My Backyard

My Backyard - student project

The Existing Yard

My wife and I just purchased our first home and while the backyard is very spacious and has tons of possibilities, the existing layout has a very "botanical gardens" feel with paved sidewalk linking together in tons of right angles. My mission is to break this up into something that is more informal, has more interesting spaces, and offers more functionality in terms of socializing, living, and raising a family.

This is what the yard looked like when we first saw it.

My Backyard - image 1 - student project

My Backyard - image 2 - student projectIt has a lot of segmented vegetation sections (sadly no longer green once we took ownership) and sidewalk without any real interest points. In addition, there's a 40-foot gravel-filled zen garden which, while nice, is a lot of space devoted to something I don't really want at all.


Site Survey

The first task was to make the site survey.

My Backyard - image 3 - student project

I've already been using the software Live Home 3D to help with the interior remodel so I made sure to take reasonably accurate measurements so I could make a 3D model. I've found 3D models to be invaluable in trying out different ideas and, more importantly, convincing my wife that something is a good or bad idea ;)

My Backyard - image 4 - student project

My Backyard - image 5 - student project

The Requirements

When looking for an inviting, functional yard, our requirements were:

  1. Outdoor dining area for dinner parties
  2. Vegetable garden for growing food
  3. A secluded area with seating for a nice inviting nook to socialize, or just hide out and enjoy the outdoors
  4. Fruit trees - At least lemon, maybe orange, and we'll also be getting some tropical trees from a relative (banana, dragon fruit, maybe papaya)
  5. Some open space for the small children to play in the future without turning the yard into the usual boring grass square

The Design

My Backyard - image 6 - student project

My Backyard - image 7 - student project

As you can see, I've broken up about 2/3 of the pavement to open up the space a bit more and make connected points of interest rather than a loop that leads no where.

1. Outdoor dining

We're undecided on whether to build a permanent patio covering so the fabric cover makes a nice shady spot to put a dining table. This is right outside the kitchen which makes it the perfect flow for a dinner party. In addition, down the road, I could see installing a built-in grill near the air-conditioner since we can get access to both natural gas and water through that wall.

2. Vegetable Garden

Without the gravel, the zen garden makes for a perfect raised garden bed for growing all the veggies and herbs. It's on the north side of the yard which receives plenty of sun. There is another sliding door facing the garden connected to my office so I'll be able to keep a daily eye on the plants if they need tending to. The garden might end up being a bit bigger than we can manage to fill with veggies but I think if we run into that problem, we can plant some nicer plants near the pergola.

3. Pergola

By reducing the length of the zen garden a bit, we can end up with a nice 15' x 17' area to install a pergola with some nice outdoor patio furniture and maybe a gas pit table. The land here is on a grade so I'll be planning on building a slightly elevated deck in order to even it out. This is also nice because the pergola space feels even more defined and tucked away from the yard. Adding some vines for shade/privacy, and it's the perfect nook hideout.

4. Fruit Trees

We currently have a lot of nice cypress trees as well as a young lemon tree (check!). These leaves just an orange tree to add and the gifted tropical fruit trees to find a place for. Since the back of the yard has a large pipe organ cactus in the back which is a pretty good match for the dragon fruit tree. The banana tree, I was just going to put nearby

5. Finally, with so much happening on the north side of the yard, it seemed like the south side would be the prime target for the lawn. While we're not sure yet whether this will be grass or astro turf (water is a precious commodity her in LA), tucking it a little bit away from the house let us not disturb the existing tree and make better use of all the space by drawing the person through the path to a clearing rather than them having no incentive to draw them further into the yard, inevitably wasting space. Also, we get this great view from the kitchen which will be nice to watch kids playing in the yard.

My Backyard - image 8 - student project

I had a few ideas for the yard before watching this class but I loved the focus on the views you can create from the house. I really love this view from the kitchen door, looking past the patio table, to a path that draws your eye through trees and vegetation, past the garden and to the pergola. 

My Backyard - image 9 - student project

Now to start shoveling gravel and busting up cement!