Just found this site and thought I'd post. I am very close to finishing my own backyard and I wanted to post here to show my handy work as well as ask a few professionals how I did and what they would have done differently. Please keep in mind that I am not a professional at this nor have I ever even attempted anything like it. Actually, I'm a federal agent believe it or not. This was my first time for everything you see done here. I started out by digging drainage ditches down both sides of the house. and installed 4" perforated pipe. I installed a three sprinkler valve manifold - one for the existing drip system in the front yard - one for the new drip system in the backyard - and one for the new sprinkler system in the backyard. Then I put in the new drip system and the sprinklers. I drew up a design and painted out the plan on the ground. Then I made some wood covers for the open design bricks that were already in the back wall. This was to keep these bricks from being covered with material when I raised the level of the whole yard. I filled the drainage ditches with pee gravel and put up some wood barriers for the yard level to be raised. I tapped in to the natural gas from the house and ran a gas line out to where the I planned to build the custom fire pit. No, I didn't have a licenced plumber do this. However, all pipes and fittings were triple wrapped with teflon tape, I pressure checked every join, I buried it 6" underground (18" after I raised the yard level) and I encased the whole thing in 1 1/2" PVC. Time to raise the level of the yard. I did this with 16 tons of 1/4 minus (reduced granite). The reason I wanted to raise the entire level of the yard was to later put concrete pavers over the existing slab and extend the porch out in to the yard. I later poured about 200lbs of concrete where those boards are to make a nice barrier that would hold much longer and stronger. Time to build. I started with the fire pit and planter/bench. I'm using a product called Celtic Rock by Belgard. This stuff was a ***** to work with at first but once I got the hang of it, things got a bit easier. Notice that I placed the gas key valve in the side of the pit itself. This was a bit tricky but it proved to be a nice touch later. Next, I wanted to do the grill. I picked up one of Charboiler's Commercial Series grills at Lowe's for $300.00 and decided to encase it in the same rock. Next, I wanted to knock out the existing cheap block wall around the AC and replace it with the Celtic Rock as well. This will later have a pond with water fall on one side and a simple planter on the other. Time for the pavers. All edges were done with plastic runners that I nailed down...then the last row of pavers were mortared together inside the runner. They arn't going anywhere. Pavers done. Now I have to cut and form the cap rock on all the walls and the fire pit. I capped all the walls and dropped some lava rock in the fire pit. And this is what it looks like right now. All that is left to do is the pond (simple pre-formed) and fill in the planters with soil and plants. I threw away nine sets of gloves that looked just like these before I was done. Here it is right after the artificial turf was laid. This is the only thing that I didn't do myself. It needed to be perfect and done by a person that knew what they were doing. So what do ya think? Give it to me straight. I can provide further photos of anything. I took many pictures as I worked.