Magazine article Sunset

Small-Garden Secrets

Magazine article Sunset

Small-Garden Secrets

Article excerpt

A tiny urban backyard finds creative uses for space and materials

OPEN AREAS and intimate nooks: That was what landscape architect Tomi Kobara wanted from a makeover of her Oakland garden. Part of the challenge of the transformation was the backyard's tiny size-barely more than 1,500 square feet. As a wise first step, she created an overall plan including structure, flow, and focal points; from there, the garden evolved. "Some areas I completed right away, others developed later," Kobara explains.

When she bought her property 6V2 years ago, a shed that served as a studio sat in the far corner of the wedge-shaped backyard. In front of it lay a concrete patio surrounded by a large lawn. Kobara wanted to further define the space but preserve play areas for her 8-year-old daughter, Izumi.

She began by creating a private sanctuary at the back of the property, off the existing studio. She also cut the lawn down to roughly half its original size, leaving just enough to accommodate family picnics and backyard play. The swath of green sets off the surrounding richly textured beds filled with desert spoon, euphorbias, honey bush, salvias, sedum, yucca, and a variety of other colorful perennials.

Kobara then analyzed which areas still weren't working. "If you pay attention and are patient, you get a sense for what needs to happen next," she says. The concrete pad formed a useful outdoor patio, but Kobara realized it needed more color and warmth, so she tore out the concrete and replaced it with recycled brick set in sand. Blue-green pots on the patio provide a cool counterpoint to a red trellis on the shed wall. A raised vegetable bed spans the outside edge of the brick patio.

Sustainability is a theme in Kobara's garden. Much of the material is recycled, which has led to some happy surprises. When a neighbor offered her an old playhouse, Kobara dismantled it and carried it wall by wall down the street to her backyard. The playhouse inspired her to create a secret garden near the side of the home, where she put down pieces of her former concrete driveway as steppingstones. 'The more we reuse and recycle, the fewer resources we deplete, including fuel to transport the goods," she explains.

Now complete, Kobara's garden works perfectly for her family. "On the lawn, we have picnics, play catch, or set up the hose with a whirling sprinkler for Izumi and her friends," Kobara says. …

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