Creating a private retreat

Santa Monica ― Elevation changes within a landscape can present both challenges and opportunities. Before Bill and Debbi Wisher remodeled their Southern California garden, the ground sloped down to the house from the garage at the back of their property. There were no plants to screen the yard from the street, and passersby could easily see over the 5-foot wall.

But landscape architect Pamela Palmer and landscape designer Miriam Rainville were able to completely transform the garden into what Palmer calls “a house within a garden,” a private backyard retreat suitable for entertaining or relaxing. They carved out a 16-by 27-foot rectangle of soil in the center of the existing lawn, then added retaining walls around three sides to maintain the original level.

On one side of the garden, the designers created an intimate flagstone terrace backed by a thick screen of podocarpus trees. On the street side is a lush perennial-and-shrub garden accented by a bubbling urn, with black bamboo and king palms behind it to provide privacy from the street.

Extending directly off the house at the same level as the lawn is a new dining area for small gatherings. “Now the garden works for one person or 50 people,” Palmer says. “It’s a great use of a small space,” noted a juror. “The sunken area makes the garden feel much more extensive.”

DESIGN: Artecho Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Venice, CA (310/399-4794)

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