Friday, March 29, 2013

From Playground to Outdoor Living

(your yard during and beyond the play set years)
By Terry Sims, Landscape Designer and Horticulturist

Well planned landscapes are designed for present and future use.  Areas previously designated for children can be transformed into an ultimate outdoor living area.

Outgrown sandboxes double as raised gardens.  Playhouses turn into an office, studio or storage shed.

Sunken trampoline pits are transformed into destination areas, such as step-down fire pits with seating, dining or lounging areas.  

Water is always a draw for children and pondless or shallow water features are a big hit for children as well as adults.  My designs incorporate falling water and a beach-like entry.  Five inches of water accumulate at the bottom of the fall before it is recycled.   

Utility paths can double as a child’s path of discovery by incorporating a few turns spiraling into a child’s labyrinth.

Obsolete concrete courts can be acid color washed or covered with a stone veneer for a second entertaining area.

Lots with 10’ setbacks are ideal for fort building.  Leave one side of your setback for utility purposes and yard storage and the other side for play. 

For my clients that wish to separate play and adult entertainment areas I use innovative screening materials and patterns to accomplish their goal.  Live evergreen screens provide year around separation.  Early emerging and late defoliated deciduous plants provide three quarter annual screening.

One technique I use is the staggered overlap screen where two screens, about 5’ apart, overlap each other in the middle forming an “S” curve pathway into the area.

Strategic placed boulders appeal to the climbing abilities of children and provide a year around screen.  In my practice, we use a combination of monoliths and boulders.

Berms are useful and when covered with grass and are augmented with plant materials.  Semi-evergreen Long Red Fescue is an excellent material for a berm ground cover which will create waves of deep green grass and does not need mowing.

In most cases by screening a portion of any area will subconsciously impede vision with the background appearing invisible.

I recently designed a multi-purpose yard that sited the play set on a lower level but within eyesight of the parents.  From the upper level I used a slide for the children to enter their play on the lower level.  Steps were added at the side for adult access.  I used Astro-turf (modern products look and feel like the real thing!) for the ground cover which eliminated gardening maintenance and the difficulty of moving equipment down the hill.  To the side of the play set, I drilled ¾” wide holes into the soil for fort building dowels. This area was fantasy land for the children and with the play area sited in a lower area, semi-screened from the adult’s entertaining area.

As a mother and designer, I believe our living environment should accommodate all ages.  Landscape plans that consider present and future provide the yard with a blueprint to evolve with the family’s needs.

October 13, 2009

Terry Sims is a Landscape Designer and Horticulturist. Her company, The Garden Artist, LLC is located in Boise Idaho. For more information visit

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