If you have young children, your dreams of an elegant naturalistic landscape may seem like just that – a dream, and a distant one. You may see your landscape options as nothing more than a few flowerbeds with a big space of lawn where the kids can play.
But you don’t have to wait until the kids go to college before you can turn your back yard into a beautiful, unique, even luxurious space that the whole family can enjoy, from toddlers right up to adults.
In fact, there are so many exciting options that it would be a shame to spend those precious years with nothing more than a lawn (never mind all the maintenance it requires!)
These ideas are designed to put some fun into your yard in a way that grown ups will appreciate, so your landscape can be a beautiful place, an exciting play area, and the quintessential space for family time – day or night, season after season!
What kid (even the big ones!) doesn’t love the sight of a bird nesting or a butterfly stopping by? Inviting friendly critters is too easy to pass up, and doing so means adding some gorgeous foliage and blooms to your landscape.
Everything from butterfly bush, to tall ornamental grasses, winterberry, sumac and beauty berry will add multi-season color, texture, motion, scent and even sound – with the added benefit of bringing wildlife all year long. There are plenty of plants, grasses and shrubs that will look great while offering nesting areas, feeding spots and play spaces for everything form birds to bunnies.
But why stop there? Include a bird house or hummingbird feeder for added enjoyment. Young children will not only have fun feeding birds but will learn valuable environmental lessons, too. If you’re particularly brave, consider adding a bat house! Not every kid on the block gets to have their own bats, and parents will appreciate how these critters clean up the mosquitos.
Build An Edible Garden
This one is a win all around. Done right, a vegetable or herb garden will look great, teach children about growing food and caring for plants, and be much more attractive as a snack than any pre-sliced carrot sticks you buy at the supermarket.
Even the most vegetable-averse child seems to find a whole new appreciation for the green stuff if it’s personally hand picked.
If your vision of a vegetable garden is of a bunch of overgrown greenery and wild vines, don’t fret. Edible gardens can come in plenty of shapes and sizes, and can even be grown off the ground. Pots and planters make good options, and can be moved around as needed. Raised garden beds will keep edibles contained and make it easier for adults to help.
Use Natural Elements
You don’t have to look far to see all sorts of elaborate play sets. They’re engineering marvels, with plenty of ways to climb, crawl, swing, slide, push, pull or jump.
But when Mother Nature is your playground, you might be surprised by how unnecessary all those engineered play sets really are. That’s not to say a great trampoline isn’t a ton of fun and a good addition to your yard! But for everyday play, the natural world has you covered.
Cut tree stumps are excellent for climbing, jumping, hurdling, or just sitting and slug-watching. Cut to various heights, they can be their own obstacle course. Likewise, reclaimed branches and tree stumps can become everything from a balance beam to a spot to hang a swing.
With a little imagination you can turn bits of nature into everything from a climbing wall to a sandbox. Add winding pathways in between, remember to include beautiful plantings, and your back yard can become your own personal park. In the end, designing natural elements into your landscape to double as play areas will be a lot more fun in the long run and look a whole lot better than even the most elaborate store-bought playset.
If your kids have ever given up playing outside because of the sun beating down on all that open green lawn, then you’ll appreciate this tip. Shade is necessary on those hot, summer days, and you’re in luck because it will add some lovely elements to your space.
A pergola or gazebo will add visual interest as well as a shady spot for the kids to play. Covered in climbing flowers or vines, these structures will be a welcome addition to your landscape. Be sure to include seating, a table for games or crafts, and perhaps a few fun comforts like big, colorful cushions.
Don’t overlook the shade of any large trees that you have. That spot you’re always fighting because the grass won’t grow can become the perfect resting spot on a summer day. Fill it in with mulch or add some paving stones, place a natural wood or stone bench and table, and that shady spot just became everyone’s favorite spot.
Go To The Movies
No need for a crowded theater when you’ve got an outdoor movie screen for family night! There are plenty of options for outdoor viewing, but whichever you choose, remember a few key things.
First, seating is key. Hard wood benches may look pretty but will they be conducive to lounging on a Friday night? Choose outdoor seating that is as comfortable as it is beautiful. Throw on a few pillows and blankets for chilly evenings. And make sure everyone has a place to put their feet up!
Second, be sure you’ve got some cover. No reason for a rainy night to ruin your movie viewing. An awning or overhang can keep you dry while you enjoy your outdoor theater.
And of course, remember the snacks. Whether you’re munching on popcorn or enjoying a full meal, be sure to include tables for cups and plates. In fact, think of this outdoor space as your brand new living room and set it up to be just as comfortable. With the right touches – some lanterns, a few potted plants, perhaps even a patio bubbler – the space will be every bit as lovely as it is enjoyable.
