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All for Family Fun
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
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A West Des Moines family makes the most of its backyard space.

Ask Connie and Lon Smallridge. You don’t need multiple acres of land and lots of amenities to create a space for the kids and grandkids to gather and have a fun time.

The walkway on brick pavers and lined with ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums from their pleasant front yard leads to their welcoming backyard. With a lovely hardscape plan by RJ Lawn & Landscape of Waukee and Connie’s beautiful plantings, the spot is a drawing card for five busy grandchildren and their parents. The couple has two daughters; one family lives nearby in West Des Moines and the other in Denver. The stair-step grandchildren, four girls and one boy, love to spend time together.

Connie and Lon moved to central Iowa from Ohio in 1978. They first lived in Ankeny and moved to West Des Moines in 1985. “We had a pool in Ohio, so when we saw this house with one, we felt we had found a good spot,” Lon says. It had the standard wooden deck, concrete patio, and railroad ties, all popular in their time.

An updated look

The couple wanted a more finished look a few years ago and met representatives from RJ Lawn & Landscape at the annual Home & Garden Show. They worked with landscape designer Paul Bradford, who explains, “We knew we could add nice materials and make the whole yard much more pleasing.” The veteran designer has been in the business for nearly 34 years.

He used Belgard pavers from Rhino Materials in West Des Moines. He created wide stone steps down from the kitchen/sunroom onto the patio. “Rich colors in the concrete pavers add visual interest to the whole area,” he explains.

Bradford set the natural scene in the center with a focal-point leaf in a medallion. It wasn’t easy to create that spot, he knows, but the entire team at RJ Lawn & Landscape put in the extra effort and is proud of the wonderful results.

Groups of five

Lon is the swimmer in the Smallridge household, and the grandkids are little fish. Connie, however, enjoys the early morning quiet of the scene and the hammock beyond the pool.

Unlike he has done for other project designs, Bradford didn’t do a detailed planting plan for this space. “Connie loves to garden, and she wanted to do her own thing.”

“I come by it naturally—my dad was in the landscaping business. So I picked up my love of gardening from him,” she says.

All around the yard, visitors can pick up on her mantra. With five grandchildren, she does her plantings in groups of five—five hydrangeas, five boxwoods, five begonias, five ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grasses swaying in the breeze. Flowering crabapple trees in the corners of the pool area act as a canopy.

Because of the asymmetrical pool shape, Bradford’s overall design gives off a circular vibe in the setting of the pavers and the curve of a seating/retaining wall. That wall took on a whole new purpose when the grandchildren visited their grandparents during the late summer.

Connie says, “I told Lily, the oldest one, to take the others outside to eat lunch. She came up with the idea to put five small resin Adirondack chairs up to the wall and use it as a table or eating bar. It was genius, and it works beautifully. I think homes with younger children and grandchildren should have such a wall for that purpose. It’s a great idea.”

‘The island’

Nearby the pool area is a spot that Connie and Lon refer to as “the island.” It’s a garden that’s a work in progress. There are hostas, phlox, and hydrangeas. New this season was a grape arbor, and Bradford has some ideas for adding more detail to the space. Two lamp posts with hanging pots of fuchsia geraniums lead into the area.

Tall containers of fuchsia ‘Mandevilla’ add height to the backyard setting, and yellow and fuchsia calibrachoa and lots of coreopsis add colorful detail. For small garden artwork here and there, Lon and Connie show their love for hot air balloons. A bubbler fountain puts out a soothing sound, and birdhouses and wind chimes reinforce the garden feel.

Lon says the whole area is now much easier to maintain and looks so much nicer. “It’s a perfect place to entertain our family and friends. We used to have neighbors over for ‘tea’—OK, beer—at 5 o’clock a lot, but now it’s more for grandkids.”

It’s safe to say that Lily, 10; Jude, 9; Anna, 7; and twins Ella and Chloe, 5, like that a lot.


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