My client was kind of particular, and if I didn’t get it right I would never hear the end of it. In this case….I was also married to him. Problem solving through design is a kind of puzzle made more challenging the longer the list of needs or restrictions. The backyard once consisted of a basic lawn, then later, a large swim/spa thingy, neither of which suited our needs. This is a peek into the process as my husband, Frank, and I began work on a revised backyard for ourselves.
- -Flexible space for small or large gatherings
- -Place for casual games or sports
- -No lawn, yet year round beauty
- -Low maintenance and relatively low cost
I decided that many of these features could be accommodated if I found a game that could be played in the central area which didn’t require a lawn or specialized equipment. A very important request, from my husband, was that the playing area, whatever it may be, be regulation size. He didn’t want a scaled down game court – presumably this is because he didn’t want to be at a disadvantage someday if he were to go pro in whatever game we chose. So that limitation became a useful factor in narrowing down the choices. I had the maximum dimensions that would be available in the space we had, so I just needed to cross-check all game or sport choices to see which ones had specifications that fit within our “space budget” and could be built with low cost materials.
Regulation bocce and horseshoes took up too much space. Net type games, like badminton or volley-ball involved setting up equipment before you can play. What we finally chose is a less well-known game called petanque or boules. Boules is kind of a cousin to bocce. It is played on a smaller surface with smaller balls that are pitched instead of rolled. It turns out that we had a bit of a connection to the game because we had enjoyed a fun afternoon watching a group of men playing on the streets of Barcelona many years before. So, never having played the game, I set out to create a design that would incorporate the proper space, look attractive and work with the style of our mid-century house….and please the clients.
What We Did:
So we’d settled on having a petanque court in the backyard, but it was going to have to be completely central. The court area would be taking on the “importance” that a typical lawn would normally have in a traditional backyard.
While petanque can be played on turf we knew we didn’t want a large lawn in the design because of the water use and our desire for a more sustainable solution. Casual games of petanque can be played on packed soil, such as a garden path, with the twists and turns of the playing surface being part of the fun. But we settled on a 3/8 inch golden granite gravel which is locally produced and would look more “finished” when used in a relatively large area.
Making it Personal:
So far then, I’ve got a big gravel rectangle in the middle of the backyard but I wanted it to integrate with the surrounding surface materials and have a little fun with it too.
I believe that every landscape should aknowledge the house that it accompanies and be appropriate for the climate it resides in. In addition, the best gardens are often highly personal as well. The design that emerged was for the gravel rectangle to interact with surrounding gold colored pre-cast pavers via gravel “channels” running from the central shape, into the pavers, creating a clean-lined and contemporary pattern throughout the area to visually combine the two hardscape materials. I added some extra square footage to one corner of the petanque court to create an asymmetric shape without affecting the regulation sized playing area. Intersecting both the gravel court and the paver patio were insets of ground-cover to add to the composition and bring some greenery and softness into the central field of view.The elements that complete the design include a generous border on three sides of the court to provide space for an evolving line-up of flowering plants that I am either testing or can’t live without. I wanted to create a frame for the inevitable visual chaos that results when a plant-lover is in charge of the garden. The other two sides of the court provide generous space for seating arrangements and a low wall that doubles as seating.
The final design would not work for everybody, but I love the flexibility of the space both for gardening and entertaining. I regularly make container arrangements that add to the composition and change with the seasons. The space stays open most of the time but easily accommodates many types of seating arrangements depending on whether I’m hosting a couple of girlfriends for drinks or our large family for a weekend of games. I love how the sparse pattern has almost a zen-like tranquility that sometimes I play with by raking patterns in the gravel. I also love how that sparseness sets up a counterpoint to the lush abandon of the adjacent planting area. In addition, the petanque balls themselves look attractive when strewn about waiting for the perfect moment for someone to decide to pick them up and play.