How to Design a Party-Ready Outdoor Bar—Plus More Tips from Costa Mesa’s Favorite Garden Designer
In the garden with landscape pro Molly Wood, who shares her favorite plants of the moment and where she finds her inspiration.
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Welcome to “In the Garden,” our occasional series featuring landscape designers, urban farmers, and plant people we love, sharing their favorite projects and inspiration.
Molly Wood has had her hands in the Southern California dirt for over 20 years, designing some of the South Coast’s most photographed and admired outdoor living areas. Her shop, Molly Wood Gardens, is a must-visit for laid-back living essentials like ceramic planters and cool home textiles. The secrets to her sleek and functional garden rooms are to keep things simple, don’t over-plant, and lean in to white, pale gray, and sun-bleached color.
The outdoor bar and entertaining area that she designed for a client in Newport Beach, pictured at top, is one of her favorite recent projects. It has plenty of comfortable seating with one notable theme: There are no cushions to worry about getting dingy and faded, and therefore no cushions to worry about cleaning before you host a backyard party.
“It has a fully functional back bar with steel cabinets, a mini fridge, and an ice maker,” says Wood. “My client was the one who explained the concept of the back bar to me. The grill area is around the corner, but this built-in bar has everything else you need for entertaining outdoors. The bar stools are Fermob, and they’re comfortable without a cushion, which is key. Same with the chairs around the dining table. They’re made by Harbour and they’re foldable and lightweight but sturdy. All of this furniture is available to order through my store.”
Four well-spaced trees provide shade—no need for bulky, awkward umbrellas. And large concrete pavers and tile make for a smooth, no-fuss surface.
Here, Wood shares what’s inspiring her in the garden now.
Favorite Flower: Yellow Pincushion (Protea Leucospermum Cordifolium)
“It’s so quirky and playful with low water needs and lasts a really long time as a cut flower,” Wood says.
Favorite Plant: Ligularia Gigantea
AKA: Giant leopard plant. “It’s so lush and juicy. It’s a totally decadent plant for California because it’s pretty thirsty, but just one plant in a well-placed container can make a dramatic statement.”
If Wood has a signature look, it’s clean lines, pale colors, and well-designed hardscape and built-ins, like this small but functional outdoor kitchen shown below.
Favorite Garden Book:
“That’s a tough one. The book that pops to mind is The World of Garden Design, by Susan Dooley. I referred to it constantly when I was just starting out many years ago.”
Best Garden to Visit for Inspiration: Lotusland in Montecito
“For me, it [Lotusland] underscores the power of authentic individuality.”
Most Essential Garden Tool:
An earthworm composter. “Every garden begins with healthy soil.”
For more of Wood’s work, check out Molly Wood Garden Design.