Ali Lawrence has been gardening since she was five. She was born and raised in Alaska but now resides in Pennsylvania where her family grows a large garden every year. Her passions include writing haikus and finding new ways to use her essential oils! Read more articles from Ali at and connect with her on Pinterest.


Balancing Your Backyard Making Room for Everyone
by Ali Lawrence - posted 03/29/17

Playground for Kids and garden

I’ve been thinking a lot about changes I want to make to my backyard to make it as usable as possible for everyone in the family. We recently bought a house that has just over a quarter acre of land, which means I don’t have a lot of room.

However, there are some very specific things I do want in my backyard. I want a fire pit, room for a small garden and a playground to keep the kids active and healthy. Research shows that playing outside helps build my kids' immune systems and stimulates their imaginations. I also want some grassy areas where the kids can play. So, how do you balance all of these different needs in one small outdoor space?

Create Zones for Family Members

My first step is to create specific zones that meet the needs of each family member. I know I have a quarter of an acre to work with, so I start out by figuring the amount of space needed for a swing set and sandbox for the kids. Next, I mark the areas outside for some raised garden beds and a little space for the fire pit where the adults will likely hang out often. The leftover space is yard space for the kids to play. I may add more zones later if there is room for them.

Because the space for the kids to play is ample, that leaves me a small area for my gardening —  and I know I have to get creative. Here is my plan.

Use Space Efficiently

There are more than 35 edible plant varieties I’d like to grow this year. With such limited space, I’m forced to come up with some creative ideas to accomplish my goals with my garden.

Raised beds and containers allow me to use the space I have, while keeping the different varieties separated. I start by creating a list of the plants I plan to grow, what type of light they need and where they could most easily grow in my yard. Also, some of the plants I’d like to grow require shade, so those can be planted on the side of the house where there is shade. Other varieties could be included in the flower beds in front of the house, especially ones that look a bit decorative anyway, such as some lettuces.

Grow Up

I’d love to grow some watermelons and squash, but those plants vine and require a lot of room to grow. Normally, growing pumpkins, watermelon, squash and even cucumbers in such limited space would be impossible. But, with the help of some vertical options, I can grow all of those and more. Granted, I do need to choose some smaller varieties when possible, so the fruit doesn’t fall from its vertical perch.

I may add some rectangular planters at the edge of the back patio and use an upright lattice that the vines can grow up. For beans, I can include a tall pole for them to climb. Cucumbers can be planted in a pot and allowed to trail down the sides.

Double Dip

Another idea I had is to create dual zones. For example, I could build a small playhouse for the children and add some edible plants on either side of the door, along with some other plants around the sides and back of the small house. We do have a community area close to our house and I’ve considered getting a grant to build a playground there for the entire neighborhood to enjoy and then I could save our backyard space for my garden instead!

The fire pit area can also become home to some beautiful pots of marigolds.


One thing is certain, the needs of my family will change as the children grow. What works for our backyard today may not work in five years. I plan to adapt my backyard space as needed. When the kids outgrow the playground, it can be removed and replaced with a hammock or small shed turned into a hangout area.

One of the best things about a small yard is that you can get to everything easily and change it as needed without spending a fortune. Whatever the needs of my family, my backyard will continue to be a retreat for us all.



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