Magazine article Sunset

Small Miracles

Magazine article Sunset

Small Miracles

Article excerpt


The modern tract home is a marvel. Dream kitchens with cabinet space to spare, a full arsenal of appliances, and countertops big enough for the most ambitious meal preparations. Master suites luxurious enough to hide out in all weekend. Bathrooms and closets the size bedrooms used to be. Home offices.

There's a flip side, of course. Such amenities require floor space. To get it, these generously scaled homes hog most of their lots. What's left for the gardener is often minuscule: a mouse pad-size entry, a backyard only marginally bigger, and spaces no wider than hallways on either side of the house.

Older houses often share the small-yard dilemma with tract houses. As their owners remodel them by raising the roof a story or two and pushing out walls as far as municipal codes allow, little space is left over for outdoor living, play, or planting.

Garden designers have become masterful at making the most of such downsized spaces. On these pages are some of their design ideas and advice for making small gardens live large.


The sound of a waterfall gently echoes through the kitchen. Outside, a soft breeze rustles a forest of bright green leaves. No, this isn't a country garden in the Sierra foothills; it's Lisa and Tim Goodman's small garden retreat in Berkeley.

The Goodmans, who work together as landscape designers and contractors, created the Japanese-inspired garden with a peaceful-sounding rock waterfall and stream, a variety of subtle and interesting foliage plants, and two vine-covered arbors. (Before the remodel, their backyard consisted of a lawn and flowers - no seating, and poor access from the house. "We finally asked ourselves, 'Why have a garden if it doesn't invite you in to linger?'" says Lisa.)

To improve accessibility, the Goodmans installed French doors off the kitchen. They added plenty of seating in the garden, making it function well for entertaining. But the garden has also become an exciting draw for their school-age son, Cole, and his friends. "The rocks and water are an instant magical playground," says Tim.


* Use slim fences. Narrow slats make the wood fence visually recede.

* Create privacy with sound. The murmur of water masks noises.

* Grow a screen of green. Small, narrow landscape plants (azara, Japanese maple, weeping bamboo) and vine-covered arbors block out views of neighboring houses.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA Rooms with a view

Divide a backyard into different functional areas and provide lots of eye-arresting details - the way you would for an interior room - and the yard visually expands.

That's what happened when Phoenix landscape architect Greg Trutza reland-scaped Jackie Ellis and Kim Williamson's backyard. Before the remodel, their outdoor furnishings filled a narrow porch near the house, making the whole space appear cramped. Trutza added a new, larger patio and a curving path of aged brick, and moved the major seating area into the space that had formerly been the middle of the garden. The columns of a new ramada draw the eye upward, further opening up the space. Most of this garden is located on one side of the house. Still, it provides plenty of space for outdoor dining and entertaining.


* Grow plants vertically. Bougainvillea, trailing jasmine, and creeping fig don't use much floor space, but they nearly cover the walls in greenery.

* Invest in quality materials. The recycled brick in this patio dates from the turn of the century and is pricier than standard used brick. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.