Free plan: A garden of outdoor rooms

A designer shares her secrets for creating a cool backyard getaway

Made in the shade

Marion Brenner

Made in the shade

When your garden's got a cool out-door dining room, a shaded retreat, and a lush entertainment courtyard, taking a summer vacation can be as simple as stepping out your own back door.

That's the idea behind landscape designer Patricia Wagner's plot in San Leandro, California. "I was asking a lot of my garden," says Wagner, who wanted outdoor spots to work, relax, and host intimate dinners as well as large, lively parties. Her garden took just three weeks from design to completion ― "I knew what I needed," she says ― and she fit everything in by dividing her 1,500-square-foot backyard into a series of rooms that flow easily into one another.

Plant green walls

Marion Brenner

Plant green walls

To maintain a feeling of openness in the compact space, Wagner chose understated furniture. At a garage sale, she found a delicate-looking metal dining set that wouldn't impede garden views, then topped the table with glass. "You can look through the tabletop and furniture and see the garden beyond," Wagner says.

The dining area's simple candle chandelier (Wagner found hers at Ikea) is more functional than pillar candles.

Pittosporum tenuifolium  ‘Silver Sheen’ hedges define the outdoor dining/work space. Wisteria vines cover the arbor. 

Brighten with whites

Marion Brenner

Brighten with whites

White ‘Iceberg’ roses (left) and plants with white-and-green foliage stand out against the greenery. 

Add water music

Marion Brenner

Add water music

A two-tiered fountain burbles in the center of the party patio. Geranium incanum  ‘Sugar Plum’ grows at its base. 

Use your corners

Marion Brenner

Use your corners

To furnish a retreat where she and husband Elliot relax, Wagner set out a pair of redwood Adirondack chairs made by her brother-in-law. Dry-laid flagstones interplanted with lime green Scotch moss add to the serene feel.

"This is our no-cell-phone zone," Wagner says.  

Shade loving plant-picks

Marion Brenner

Shade-loving plants: 1 - 5

1.  Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'  A slow-growing deciduous tree, 
to 15 feet tall; leaves are deeply cut. Filtered shade is best; full sun satisfactory except in hottest climates.

2.  Begonia semperflorens  Low-growing bedding plants (up to a foot tall) pump out flowers in white and shades of red from spring through fall (winter annual in hottest climates). Filtered sun or bright 
indirect light.

3. Camellia japonica 'Nuccio’s Gem' White flowers and evergreen leaves on a shrub that grows to 12 feet tall and sometimes more. Filtered light.

4. Dogwood (Cornus alba 'Elegantissima') Deciduous shrub reaching 10 feet tall and wide with red stems, green-and-white foliage, and small, fragrant, creamy white flowers in spring. Light shade.

5. Variegated Nemesia caerulea (pictured) Compact mild-climate perennial reaches 2 feet tall ― perfect for a pot. Rich green leaves with white edges; delicate lavender-pink blooms. Part shade.

 

Shade-loving plant picks

Shade-loving plants: 6

6. Oakleaf hydrangea A slow-growing shrub, 6 to 8 feet tall, with white flowers in late spring and summer, and deeply lobed green leaves that turn bronze or crimson in fall. Part shade in hottest climates.

Shade-loving plant picks: 7 & 8

Marion Brenner

Shade-loving plants: 7 & 8

7. Rhododendron 'Anna H. Hall' Pink-tinged white flowers on an evergreen shrub that grows 3 to 6 feet tall. Best in filtered sun, but can take more sun where summers are foggy.

8. Western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) An upright shrub, native to the mountains and foothills
of California and Oregon. Grows 6 to 10 feet tall; fragrant, funnel-like blooms range from white to pinkish white. Filtered light. 

The plan

Damien Scogin

The plan

1. Patio with decomposed granite underfoot, a cooling fountain, a stacked-stone seating wall, and plenty of room for large gatherings.

2. Shaded retreat for two beneath tall cedar trees.

3. Outdoor dining and work area. 

"I created spaces based on how we live and what we need from the garden," says Wagner. "To quote Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, 'If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.' "

Design  Patricia Wagner Garden Design, San Leandro, CA (510/638-6681)  

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