Need Ideas for large yard with showpiece tree
mercuralis
May 10, 2012 in Design Dilemma
We're purchasing a home that has a huge backyard with a beautiful old oak tree as its centerpiece. I'm looking for ideas for a mostly low-maintenance landscape, keeping the tree as a focal point and turning this space into a place where we can entertain.

The previous owner put a deck around it, with a porch swing and hammock posts. I love the idea of the deck, but I'm concerned about the weight of the swing (I have some tree paranoia from incidents with our current home). I feel like the deck could be improved for entertaining (I'm thinking built-in benches on the corners and getting rid of the hammock posts?). I also like the idea of solar lights in the tree and around the base.

Our tastes run fairly eclectic (with a tendency toward the dramatic), and we prefer natural landscaping . Leaf buildup will always be a problem & the entire backyard is in at least partial shade. We also have a dog that will be enjoying the huge fenced property.

- Lot size is just under 3/4 of an acre, backyard is probably about half that.
- There is a second deck off the back of the house. For now we'll probably leave it as is, but would eventually like to extend it a bit, and add built in bench seating on the first level up from the ground.
- We love firepits, and are looking for a good place to put one. Obviously the decks are out.
- Seating and lighting are a must.
- I'd like to stain or paint the decks, but have no idea what color to go with that won't compete with the tree.
- If I had to estimate the tree's age, based on the size it seems to be well over 150 years old, if not much older. We plan to have a professional arborist come out and advise us on how to keep it healthy, and have any dead/dangerous branches trimmed. It doesn't overhang the house, though some branches cross the fenceline.

Ideas appreciated!
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mercuralis
Oh! Meant to mention: we're in north Florida, zone 8. This area is very densely grown. Everything in this town grows at a phenomenal rate and it's hard to tell who is winning: man or mother nature.
May 10, 2012 at 2:05am   
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mercuralis
Guess this got lost in the shuffle... Now I'm wondering if I should take out the deck and put something else around the tree. Landscaping really isn't my forte.
May 15, 2012 at 6:08pm   
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PRO
Barnhart Gallery
Hi mercuralis -- What an amazing tree! I agree on not wanting to swing from it -- we go on branch patrol after every wind storm and stock up on firewood, I never dared hang a tire swing for my son just in case a branch would go, and I don't even walk my dog in his usual area in a windstorm, seeing all of the branches that come down.

I wondered what those weird posts were; a hammock makes total sense, but if you don't see yourselves using it often, your idea for seating is more practical. I also like your lighting plan. I guess I'm not adding much, just think you're headed in the right direction, and wanted to bump up your post. Other thoughts, folks?
May 15, 2012 at 9:02pm   
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havuukk
Beautiful tree! How about a round deck with built in couches or daybeds
( all along the outer edges of deck - so if you sit on the couch you'd face tree trunk) have outdoor pillows made for comfortable seating. Do think about up-lighting the tree OR hang various pendant lights from different heights (an electrician can wire it and put the pendants on automatic timers). If your deck is large enough you can bring up chairs and tables for outdoor dinning. It will be so much fun for summer entertaining!!
May 15, 2012 at 10:02pm   
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houssaon
I'd get the arborist out as you planned. If you do take the deck down, don't change the grade by the tree. Building up the soil could damage and smother the tree.

You could stain the deck with a dark wood stain. I would do you other wood areas too. I think personally, I'd rather be close to the house looking at the tree than sitting under it when I'm entertaining (or being entertained.)
May 15, 2012 at 10:33pm     
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mercuralis
Thank you so much for your thoughts.

@barnhartgallery - I can't really see using a hammock in the way that the previous owner had it laid out. I think I'd rather see it strung up between a couple of shade trees in the yard, or change the angle of how they have it set up or something. Cutting off that corner seems slightly odd. My husband loves the idea of the hammock, though ... of course, he also wants to install a zipline... but he's goofy that way. :)

@havuuk - oh! A round deck sounds nice. The way that one is squared off is very odd, to me. I like the multiple levels on it, although it seems a little haphazard. I'm leaning more toward solar lanterns, I think, to hang from the tree. I love lanterns and I like the idea of them kind of emphasizing the different heights of the tree branches. Maybe a tiny bit of low ground lighting. Right now there is at least one flood light pointing up at the tree. I haven't had a chance to see it after dark yet, but it might change my mind when I do.

I'm with you houssaon, I think I'd rather be closer to the house and enjoying the view of the tree than directly under it. I've been thinking about doing a ground level patio type area closer to the house, where we could have a fire pit (safely away from trees and decks), but that would face the tree, and use that primarily for entertaining. Then maybe do the built in benches, on the deck around the tree, but use the deck more for potted plants, and maybe a quiet reading spot, rather than the main entertainment area.

As for the arborist, I'm really very paranoid about trees. They're inescapable where I live, it's rare to find a house that isn't surrounded by them. And I love them with all my heart. But they scare me. We currently rent (only for two more weeks, though!), and in the four years we've lived here, we had two large branches that hit our house. One because the tree was struck by lightning, and the branch literally shot through the roof. It left a seven foot long hole and nearly collapsed the ceiling on my stepson's head. The other just fell from it's own weight and did some damage to the back half of our garage. When we were house hunting I was very picky about houses that had trees overhanging them. We loved this house, and we're lucky that the huge oak in back doesn't overhang the house at all and is slightly downhill of it. There's a couple of small maples that are right up beside the house, but they don't seem to be any danger. There is one we'll have to have removed because it's too close to the foundation and the roots are threatening it. So when we bring someone out to look at removing that one, I plan to have them inspect the oak in back as well.
May 16, 2012 at 7:19am   
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