Hoping for helping in designing kid-friendly, family backyard

michelleinidaho(6 ID)July 15, 2006

I have been amazed at the difficulty I've had finding examples/pictures of the internet of just plain old kid-friendly subdivision backyards. I want our back yard to look nice, but be functional for our needs. Can any of you help with ideas?

We built this house and had a plain landscape plan drawn up originally, but that was pre-kids. Now we're realizing our needs are different. So far, everything has been done in a plant in now, move it later fashion and we're both tiring of that. Its time for a plan!

Our priorities are:

1) kid-friendly - that is places for sons' playhouse, and sandbox, and lots of grass for playing around on. Also that means not to many plants that attract wasps/yellowjackets, etc.

2) fruitful - We like most of what we plant to be fruitful. The three trees we've planted are 2 apple trees and 1 peach tree. In the Northwest corner, we currently have a blueberry bush and several blackberry bushes & raspberry bushes. In the northeast corner, there are the raised garden beds with veggies, and the other one along the fence is raspberries. We are open to adding non-edible plants now, but definitely want to keep as much as we can of what we've already planted.

3) Pleasing to the eye - Right now it is a bit of the first two - kid-friendly and fruitful, but I hate how it looks! I would like to be able to invite people over and not have to explain that it is a work in progress. I want a more finished look.

4) Privacy - if possible. We can see right into the neighbor's house behind us and the ones kitty corner. The two beside us aren't a problem.

I'm hoping for some ideas and especially pictures of other people's backyards that are kid friendly.

Here is a picture of the side yard, on the west side of the house...

It is 7 feet wide and maybe 15 feet deep along the house. The dirt area/unfinished area, extends to where it meets the lawn, probably another 8 feet or so. It gets only afternoon sun. This is the spot I thought might be ideal for the kids area. We have the portable sandbox there now, and would like to build a wooden one in that area somewhere. Also would like to move playhouse to that area, instead of having it on the cluttered patio. Maybe have pea gravel or something on that area for both the playhouse and sandbox. Then do grass all the way along the side of the house extending to the gate? That's our latest idea. What do you think?

This picture is just to the left of the previous picture, showing our cluttered back patio, just to give an idea of our need!

Now turning around, this is the northwest corner of our yard...

This is the biggest eyesore to me. This is where the blackberry bushes and raspberry bushes are. This is also where I'd love to plant a tree or move an existing one so that we can have a semblence of privacy from the neighbors two-story house in that corner. Oh how I'd love a waterfall or something, but that is probably 20 years out before we could afford that.

And now the northeast corner...

Hubby built the raised beds last year and it is sure an improvement over everything planted haphazard but I'm still not happy. It just doesn't look finished.

Other notes: none of the three trees are planted anywhere that help provide shade or privacy. We would be very open to moving them to better spots. Also, since the blackberries and raspberries are really attracting the wasps or yellowjackets, whatever they are, I would really rather have them all in one area somewhere. We could build more beds along the east side if needed.

Oh the overall size of the main part of our backyard is 60 feet wide and 46 feet deep (deep meaning from house to back fence where the blackberries are planted)

I don't know if anyone will be able to help me specifically with our yard, but even in you can point me to some pictures that might give us ideas, it would be much appreciated. I've been scouring the web for over a year, and still haven't found much.

I did put a call into a landscape designer who specializes in designs for the do-it-yourself installer, which is what we would do. I'm hoping he'll be able to come up with a good design but I'd love to show him some ideas.

Thank you so much for your time reading my message and giving me any input.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
saypoint(6b CT)

It's too small to read the labels, but this is an example of a bubble diagram used to plan the locations of various landscape elements. I'm showing screening at the back fenceline and corners, veggies relocated to the west end, berries relocated to the east end, a shrub planting to screen the veggies somewhat from the patio, and a flower border area in front of the screen plantings. I also thought a stepping stone path in groundcover leading from the play area to the front yard would be easier than having to mow a small isolated area.

Take accurate measurements of your back yard and the locations of anything that has to stay, like the patio. Play with the bubbles to figure out where each area with a different use would work. Veggies need sun, and kids need to play where you can easily watch them from the kitchen window. Place your pretty stuff like a flower border where you can enjoy them from the patio and see them from the windows you are likely to look out of, like the kitchen, dining nook, etc.

I think you could use a shade tree to block the afternoon sun, probably in the area where the play area is now. Can you relocate the play area to the east end? Will the veggies get enough sun on the west end, or is the location where it is now the sunniest spot? Don't forget to include an area for things like compost pile, trash cans, outdoor storage, etc. that is screened from view. A shrub border makes a good screen.

Once you have the best location for each area pinned down, you can start thinking about the size and shape of each area. How much space do the kids need? Measure their stuff and see how it will fit with the sandbox. You want to be able to cover it if there are cats wandering the neighborhood so they don't use it for a litterbox.

How big a veggie garden do you need? Be realistic about how much time you have to water and weed. Same goes for any flower plantings. If you're busy with the kids, stick to shrubs and a couple of large clumps of easy care perennials, or you'll end up with an eyesore instead of an asset.

