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Kids' Play Area

Kids will love this colorful climbing wall.

Homeowners Gloria and Micah Perez have two kids who need a fun place to play.

Figure A

They have a patio surrounded by lawn (figure A). They've made a lot of home improvements inside and now want to turn their attention to their backyard.

Figure B

First Meeting

Landscape Smart introduces the Perezes to landscape designer Dan Berger, who comes up with a low-cost, creative design for a play area (figure B). The plan includes removing an old shed and creating a large, mulch-filled box to cushion any falls. In that area, he'll add a plywood structure with a small climbing wall on one side and a cargo net on the other. He'll incorporate their plastic play set to save money and will landscape around the play area and along the fence to soften the look of the boxed area.

Figure C

Day One

Micah borrows a Bobcat from a friend, tears down the old metal shed and removes the concrete foundation underneath the shed. Then he and his friend build a simple, rectangular, wooden frame on four posts (figure C), which will be sunk into the ground for the bark mulch box.

Day Two

Contractors Fred Norgaard and Mike Meehan cut out 4' x 4' plywood walls for the climbing wall structure. Gloria drills holes along a grid on one piece of plywood for the hand-holds of the climbing wall. Then they build a frame for the structure using pressure-treated posts. Although these posts are treated with chemicals, the structure will be painted, which will protect the kids from the chemicals.

Figure D

To tie in the structure with the plastic play set, they hold one part of the play set--a climbing tube--against one plywood wall, trace around the tube and cut out a hole with a jigsaw. The plastic tunnel is screwed to the plywood wall (figure D), and the plywood walls are attached to the pressure-treated frame, completing the structure.

Back at the play area, Micah has dug post holes and sunk the posts of the wooded frame into them. He pours dry concrete mix into the holes, adds water and mixes the concrete in the hole with a stick. This method of mixing in the hole, rather than pre-mixing concrete, works fine when a structure doesn't have to hold much weight. The concrete is left to cure overnight.

Day Three

The bark box is lined with landscaping fabric, and bark mulch is spread along the bottom. After the climbing wall is placed in the bark mulch, the rest of the plastic play set is attached to it. The structure is primed and then painted in vivid colors to match the play set.

Figure E

For a soft, colorful platform, the top of the box is covered with floor adhesive and bright blue indoor/outdoor carpet, with the edges rolled under and stapled to the plywood. On top of the box is an extension, which is covered with polyester batting and then outdoor vinyl material, for cushioning (figure E).

Dan has chosen plants that will provide more privacy without having to build a physical barrier. Against the fence he adds tall, fast-growing hopseed bushes (Dodonaea viscosa) as background plants, with medium-height Indian hawthorn bushes in the middle, and low-growing liriope for accent plants.

Figure G

Next, T-nuts are hammered into the holes on the structure wall that Gloria had drilled, and hand-holds (bought online) are screwed in (figure G). Because extra holes were drilled, the arrangement of hand-holds can be changed later for variety. A cargo net ($130 from a commercial climbing-structure company) is attached to another side of the structure.

Figure J

The colorful, safe play structure is now complete and ready for play. Connecting it to the existing plastic play set and using inexpensive plywood and other materials kept the cost under $500. The new bark box will cushion the kids' falls from the climbing wall, and hardy, child-resistant plants frame the area and add privacy. The climbing-wall play set is a big hit with the kids (figure J).

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