Saturday, June 03, 2006

Our Backyard Playscape

Dada's Grandpa Bill (Eliot's father) bought Dada a fancy playscape for the back yard. We ordered it when he was here at the first of April but it took them a few weeks to manufacture it. The playscape is from Playwood, an Austin-based company that makes high-quality playscapes and focuses on safety and long service life.

Anyway, it was my responsibility to prepare the backyard to receive the playscape. This would involve leveling a 30 foot by 20 foot area to within 2 inches and then enclosing it in a border of landscape timbers two high. Our backyard slopes just a little bit such that at the highest the ground was about 7 inches above the level point and at the lowest 7 inches below. This meant that I would just need to move the dirt uphill to downhill. How hard could it be?

Of course I hadn't done anything about it when, on the Thursday before Mother's Day, Playscape Dude called to say "we'll be there on Tuesday to install it--you'll be ready, right?". Doh! Of course we had already planned to spend the weekend in Houston with Julie's mother and I had to work on Friday so that left Monday and Tuesday morning to get the site ready. So I said "sure, I think I can do that". I was motivated in part by wanting to have the playscape in place in time for the Cool Homes Tour, which would be the Sunday following Mother's Day. Also, if we didn't take delivery on Tuesday, there was no tellilng when it might get installed and there would be a storage charge. That evening (Thursday) Dada and I went over to Home Depo to get the materials I'd need: landscape timbers, rebar, big nails, weed mat, a saw blade, and a few other minor things.

CIMG3704So Monday I started working about 6:30 am laying out the site boundaries. First I had to move all the leftover building materials, mostly long 2x4s and 2x12s, which I had specifically requested be saved and which had been neatly stacked by the builder against the north fence. Unfortunately, in order for the playscape to fit in the back yard I needed that space. So I had to move all that wood behind the garage. Once that was moved I was able to lay out the boundaries of the playscape's "fall zone", which would ultimately be filled with pea gravel. Fortunately the huge pile of leftover stone from the front of the house was just outside the fall zone, so I didn't have to move that.

CIMG3703Finally, by about noon I had everything moved and layed out and I was starting to hack at the ground and quickly discovered that the combination of the fill from the builder and the soil that had been there had become a hard amalgam of clay and limestone, interspersed with chunks of old tile sewer pipe, rocks, bits of discarded stone from the front of the house, and big chunks of limestone. This required all my strength to break up with a pick axe.

CIMG3706By about 9:00 p.m. I had moved maybe half of what I need to from the uphill side and had reached my physical limits. I took a sauna and crawled into bed.

Tuesday morning I got outside at about 6:00 am and started hacking feverishly at the dirt. The guys were supposed to show up "mid morning" and I was hoping that meant more like 10:30 than 9:30. By about 8:30, with Julie's help, I had moved most of the uphill dirt, which thankfully was not quite as hard as I got closer to the edge of the property. My goal at that point was to get just the area where the actual playscape parts would go level, rather than the entire fall zone, since I assumed that the primary need for leveling was for the playscape itself--it shouldn't matter if the gravel is a little deeper in some parts.

CIMG3719The Playwood guys showed up a little before 10, just as I was moving the last bit of dirt that would give them enough level area. They deemed that they could in fact install it and set to work. The thing comes as pieces that they bolt together. By about 1:30 they were done. At that point I commenced work on installing the timbers, which needed to be at least mostly in place before the 16 tons of gravel showed up on Thursday morning (the original plans called for 14 tons of gravel but I calculated I needed two more tons in order to account for the unleveled area on the downhill side). With the aid of a work light I was able to work well into the night. I wasn't able to complete the framing but I was able to complete the downhill side, which seemed most important in terms of containing the gravel. My expectation was that the truck would dump a huge pile of gravel into the middle of the playscape area and then I would spread it around.

CIMG3738On Thursday the gravel truck showed up. When I told the driver "I'd like in the back yard" he looked at our brand new driveway and at his 25 tons of truck and gravel and said "you're going to have to sign a release before I go on your driveway". After some discussion we agreed that we didn't want to risk damaging the driveway and so he dumped the gravel in front of the house. I would have to move it into the backyard myself.

I called our builder to see if he could send over his Bobcat over to move the gravel. He said he'd see what he could do. As it happened he could do nothing as the Bobcat was at some job site way out of town. So I started moving gravel in the wheelbarrow.

This is a hard job. My goal for that week was to get enough gravel moved so that the playscape was at least safe enough for Dada to climb the ladder, use the slide, and swing and so that it looked a little more finished. I discovered that I can only move gravel for about an hour or so before my arms give out--that stuff is heavy. It takes about 5 barrow loads to move a ton.

Long story slightly less long: as of today the framing is not quite finished and there's still a few tons of gravel left to move. But the main play areas have the gravel they need to be safe.

Image008We went out and got a couple of Tonka trucks for playing in the gravel and on the Saturday before Memorial day we had a BBQ and my collegue Adrian brought his two kids, who are around Dada's age and they all had a good time playing on the playscape and in the gravel, so it definitely serves its purpose well.

One nice thing about the playscape is that it is well shaded by about 3:00 p.m., so even though it may be hot outside, it's a relatively cool place to play in the afternoon.

It definitely dresses up the back yard and removes most of the need to have grass or anything back there. In a way it's the ultimate xerescaping feature. We're seriously considering just leaving the rest of the back yard mulched since the dog's don't really need grass (and Forrest gets a rash from spending too much time on grass as it is).

Hopefully I can get the framing finished up this weekend. It's a challenge because I can only work on it when Dada is awake and when Dada is awake she wants to be with Daddy so it can take hours to actually complete the cuts on a timber and get it in place. Not to mention it's been beastly hot and I felt like Memorial Day weekend was a time for rest given how busy we'd been up 'til then. But I'm sure I'll get it take care of before too long. Moving gravel is good exercise....


At 5:40 PM, Blogger Lainee said...

My husband and I both loved reading this. It was the first thing to pop up when we searched for "fallzone". We had this exact same experience when we lived in Austin. We had almost the same playscape from playwood with the 30X20 fallzone. WHAT A JOB! They had to dump the gravel on our drive too. It still cracked!
It all worked out in the end and our boys LOVED it! When we moved last July there was a bidding war on our house and we were told- "Everyone just LOVES that there is a playscape!" So, here we go again. Our new playscape was orderd today and will be delivered in two weeks (give or take a few days)and my husband started preparing the site today! He learned his lesson on the first go around. Also we are calling landscapers to see if we can get a crew to move the gravel! : )

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Eliot Kimber said...

Yes, I still think about moving that gravel. I came very close to renting a Bobcat but then my pride took over.


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