How-To: Semi DIY Playscaping for the Backyard

This week I've been sharing the how-to's and sources for our backyard playscaping project. Did you miss any of them? Here's a recap:

This is still a work in progress, there are still some things I'd like to build, possibly for next summer. I would love to turn a long, wide tree branch into a balance beam; create a hut built of sticks for a hideout; or make a little table set with big and little logs. 

What do your kids like to do in their backyard? Do they have any favorite activities or playthings that are a must for your backyard?

How-To Playscaping: Elements of Interest

This post uses Amazon affiliate links to the items I purchased for these projects.

This is the final installment of the DIY Playscaping Series. On Monday I showed you how I built a wooden bridge play area with a faux stream and DIY rainbow stepping stones; on Tuesday I showed you my favorite feature: the imagination waterfall; and yesterday, I shared the kids' favorite balance log steppers. Today, its the little things that take the space from basic to engaging.

Added Elements

You don't need a lot of money to make an interesting backyard for children. I wanted to encourage exploration and wonder in our small, city-sized backyard. It's been about a year since we designed our space, and the results are good. We have a space that kids enjoy spending time in.

After the main features were built into the yard, we added a few little elements of interest that speak to children's imaginations.

First, meet Jasper, our little beetle friend:

Unique plants can also be of interest to children. Some of my favorites are Chicks and Hens:

A photo posted by Ashley Pahl (@theashleypahl) on

Emerald Green Thuja:

Purple salvia flowers:

For BIG impact, try giant sunflowers or one of my favorites, Giant Purple Allium.

For more colorful playscape ideas, follow my Outdoors Pinterest board:

Follow Ashley Pahl's board Outside on Pinterest.

How-To Playscaping: Balance Log Steppers

This post uses Amazon affiliate links to the items I purchased for these projects.

Welcome to part three of the DIY Playscaping Series. On Monday I showed you how I built a wooden bridge play area with a faux stream and DIY rainbow stepping stones, and yesterday I showed you my favorite feature: the imagination waterfall. Today, its the kids' favorite feature: the balancing log steppers.

The Log Stepper

The bridge is fun, but I wanted something else for the kids to climb on. Balance beams are one of their favorite things to do on playgrounds, so that was the first inspiration for these log steppers.

We've had three mature trees cut down since we moved in (we had no choice in the matter, unfortunately), so we have plenty of logs to spare. 

My husband used a chainsaw to cut the logs to different lengths: a tallest log for the middle, and two of each decreasing size - 9 logs in all.

We dug a narrow trench to put the logs side-by-size. I wanted the logs to be touching each other; I was afraid that any gaps between the logs could be a safety hazard for wedged feet and skinned shins. We've had these logs for almost a year now, and have had no injuries.

I would really love to use more patio paint to paint the top of each log a different color, to tie them in with the stepping stones.

Like I said, this is the favorite feature for the children. We spent money on the arch for the waterfall, and the kit for the bridge, but what they love most of all were the free logs we had sitting in a pile in the back yard. I'm not really too surprised.

How-To Playscaping: The Imagination Waterfall

This post uses Amazon affiliate links to the items I purchased for these projects.

This is part two on my DIY Playscaping Series. Yesterday I showed you how I built a wooden bridge play area with a faux stream and DIY rainbow stepping stones. Today I will show you my favorite feature: the imagination waterfall.

The Waterfall

I had this idea for a pretend waterfall made with yarn, and I just couldn't let it go. I didn't know how practical it would be, but it was something that I wanted to test out for the kids. If it didn't work out, I figured at least now I would have an arbor with trellis to use for my climbing roses.

To make this, you want a wooden archway with rods spaced across the top, and trellises on both sides. You can purchase a wooden arch like mine here on Amazon.

The idea was to have a thick layer of yarn hanging down from the arch of the arbor, almost like a beaded curtain. I did research and discovered acrylic yarn would be fine outside, at least for a year or two. I used Yarn Bee brand in Sea Breeze, but I found Caron brand in Oceana and Spring Brook, which are also multi-colored and very pretty shades of blue and green for water.

After thinking about how a wall of hanging yarn would behave in the wind and rain, I imagined quite a few tangles. This lead to the idea of tied groupings of yard that hang from the arch, and a woven layer of yarn down the sides of the arbor. When the kids stand under the arch, I wanted them to feel like they were surrounded by the water. I chose a yarn that contained shades of blue and green, so I wouldn't have to change the yarn while I wove it through the trellis.

We dug a hole for the ends of the arbor , filling it in with rocks and soil to hold it steady in the wind.

Both the trellis and the yarn have held up very well since may when we installed it. A few strong thunderstorms have tangled some of the yarn that hangs down, but it was no trouble at all to pull it back down again.

It's almost a year later, and this structure is still standing firmly. As I expected, I need to replace some of the yarn that hangs down, but that's no problem for me.

Please come back to the blog tomorrow, and I will share how we built our log steppers!

How-To Playscaping: Faux Stream and DIY Rainbow Stepping Stones

This post uses Amazon affiliate links to the items I purchased for these projects.

I would absolutely love to buy a big, wooden play structure for my daughters, but to be completely honest, we're on a budget right now and it's just not in the cards for us this year.

I wanted to give backyard elements to my girls that would allow them to use the imaginations - something that would encourage play with story lines. I imagined a magical forest playscape - a bridge with a little faux stream for Three Billy Goats Gruff; a waterfall that led to a secret garden; and a series of log steps to connect one space to another.

Last summer I put the whole project together. Today, I will show you how I built our pretend stream with homemade stepping stones and a wooden bridge.

The Bridge and Stream

I built the bridge from a DIY garden bridge kit, inside on a rainy spring day. 

Before installing the bridge outside, my daughters and I collected smooth stones from around the yard. We looked for white and gray rocks. Some of them we painted in shades of blue, turquoise, and green patio paint. We chose DecoArt patio paint because it is supposed to be weather-proof and is non-toxic. 

After the rocks were painted, we dug the trench for the pretend stream. After digging the shallow trench, we put down a layer of newspaper (I used my Wrappily newspaper wrapping paper - made from recycled content and uses soy-based inks), followed by a layer of mulch. I'm hoping those two things will help keep the weeds out for a while. This area of the yard also does not get a lot of sun, so that should help as well.

Next, we laid down our rocks, first the natural rocks, and then the painted rocks. The bridge was put down across the faux stream. I am so happy with the results!

My littlest daughter loves pinwheels, so we had to put one in for the summer.

The Stepping Stones

I imagined a stepping stone of every color in the backyard. These stones were poured by hand in a round mold from a concrete mix. I used Midwest Products Premium Stepping Stone Cement Mix and round stepping stone molds. Mine are 8" in diameter, but they come in other sizes.

These stones ended up being the exact size and shape I imagined for the yard: 8" in diameter; about 3" thick, and perfectly round. The girls each put their hand print in one of the stones, along with their initial and the year.

Again, we painted the stepping stones with DecoArt patio paint. The girls and I mixed up custom colors for the stones. The only downside to pouring your own is how the concrete mix recommends not installing them and stepping on them for a couple of weeks after they harden. The wait can be difficult for little ones.

The stepping stone path now continues from both sides of the bridge, and under the pretend waterfall, which I will share with you tomorrow!

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