Landscape Design Challenge: The Family Yard

by Ben Bowen

I have written about design challenges- like the mature landscape- here before. Cutting through the noise of an overgrown garden is hardly the only design challenge we face.

Today, it's the "Family Yard". What is that?

A family yard must meet the demands of every member of the family. Parents want to entertain and garden. Kids want to play (sometimes destructively!) It can be difficult to balance these very different demands. Can it be done?

Family Yard Challenge, Accepted

I am thinking about this particular design challenge because I am currently designing a small, but complex, family yard. Here is what I am dealing with:

  • The parents want an outdoor kitchen and dining space. The space will be covered by a pergola. We are also going to set up a place for a future hot tub. Privacy for these outdoor spaces are a concern. Should an AC unit be relocated to make more room for these elements?
  • The children in the family need an area defined for play. I wish this were as simple as a swath of grass, but the yard is small and has three large fir trees overhead. The shade and needle drop pretty much make a healthy lawn impossible here.
  • An existing fire pit needs a new home.
  • The yard, besides it's small size, is also cut up into two distinct levels. A preexisting retaining wall elevates one corner of the yard. This area houses a shed and (wait for it..)
  • Chickens. Yep, this yard needs space for chickens too.

Designing A Back Yard For All

Parents, children, barnyard animals- all deserve a yard that meet their needs. How do I go about designing such a landscape? Here is how I start:

  • Plot the nonnegotiable. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the landscape I will lay out all the elements that can only go one place. So, in this case the existing trees, shed, retaining walls, and chicken area are staying. The outdoor kitchen location is determined by existing plumbing and gas lines.
  • Prioritize the rest. It is not always possible to perfectly satisfy every demand a family may make on an outdoor space. If something has to be compromised (or even eliminated) what should it be?

As I really get into the design I now have a plan, a way to proceed that makes sense. Along the way I will spend time looking for clever solutions. Is there a way to create spaces in this yard that multitask, making everyone happy? I may even write a blog post to get my head around it...

I love the challenge small yards bring. I relish meeting the demands of a busy and robust family. The key, I have found, is to outline the process in your mind and then jump in.

Does your family have a yard that provides space for everyone? How have you accomplished that? Comments are open below.