Is your yard or garden small on space? Get big ideas for making the most out of your outdoor sanctuary
Baylor Chapman loves living and working in San Francisco’s Mission District. But at the end of the day, she wants a retreat
from the surrounding busy-ness, so she transformed her deck into a plant-filled outdoor room. “My garden softens some of the
urbanness of my neighborhood—it’s a little natural oasis off the street.” And the outfitted patio almost doubles the living
space of Baylor’s 800-square-foot loft, so she’s got even more room to cook, dine, and entertain. The overall look is artistically
eclectic and highly personal, as she acquired and then personalized much of her furniture and pots, which primarily came from
salvage yards, flea markets, friends, and even neighborhood streets.
More: How to create an oasis in a small urban yard
After gophers destroyed their backyard, Evelyn Huang and Jack Mangan of Pleasant Hill, California, set out to redo the scruffy
plot. Topping their wish list: areas for dining, relaxing, and growing edibles, and all using easy-care, low-water plants.
Landscape architect Joseph Huettl (huettldesign.com) gave them that and more, turning the small yard into the ultimate outdoor living space. Now the two spend much of their time
here. And for some mysterious reason, says Evelyn, “The gophers haven’t come back!”
More: How to create 4 outdoor rooms in a small backyard
It’s hard enough to plan a garden on your own, let alone plan one on a budget. But leave it to a Hollywood production supervisor
to pull it together. Di Zock (dizockgardens.com) designed her backyard for the house that she rents in Venice, California. At a cost of less than $2,800, she created three
outdoor rooms: a living area, a shed office, and a dining space. Her tools: paint, slipcovers, and patience. Creating a garden
on a budget may take longer than a week or two; you have to shop close-out sales and haunt thrift stores. “But relying on
imagination more than dollars has its benefits,” Di says. The result is more original and more personal. And career changing—Di
left the film biz for garden design.
More: Chic backyard on a shoestring
You don’t have to face the ocean to create a coastal vibe. Bob and Cary Woll’s backyard in Los Osos, California, is proof:
Even though the deck doesn’t share the bay and dune views that the front of the house has, the firepit in the corner, reminiscent
of beach campfires, echoes the seaside boardwalk ambience, as does the billowy landscaping that evokes grass-covered sand
dunes. But the deck isn’t just about a romantic mood—function was built into every inch. The small space, designed by Jeffrey
Gordon Smith (jgsdesigns.com), is as inviting for two as it is for a crowd; the Wolls have entertained as many as two dozen guests, comfortably, on the
More: 21 idea-filled outdoor dining rooms
Conor Fitzpatrick, who grew up eating fresh from the garden in his native Ireland, didn’t let city life dissuade him from
turning his Los Angeles backyard into his own private farmers’ market. Among other things, he grows tomatoes, peppers, eggplant,
and figs. “There’s no better fruits and vegetables than from your own garden,” Conor says. He’s so passionate about getting
people to grow their own organic food that he created MinifarmBox (minifarmbox.com), a line of easy-to-assemble raised-bed kits.
More: How to create a foodie's backyard
By turning a sloped plot into a modern play den, a designer created usable family space where none existed before. In this
Greenbrae, California, front yard, Ive Haugeland (shadesofgreenla.com) placed concrete planters along the sidewalk, and filled them with ‘Firebird’ phormiums to create friendly screening without
totally blocking off the yard. The raised patio is edged with concrete to help level the area and create a flat lawn and distinct
spots for the family to dine, entertain, and play.
More: Our 2010-2011 Dream Garden Awards
Walking into the 1920s West Hollywood bungalow owned by Heather Taylor and Alex de Cordoba, who co-own an art gallery (taylordecordoba.com), you’re entering a space filled not with Jazz Age glamour or Craftsman charm, but with the spirit of an era not universally
loved by those who lived through it: the 1970s. Maybe it helps that the 30-something couple view those years with the affectionate
nostalgia of early childhood. In the spirit of Earth Day, celebrated for the first time in 1970, old materials find new use
in the backyard. The deck was constructed from bits and pieces left behind by the house’s previous owners, and the farmhouse
table and the bench were made from salvaged scaffolding—demonstrating how what’s old can look just as fresh today.
