What to do with 'business' back yard

cjra(TX)June 4, 2010

By "business" I mean it's more a work area than a play area. Our play area is the large side yard, and while it may not win any design awards, I'm mostly happy with that for now.

My problem is the back yard. The back door leads out onto a field of weeds at the moment. The area has our clothesline (this can be moved, but I must have one, we don't own a dryer). 4 fruit trees, compost bins, garbage/recycle bins, raised garden beds and gravel driveway.

here's a diagram

We don't want to build any structures as it'll block the view of our city's Tower of the Americas (and our main fireworks viewing site). We already have a small "patio" in the side yard, though I'd like some sort of sitting area, preferably around my kiddie pool/herb garden. Also, we need a place to BBQ. Most importantly, we need some kind of path to the driveway so we're not walking through wet grass.

I did ok with envisioning the rest of the yard, but this area just hits a mindblock, probably because I'm afraid to invest $ into hardscaping until I'm really sure what I'll do.

Permanent structures: garage, 4 trees, driveway. Everything else *could* move.

We can't afford to hire a landscape architect, and until now I've had fun coming up with ideas for what was a 1/2 overgrown jungle. But now I'm stuck.

Any suggestions?

I'm in Zone 8b. Hot, dry summers with some humidity. Lots of problem with drought. Occasional freezes in winter but not usually (except last year). Full sun in summer means 90F+ (last summer, 60+ days over 100F). This area mostly gets full sun.


and I apologize this is upside down (bottom is north). I did it as I look at it, and only after realized it was the wrong orientation.

Here is a link that might be useful: backyard pictures

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oh, and the hideous chain link fence will be staying at least a few more years. Eventually it'll go, but it's not an expense we can handle anytime soon (we are about 1/2 way through restoring a c.1880s house). I also don't want to block out the neighbors, since we talk over the fence all the time. So I'll just have to live with that for now.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 3:48PM
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I'm having trouble seeing this area until I read your note about the plan view orientation. Getting your grass here to look as nice as your side-yard should be a priority.

It would consider consolidating your utility functions (veggie/herb/compost/water recycling/ac unit ) into one area to free up play space. Also screening these area's and your neighbors would be a goal. You can have a few gaps in whatever type of screening plant material you like to see the neighbors yard, but try to capture a complimentary view.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 6:06PM
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Hmmm, I'd actually rather not have grass in this area at all. We live in a drought prone area and I already have a full side yard and front yard with grass (am regretting the front yard grass but prefer not to pull it out). The side yard is the play area, so grass there is useful, but nowhere else.

Not really looking for a play area, since that's on the side, but a small seating area would be ok, as we do tend to sit out there in the winter. I just can't figure out the best way to hardscape.

The garden beds were placed where they were for sun/light purposes. It used to be where the compost currently is, but that area gets too much sun in the summer. Where they are now seems to be working. However, as that's close to the street, I'd rather not have the compost and recycle bins there - I'd prefer to hide those more - or at least make them less prominent, KWIM?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 10:10AM
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FWIW, why not just expand your garden areas more. If growing grass is difficult or not wanted then put in groundcovers or some other backyard uses that can replace it.

It is hard to understand what you are really asking for in your post. If you're just thinking out loud with us or looking for a design presented to you.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 10:31AM
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KWIM = Know what I mean

I'm sorry my questions were confusing. I'm looking for some ideas re: hardscaping the area, and perhaps altering layout, keeping in mind the things that can't be moved.

We need a path from the steps to the driveway.
What kind of materials would work for hardscaping? Pea gravel?
Curved path or make the whole thing hardscape?

Around the beds - pea gravel again?

Around the herb/pool garden - probably some hardscape elements that make it a seating area, but not really a deck/patio.

Basically, I'm trying to find some way to make the area look clean and orderly, but still be functional for gardens/trees, and perhaps to soften the heat of the Texas sun.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 11:19AM
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The thing is that there may not be a perfect way to do what you want to do. Several of your points seem contradictory. Maybe they are, maybe not? So I went through your original post looking for what appear to be must-have priorities and things that raised questions.

"Most importantly, we need some kind of path to the driveway so we're not walking through wet grass."

If this is "most important", then figure out what floats your boat to make this access path from garage to home work for you. It's probably a trip you take multiple times a day. You probably don't want a material that'll track inside. You sound like you'd prefer a material that minimizes weeds. Focus on what this path needs to be. You've already floated your own thought of more extensive hardscape. Concrete is one of the better weed barriers (smile), but xeroscape plants for your zone do exist, so a paved path through ground covers could work. Think lantana, buffalo grass, liriope.

"We don't want to build any structures as it'll block the view of our city's Tower of the Americas (and our main fireworks viewing site)."

No structures? And, I suppose, no shade trees since they'd block the view, too? But you want shade. I know Texas. Grew up in OK. Grad school plus internship in Austin, then Houston. Yep ... I know the Texas sun. So, I KNOW you want shade.

It comes in two forms outside: Something alive makes it or something manufactured makes it. If you go fancy, as in a pergola, you combine both.

But decent shade comes from a structure or a tree. If I had 60 days of temps in excess of 100 deg., I'd stay inside. So, I'm thinking that you are speaking of your milder 90 and 80 degree days, as well as "winter". Still, I'd be wantin' shade.

So, how many days in the year is shade of interest? How many days are you watching fireworks? Or, do you watch the show from the comfort of the AC inside? What about a screened gazebo as a viewing platform? Or retractable awnings? Or, and these are kinda wimpy in the face of TX sun, a pool-side table with umbrella?

"Permanent structures: garage, 4 trees, driveway. Everything else *could* move."

Apparently not. My guess is that you have already thought through your options and if someone, like Isabel above, comes along and says combine herb, vegie garden, and compost area, you will have reasons that only you know at this point for not making the change.

We could suggest, but I'm betting that a few more things in the picture are not moveable.

Just a few cogitations. 2 cents worth, but might be worth less ...

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 4:17PM
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Thanks for helping me think this through. Let me see if I can add some more info.

re: moving parts - the garden beds *could* move, as in they're not permanent structures. But the general location is somewhat important for maximum growth potential. Unfortunately I don't want to put the garbage bins near the street, which happens to be the best place for the garden. so maybe I'll stick with two areas on opposite sides - one for garden, one for compost/recycling etc, though I like the idea of combining it.

about the shade/view. In summer we tend to spend more time around the other side of the house, where it's more shaded and where we're setting up a small patio. We do actually spend a great deal of time outside in summer, even when it's 100F.

We have the fruit trees out there but I don't expect them to grow tall enough to really block the view, but a pregola (which is what we had initially thought of) would. I guess what I'm thinking of is not so much providing shade as providing some greenery to soften things up a bit (i.e. from the harsh sun) but would also work as a sitting area in winter, probably with a fire pit of some sort (it gets cold on New Year's Eve).

Fireworks aren't exactly a daily thing (tho there was one year it was monthly), but the Tower *is* a nice view and something that makes our living space unique, so we don't want to block it out. My daughter likes to say "good night" to the "Princess in the Tower" :)

Path to driveway - Curved footpath? Or hardscape the whole area? I'm envisioning making a 3rd garden bed and just putting pea gravel in between, so just extend that so it allows for a path from the steps to the drive? For some reason the picture I'm getting in my head doesn't seem right.

I guess I'm not alone in having a hard time coming up with a design for this area, because it's not easy ;).

(I can re-do the diagram if that helps for orientation purposes).

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 5:27PM
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