Create your own pondside retreat

See how 3 gardens use water to add tranquility to small spaces


Simple techniques make a city garden look and feel larger

Finding room for outdoor living is not always easy in a compact backyard. And the task is even more challenging when you're also trying to maintain privacy and create serenity in a bustling urban area. Still, landscape designer Terry Mulrooney managed to do it all in Don and Dianne Van Siclen's San Francisco garden.

Although the couple's lot measures just 17 by 20 feet, Mulrooney established a feeling of expansiveness by creating distinct living areas in two corners of the garden and planting the other two corners, then linking all areas with paths.

Dry-laid flagstones, tightly spaced, cover the upper patio as well as the main walkway leading to it, while an arc-shaped path of natural steppingstones connects the upper patio to a smaller one that is nearer the house and overlooks a pond.

Plants chosen for their varying foliage color, shape, and size ― including Acorus, dwarf English boxwood, and nandina ― repeat throughout the garden, providing a sense of continuity. Yet they contrast with one another just enough to give the impression of a great variety.

Mulrooney calls the design a "jungle-scape." His intention, he explains, "was to make something that looks and feels natural, to counter the manmade urban environment beyond the back fence."

A burbling fountain, surrounded by lush foliage, masks the sound of city noise. The garden "really is a retreat," says Dianne Van Siclen. "When you're out here you don't feel like you're in a tiny space."


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