I like the idea of ripping out the existing patio and installing a flagstone patio on the end with the most shade in the late afternoon (when temperatures are at their peak) and then building a large pergola with climbing vines to cover it for shade. I'd also add a fire pit, grill, and a stone path leading from the patio doors to that end, line the outer edge of the path with small evergreen shrubs interspersed with low growing perennials. I would also plant some semi-mature shade trees--that grow quickly. On the inside edge of the path closet to the house, I would plant a butterfly garden with birdbath and small bird feeder!
Doing this would free up one whole end of your yard for a play area/swing set (instead of two smaller areas). Add drought tolerant grass, and use the fence to grow flowering vines--trumpet, clematis, roses, etc. Mulch all of the gardens heavily. And don't forget to water! :o)
at 5:25 PM on Oct. 11, 2010