More: 8 ways to embrace '70s style at home
Packed with low-care plants, this Malibu, California, garden designed by Heather Lenkin (lenkindesign.com) practically takes care of itself—making it the perfect spot to relax and unwind. The deck is made of sustainable ipe wood
that has weathered to a soft gray. Wide bowls filled with succulents sit on low pedestals that are the perfect height for
viewing from lounge chairs. Drought-tolerant plants with bold textures and dramatic colors need only yearly trimming and occasional
watering—which leaves plenty of time to kick back in comfort and bask in the sun.
More: 5 dream vacations in your own backyard
This tiny San Francisco backyard designed by Vera Gates (arterrallp.com) appears larger than its 1,000 square feet. Alternating bands of stone paving and pebbles give the ground rhythm and movement,
while polished steel balls reflect light and clouds, creating the illusion of space. It’s low maintenance but high style—a
garden to live in but not take care of.
More: Our 2010-2011 Dream Garden Awards
Originally, this house was less than welcoming. Huge pines hid the Del Mar, California, front door, and getting from the driveway
to the entry was a pain—after parking, you had to return to the sidewalk, skirt a sea of juniper, and climb a steep staircase.
Landscape designer Kendra Berger (revivelandscapedesign.com) removed the pines and replaced the junipers with a garden of carex, geranium, and bright Scotch moss; a row of low-growing
purple phormium and a single showy cordyline punctuate the palette of lime and dark greens. And now, broad stairs lead hospitably
from the driveway straight to the front door.
More: See this yard's before and after
A do-it-yourself project that begins with weekend after weekend of schlepping dirt from shovel to wheelbarrow to truck bed
to yard, and includes heavy rains, sump pumps, and a rotary tiller, is often a tale of marital strife. But for Lisa Wong Jackson
and Nick Jackson, of Berkeley, California, who tackled both their front and backyard, it was a labor of love. “It rained.
It stormed. We were crying,” says Lisa who, with her husband, began the yearlong garden project. “But [now] we have this personal
connection to the landscape and our home.”
As the garden grew, so did their family: Lisa and Nick had a son, Lucas. “It’s fun to sit in our garden and look at stuff we planted together,” says Nick. “That’s something I want Lucas to be into too—seeing where his food comes from.”
More: See the full DIY yard makeover
it’s hard to imagine sleeping indoors when you’ve got a bed in a spot like this. At Celia Tejada’s country retreat in Northern
California’s Lake County, which she co-owns with her brother, Ibo, and his wife, Nina, she has tried to recapture the rural
lifestyle of their tiny home village in Spain near Basque Country. An especially dreamy feature is this opulent iron-framed
bed and chair. Shaded by apple trees, they’re kept outside year-round and covered when not in use.
More: 8 ways to add Spanish flair to your home
The right wall makes all the difference. Before, with just bleak concrete blocks behind it, the pool in Mary and Paul Schweikher’s
Phoenix backyard felt hemmed in. Now, backed by the enveloping curves of a stone-filled wire-mesh wall designed by Christy
Ten Eyck (teneyckla.com), this part of the yard feels cozy. Yellow and gray shade sails overhead provide much-needed respite from sun, and Richard
Serra–esque steel planters balance the heft and drama of the river-rock wall. A generous sprinkling of plants adds softness.
More: See this yard's before and after
A garden should help you relax and reboot. That’s its proper purpose, according to the Japanese aesthetic called shibui. “We
all need a peaceful place away from the craziness, and there’s no better spot for that than in nature,” says designer André
Price Jackson (jackpricedesign.com), who embraces this philosophy—with a very West Coast spin—in his own Venice, California, garden. The plantings are spare,
paving is natural. The artwork is easy and inventive. But you don’t need to create a garden that looks Japanese to achieve
shibui’s effect. Just make its underlying design ideas your own.
More: 7 ways to design a garden of tranquility
Previously covered with lawn and lacking privacy, this West Hollywood front yard is now a livable space with creative screening.
Landscape architect Katherine Spitz (katherinespitzassociates.com) added thick panels of cranberry-hued glass and a lodgepole pine “fence,” both anchored in concrete, along with a photinia
hedge to create a sense of seclusion. Orange epidendrums add color below the red new photinia leaves, while silvery dymondia,
feathery Mexican weeping bamboo, and mounded pittosporum offer blocks of leafy texture.
