backyard patio design help?!! with pics

diybmoreMay 30, 2012


i need help designing a new patio/seating area in my back yard. this is a 12 x 13 rectangle between my back door and an addition on the house. most of it is in heavy shade, except for a bit by the house, and the ground is all tree roots--nothing grows, not even weeds--with a small patch of sunken, uneven old stone patio. the border of it, by the house, was previously home to 7 (!) giant, out of control yews, which we chopped down to about 1 foot.

behind this space is a concrete pad patio, which is also sunken and uneven with terrible drainage. the whole area is continually littered with twigs, leaves etc, from surrounding trees.

my fantasy is to turn this spot into a seating/barbecue area, since it abuts the back, kitchen door. It would be great to get rid of everything that's there and start anew but that's out of the budget, as is wood decking on top of it.:( The kinds of things that *are* in the budget might be adding some edging, filling in with crushed stone and flagstones, or making new plantings, or putting in raised beds, e.g. But i'm really stumped as to how to lay it out and what to do about the chopped down yews, and the old concrete pad, and the old stone patio that's already there. Any suggestions are much appreciated.

the steps in the foreground lead up to a sunroom; the steps in the background lead to the kitchen. the structure on the right hand side is the detached garage.

here's the concrete pad, in the foreground, with the grill, table, etc on it. there's a picnic table there too. the pad is sunken and stained!

view from the kitchen doorstep. here are the chopped down yews. you can see the ground is all rutted and full of roots.

Many thanks in advance!

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You should lay out the yard with porousstone bricks.Nice stamp is very important.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 6:35PM
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thanks designonline6! That's beautiful and I'd love to do that. would it require getting someone to remove the concrete pad and the existing broken down stone patio and also grinding out the stumps of the cut-down yews by the house? right now budget and time is for a feasible DIY solution. is there a way to take some baby steps toward this for now without the whole shebang?

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 6:55PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Getting to clean slate status need not be expensive. Old concrete can be busted up into movable parts with a sledgehammer, and in fact, the pieces can be re-used as "flagstone" or piled up for a retaining wall if one is wanted. It's not a bad look. You can probably rent a sledgehammer if you don't want to buy one.

Combine those concrete pieces with the stone that's already there, and you have the makings of a new seating area.

Your yews might regrow from the base, so you may have to do more removal than you have done. Designate one hand pruning saw for "in the dirt" work; dig away as much dirt at the base as you can, and cut the roots that you encounter. You just need to get the trunk out and they will be done for.

For new materials, you should keep an eye on your local craigslist. People around here often give away leftover materials or materials they have removed (especially old broken up concrete sidewalks and pads :-)). Collect what you can get until you have enough to work with.

Sounds like the area is very much controlled by the tree, and this is as good a time as any to decide whether you are keeping it for much longer. If it is slated to be cut down in the next five years, you might as well do it now. Looking back on our 18 years in this yard, the thing we wish most is that we had taken down two huge willows in the back yard years before we finally did. If a tree is near its maximum co-habitable size for a space, a few more years make no difference to it but can hugely alter your quality of life. Especially if you want paving, eating area, raised beds, and so forth, the tree will be making the difference between having that, and not having it: having instead a dry, dusty, twiggy, area with leaves on the seats and in your food.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 10:32PM
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Though this is a small area there's a lot going on... steps, walls, tree, assorted paving, windows, etc. It would be useful to you and probably to people here if you drew up a scale plan that showed where these elements are located and how they relate to one another. Just a simple line drawing of the features to remain would be sufficient. No need to draw paving that will be removed. I suggest this partly because your photos lack in the story they tell... especially showing true spatial relationships between elements. I still find myself wanting to see a wider view. A photo that seems to be missing is one that shows a view FROM the would-be patio toward the back of the yard. A picture from the porch to the tree (capturing some of the canopy) would be useful. Not asking you to re-do photos but when adding any more it would be helpful if they were double the size. These are very small and it's hard to see detail, especially in the shadows.

