Help/Ideas needed for small patio (pics) PLEASE!! :D

LucyLebenJuly 14, 2011

Hey hubby and I are now starting our back patio project..Since we bought it I have always wanted to re-do the patio (mainly to be more visually appealing since you see it when you're in the living room and so the space could be better utilized by our 3 year old :) We just ripped out all the cracked brick on one side the previous owners had and a small I'm stuck....I know I do want to use flagstone but not sure on how I could make a raised flower bed..should I do it all around? Just one side? The hugest problem is there is a drain at the back end of the patio that needs to allow water to drain...we were going to put wood planks over it with 2x4 and then stain it and add some potted that whole brick wall is completely useless or so it seems :( I am also planning on taking out all 3 palms...they are a little overkill in my opinion for such a small yard...they are queen palms and I believe those do get to be quite huge....any ideas you guys could give me as far as color would be greatly appreaciated!! I am going to attach some photos of our now ripped up back patio..... :D I am wondering how I can block those apartments in the background with a fuller tree or something?? Also we do plan on removing the big slab on concrete right by the slider door :)HELP!! My son keeps asking to go in the back to play.... ;)

I uploaded some pics to my they are:

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My other some ideas:

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 9:44AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

A working link to the OP's photos:

It took me a while to figure what's where. I believe the pile of odd hardscape pieces is next to the house on the left side of the backyard; there are two palms along that side fence (which matches the house siding).

The concrete in front of the sliders is the only concrete.

The back fence is made of yellowish blocks.

The area without decking is on the right side of the yard. The right fence also matches the house siding.

The "drain" is the swale (lower area of soil) that seems to cross the yard under the deck, parallel to the block wall (back fence). The third palm is in the right rear corner adjacent to the swale.

The only way to reach the backyard is through the house.


It wouldn't be a bad idea to give us a simple diagram, showing the house, the fence, the drain, and any other major features.

More knowledgeable members will have to speak to the issue of raised beds against the walls (probably not a good idea, but I'm neither a pro nor an expert). Is drainage a consideration in why you want raised beds, or poor soil? In any case, it would likely be a bad idea to place raised beds along the walls, so it would help to know what the walls are made of.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 10:36AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Linked yard is the appropriate place to have lots of containers. One can do amazing/beautiful things with a collection of pots in assorted sizes. A few years back one of the garden magazines did a big spread on a CA (? I think it was CA) person/couple who had turned his/her/their blacktopped driveway into an AMAZING garden...all in containers. I'm pretty certain we discussed it here...anyone remember?

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 1:04PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

Thanks, missingtheobvious. Your analysis really helped me get oriented. And you are right on the potential problems of raised beds near walls, depending, of course.

Questions for Lucy. I think I am correct that you are removing all of the wood decking, and that the only hardscape you will have left, at least for now, is the concrete pad leading from the sliding door? And that that may be going away as well? And the palms are going?

Sounds like you are aiming at a clean slate.... I would suggest that you really think about how you want to use the area before you worry too much about plants and garden beds. [With a little attention, the swale can be worked around in all this.]

You have a small space, but it can be made very nice. Do you want room for a table and chairs? Play area for the kidlet? Think first about how you will want to use the space. Think of this as your 'outdoor family room'.

You want to use flagstones. For the path outside the door, and for under seating or a table? Where?

You'll want at least a small area that is kid-territory where he can go barefoot and shove trucks around. Where?

Once you figure out how you want to use the space, then the rest can be worked on, and made really beautiful.

Keep us posted....

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 10:58PM
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This IS tight... my kid is 5, would have outgrown of that play set by now, and would demand a train track all around the yard (complete with roads, houses etc - he is currently longing for a carpet of artificial turf). Wooden decking is, in my humble opinion, the most barefoot-friendly material, but its one drawback is little toy parts falling in the cracks between boards. (and you'd rather keep the grill on a stone floor, yes?)
Be sure to get lots of pots and... how about an evergreen vine on the brick wall and the back wall that's visible from inside?

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 3:37AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

OK, I know you gave us a lot of information, but some is still missing for decision-making, and whether you give it to us or gather it for yourself, it does count. For example, if you do want to plant a tree to block those apartments, where can the roots go? What is on the other side of those walls?

