Help Me Make My Backyard FUN! Needing Creative Ideas!!

Updated on October 17, 2011
H.1. asks from Des Moines, IA
9 answers

Here's the scoop: we recently got our backyard fenced in. SO excited and had been waiting forever to be able to afford it. Our house backs to a busy street so I am very excited I can now take the dog and my 17 month old out to play without constantly redirecting him, chasing, him etc.

Earlier I posted about your young toddler's favorite outdoor things to do because I was so excited that we can finally play more out in the yard. Turns out, most responses are about playing with rocks, sticks, bugs etc. which, yes, my son would LOVE but here's the problem. We live in a new development (yuck) and have NO trees and nothing of visual interest in the backyard. Literally, just a big open plot of grass.

Any suggestions for ramping up the fun back there? We have a sandbox and outdoor toys to push around (balls, big cars, etc.) but wondering if anyone has any creative ways to bring natural elements to the backyard that will be exciting for him to explore. No more toys - thinking possible things like an area of rocks of different sizes, piles of sticks, logs for climbing etc but how do I make some of these things look nice and not.....trashy? I don't want piles of sticks in my backyard (lol) but hoping there is a creative way to work on this. Was thinking maybe even a sandbox filled with rocks and sticks but hubby wasn't big on that idea. Any creative ideas appreciated!!

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So What Happened?

I should have mentioned I;m apprehensive about landscaping because of our financial situation, though I know it's a good way to achieve what I'm after.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Seriously--isn't that what parks are for?

Get a playset/swingset that's age appropriate and take some balls to kick, toss, bounce and throw...get Tonka trucks and shovels, buckets, sifters, etc to the sandbox you already have...

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answers from Spokane on

I think a swing set is a MUST for well as balls, sand box, water hose.

But to specifically answer your question - landscape!!! You can plant trees, shrubs and flowers = sticks and bugs and dirt. You can do stepping stones and fill in the spaces with crushed gravel = rocks. Set up some bird feeders and maybe a bird bath = wildlife. You could even plant a small vegetable garden in raised beds and use logs for the edging = something for your son to climb on.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Small sandbox.

Park bench

I buy cute little garden accesories: signs, snails, turtles, (not the gnomes. they scare me. ha ha:), solar lights (bought them at the Dollar Store), stepping stones.

We have a lil Tykes slide. He loved that.

Also have a swing set (swings, slide, sand box)

kick ball, soccer ball

We have a patio slab so he has a jeep, ring toss, toy shelving unit w/buckets for all of his Matchbox cars, remote control car (cheap at Ross).

Log house

Tee ball

We landscaped w/a huge boulder, nice potted plants, potted palms, plant a couple of trees if you can.

small fountain

Since I'm out there all the time, I wanted cute things to look at.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I love your idea of putting natural elements into the space. Among other ideas, DO plan on planting a tree or two for future beauty and shade. Pay attention to the path the sun travels during summer months so you can plan your shade over at least part of the play area. Your city probably has a list of good street and landscape trees that do well in your area, along with the sizes they reach.

The things you want to put in may cost some serious bucks. Contact a local landscape supply company to price boulders of various sizes. You'll do best to get two or three of the same type so the colors and shapes coordinate, and a large one next to a smaller, flatter one might be a good starting point. We put this combination in a pasture for our goats years ago, and the kids loved leaping back and forth between a 2 foot high and an 8 inch high rock. For years.

When "planting" boulders, bury about 1/4 of each in the ground for stability and a more natural look. Some landscape guides suggest burying 2/3, but this is usually overkill.

If you have a source of large snag sections (downed trees) nearby, maybe at a riverside, and have a way to haul one home, a worn snag with most of the branches smoothed down to nubs would make a nice third element in your natural grouping. Be aware that it will gradually rot away over maybe 5-10 years, depending on the type of wood. These can also be quite heavy and hard to manage, so some brawny guys to help would be useful.

Be aware of local regulations on bringing home snags or driftwood. Some areas require permits.