Since there's already a railing for the basement steps, I can't imagine that there's a pressing need to have it and the steps screened with a large, bulky hedge. I can't see the need for re-growing the Yews... especially when space is at a premium.

I find large trees generally valuable and would investigate to see if, and how, you can make it more of an asset, if possible. Since low-hanging branches are evident, it's likely that some (maybe many) should be removed to allow for more light and view and less gloom. If it's a nasty tree with a lot of bad habits, then that's another story.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 12:13AM
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thanks so much for the advice! my husband loves the tree and the *$@(* concrete pad, as it turns out, so destruction is not possible in the near term. i have an idea on what to do but am not sure it would work...

so, here's my attempt at a scale drawing of the space.

and some more pics from other angles:

the above is the view from the kitchen door, looking to the back of the yard.

the above shows the giant tree.

What about something like the below?

if i can indeed rid myself of the yew stumps, and pull up the remaining concrete patio (not the pad), then would it be possible to cover the whole area nearly up to the concrete pad with crushed stone and maybe deck tiles on top? or even something simpler like wood chips? then i could put in some comfortable seating and a low table, for a little nook that is distant enough from the tree that it isn't completely smothered by debris. i'm imagining a place to drink a cup of tea in the morning and read the paper. maybe even a sail or canopy on top to protect from mosquitoes and tree debris? i could put in some tall planters to define the space and maybe grow something like a shady bamboo so it'll be like a screen. And then some kind of retaining wall around the concrete pad, which might help with the problem that the tight little border around it is continually spilling onto the pad, so when it gets flooded (since it's sinking), it's full of sediment. i could cover up the concrete path, which is too narrow, with a low raised bed that could extend the tight border around the corner a bit.

something like this addresses all my pet peeves and is within my budget and capabilities (i think). but is it weird? in 5-10 years we hope to sell this house.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 9:57AM
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actually there probably isn't room for a thick retaining wall or tall planters...maybe just some edging, and then extending the border into a low raised bed would be sufficient to define the space and separate it from the concrete pad?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 10:58AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Ok, so the old pad and the tree are fixed. I'm afraid I don't see the impediment to removing the old flagstone, however. It doesn't look all that firmly concreted it. Once you remove it, or even before you do, clear it from your brain. Don't factor it into your plans any more than you would factor in a piece of old linoleum into plans indoors. You may find that getting out there and starting to remove the yew trunks will help you mentally move past them as well.

Your situation of not wanting to do much demolition is going to limit your ability to improve the area, so I would keep your installations very simple, minimal in fact, and easily reversible. The next owners of your home, or possibly you if you stay longer than you think, will eventually want to address the area as a whole, so do them a favour and yourself a favour by not making it too complicated. In addition, whatever you do is not going to be long-lasting in the conditions you have, so don't overwhelm yourself. Skip the planters and defining the area, and don't make a bunch of different areas or types of surface. You just need open space that you can enjoy that is easy to take care of.

I would suggest you cover the whole unpaved area with cheap concrete slabs available at your average big box store for quite a reasonable price. Again, watch craigslist too - you never know. Watch the free and garden/materials listings. My preference is for 24x24, or 18x18, because the fewer cracks you have, the easier they are to maintain. However, those sizes are harder to handle and level than, say, 12x12.

You don't give your zone, but I don't think you should do a bunch of base installation anyway - I would just put the slabs on the dirt and if you have frost heave, so be it; you can do a bit of relevelling. I say this because between tree roots and the fact that the pad will eventually be demolished by someone, there is no point in building a stellar patio that is going to be changed anyway in not too many years.

There's a trick here too: you can cover the pad as well with those slabs, if you design the grade so it is just at the right height.