What you need here is a sequence of decision-making, I think. Some choices drive others. For instance, again the tree: if you want to plant a tree, it will have roots that need to get water. So planting a tree and then concreting over its entire root zone is not a good idea. Also, roots can damage certain surfaces, like flagstone. For all those reasons, a tree in a big pot is not a bad idea here. Check exactly where you need that canopy - it may actually not be that high, so perhaps a row of trees in pots, to be replaced as they outgrow your needs, would be best.

But there are some really interesting surface options these days. I am just trying out some thick rubber mats I found at Canadian Tire. These would be barefoot friendly, water permeable (in between pieces), frost resistant, and also changeable as your needs change - and are they ever an easy installation job! But for the grill, I agree with Timbu that a concrete or at least very stable, level patch is best, and not necessarily right by the window.

Kids grow up in way smaller spaces than this, so I could see this working well for everyone.


PS since you aren't getting email responses it would be nice to hear back from you after every few comments to know if you are still reading, and also how you perceive the feedback you get.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 11:54AM
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Aaaah! Sorry guys I wasn't aware I wouldn't be getting email responses to this thread! Thank you all so so much for your input...I will try my hardest to address all the questions asked by all of you....ok here we go :)

The deck & palms are now gone and the cement slab that is directly in front of the slider is being removed on Monday and in doing so there will be a hefty drop from the slider to the we basically do have a clean slate. I just asked my husband what the side walls are made of and he believes they are made of that several of you mentioned it being a bad idea to make flowerbeds on the edges I can def see why...YIKES!! These walls are prone to Fungii and termites (hence why our HOA has them treated every year) Pots are a great idea...hmmm.....I guess I could always just plant the flowers/veggies directly into the floor but the soil/dirt they have now is horrendous!! Huge rocks and such...nothing very nutrient rich and really tough to dig up. We do want an area for an umbrella table and chairs and the rest would be devoted to a play area for my son...although...he usually just plays with his water table/water toys etc. The space is probably too small to actually ride a bike or anything... :/ I came up with flagstone as a reccomendation from a friend....I have no clue what I'm doing here as far as selecting a flooring so it sounded good to me.....I was thinking of laying on the entire floor minus the drain the does go across the entire brick wall in the back. I had thought of using some sod/grass but still can't visualize it with another flooring next to it. I really don't know where....any suggestions?? Reading your responses kinda has me second guessing the flagstone now do know this....we mainly want the backyard for our son and to once in a while have BBQ's with family and would most be used by him far as BBQ placement I was thinking under the window but it's portable so that never crossed my mind. An evergreen plants is a wonderful idea for the back drives me crazy looking out at a have decided the tree(s) if I get them...will be potted as the roots were brought up to my attention the other day...thank you for that KarinL...I can def tell if I were to get a few for that particular corner it would do wonders but then we come back to where would I put the umbrella and chairs. did I miss anything?? Thank you all so much again!! :D I have added a picture to the original set of pictures of the is all basically dirt and a drain now....wheew...:D

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 8:27PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

Whew, indeed! You have already have cleaned your slate? Huge work!!

[..but then we come back to where would I put the umbrella and chairs.] That's the next step. Is there an area that is naturally more shaded in the late afternoon heat of the day? That is probably the kid-area. The adults will have the umbrella, or can move their chairs to the shade.

Zone 8b.... Don't know where you are, but are you at the hot-humid side of the country, or the hot-dry side [grins]?

One possibility for both the coverage of the apartment building, and the block wall, and that would also accommodate the drainage line, might be:
A trellis wall, attached to the back brick wall, but extending well above it. Doesn't need to be fancy. But it could extend the length of the block wall. A series of uprights, with crosspieces. [The picture in my head, always a dangerous thing..., is fairly close-set series of uprights, so that the cross pieces are forming squares, or not-very-long rectangles. Stained brown.]

For growing things up that trellis, are three or four good-sized elongated wooden "planter boxes". Essentially raised beds, but on short stilts, to allow drainage to the necessary ditch. Raised beds but with floors, screening at bottom, with drainage holes. Set either on short legs, or on bricks, to allow drainage to the ditch. These you can fill with good soil, and plant a variety of vining things that will fill the trellis, keep the privacy, give you flowers and different textures across seasons, and block the view, and be gorgeous. And you could plant other things in the same boxes that are not vining, for more mid-level/low-level flowers, and even pretty things that vine a bit downward....

And it would be both beautiful and easy to use similar boxes along the other walls. Just make them a bit smaller, set them a few inches away from the walls, and leave a lot more space between them. Maybe just one or two along each side wall.

