Magazine article Sunset

Garden Parties

Magazine article Sunset

Garden Parties

Article excerpt


We challenged five garden-design teams to create scaled-down outdoor retreats-with ideas for any yard.

If we've proved anything with our Small Space, Big Dreams column, it's that downsizing is not a downgrade. For our 17th annual Celebration Weekend open house in June, we took that theme outdoors. Five design teams transformed 25- by 25-foot plots into space-smart outdoor retreats where the only thing missing is a cold drink.



For gardeners across the West, the word "drought" can be a buzzkillbut not for Sunset editors Johanna Silver and Lauren Hoang. "A low-water garden doesn't have to look stark and xeric, " Silver says. Their Palm Springs-inspired space proves it.

SMALL-SPACE STRATEGY Section off portions of a tiny garden. "It can actually make it feel bigger and create more usable space," Silver says. A large tiled wall separates the outdoor shower, right, from the seating area, above, giving each space the feeling of a distinct room.

DESIGNER SECRET Draw on color and water to make a hot spot seem cool. Hoang and Silver painted the low walls Kelly-Moore Ivory Mist (KM4926-1), chose gray-green plants, and used frost-colored tiles for the shower. "The outdoor shower doesn't need to be on to be refreshing-it's the sense of water that's essential," Hoang says.

GARDEN hack Build a platform. "The act of taking a step up gives you the illusion of being in a different place," Silver says. Their 12-inch-high platform laid with cut (read: (ess expensive) stone, above, sets apart the hanging chair and offers ad hoc seating for a crowd.


Lauren Hoang, Sunset garden design assistant, and Johanna Silver, associate garden editor

Yuccas in bowls mimic water fountains.

Hanging seating creates a casual vibe.

Inexpensive painted breezeblock adds a graphic touch.



Is it a garden if there aren't many plants? Yes, says landscape designer Beth Mullins, who turned her plot into a minimalist escape that's perfect for city living.

SMALL-SPACE STRATEGY Use furniture to carve up space outdoors. Although the garden has a small footprint, Mullins packed it with multiple destinations: a table for eating alfresco, an oversize L-shaped bench for lounging, and a fire feature, left, with a heated bench for chilly nights.

HARDSCAPE M.O. "My obsession is contrasting different textures," Mullins says. She blanketed the ground in crushed oyster shells for a bit of shine. That played off the rustic wood of the bench and planters, which in turn sets off the smooth concrete tabletop. The interplay of textures "emphasizes what's unique about each of them," Mullins says.

PLANTING APPROACH Envisioning this space as a garden in a city, Mullins wanted to put something green overhead. It's minimaljust two potted Swan Hill olive trees-but bringing the canopy closer to the scale of a human makes an urban space friendlier.

DESIGNER SECRET Pay attention to backgrounds. Mullins put a planter in the backside of the bench and filled it with Pittosporum tenuifolium, both to be a soft shield for anyone who sits there-and to add silver sheen to the space.


Beth Mullins, Growsgreen Landscape Design;

Stacked wood becomes quiet art.

An ombre paint job softens the lines of the olive trees' geometric planters.

Dudteya succulents pick up on the silver and gray colors in the furnishings.



Any lone lawn can be transformed into a wild-around-the-edges woods. Landscape designer and contractor Kasorn Piamsukon shows how to fast-track a mature, natural look.

PLANTING APPROACH Grasslike Carex, conifers, ferns, and heucheras are exactly what you'd see in the Sierra Nevada. Here, they're dispersed to mimic the randomness of a forest floor. "It's also important to use a lot of small plants in a woodland garden," says Piamsukon. …

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