Good Bones Recap: Better Yard Special

Karen E Laine as seen in Good Bones: Better Yard recap
Photo courtesy Two Chicks and a Hammer

Welcome back, everyone! Good Bones introduced its second spinoff of the season with a landscaping project so big, it deserves its own show called Good Bones: Better Yard. Contributing editor Megan Fernandez and art director Kristin Sims recap the charming detour into shrubbery, al fresco living, and tree-harvesting mules.

Good Bones cohost Karen E Laine has always handled the landscaping projects on the show’s rehabs, but she can do a lot more than what a flip calls for. For proof, the opening scene reveals her semi-tropical backyard, lush with a large pond, a waterfall, and thriving plants of all sorts. It’s not what you’d expect in an urban area. But her own Shangri-La isn’t enough to occupy her time. Karen wants a new challenge, so she comes out of retirement to take on a landscaping project in the Old Northside.

This historic city-center neighborhood is affluent and established with grand homes. There are no fixer-uppers here, but the yards weren’t designed for modern outdoor living. Karen’s clients are young parents named Kris and Meghan. They want a forever yard to go with their forever home. And they’re going to spend $100,000! Yeesh!

Kristin: That’s a lot of dough to spend on the yard, especially with a baby on the way. But landscaping dollars go fast. 

Megan: As proven by the price breakdown that runs through the show, one of several things I loved about this week. Between the front and back yards, Karen needs to: take out overgrown shrubs and bad trees, replace groundcover with sod, build a new deck and firepit, configure an outdoor kitchen, and find a spot for a basketball court. They’re keeping a lovely red maple and getting rid of everything else, including a weird standalone stage.