The ones on the sides will be movable. [The ones along the back are too, in a pinch, but that would dislodge the screening vines.] The ones along the side walls could also include veggies, or herbs.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 11:15PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

linda, there's a gray stucco structure about 4' feet taller than the yellow block wall and immediately behind it. The gray stucco begins at the back right corner and extends to the left beyond Lucy's property line (the next-door neighbors on that side seem to have hung baskets of flowers from the stucco structure). It looks from the photo as if the apartment building isn't visible over the gray stucco. It's the side wall on the right that needs screening -- though since the photo only shows the rear half of the side wall, we don't know if the entire side wall needs screening.

Something I think no one has asked yet is what direction the back of the house faces. If we're considering planting along the three outer walls, how much sun do those areas receive? If we create a screen of trees/bushes/vines to block the apartment building, how will that affect the pattern of sun in the various parts of the backyard?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 1:17AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

MTO, the sun direction is a good question.

One option that occurs to me is putting a bench right against the wall above the drain. Then a table and maybe just two chairs would do the trick.It occurs to me too that the table and chairs are just as mobile as the BBQ, so maybe you should buy a set you can take apart/fold/stack easily to put aside when you aren't entertaining.

What flooring you do depends on a couple of things. What outcome you want, and what kind of work you want to do to install it. Do you want to be pouring concrete, or laying flagstone? These are huge jobs, from prep to finish.

For outcome, falls onto hard stone hurt, whether it is poured concrete or flagstone. Flagstone is not really kid friendly - things don't roll or bounce well, and sharp corners hurt to sit on.

Also maintenance... grass would need mowing, however nice and soft it is.

I really think you might consider rubber matting. I've linked some below as an example, but they also make interlocking kinds - you see them in bright colours for indoor use too. Check garage flooring for plainer colours. The great thing about this is it would allow you to figure out your yard configuration, and then if you decide later on concrete or flagstone, you'll know you're doing it in the right place.

What you could also do, although I'm not sure you have enough height, is to use whatever stoop/step you put in as a place to sit. It often is one anyway, may as well make it big enough.

Finally, outdoor decor is not limited to plants. Scrollwork-type things to hang on the wall could to a long way to making it easier on the eyes. It's not ugly, fortunately, just too plain to stare at.


Here is a link that might be useful: Envirotile

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 2:30AM
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Thanks again :) Linda...I live in Ventura CA about 5 blocks from the ocean...average temp is between 68-70...humid yes...dry not at all :) I love your idea of the trellis....even if it doesn't provide the privacy I need on the right corner (looking out from the house) it still is a good idea to cover the brick wall...I very much liked the idea of having the flower bed there although I would have to plant a vined plant that doesn't require too much sunlight as the drain area is mostly shaded througout the whole day because of the raised blue stucco parking garage just about it...actually I can honestly say it gets NO sun except for a small piece on the left was thinking of getting those movable flower beds (saw them in a pic online) once you all had mentioned the wall issue...yay! :) Seriously such a great idea with the vines dad has a few on his house and visualizing it....AWESOME idea!! Did I mention it was an awesome idea? LOL!! Ok...the part of the house that gets the most sun is (looking out from the slider) the left hand side where the two palm trees were....I would say the left side of the entire back yard gets the most sun and the right side gets maybe 2-3 hours tops. The right hand side wall is another neighbors yard...I'm going to take a few more photos of what it looks like now so you can get a better idea....I'll get better angles this time. the bench idea also!!! I looked at the link for those rubber tiles and they are actually quite nice.....I thought they were going to resemble those black mats I used to see as a kid when I was on the monkey bars...very surprised...maybe not flagstone? Maybe some smooother paver? Making a pattern? Thank you all so much again :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Patio Pictures

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 12:53PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

Thanks, missingtheobvious. Yep, I missed the obvious. I know better than to post after that long a day. Or I thought I did. Apparently not.....

But re vines, Lucy: Make sure you are not choosing something that will end up being a huge problem. No ivy, no others that are invasive in your area.

Up here in the north, I would be looking at possible combinations of akebia, several of the clematis varieties, one of the more delicate climbing roses, etc, all tolerant, within limits, of moderate to deep shade. Don't know what would thrive in shade where you are. But watch for invasive characteristics when choosing plants.

