See how great shapes and native plants create a haven for all seasons

Cozy, curvy patio
Norm Plate
Warm fires make the courtyard an ideal winter hangout. To save space, the pizza oven is stacked over the fireplace.

A hundred years ago in Tucson’s Presidio neighborhood, it was common to smell mesquite smoke wafting over a courtyard wall on winter evenings.

This outdoor living nook was designed as a modern version of that classic barrio garden, complete with a mesquite-burning fireplace.

When the owners of this Sonoran-style adobe house first contacted landscape designer Jim Pollack about their courtyard, he was a bit taken aback by their wish list.

The elements in question included a fireplace, seating area, spa, outdoor kitchen, and wood-fired oven ― all of which had to fit in a space only 20 feet long by 20 feet wide.

“I told them, ‘This is going to take me a while,’ ” Pollack says. “But once I began drawing it up, the elements fit into place perfectly.”

To keep the design simple and uncluttered, Pollack limited construction materials to mostly adobe block and concrete, and created a curvilinear layout that hugs the courtyard walls.

Concrete-capped adobe forms a continuous connection from the seating area to the kitchen, the kitchen to the fireplace, and the fireplace to the spa. Stained concrete covers most of the floor.

Installing some elements proved especially challenging. To get the pizza oven into the courtyard, contractor Roxanne Dobosz had to muscle sections of it through a small garage door. She also created extra drainage to ensure that the small patio didn’t fill up like a fish tank during monsoon thunderstorms.

Thanks to its indoor-outdoor connection and wealth of amenities, the courtyard has become a much-used addition to the home.

Next: 3 great ideas from this garden 


Get curvaceous

One of the best looks for a square space is a set of circles and curves.

Here, a graceful pie-shaped patio roof hovers above the courtyard like a piece of art. The sinuous shapes are repeated in the seat walls, fireplace, and outdoor kitchen.

Incorporate local materials

Exposed adobe seat walls (capped with concrete for durability) and a herringbone-patterned saguaro-rib patio ceiling are a nod to the neighborhood’s heritage.

Use canyon natives

Plants often have a difficult time adapting to courtyard conditions because the light alternates between sun and shade.

Pollack chose canyon natives, such as little leaf ash ( Fraxinus greggii), autumn sage ( Salvia greggii), and golden columbine ( Aquilegia chrysantha), that are well suited to changing light.

Design: Jim Pollack Design, Washington, D.C. (202/460-9081).



Installation: Jumping Daisies, Tucson (520/323-2555).



Wood-fired oven: Wildwood Ovens, Los Angeles (800/579-2797).