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answers from Des Moines on

just make a little garden& add to it as you get money, go to the park & have him help you pick out rocks to border the garden. you can get seeds super cheap at walmart too for under $1 he will probably love helping you & playing in the dirt. you can also get a container of cement pretty cheap, pour it in the lid of something like a 5 gallon bucket & make simple stepping stones with handprints & names, add little pieces of tile or mirror isnt to pricey ethier.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I don't know if this helps, but here's what we do...

We have a sand/water table. Since you already have a sand pit, I'd suggest getting some type of water table. It's a natural element, and my kids LOVE it. We also have a trampoline and a nice swing set. We have rocks around our air conditioner in the backyard that the kids love to play with (the rocks).

When it comes to things like sticks and misc natural things, we find those when we go on walks. They explore everything around them out there.

As for climbing, you might want to get a climbing dome. I know you said no more toys, but they are put together in a safer way than logs for climbing might be. A swing set often has different types of climbing things on it too. So, I guess that's my suggestion...look at toys or products that do what you're wanting - offer climbing, jumping, playing, etc. - and they offer it in a safe format. Since you can't landscape, and since you don't want it to look trashy, it might be the solution you're looking for?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Albuquerque on

Hey, I had some suggestions for you on that last post... so here I go again:
Check out the Free stuff on craigslist! Lots of people have lots of stuff that they need to get rid of (rocks, wood, landscaping stuff)! If not free, you can probably find things for really cheap!
Also, if you're willing to forgo toys... you can ask for "help" with your landscaping as Christmas/birthday/etc gifts! This could be actually stuff (trees, flowers, bags of mulch, etc) or it can be giftcards to Lowes, Home Depot, or a local nursery!
You already got some good advice on bringing these things into your yard--now the trick is to find stuff for cheap or free! Good luck! I'm so excited for our backyard--we got a huge 2-story wooden playset from a coworker--for FREE! And, I've done a lot of cleaning in preparations for a full-size garden in the spring!! Good luck and have fun!!



answers from St. Louis on

check with friends/family...this is the perfect time of the year to replant many garden items. Right now, we are removing many volunteer plantings, including several rosebud trees, a few Rose of Sharon bushes, & several other plants.

you could also do this next spring. In the spring, we move around our hostas, my old irises, & any new volunteers. Lots of options if you have friends/family who share!

a couple more thoughts: nurseries, WalMart, & stores such as Lowes are clearing out a lot of their product lines right now. If you watch the lots, you will find some fantastic bargains! As for the rocks, walk a riverbank! It's a great way to find cool rocks......

When placing all of this, think natural forms & shapes. Forget the linear boxes! Freeform it all looks natural!

OH, & please avoid using wood mulch. We used the free mulch from our local landfill & ended up with termites. $1000+ later....& that free mulch sucked! The exterminator said to use rock only....that even cedar mulch is an issue. Hard lesson learned for us.....



answers from Kalamazoo on

What about planting a fast growing tree, and planting a fun garden around it with a gravel path? We did this less than 5 years ago with a corkscrew will and it's HUGE now...and provides shade, privacy and tree frogs! Around the base we planted a few shrubs (hiding places!) and tall growing seasonal grasses (safari anyone?)...on the ground we made this area a big kidney bean shape, filled with mulch (perfect for planting your pumpkin patch - who doesn't love to watch pumpkins grow and turn orange?) and wound a gravel path through it. We even moved our outdoor playhouse under the willow this year, and it was almost hidden under there - the kids L*O*V*E*D it! The gravel path was by far the highlight. I'm not sure if it was more fun having the gravel pile in the driveway or as a path in the backyard, but those rocks have been such a hit.

Good luck with your yard - you sound like such a connected Mom! How sweet that you're putting in all this energy!

PS- the willow provides lots of "sticks". Bamboo is another fast growing "greenery", but if you go with bamboo, I'd recommend growing it in a raised box because it spreads...quickly!...and you may not want it to take over your yard.

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