And remember that the strategy of most perennial vines is to grow to reach for light. In pots or planters, worst case, you leave them more in the lighted area of the yard for a week or three til they have vines that are 2 or 3 ft long. Then move the pot/planter into the deep shade, and give them a little something to climb, and they will find as much sun as they are comfortable with. They may end up being leggy in the first foot or three, but you can plant other things at their feet. They should be lush above.

I love the ideas of both the bench over part of the drain and designing the 'step/s' outside the slider as informal seating.

The floor.... Safe enough for the kid. Up here, I would probably use cheap shredded mulch, but in your hot/humid, this would be a home for lots of molds and other unnecessary allergen exposures for a little one. Ruling that one out.

In a larger yard, where there was likely to be a swing set at some point, and in a few years maybe a trampoline, I would be much more concerned about hard surfaces. But it looks like this small area will be for quieter, less athletic play, with no mechanical assists to tempt a child to fly, and then plummet....

If so, then make sure your surface is laid evenly, whatever it is. No big trip hazards, no rock points that can cause unnecessary damage over a simple stumble. That should be sufficient.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 8:41PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

And here in zone 7b in NC I'd be warning against akebia. That vine, in the wrong place, can eat a house. Well, a deck at the very least. (It's great if you've got the room for it!)

Go to your local independent nursery. Tell them what you want the plant of your dreams to look like, where it would live, what the light conditions are like. Also tell them you know it's not a perfect world and ask what THEY would suggest. And listen. Also--I think there's a CA gardening board--you might go ask over there.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 1:50PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Here's a picture of a patio we did a few years ago - looked better then, but still holding up! I think you're right that tumbled stone of some sort would be better than flagstone. I also think that such a small space is best looking tidy and organized with a pattern, not crazy-paved and random like flagstone.

If hardness is an issue, you could even put rubber tiles or, for summer, a rug of some sort (you can get very pretty polypropylene rugs I think), overtop for a better play area. (check fire safety wrt the barbeque).

I think flagstone can look controlled if it has an overriding shape as we did on the sidewalk in the second picture, but I am not sure that would work in your little area. Plus, again, those sharp edges.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 5:29PM
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Wheeew so we cleaned everything out yesterday...minus the trash bag and a few other removed the slab of concrete and now I can say I have a little more hope....I also discovered while taking pics today that the brick wall actually DOES get sunlight!! LOL...I guess since I'm ususally never out there at this time I never noticed...the only part of the yard that doesn't get sunlight is along the sider wall...under the awnings....I did post updated pics with everything removed! :)

KarinL: I agree with the flagstone looking to clunky in a small space...I'm def trying to find a better alternative...what is the name of the stones/pavers you used on the first picture?? Very nice!! I had thought about laying some grass down but the

Question...I am not quite understanding the whole step built as informal seating?? Is it one huge step? Sorry if this is a dumb question I am just trying to understand better. :)

Thank you all again :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Patio Pictures

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 6:06PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Stoop: Not sure how much height you have from door to patio, but I'm thinking you'll have one step. Maybe not, if your patio is higher, but I'm guessing it would be the height of the drain channel. If you have a step, most people would just make it a little square thing that is the same width as the door - similar to the block you just took out. But I'd bet that either your toddler or you will end up sitting on that step and that will interfere with anyone coming or going, plus create awkward corners on either side that are just opportunities for mess to accumulate and people to fall off of.

So if there is a step, I would make it the entire width of that nook so that it can be sat upon and still have room for people to come and go.

Yup, grass = easy installation, long term headache; pavers = very hard installation, no long term maintenance required.

I don't know if you'd have the same pavers we used; I'm in Canada, but I think they're called Holland pavers; there are three sizes used in that pattern. Check the website of whatever concrete paver manufacturers are available in your area; they usually have nice patterns shown.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 6:53PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

[Question...I am not quite understanding the whole step built as informal seating?? Is it one huge step? Sorry if this is a dumb question I am just trying to understand better. :) ]

Not a dumb question at all. I'm just having big trouble describing it....

And there are different ways to accomplish this.

Looking at the slider, steps are often the width of the door, very even rectangles, that allow you to step down to the yard, with the stair step depth just enough for feet, as in a stairway to the second floor.

If you expand the width beyond the slider, either in a rectangle or an arc, and make the steps wider then just for a footstep... If the top surface of the 'step' is not just 10" wide but rather two feet wide, it becomes a 'seat' as well as a step.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 11:29PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

I think that a geo-cut flagstone would work, not the free-form, random stones.

Can't wait to see how it turns out!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 1:16PM
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