More: 5 steps to a beautiful front yard
In the wine country of San Luis Obispo, CA, where the hills surrounding the rolling vineyards are golden much of the year,
homeowners Jim and Jamie deYong wanted a garden that mimics those sunny hues. They enlisted the help of designer Ryan Fortini
(fortinihome.com), who planted a half-dozen species of ornamental grasses in neat rows near the perimeter of the garden, tying it to neighboring
vineyards. In the front and back courtyards, carex and other short grasses continue the theme, while fiery foliage and flowering
plants such as Kniphofia add to the mood. It’s a simple formula that can produce striking results in any garden, even with
no vineyard nearby.
More: How to design a garden with fall color
Covered with decomposed granite and sloping awkwardly toward the rear of the property, this San Francisco backyard was no
place for a party. Owners Susan and Warren Byrne love to entertain, though, so landscape architect Jude Hellewell and landscape
designer Laura White (outerspacela.com) replaced the gravel with two levels of colored concrete. The Byrnes use the upper terrace mostly for dining and hanging
out; three steps down, a built-in bench invites guests to lounge around the firepit. A gappy ipe fence gives a sense of spaciousness
while preserving privacy. Low-care plants, such as autumn moor grass, Mexican weeping bamboo, and yucca, soften the angular
More: See this yard's before and after
When Ketzel Levine bought her North Portland bungalow, it had all the elements she hoped for—almost. “What I really wanted
was a backyard, and the house didn’t have one,” Ketzel says. So the journalist—you may know her from National Public Radio,
where she was called the Doyenne of Dirt—reinvented the front yard for relaxing, entertaining, and expressing her vivid personality.
After enclosing the yard with a mostly see-through fence, Ketzel created a playful garden packed with colorful artwork and
textural plants, a perfect escape from the busy street just steps away. “When I walk through the gate, I feel cosseted by
beauty,” she says.
More: Playful front-yard makeover
With no privacy, no personality, and—the biggest drawback of all—no place to sit, this Venice, California, side yard had little
to recommend it. Luckily for homeowners Amy Swift Crosby and Josh Crosby, a truckload of salvaged redwood came to the rescue.
Designer Steve Siegrist (stevesiegristdesign.com) used some of the boards as the backs and bottoms of cushion-topped, built-in seating; others he placed to add height to
the existing cement-block wall, and still others were turned into a sturdy dining table. What’s more, the aged redwood brought
with it the character the yard had been missing. With space to dine, gather, and play, the area is now the family’s favorite
hangout in the garden.
More: 7 ways to transform a small backyard
Recycled materials and colorful, graphic plants add whimsical punch to Bob Buchbinder and Lynn Pearson’s San Francisco backyard.
In the center, landscape designers James Pettigrew and Sean Stout (organicmechanics.us) created a one-of-a-kind patio that’s 16 feet in diameter and made of granite remnants—mostly dumpster finds—mixed with sewer
caps and bricks. In its center is a wood-burning firepit fashioned from an old metal wok that sits on a steel base that Bob
made. From the patio, gently curving paths lead to a secluded bench, a restored shed-turned-backyard-getaway, and a dining
area covered with a living roof of passion vines. Throughout, the lush plants need little care or water but look good year-round.
More: 7 ways to design a sustainable garden
Most people looking for wild animals go on a hike or hit up a zoo. Not Lisa Albert, who wanted to bring them directly to her
Portland-area garden, so she transformed her landscape, and learned that drawing them in was simply a matter of being a good
host. Lisa rebuilt her garden to include a stacked rock wall (critters like to hide in the crevices), a pond, and lots of
plants that provide nectar, seed, and fruit. She’s since hosted three dozen kinds of birds, butterflies, bees, lacewings,
More: How to create a nature lover's backyard
Bold, sculptural forms combined with a range of textures and colors can make a garden that’s based on foliage just as interesting
and inventive as one that’s filled with flowers. Here, in garden designer Ivette Soler’s Los Angeles front yard, she includes
not just showy growers like giant rosettes of echeveria, toothed aloe, and swordlike phormium, she also includes edibles—plants
that are often confined to backyards. Ivette tucks veggies and herbs including ‘Red Rubin’ basil, wispy fennel, coarse-leaved
artichokes, and ‘Tricolor’ sage into her beds. She uses them just like any other landscape plants—for their textures, colors,
and shapes—proving that small kitchen gardens can be both pretty and productive.
More: 7 edible garden design ideas