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Five Ways to Use a Small Urban Backyard

Published on NewsOK Published: June 24, 2013

• You must have a space for wildlife to raise their young, which can include a nesting box, mature trees, caterpillar host plants or a planting of dense shrubs.

Dining room

For an episode of HGTV’s “Landscape Smart,” one couple hosted their wedding in their long-neglected urban back yard. The centerpiece of the project (and the stage for their ceremony) was a circular flagstone patio, created by a contractor in Oakland, CA.

With all the concrete all over the city, it may seem counter-intuitive to pave over an existing yard space, but a nice flagstone patio, plus plants and furniture equals an outdoor dining room for the warm months.

Of course, city thieves will prey on anything not nailed to the ground (and some things that are nailed to the ground), so scour city garage sales, freebies and thrift stores for cheap outdoor furniture.

A paved space can still have landscaping of sorts. Put all your plants in containers, and you can move them around to chase the sun or accommodate groups of various sizes. If you use large containers, consider putting empty plastic bottles or other filler in the bottom of the containers to keep them from getting prohibitively heavy.

Meditation or relaxation area

 Can anybody meditate among the honks, shouts and bustle of the city? With a dense relaxation garden, the answer is yes. The smells and sights of a garden are naturally relaxing and healing. An urban meditation space just needs to be more compact, dense and vertical than most.

Moreover, beekeepers say their hobby is fairly meditative, and (careful) urban backyard hives are generating quite a buzz. Beekeeping also can help bring back an insect that seems to be mysteriously dying off.


If you can secure the yard, you can let the kids run free in an urban backyard playground. Everything is built up vertically in the city, and urban playgrounds are no exception. Most kids naturally want to climb, so the sandbox can be under the swings, which can be under the monkey bars, which can be under the fort.

A quick daily hose-down of all the toys and playground equipment will pay off in the long run. The alternative is periodic scrubbing of grime and soot, or accepting that the children will “look like the chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins,” as one New York blogger noted when she became disillusioned with her Manhattan playground space.

As noted above, there are some unique challenges and additional work involved when establishing and using an urban back yard, but you may be surprised by how much use and joy you can get from a small space.

Steve Graham wrote this article for

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