pool renovation)

Paints and sealant  – $260

Shutters, awnings & trims  – $180

Deco Gold, road base, stone, pine  – $550

Whacker hire  – $69

Plants, garden mixes & window boxes  – $395

Mexican artefacts  – $470

Total cost – $1924

The makeover was designed and constructed by Don Burke and Brad Baxter of Award Pools and Landscapes.