I want a cozy back yard.
March 17, 2021 5:12 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for ideas and suggestions to cozy-ify my back yard. I want it like a garden oasis. What I have is a flat lot with mediocre grass, and no real boundary between my yard, one neighbor's yard, and the alleyway. Difficulties & details inside:

My back door exits to a flat grassy lot. To the left is a large pine tree, an unmovable clothesline, a few shrubs, and Left Neighbor's high & wonderful privacy fence. Straight back is the alleyway, with nothing in between except a raised vegetable garden plot I put in, and sometimes my truck. To the right is Right Neighbor's Yard, with nothing between us but a waist-high old metal fence. Clear line of site. Literally nothing in between us.

If it were MY yard, I'd put in fences and hedges and rosebushes etc.

BUT I rent. So I'm not going to install a patio or a porch or high privacy fencing or wait around for a hedge to grow.

Extra challenge: On average, the peak daily wind gust in my town is at least 30 mph, 246 days a year; the wind is regularly strong enough to blow over/away anything not nailed down. Patio furniture, potted plants with too much wind resistance, shade awnings, etc, aren't safe.
With that wind comes hot & dry, although I do water most nights throughout the summer.

I have large dogs. They try hard not to, but they are prone to fucking stuff up.

My budget is a couple hundred bucks.

I have a few ideas, but what would YOU do?
posted by Grandysaur to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Fire pit and some foldable camp chairs you can take inside after using. If you can, a hammock between the pine tree and the clothesline. String up some Christmas lights along the back of the house. Buy a grill and a bocce set. Should be pretty enjoyable.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:34 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

You may have to check around multiple hardware stores to find it in stock, but I would suggest trying (first just) one roll of reed fencing - the 4' high if you really think the 6' can't take the wind, but 6 would be more pleasant - and either wire or zip ties to tack it to the chainlink fence pretty sturdily. See if it's going to stand up to the wind; people have it on their apartment balconies here a lot, and we get ripping Santa Anas that gust to 40+ and it seems to hold up pretty well. There is also a (thin) bamboo version that is probably sturdier than the reed.

Depending on your primary wind direction, you might be able to put some stuff up close to either the neighbor's privacy fence or the reed-fronted chain link and not have it blow around, whether that's some furniture or planters. You could also go long and low, building something like this storage bench except you store folding chairs in it and use it as a table after you get the chairs out. You could put it on top of one of these RV outdoor patio rugs and tent-stake it to the ground on the loose ends

Light goes a long way to cozifying a yard, and I do a lot with this type of solar spotlight in my rental yards. Part of the trick is bouncing them off walls or foliage (make sure you're not shining it into someone else's or your own windows, etc though). Solar string lights are also fantastic and might be a way to use that unused clothesline.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:25 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Get some 6' or 8' 2"x2"s (enough to match the number of chain link posts). Bore some holes in at 8-10" increments from waist high to the top, and then thread a sturdy line through the holes... clothesline? open to other suggestions, and depends on how many summers you anticipate being there. Zip tie or use pipe clamps to lash the whole assembly to the fence (with your neighbour's permission, of course), and then plant hops.
posted by kate4914 at 6:59 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've been quite cheap about the pots I buy for plants and the 12 or 16 inch version of these plastic planter pots from target are large and have served me well. The weight of the dirt has kept them secure in high winds. It hasn't happened yet, but were they to ever fall over, at least they are plastic. I've lost a few smaller terra cotta pots, mostly to neighborhood cats pushing them around. Mine are planted with herbs (not tall) or fern-like plants that are light.

In my old place, I used an ikea patio chaise as both plant stand and place for people to sit.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:12 PM on March 17, 2021

You can also get some spectacular ornamental grasses that will grow to 8-10 feet and fill in beautifully.
posted by kate4914 at 10:12 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Plant bamboo towards the right neighbor and the back lane? It grows fast and will also take away some wind and noise.
posted by mumimor at 9:01 AM on March 18, 2021

I've rehabbed a few yards and the first step in my approach is defining the space. Right now you have two sides that need to be resolved if you want this to be a little pocket backyard. I assume you want the right side closed off more, is that what you want in the back as well?

Plants are the natural choice of barrier here, given both your desire of an oasis-like environment and the high winds. The renter solution is to find some plans online for basic long planter boxes, build them yourself, and start your plants there. Then, if you want to take them when you move (or the landlord makes you), they are mobile and you aren't digging up the yard. If you can't move them when the time comes, a freecycle/facebook/whatever post will usually get rid of them.

A lot of the plant solutions will depend on what zone you live in, and I'd be curious what your timespan is on enjoying this space. If you can grow bamboo, that will make a wall pretty quickly in the right conditions. Next choice is something like a boxwood or privet, but that is a years to grow project - if you think you'll be there in 2-3 summers from now it might be worth it, but otherwise it won't get to fence level. Another option (that you'll definitely want to run by your neighbor if used on the side) is to put up a trellis and do some thing like a clematis or even hops - you run the possibility of it spilling into the neighbors yard if it gets too big so you have to be careful with this. In terms of wind-proof manmade fencing, stone or brick is the answer but that isn't really a renter type of solution. The reed fencing mentioned above may work - you'll have to test that to find out if the particular spot you put it happens to be a place that catches damaging winds.

The next thing I would suggest (if you are willing to keep it clean) is a birdbath, small fountain, or other source of water. If you have water and food (flowers/nectar) in the yard, you'll get all kinds of interesting insects and birds which will contribute to the aliveness of the space. Using 1'x'1' paving stones to make a path or patio area will help with the finished look and they tend to be relatively cheap (<>
Finally, fill in any "blank" spots with a non-invasive (preferably native plant) ground cover or plant - think tall grasses, creeping succulents, etc. In many communities there are facebook groups for plantsharing - people offering cuttings or starts of their plants or entire events where people can get together and share them. The only plants I ever paid for were fancy bulbs, trees, and bushes that I couldn't get a start for or wasn't patient enough to begin from a start.
posted by _DB_ at 11:53 AM on March 18, 2021

We have a huge yard and a small patio- and similar problems with the wind. It gets brutal out there. The key thing that's worked for us is making sure the wind has a path through things rather than putting up a solid wall.

Since it sounds like you have a raised bed, have you considered putting in a cattle panel trellis? The spacing is wide enough that it lets the wind through, but hearty plants like loofa can grow up it, creating a privacy barrier. Double bonus, loofa have to dry out on the vine so it lasts longer than just the growing season. Some people do an arch, but I've also seen some brilliant uses of t-posts- and at $25 for an 8 foot panel, at least locally, it's pretty budget friendly.
posted by Torosaurus at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2021

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