Quick fixes: Three designers give a bare garden corner the Cinderella treatment
1. Tropical Glam
Create island magic
“I love tropical places,” says landscape designer Davis Dalbok, who cultivates his own jungle-inspired gardens in Fairfax, California, and on Hawaii’s Big Island.
A globe-trotter, Dalbok finds products and inspiration for his San Francisco store wherever he goes, but especially in places like Bali and Brazil. His patio features exotic furnishings, flamboyant plants, and the colors of a lush lagoon.
Choose island hues “Hot lime is the quintessential green, and aqua’s the color of the warmest tropical seas,” Dalbok says. “Together these two colors tell the whole story.” Use them in pillows and furnishings, then spice up the palette with orange and yellow flowers.
Pot up tropicals Cluster them in large decorative containers grouped around the patio's perimeter. Place big, bold-leaf plants (elephant’s ear) in back and shorter ones (croton) in front. Hide the fence with a row of lacy clumping bamboos.
Provide fragrance Dalbok cut bunches of yellow kahili ginger from his California garden to display in a large vase.
—Kathleen N. Brenzel
INFO Balinese recycled-teak lounge chair ($1,950), Balinese hand-painted cotton temple umbrellas ($55 each), Balinese lantern of hand-cut tin with lime-colored cotton insets ($375, also available in red, white, and orange), crackle-glazed yellow cache pot ($65), Chinese ceramic garden stool in turquoise ($550), and lime green pillows ($70–$116; from Living Green, San Francisco; 415/864-2251).
One-of-a-kind items include the 18th-century Spanish storage jar with original finish ($1,600) and Thai ceramic processional elephants ($3,500 for a pair; reproductions of 16th-century designs from the Sukhothai kilns) from Living Green (see above).
The striped pillows are the designer’s own.
2. Earthly Sophistication
Make comfort chic “I like clean lines balanced by earth-toned materials and organic shapes,” says landscape designer Jared Vermeil. The father of a toddler, Vermeil loves creating contemporary yet family-friendly gardens. As he says, “Modern can feel warm and comfortable too.”
Choose big furnishings Rather than using small-scale pieces for the compact patio, Vermeil opted for an angular concrete table, oversize chairs, and glossy bullet-shaped pots to create a sense of expansiveness. “These make it feel like a bigger room instead of a small space cluttered with furniture,” he says.
Use multipurpose plants Restios in dramatic pots are both striking and practical. “They have a Dr. Seuss-y, underwater, magical feel, and their fluffiness provides a sense of fun,” Vermeil says. “They’re also low-maintenance, they soften hard lines, and their structure looks good all year.”
INFO Wooden balls ($115 each) available from Insite Antiques & Design, San Francisco (415/922-5131). Lulu lounge chairs by Janus et Cie ($2,295 each), orange drum pots ($269 each), and Philosopher table ($1,859) from Flora Grubb Gardens; 415/626-7256. Orange-patterned Andrea cushions ($15 each) from Ikea (check website for locations). Vermeil Design, San Francisco.
3. Eclectic Salvage
Revive funky junk Every garden is an art project to Shirley Watts, an artist and landscape designer.
“I can never bring myself to use something right off the shelf,” she says. To dress her version of the patio, Watts brought in discarded treasures given a radical revamp, including a “street find” couch and inexpensive plastic pots. The result: a bargain-hunter’s dream.
Create a picture Repurposed billboards make eye-catching artwork. To display this salvaged movie billboard, Watts built a simple wooden frame and slipped it over hooks screwed into the fence.
Paint the containers To make an old iron urn and inexpensive white plastic pots look chic, Watts painted them with turquoise blue latex paint. She filled the containers with Agave ‘Mediopicta Alba’ and pink ivy geraniums.
Raise the pots Chunky plant stands of reclaimed redwood enhance the patio’s roomlike appeal.
—Lauren Bonar Swezey
INFO Plastic pots (left and middle; painted turquoise by designer; similar items available for $25–$40) from the Home Depot (check website for locations). Turquoise is Saxton (#B39-5) from Ace Paint (check Ace Hardware’s website for locations). Cast-iron urn (right; also painted by designer; #C12; $180) from AW Pottery USA, Oakland; 510/533-3900. Shirley Alexandra Watts Garden Design and Installation, Alameda, CA; 510/521-5223.