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Help with natural playarea/transitional space design

Burbank, CA

Hello, this is my first official post. I have learned so much from all of you and I am so glad I found Dave's. You give me so much to dream about!!

Here's my challenge. I have a tiny side yard (50' deep, 28' wide) for all to see on a semi-busy corner. The way the house is situated on the lot means this side yard is the main yard. The technical backyard is a covered patio and the front yard is just 12 feet deep. We planted a row of purple hopseed as a screen/backdrop for other plants as my husband doesn't want to replace the nasty chain link and the fence height standards are under revision with our city. The standards are murky for our type of lot and positioning so it's hard to get a straight answer out of the city even without the current crazy fence debate.

I want to make the yard a private, natural play space for my 2 kids (currently 2 and 3 1/2 years old) with plenty of groupings that inspire imagination and exploration. A weeping tree/shrub in the far right corner, tall grasses, a gravelly/sand area for digging, etc while leaving a nice grassy area for games, picnics, having friends over. I am new to gardening and have a lot of learning to do. I am just so overwhelmed and don't know where to start. I know I prefer 'clean' plants (not too flowery, non fruiting). I really like Michelle's style and drool over her pictures. I have had 2 consultants out who haven't been helpful and wasted money. I have been planting this and that but I really need a plan. Ideally, I'd like a plan that I could do in stages since a major yard renovation is not currently in the budget. I don't want to waste more growing time either. Any ideas? Any sites or direction to point me in for design ideas?

I am not sure if my zone is showing up so I live in Los Angeles, zone 10b (I think it's b).



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