Small-yard secrets

A tiny urban backyard finds creative uses for space and materials

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Tips for designing a small space

Locate living areas all over the lot ― in side yards and shaded corners, as well as sunny open spaces. Tomi Kobara's garden, for instance, utilizes not only a deck off the house but also four other areas for outdoor living, shown on the plan: (A) side yard with playhouse; (B) lawn for lounging and games; (C) large patio; (D) private patio and workspace.

Create garden rooms Determine what kinds of living spaces you need and will really use. Then create garden rooms to suit the various functions. Separate the areas with foliage or low fences, or simply vary paving materials to indicate the different spaces.

Integrate the rooms Connect living spaces and create flow through the garden with paths and steppingstones.

Use found objects as art Even the most utilitarian items can give a garden personality. For instance, old San Francisco Water Department cistern covers ― which Kobara set in the ground among the recycled bricks ― become art underfoot on the patio.

Design: Tomi Kobara Landscape Architect, Oakland (

Resources: Recycled brick from This and That architectural salvage yard in San Pablo, CA (510/232-1273). Potting table from Urban Ore, Berkeley (510/841-7283). Metal rack from Rockridge Rags, Oakland (510/655-2289).

More: Great garden sheds and cottages



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