Observe how much shade your house casts when siting the veggies and berries. I didn't indicate it on my doodle, but include a simple border of mixed shrubs around the patio to create a sense of enclosure. Keep them short if you want to look out over the yard, taller if you want it to feel like a private area. Remember you'll be sitting on the patio, so they don't need to be very tall.

Plan the shapes of any plantings with mowing in mind. You don't want to be left with any odd shaped or skinny bits that are difficult to access with a mower.

Don't even think about plant selection until all of the above is done.

Right now, the little beds along the fenceline are skimpy, and the outline of stones is more of a distraction than anything else. I bet they're a pain to trim around too. I'd remove them altogether.

The trees could possibly be relocated to the back lot line to add some privacy, but determine how tall a tree or shrub will need to be first to block your neighbors' view of your backyard. Does the whole yard need screening, or only the patio?

I'm sure I've left something out that will come to me later.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 9:52AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Move all your kid's stuff to a central mulched area of your yard, maybe a big rectangle (or oval).

Then continue your landscaping around the perimeter of your fence, with the majority of your efforts at the far end of your yard.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 2:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I have the same thought, play and plants need to be kept apart. If you want the play right by the house, to facilitate access and supervision then you mostly have the right layout already.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 2:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
runktrun(z7a MA)

Just in case you don't hear it enough I just wanted to say...Saypoint your generosity and talent blow me away. kt

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 5:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
saypoint(6b CT)

Thanks, kt, but this is information that can be found in most landscape design books, and many websites.

I should have mentioned, note the locations of anything like septic system and leaching field, buried or overhead utilities, etc. that will affect where you can plant or how tall things can be (in the case of overhead wires).

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 7:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
saypoint(6b CT)

This website has a lot of information that you may be able to use. The section on landscape design sequence includes site analysis and bubble diagrams to help in the planning stages. Check out the other pages on the site as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 7:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Try the forum "Gardening with kids"

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening with kids

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 10:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

And--until you can get a good-sized tree going--you might want to look into some sort of shade sail. I've linked one site below--but there are LOTS of manufacturers.


Here is a link that might be useful: Shade Sails

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 9:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Michelle, is it possible to pull out the plan you already had drawn up but no longer meets your needs? I wonder if it can be adapted. I found the most valuable thing from my own plan is that it reveals the "shape of how things should be". The planting scheme is very secondary--it can always be changed out to meet new needs. For instance, say you have an amoeba shaped lawn in the plan--this would still service the kids, and give you a direction of what other space is there to fill.

My kids are now 7, 8, and 9 (yours appear much younger, maybe 1-3?).

I can tell you as the kids grow older open space is increasingly important. They need a place to throw a ball with their friends or do a string of cartwheels. It would be good to preserve that if you can.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 10:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

I'm not too sure you can have 'kid-friendly' and 'fruitful' too close to each other. The yellow jackets can be extremely aggressive when almost any fruit smells ripe to them.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 9:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
michelleinidaho(6 ID)

Thank you all for your help! Saturday night we went over to a friend's house and I love their yard. Very kid-friendly, but also areas for veggies and fruits. We had him come over and help us with some ideas too. Between the ideas we got on here and the help he gave us with the shape of the yard, etc. we finally have a plan we like and can start implementing in stages.
We are going to have the kids area (sandbox & playhouse) up by the house. That is the only area that gets any shade, and with these 100 degree days, well we need a shaded area for the boys to play in. We will move all the berries to the far east end of the yard, all together. We will build another planter box along that side for them. That will put the yellowjackets far away!
He helped draw out a yard shape, kind of looks like a golf course green, and I like it. It will still leave most of the area lawn, which we wanted for as the kids grow so they can have space to run. But what it will help with is drawing everything together, making it look less fragmented. We now are just trying to decide what to use for the border between grass and the other areas: concrete curbing, pavers, etc.
Thank you so much for all of your input. Thank you saypoint for the drawing you took the time to make.
I would still love to see some pictures of other people's backyards, so if anyone has any, please post a link. I'm very visual. I do much better to say, do it like this person did, instead of creating my own ideas!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 1:27AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

The yellowjackets will also like ripe apples. I don't know about peaches, having never had one, but my experience with apple trees is that the fruit has to be carefully tended and picked up. Winddrops will attract yellowjackets as badly as anything, and if the fruit is at all rotted, the yellowjackets will be drunk and unpredictable.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 8:27AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

(imagining a drunk yellow jacket)

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 9:42AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

you haven't lived until you've seen a drunk butterfly....

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 10:39AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Front yard design help
Looking to finally put some plants in the front yard....
Matt Johnston
On Site Calculations - Area
If you do construction as well as design, sooner or...
Help for shade
I need some advice . I have recently moved into a house...
Chris Cousineau
Plantings for Driveway/Walkway Design
We would like to pave the driveway. (I hope I am in...
Need landscaping ideas
Hi, we just built this house on a junior acre in zone...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™