Create your own pondside retreat

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

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How to expand a small garden

Vary elevations
A garden that contains changes in level appears larger than one that's flat. In the Van Siclens' garden, the main patio is raised a step above the rest of the garden. The distinction makes you feel like you've entered a significantly different space, according to Mulrooney.

Emphasize transitions
A post-and-beam portal marks the threshold between the main path and upper patio. Mulrooney wanted this structure to be substantial and weighty, yet simple and in scale with the space.

Use sheer fencing materials
Translucent reed fencing has a see-through quality that provides privacy while allowing some light in, creating a more expansive feel.

Design: Terry Mulrooney, Admiral Green Landscaping, San Francisco (415/750-9002)

VIEW FROM THE TOP

Terraced living spaces make the most of a sloped city lot

Even a hilly San Francisco backyard can provide a landscape for outdoor living. Bill and Linda Kingsbury's compact urban garden rises upward from the house, yet has patios on several levels to take advantage of the entire space.

Because of its incline, the couple's backyard was underused for years. So the Kingsburys worked with landscape designer Jean-Paul Bergez to transform the garden into a serene, naturalistic setting with multiple outdoor living areas.

Bergez took design cues from the existing topography as much as possible. "Part of a successful design is to draw people out into the space," he says.

Because the highest level had the largest flat area and offered a view of San Francisco Bay, Bergez designated that as the primary patio, creating a smaller seating area farther downslope and adding a deck at the yard's base.

Fond childhood memories of fishing with her father inspired Linda's wish for fish, trickling water, and a placid pond.

Bergez built a large pond into the top level, linking it to two lower ponds with a series of streams and waterfalls. Textural plants ― including grasses, phormium, and bamboo ― keep the garden looking good year-round. And since the home sits below the highest part of the property, Bergez incorporated low-growing, wispy plants over most of the slope so the back of the property is visible from the lowest point. "This makes the garden feel more expansive," he says. Larger accent plants cluster around the perimeter.

The water feature attracts wildlife, including doves and hummingbirds. But Linda especially loves the fish and the stream. "We can see the lowest waterfall from the kitchen, and it's something I look at every single day," she says.

3 great ideas from this garden

1. Make the most of elevation changes. Read the slope and use existing level areas. Bergez flattened as little of the landscape as possible, taking advantage of the slope to create streams.

2. Choose every element carefully. "In a small space, every imperfection is magnified," Bergez explains. "The success of a small space is truly in the details."

3. Brighten the landscape with plants. As the sun moves across the sky, different parts of the garden are shaded by trees and surrounding buildings. So Bergez used white, pink, and yellow blooms to show up better in the passing shadows.

Design: Jean-Paul Bergez, Bergez & Associates Landscape Design, San Carlos (650/591-5590).
Installation: Rock and Rose + Birkmyer, San Francisco (415/824-3458).
―Julie Chai

 

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