Now, just a tip about "my husband loves the tree and the slab..." We used to have a couple of huge willow trees in the back yard that I wanted to remove. I am the gardener, and they were causing endless backbreaking work for me (long story). My husband rarely goes in the yard but looks at it out the back window all the time. "But I love those trees" he would say, from inside, while I griped about yet another day spent pruning and dealing with their litter and other constraints. It took me a while to wise up, but finally one year I enlisted him to do the pruning (they overhung the garbage area of the lane and that had to be kept clear). The trees were down within 6 months :-)

Moral of the story, if he loves them, make them his headache. Why should you be sweeping and worrying about edging the concrete pad if he loves it? Let it get covered with debris and eventually disappear into the soil. He'll figure it out.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 1:32PM
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karin L, you're totally right. i can definitely take up the remaining flagstone patio, and think it is a great idea to simply cover the whole area including the *@*$@ concrete pad and @*$#% narrow concrete paths that make no sense! now i'm wondering how to grade the whole thing so that it's even enough to lay more concrete pieces on top and not be rickety, without putting in edging and a base. the pad itself dips in the middle below grade, and the middle of the entire area is above grade, thanks to unmoveable tree roots. i guess i could break the pieces up and lay them around the tree roots, if that might work. could i add fill on top of the concrete pad? without edging won't the pieces float around?

luckily nothing grows here so weeds won't be a problem at least. would it be an awful idea to mortar the joints, do you think, to make it more stable and easier to clean?

i'm in baltimore, zone 7. thanks again!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 2:51PM
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Very nice drawings, you seem to be right on track. I have an idea about your concrete pad problem with the husband, check out staining it a netural color, maybe a light brown or something that matches the flagstone.

I agree with getting rid of the tree, although if you live in the south if its facing south it probably really helps with the cooling of the home and up north might help with heating a bit via a windbreak but up north that would be more negligible than in the south and would hold a candle to the fence line shurbs. I am normally not the biggest fan of gravel, but if recessed I think it would break up the mad amount of concrete and stone. I think you could use 4 evergreen focal points in between the concrete pad, stone area,and gravel area on the corners next to the tall plantings. I think Hostas would really compliment your house, do well in the shade, and give really nice color. I would also look into some local fern varities. I love hammocks and maybe a post with a hammock tied to that tree would be a nice place for a good book but thats just me.

:) Roll Tide~ "I am from alabama"

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 3:56PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

You know the other thing you might consider is rubber tile. HD sells them for outdoor use - not sure how big they come (I get 24x36 from Canadian Tire, but you don't have that. I think it's sold as garage flooring). Rubber won't level the dips out, but it is a clean surface that can follow irregularities. Lighter weight than concrete too, although more expensive. Mine are thick enough to sustain a chair leg, but watch for that; some may be thinner. Or, if you want to get stupid cheap and creative (pardon the term), outdoor carpeting or artificial turf might have merits. You really just want to make the space inhabitable to start, right?

I figured tree roots would be an issue. Ask DH what he thinks would work around them :-)

What will happen with any material you put down is that it will attract more tree roots. Moisture will condense under anything solid and roots will be attracted to that. But what might work is a bed of sand to level most of it out, and yes, a gap where the roots already mound up - maybe just mulch that. Getting gravel out of there later will be a nightmare. A sandy base is less likely to attract a lot of roots.

24x24 concrete slabs don't float, trust me :-) (although they may be heaved by frost) but you do have to regard how it would all be edged in case the sand can migrate. I can't see enough of the level details to say, and also, I have to emphasize that I don't know your climate - it's possible that my advice is really bad for it! But if you get slabs you like (maybe a variety of sizes to make a random pattern or exactly fit the area), you can always use them for a proper installation if you ever create the conditions for one (pad removal, tree removal).

Sounds like your wheels are starting to turn. One of the most helpful things a forum like this can do is get you "unstuck" and seeing some options. Always unlikely that a single stranger on the internet will have the right answer (much less a whole raft of strangers with a whole raft of answers), but new inputs can change your own process considerably.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 7:46PM
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hmmm, now i'm worried that putting anything hard will suffocate the tree roots, after attracting more of them...?? saw this beautiful mulched seating area, below, wonder if I could achieve something like that, i.e. give in to the fact that this is a shady under-tree spot. of course, this looks beautiful in part because of the flower petals that break up the brown mulch.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 8:24PM
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