Dine Al Fresco
Back yard barbecues have come a long way since days of someone’s uncle charring burgers into hockey pucks. For serious outdoor enthusiasts, every convenience of the modern kitchen can come outside with you. From the grill to the sink and refrigerator, your outdoor kitchen can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose.
But outdoor kitchens aren’t the only game in town. Fireplaces make another great option for a beautiful addition that makes dinnertime more fun, too. Build in a pizza oven, and you’ve got yourself a back yard that every neighborhood kid will want to visit.
For toasting up s’mores or roasting just about anything on a stick, a fire pit is another great option. You can choose a mobile fire pit, or have one built of natural stone as part of your patio. Be sure to include comfy seating for gathering and talking. Either way you’ve got an elegant landscape addition that will make family time a whole lot more fun than any green lawn could.
Use Alternative Ground Cover
All of these ideas are great, but at some point there’s going to be “space in between”. That’s usually where the lawn goes – between the patio and the sandbox, or between the vegetable garden and the gazebo. And what about those tree stumps and balance beams? Surely you need some lawn under and between those.
Not necessarily. And no, we’re not advocating for turf! Two other natural elements make excellent ground cover, both of which are far more lovely to look at and can be a whole lot more interesting for the kids.
Mulch is one, and it makes great ground cover not just for planting beds but for play areas, too. It comes in a variety of colors and sizes so you can create the look you like best. It’s great for protecting soil against erosion, it’s soft enough for kids to jump and even fall on without injury, and it looks pleasing, too.
Stone is another – from big, bold stepping stones, to interlocking patio paving stones, to natural rock gardens. What kid doesn’t love to pick up rocks, or hasn’t come home with a few in his or her pocket?
While you wouldn’t put a stone garden under a swing, for example, you could certainly turn it into its own gorgeous play area. Stone is forgiving – it looks just as lovely in shade as it does in sun, it doesn’t need mowing or watering, and it’s both pretty and functional all year long. Plus there are plenty of options for stone, from river rock to pebbles, in many sizes, shapes and hues. Grown ups will appreciate this low maintenance addition and kids will get to explore their creativity.
Light It Up
Why quit playing when the sun goes down? Outdoor lighting will add tremendous beauty to your space and extend its usability long into the nighttime. It makes your space safer, illuminating pathways, highlighting obstacles, and of course, making it easy for you to keep track of what the kids are doing.
It can also turn your yard into a magical, enchanting place. Include anything from string lights to lanterns, spotlights, under-bench lighting, moonlighting high up in trees, fairy lighting and more. Entwine lighting among the flowers and vines in your gazebo or along your pergola. Add lighting beneath steps or between patio pavers.
In short, get creative! Skip the “marching soldier” lighting that turns your walkway into a runway and use lighting to add depth and beauty along with functionality.
Kids need to play, and that usually comes with bicycles and tennis rackets, Lego sets and building blocks, sand pails and inner tubes. But that doesn’t mean your back yard needs to look like a toy shop.
Storage can be functional and just as attractive as everything else. Consider adding a small shed that compliments your home’s style. Instead of hiding it in the farthest corner of the yard, turn it into its own attraction, with window boxes full of flowers, lighting along the roofline, a natural stepping stone path leading the way to the front door, and some surrounding butterfly gardens or bird houses.
It will be a lot more attractive to the kids when it’s time to clean up, and will be an attractive addition to your space overall. You can even turn part of the space inside into its own play area. Use one side for toys, and the other for games or other crafts that you may want to relegate to the outdoors, like play-do or finger-painting!
Consider other spots for storage, too, like the extra space under benches. You can incorporate seating with built in storage, or use empty space to slide pretty boxes that hide less-than-pretty trinkets.
Think Beyond Lawn!
These are just a handful of ways that you can create a kid-friendly, grownup-worthy outdoor space. But there are plenty more if you use your imagination.
There are water elements – from ponds with fish to feed, to small fountains or pondless waterfalls where kids can get their feet wet on hot summer days. There are secret gardens, surrounded by bamboo screening where kids can go to take a break (and grownups can sneak in a few quiet moments, too.)
There are the big-hitters like swimming pools (don’t forget the kid-safe fencing), putting greens or basketball courts. There are hammocks for swinging and boulders for sitting. Pathways for exploring and big trees for lying under.
All of these things can create a space that you love to look at, and the kids love to play in. Much of it can be done with only what Mother Nature has provided. Best of all, it can all be so low maintenance that you may actually have some time left over to go out and play, too!
If you’d like to know more about creating a kid-friendly landscape, contact us for a consultation. We want to hear about how you’d like to use your space, what you wish for and imagine, and share our ideas for turning your yard into something you and the whole family will love and enjoy.