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Debra’s Backyard Play Space


I I have known Debra since we both rented apartments in the same neighborhood in the city of Toronto. Our daughters became best friends when they joined my first outdoor playgroup. (This was also the start of

Today we both live in houses in a different area in the city and Debra has created quite a haven for both kids and adults. Debra also runs an outdoor playgroup in a neighborhood called The Beach.

How did you plan your backyard?
Well we looked at what we had, which is a longish rectangle shaped backyard. We talked about what we wanted; I wanted the whole backyard to be food growing. My partner wanted it to be all grass and the kids wanted monkey bars, a swing, a clubhouse and a climbing wall. So we talked about how we could get a little bit of everyone's idea in.

I had to settle for a small garden with the hopes of doing vertical gardening up the fence. The kids got their clubhouse and climbing wall but no monkey bars and no swing - they had to settle for a rope ladder instead. My partner got some grass and we all got a deck.


How did you make this happen?
We had to decide where everything would go - this was based mostly in sunlight options and building codes. The garden got the best sunlight spot and we built the deck far away from the house so it would catch the evening sun. The playhouse was built as high as we could build it without getting a building permit and we put the clubhouse underneath.

I dug out the garden and laid the sod and we took out the old rotting decks ourselves. We hired contractors to build the deck and playhouse.


How do your kids use it?
They use the upper deck, climbing wall and the rope ladder. Often the rope ladder gets turned into a swing. They hate the clubhouse and never use it.

They love digging in the garden and harvesting the herbs to be "food" in their games.

Are you happy with the results?
Yes and no.  I like the garden but am still figuring out how to keep the wildlife at bay. It's depressing to put all that work in and have something else eat the harvest! I wanted to have a vertical garden up the fence and that is still a work in progress.

The deck is in the right position and we use it a whole lot. The upper deck, climbing wall and rope ladder are all awesome but the clubhouse is a waste of space for us. I wanted to make it waterproof but was told that it was cost prohibitive so I settled for it just to be open - but the kids say its "yucky" and full of bugs and too dark. (Even with the solar lights) I would have liked to have a better design for that. Either I should of stuck to my guns to make it waterproof or done something more open. We are in talks with the kids about what they want.

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Kari Svenneby is the founder of

Librarian, Chef, Outdoor play advocate, nature lover, biker, skier,
gardener, entrepreneur and speaker.

She and have been featured for her work on getting kids and adults outside in many publications. The list includes the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Wildlife Federation, Norwegian Public Radio, Backpacker Magazine, Kaboom, and as an early collaborator with Children and Nature Network.

Read Kari's bio

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