Once upon a time my backyard looked like this. We lived in New York and our house was nestled among beautiful trees. We had a deck off the family room with a grill and table for outdoor family meals. The boys spent most of their time on the swing set, running around or chasing the dog, ball or whatever. But your backyard ideas change as the kids get older so join me on my journey.
We've moved a lot (15 houses and counting) and the boys are grown and on their own. Our oldest son has a five year old daughter, so the swing set is at his house now. We've always had a green backyard. So when we decided to try Arizona as a potential retirement home (am I really that old?), it was different from anything we knew.
The desert is dry which means more dark skies for my husband's astronomy. We just finished the landscaping around his new observatory, so it's time to start sorting through all the backyard ideas I've collected over the last two years.
Collecting Your Backyard Ideas
The easiest type of renovation is one focused on a single feature like the observatory, a new refrigerator or garage door. When you want to make multiple changes at once, like turning your dining room into a home office, you need to do a lot more planning. That's the challenge I'm facing with the astroturf section of our backyard. It feels a bit wierd because it's not natural, yet it's practical because it doesn't waste water in the desert.
So here are the backyard ideas I've collected so far. The goal is to turn the green space into something I can enjoy from my office. At the same time I want a space to relax with my husband, at least on cloudy nights when he's not in his observatory. So I've been collecting photos from homes I've visited, plus backyard features I've found online.
The challenge is prioritizing what's most important. Then I need to experiment to see how several features will come together visually. As the space isn't that big (17 x 24 ft), I should be fine designing a layout myself, with feedback from my husband and friends. For larger projects you might need an architect or interior designer to pull your ideas together. For example, adding a 4-story addition to a 100 year old Victorian wasn't something I could do myself.
So here are the steps I've taken so far, and we'll share updates as we move forward.
- Took photos of my house and dragged the best one into PowerPoint (my corporate background). You can use any graphic editing tool you're comfortable with or old fashion paper.
- Cut out my favorite backyard ideas, the ones I'd like to add to my backyard design. You can use a screen scraper like Jing (free and here's a link to download) to cut out the digital images you like.
- Next is the collage, which is a lot of fun. You get to place your backyard ideas in the yard and move them around to imagine what's possible.
Here are my backyard ideas done with a photo and digital images on top. I was amazed at how much I learned from this simple exercise, and having the picture also allowed my husband to join the conversation.
- Smaller space than I imagined – and what I see when working in my office. Where a room this size would feel huge indoors, outside it feels tiny in comparison to the massive open space around it. This made me grab the tape measure and so I learned, it's 17 by 24 feet.
- Green astroturf – falls into the category of thing you like and hate at the same time. I've been collecting photos of steps most desert landscaping uses to break up the “pretend green”. I know I probably won't do anything symetrical but it will really depend on the other features we add.
- A water feature – would be really nice if it's not too expensive. Having lived near the ocean most of my life, it's a little unsettling to be so far away from water. Fortunately there are lots of really nice water features around Phoenix as it breaks up the dry desert environment.
- Informal seating got started a dialog with my husband – who feels all seating should look out towards the great views we have from our house. If I want to create a smaller, cozy campfire like feeling where we're focused on the fire and the people sitting around it, I'm not sure this works.
- Fire pit table – was another debate as my husband thinks it should go where the prior owners had a hot tub. It's also closer to his observatory so I think the compromise might be a fire pit that's light enough for us to move it back and forth?