Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Backyard Play Area

So this project takes me back a bit, basically because it took a whole year to complete. You see last spring, when we looked out our back door we saw this:

A lot of houses around here have these outdoor fireplaces that I assume were put in around the same time the houses were built. (Ours included a not-so-lovely pile of wood covered by an old brown tarp.)

The fireplace was cool...we loved it...we used it...but it was also falling apart and either had to be repaired or removed. For safety's sake (we figured an active toddler would love to climb this), we decided to remove it.

So last spring, before Abe could walk, Noah set to work tearing down the fireplace. 

We salvaged a few nice slabs of marble and a ton of bricks, which we put to use around the yard.

We're not sure why, but when we moved in, the space next to our deck was covered in wood chips with weed blocker underneath. It obviously wasn't meant to be a garden but it seemed like grass wouldn't have a problem growing in that spot, so we removed the wood chips and weed blocker and planted grass. (I don't have a proper before picture. The best I could find was this one I took when a large branch fell out of a tree in our backyard and somehow landed without demolishing the deck!)

Here's the same spot sans tree branch and wood chips. We were right, the grass came in nicely.

It was so lush and green, I had to take a few pictures of Abe enjoying the soft grass before weeds crept in. As you can tell, this all happened quite awhile ago...

To complete that corner, I transplanted some hostas around the base of the house and added rocks to prevent dirt from splashing up on the siding.

I used some of the bricks we salvaged from the fireplace to hold the rocks in place. Worked like a charm, and it was a great way to reuse some of the materials that were piling up in the yard...

A year later and our backyard now looked like this:

I had used up most of the bricks as edging around four different gardens, but we were still left with a huge pile of broken cider blocks, sand, and other small bits of debris. We finally rented a small dumpster and had all the masonry we couldn't reuse hauled away. Oh, and I managed to move the wood pile to a less conspicuous part of the yard. Who wants to stare at a tarp-covered wood pile? Not me.

So after removing all the logs and bricks, I raked the sand and smaller rocks around until the area was level. The fireplace was sitting on top of a concrete slab which was a few inches below the surrounding grass. We left the slab in place since we'd like to eventually build a bigger sandbox back there, but now it's covered by a layer of dirt. We added wood chips to keep things from getting too muddy, and added boards and bricks around the edges to keep the wood chips in place. Then came the fun stuff...

Now a couple months ago, Abe and I were walking to the park when we came upon an old turtle sandbox someone had left out for trash pickup. It was covered in spiderwebs and the eyes were broken, but I figured it wouldn't be too hard to fix him up, so we dragged it home. Abe immediately discovered how much fun it was to climb on.

I pulled off the broken eyes, scrubbed it down with soap and water, and since the plastic looked a bit dried out, I rubbed it with mineral oil to replace some of its lost luster.

I replaced the eyes with new ones made from duct tape, and now he happily lives in our new play area...

...along with a little slide our neighbors gave to Abe when their boys outgrew it.

Pretty big improvement from what we started with...at least when it comes to acceptable climbing structures for kids. And happily, Abe's been enjoying his new sandbox, which is a huge improvement over the old one.

Part of the space that was covered by bricks will be added to my garden. For now I just filled a few pots with flowers to add a little color. I'll either plant seeds this fall or put perennials back there in the spring.

We found a lot of great houses when we were looking to buy, but a lot of them had small (or non-existent) yards, steep hills, or otherwise disappointing outdoor spaces. This house wasn't the biggest...or the newest...or the fanciest one we could buy, but it had by far the best yard - and although the yard wasn't in great shape at the time, it was large (and flat) and there were old trees and plenty of room for gardens and kid stuff. It definitely had potential, and after four years of hard work, I feel like we're finally discovering how great that can be. 

Anyone else transforming their yard one step at a time? Buy a house based on potential only to later realize how long it can take to see results? Own a turtle sandbox as a kid? It's amazing how long some of those toys last!

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