Project Details

Photos: Jesse Edsell-Vetter

Family Retreat

Design:   Carolyn Edsell-Vetter

Designed to accommodate the diverse needs of a young family, a whimsical sensory play area is at the heart of this compact Cambridge garden.

While conducting a green renovation of their 100-year old home, a Cambridge family contacted A Yard & A Half to create a secluded outdoor haven for their growing family. They wanted to integrate adult social space with play space for their small children, but were having trouble imagining how a play area would fit within the tiny and shaded yard left by the addition.

Spindly hinoki cypress were suffering in the shade and crowding the narrow, sloping side yard. We replaced them with a hedge of clumping bamboo, which screens the house from nearby neighbors. Flat concrete pavers provide a smooth area for tricycles and scooters, and create continuity between the house, shed, and outdoor dining area. By terracing the dining area, we created more flat, usable space for entertaining. Large slabs of bluestone form the steps, patio, and built-in bench, and groundcover plants creep between the stones.

A mature Japanese maple covers half of the back yard, so we sited the play area in its dappled shade. Rounded fieldstones surround a sand play area and enclose a shallow stream which can be filled by an old-fashioned pitcher pump. We plumbed the pump so that it serves as a recirculating fountain when turned on, but the children can still pump it by hand when they are playing outside.

Because the site soil had elevated lead levels, it was important to cover all exposed soil. Since play space was the priority, woodchips became the default groundcover. A raised planting bed ensures clean soil for the vegetable garden, and also maximizes hours of sunlight in the one sunny corner of the property.