What to do with a giant back yard?
October 13, 2009 5:18 PM   Subscribe

What should I do with a (relatively) giant back yard?

My wife and I are about to buy a house. The house is around 1400 square feet or so but sits on a plot of land that's just over one third of an acre. The backyard is quite large, probably about 10,000 square feet. This is in Southern California, so it's unusual in my experience to have this much area available.

Here is what it looks like: pic The earth-moving machine is not included with the house. This picture is taken standing at the south end of the backyard looking north.

If we do nothing to the yard, it will become a giant mudpit in the winter and a forest of weeds in the summer. What are some creative and cost effective for what to do with this bounty of land? So far we have come up with growing a plot of grass, laying down a brick section to walk on, and creating a vegetable garden.
posted by zompus to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think that laying down a brick, slate, or concrete path is a great idea, and while you're at it, you could make a little patio where you could have tables, chairs, umbrellas and a chiminea. As for the rest of it, something that might be a little more of an investment but would cut down on water waste and maintenance would be generic ground cover, rocks, cacti and other flora that don't require damp soil. You could do a lot of neat stuff, but I would do a little at a time, lest you get overwhelmed by both the project and the cost of it.

Have fun!
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:24 PM on October 13, 2009

Raised beds are great for vegetable gardens. We have three: one with herbs, one with root veggies, one with mixed greens and lettuces.

Since your temperature zone would probably support it, you could look into a thyme lawn instead of grass.

I agree with cachondeo45's idea of putting large paving stones down to create a patio-type area where you can put a table and some chairs. We have one and it is a nice place to sit and relax under the sun umbrella on a hot day.

Enjoy your giant back yard!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:30 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I would go for native planting and vegetable beds. I would also put in a horseshoe pit and giant metal dinosaur/Great Old Ones sculptures, but that's just me.

Also, you could put in a little prefab unit to use as an office/studio. Under a certain square footage they don't require a permit, I believe.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:34 PM on October 13, 2009

First, you should get someone to look at your trees, if you like them at all, because they look as though they likely have incurred some root damage from grading.

Your choices would be to:
1 Have a giant garden/small farm
2 have a large lawn you can play one of the many lawn sports on
3 turn the whole thing into a garden with walkways and flowers and shrubs
4 save alot of water and have some kind of native xeriscape or wildflower garden
5 make combinations of these

I'm sure there are many other things, too. Make a corn maze, or cover it with astroturf. That's a large tabula rasa, have fun with it.
posted by Red Loop at 5:37 PM on October 13, 2009

2nding the horseshoe pit.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:38 PM on October 13, 2009

Not very cost effective...but...

Maybe building a manspace?
posted by Eleutherios at 5:40 PM on October 13, 2009

If I had a big sunny back yard in sunny SoCal, I'd play around with fun and exciting solar energy projects. Something like this passive-solar water-heater shed at builtitsolar.com. Well, ok, that's the front page but you'll find it in projects and that's a picture of there on the home page.
posted by TomMelee at 5:46 PM on October 13, 2009

Pool, luau pit and thatched gazebo to hold the bar?
posted by ninazer0 at 6:01 PM on October 13, 2009

An orchard! Fruit trees are not that expensive. Imagine picking fresh fruit all the time! In SoCal you would have so many options - and you have so much space.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:05 PM on October 13, 2009

somewhat serious...
Winery (vines and shed to make wine)

fun fun fun:
Go Cart Track
BMX track
Hedge maze
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:19 PM on October 13, 2009

Besides gardens, which have been covered pretty much exhaustively already and which I think are an excellent idea, I like riding mountain bikes, so I might build a trials course or some North Shore stuff or a pump track or, y'know, some combination of those things.

outdoor hot tub
sauna/sweat lodge
outdoor kiln
brick oven
guest cottage
posted by box at 6:22 PM on October 13, 2009

Rock gardens add a lot of texture and are not very high maintenance and not expensive if you can find the rocks "second hand". You get a lot of bang for the buck. Pick out the options you like the best from the suggestions and rough it out on paper. It will be great!
posted by raisingsand at 6:40 PM on October 13, 2009

Plant conifers, native shrubs, meadow to give the creatures that the construction displaced a little of it back and you less work.
posted by x46 at 7:47 PM on October 13, 2009

Start a miniature golf business.
posted by querty at 9:32 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

you could look into a thyme lawn instead of grass.

(I am the Wife) I've been looking at lawns because we're going to have kids in the next few years, and as much as it's a hilarious idea, you can't send kids out to play/hold parties on the cactus patch. I'd not heard of thyme as an option before, but that seems like a pretty good alternative to grass.

As for the time related references, I have pretty much all day every day to dedicate to this right now, so don't let that hold back any ideas.

[The reason I didn't post this question is because I'm gunning for a lawn/sitting area with BBQ/vegetable garden/prefab building at the bottom of the garden combination.]
posted by saturnine at 10:46 PM on October 13, 2009

I'd not heard of thyme as an option before, but that seems like a pretty good alternative to grass.

Since you mention you want kids to be able to play on the lawn, make sure to check out the softness of the thyme variety--apparently some are pricklier than others.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:10 PM on October 13, 2009

Whoa, that's a huge space.

Guest cottage/studio/shed a great idea. Patio between the two, lots of drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants in the middle, plus veggie beds.

A bit of grass or soft space would be nice for kids who come to visit to play in, as well as a place for pets to do their business.

A good local nursery will be able to help a LOT - pop in and talk about what you're thinking about.

Finally, see if you can find any garden magazines or guides designed for dry/Mediterranean climates like this one.
posted by mdonley at 2:51 AM on October 14, 2009

With all that room, I'd suggest a nice big patio with room for grill, table(s), plastic bench with storage room for outdoor toys, and a small raised bed for growing herbs (and maybe tomatoes or other fruit), then cover most of the yard with xeriscaping ground covers.
posted by notashroom at 8:54 AM on October 14, 2009

I just sold a house with 3/4 of an acre back yard. When I was still flush with money and considering what to do with it, my plan included a wooden deck with poles at the end so we could have a retractable awning (for a covered space to entertain when the weather wasn't nice), a built-in covered barbecue area and a small pool with an attached hot tub.

As notashroom suggests, xeriscaping around a developed area like the one I suggest would cut down massively on your need to worry about mowing/mud overrun seasonally. A combination of rocks, gravel, cacti, hardy evergreen shrubbery and statuary is a lovely accompaniment that requires virtually NO maintenance once the drainage and initial layout is accomplished.

If you decide to go with a vegetable garden, you might want to put in a standalone shed or greenhouse since you indicate direct sunlight and rainfall will both be issues. As a lifelong Texas resident, we tried to grow vegetables rather far out in our yard before discovering that they were doomed to die from overexposure to both rain and sun. If you choose that, might I suggest a passive solar greenhouse?

If you can't afford a full hot tub but want one anyway, I'd suggest a SofTub.

A dedicated space that can be used to install an eco-friendly playground would be nice for any current or future kids. Should that not be an issue/option, a few hardy trees and hammocks are nice to relax in with a book or drink when the weather's nice.

If you do decide to sod and/or grow grass, it WILL be a bitch to mow. I thought I was going to die mowing for 2 hours each time it had to be cut.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:40 PM on October 14, 2009

Oh, wait, you're going to have kids? Playhouse playhouse playhouse playhouse playhouse!
posted by box at 5:11 PM on October 14, 2009

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