Bold shapes and simple plantings help a small Palo Alto yard appear bigger

Julie Chai,  – January 25, 2007

Modest gardens can seem bigger if you eliminate clutter, limit materials, and highlight the details. That’s especially important if you live in a contemporary house on a small lot, as Norman Adams does in the Greenmeadow neighborhood of Palo Alto. Before Adams’s garden got a makeover, it was overgrown and had no distinct style. With the goal of creating a landscape that would complement the architecture of his newly renovated Eichler home, Adams turned to architect Mark Marcinik (who also designed the house remodel) to give shape to the garden.

Marcinik repeated the home’s clean lines by incorporating square pavers, rectangular garden beds, and a gridlike glass-and-metal fence. He worked with landscape designer and contractor Elliot Goliger to simplify the plant palette. “Because the materials are limited, each element stands out more,” Goliger says.

A “green driveway,” made of 1- by 1-foot pavers interplanted with tall fescue, extends across the front of the garage. The single expanse of lawn serves as both driveway and entry path. Carefully chosen elements ― including the pavers, pots, and sculptural pieces ― provide bold finishing touches.

Three great ideas from this garden

1. Create the illusion of space. The garden beds, pavers, and fence grid are set on a horizontal plane to make the front entry appear more spacious than it is. Horizontal lines make long, skinny spaces appear wider, Marcinik says. Also keep plants low ― avoid tall ones that create a tunnel effect.

2. Mass plants for impact. Too many kinds of plants make a small garden look busy. “Challenge yourself to work with blocks of color and form, and think of plants as groupings instead of singular elements,” Goliger says. “You can’t be afraid to put 40 of the same plant in a space if that’s what it calls for.”

3. Highlight hardscape. Surround pavers with grass or gravel for graphic appeal. “Hardscapes can be quite beautiful,” Marcinik says. “Think of them as horizontal paintings.”

Design: Mark Marcinik, Greenmeadow Architects, Palo Alto (650/856-8354); Elliot Goliger, Artisans Landscape, San Francisco (415/594-9090)

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