See how one garden, full of challenges, becomes a series of low-maintenance, party-ready rooms
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Before: A narrow city lot
A long narrow lot, some old bricks, a palm, and a pepper tree are what San Francisco–based garden designer Beth Mullins inherited.
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After: An entertainer's dream
Design: Beth Mullins, Growsgreen Landscape Design (growsgreen.com), San Francisco
When it comes to backyard landscaping, it’s all about working with you have. Mullins, of Growsgreen Landscape Design, mixed old brick with new, added horizontal fencing and a patch of grass, and used a muted planting palette to create an updated entertainer’s garden. She started by implementing a series of slight grade changes. The decision was both functional (it saves hauling tons of dirt) and design oriented (visitors feel that they’re stepping into a series of rooms). An existing canopy of a pepper tree and a palm were somewhat overwhelming, so Mullins strung cafe lights to create a lower, more intimate ceiling—much more inviting to visitors.
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The homeowner wanted just enough lawn “to go out and read a book,” says designer Mullins. This rectangular patch of tall fescue, perfect for somewhat shaded areas, does the job without becoming a watering or mowing headache.
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Bricks are not Mullins’s favorite medium, so it was a challenge for her to work the ones she found at the garden site into the design. “My fear was that they would look old fashioned,” she says. But rather than toss them, she combined them with new, whitewashed ones and laid them in crisp lines. She then chose a teak outdoor dining table to finish the look. It’s a great texture contrast with the brick, and it ties in with the fence. “Combining the bricks with the wooden furniture helped the whole look be more modern,” she says.
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Hiding in plain sight
Classic San Francisco problem: no garage. So Mullins designed custom ipe benches that double as storage—perfect for furniture covers, extra propane tanks, and gardening supplies.
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A simple planting palette of asparagus ferns, bamboo, ‘Silver Dragon’ Liriope, and a few Japanese maples creates a calming, unified look.