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Kristin: I’m confused by the layout. I’m not sure where the driveway really starts and ends, but it is a very big lot—and a “lot” more than the Two Chicks have worked on in the past!Megan: Nicely done! And here I worried that this episode might be uninspiring to recap (because I have a black thumb). There’s even some Good Bones bizarro—although not as strange as the suspended bed earlier this season. That standalone set of stairs up to a little stage in the backyard. Just sitting there in some tall grasses.Kristin: I don’t know where the stairs to nowhere were headed, but they seemed sturdy. I thought a fun playhouse could have been added there.Megan: A playhouse didn’t make the couple’s wish list next to their hot tub, basketball court, and a firepit. As Karen gets going, Tad, Austin, and Cory show up to help. And so does Lenny! Remember him?Kristin: Sorry, Lenny. Only vaguely. Megan: He’s a no-nonsense contractor and was on the first few seasons. He is Mina’s dad’s first wife’s third husband, and Mina said he was just “always around” when she was growing up. He and Karen get along well. That relationship was one of the things that established the show’s one-big-family vibe from day one.Kristin: Well, as we know, nepotism thrives in the Two Chicks world.Megan: You have to work with people you trust, and evidently he’s good. Karen challenges him to use his excavator to scoop up a juniper tree in one piece so she can replant it in a better spot. It’s not easy to save a tree this size, but she’s always going to try. They also use the excavator to take out the thick groundcover, then follow up by hand to get every last piece of root. This seems painstaking and tedious.Kristin: It is the evils of groundcover! But that had to be a rodent motel. It’s terrible to remove. The excavator was a great resource. With the trees and groundcover gone, the couple gains a huge open space—and a lot more mowing!Megan: It’s worth it. I don’t mind mowing. It’s a city yard, not that big. We have a simple rotary mower, no gas or cord. Works great. Very simple. Karen explains that one giant tree has a lot of galls, which are growths that sprout on leaves and twigs. The abundance of them is a sign that the tree is “stressed to the max” and therefore a risk to human life. Kristin: I’ve seen those on leaves before and didn’t know what they were. A little leaf education happening on the premiere.Megan: A professional crew takes out the tree, and Karen could see that it was dying and a disaster waiting to happen. No regrets over removing it.Kristin: I hated to see the family lose beautiful trees front and back, but it was for the best. I hope they like sun!Megan: With the yard all torn up and back to a blank canvas, Karen meets with the couple and shows them one of her tricks of the trade. Kristin: It’s a craftsy watercolor version of a landscape rendering that she did herself. Before we can really take a look, a 3-D animation takes us through the property design.Megan: There will be a row of honey locusts along the sidewalk, promising glorious fall foliage and ferny, sun-dappled shade in the summer. Dwarf oakleaf hydrangeas around the house, which never have to be pruned or sheared. Tall shrubbery around the fence lines. White cedars in the backyard for privacy. Kristin: It’s a nice, simple layout until we get to the mega plan for the backyard.Megan: They’re going to build a big deck, a patio, a tall fireplace, a separate firepit, and a kitchen under an unusable carport attached to the garage. It’s not a garden, it’s outdoor living space. Lenny returns with toy tools for Tad. Speaking of toys, I’m a little worried about Adele, Karen’s toy poodle, hanging around the worksite, underfoot. Kristin: They are using paving stones for the basketball court so it can double as a patio extension, but that means the pavers have to be laid completely flat so the ball will bounce. Lenny says they cannot scoot pavers across the sand base. They have to set a paver in place exactly where it should go.Megan: Tad seems to struggle with the scootless technique and Lenny is on his case. Tad says, “Someone did not do his daily affirmations today.” Lenny says he’s about to drop-kick Tad. Is this cathartic for you? Lenny is a lot tougher on Tad than Mina is.Kristin: LOVE Lenny! It seems that—maybe for TV—Lenny is stuck with this crew. And this is work that takes precision. It’s not something that Tad is used to, but he seems to get the hang of it.Megan: With Lenny babysitting Tad and Cory (hi, Austin, you don’t need babysitting), Karen takes a field trip to harvest a tree to make a countertop for the outdoor kitchen. She goes into the woods with a logger dude and chooses an unhealthy tree that’s about to fall. They’ll help it down in a controlled way so it doesn’t fall down later and take out other trees. And instead of using heavy machinery that tears up the forest floor, what (or who) do they use? Kristin: Mules on a yoke pulling a chariot-like thing that Karen stands on. Megan: I didn’t expect mules and a chariot. Better Yard is definitely surprising me. Then Karen takes the wood to our favorite craftsmen, Iron Timbers, to mill it into a countertop. Karen chose white oak because its natural oils make a good seal for outdoor use. She also asks Dustin and Caleb to make a one-of-a-kind firepit for Meghan, because that’s her special request, and Kris is getting both a basketball court and hot tub.Kristin: Dustin, being the wood guy for IT, suggests a wooden firepit, and Karen wonders if they can use the giant rotted tree they took down. This could be a cool design!Megan: Back at the yard, they use a small excavator to dig the holes for 100 or so plants and shrubs. Then they install the basketball court and Austin insists on a “quality control check,” aka a shootaround. I loved the shot at the end of both Cory and Lenny doubled over from fatigue.Kristin: That WAS good!Megan: Mina comes by to see the almost-finished yard and hang a giant mirror over the stone fireplace. On second thought, it was probably decorative ironwork.Kristin: There wouldn’t be a mirror. The glare from the sun would be terrible—especially for the neighbors.Megan: Kris and Meghan left for the last few days so they could get the full effect of the reveal. Like they didn’t drive by already, though.Kristin: Like they don’t LIVE there!Megan: The finished product is pretty magnificent. There’s privacy where it belongs, lots of open yard space to play, color, texture, function, and ample outdoor living.Kristin: Really? I think it’s a lot. I really don’t want to see people in a hot tub right outside my bay window. And I don’t understand the need for a firepit AND fireplace—even though I love the creativity of the firepit.Megan This firepit isn’t big. In fact, we need to describe it. It’s not on the ground. It’s a flat slab of the tree trunk—like a large plate—attached to a metal arm on a post. The arm swings around and can raise and lower. So it doesn’t feel redundant with the large, standing fireplace. The firepit flame is pretty small.Kristin: One cool part is that the firepit has a flat cover so that the whole thing can be used as a table.Megan: It’s an ingenious design. If HGTV had an awards show, this would be nominated for best custom design. It’s perhaps the best thing I have ever seen on Good Bones. However, they need more furniture in the “cocktail area.” They just have two barrel chairs.Kristin: I liked the cost breakdown that ran through the episode:Pergola, $4,000. Outdoor fireplace, $16,000.New composite decking, $6,100.Landscaping shrubs and trees, $5,900.Custom kitchen, $15,000.Firepit, $5,000.Megan: I’m surprised that the fireplace cost as much as the kitchen.Kristin: I would have liked a final tally like on Good Bones. How much it costs to demo the property and hire out the tree removal, etc.Megan: That would be nice. Something to add if this special returns next year. But first, next week is the Good Bones season finale. Any predictions?Kristin: Gross old house, boy shenanigans, faulty contractors, crazy theme, and then, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, all finished and sold!Megan: A Cinderella season! See you next week.