In not-so-big spaces, every detail counts. Get inspired by these creative small yard makeovers
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Before: San Francisco 1,000 sq. ft. slope
Covered with decomposed granite and sloping awkwardly toward the rear of the property, this small backyard was no place for a party.
Owners Susan and Warren Byrne love to entertain, though, so landscape architect Jude Hellewell and landscape designer Laura White created a split-level living space complete with built-in seating and a peekaboo fence.
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After: San Francisco split-level party
The gravel was replaced with two levels of colored concrete. The Byrnes use the upper terrace mostly for dining and hanging out; three steps down, a built-in bench invites guests to lounge around the firepit.
A gappy ipe fence gives a sense of spaciousness while preserving privacy. Low care plants, such as autumn moor grass, Mexican weeping bamboo, and yucca, soften the angular design. Now, Susan says, “People can’t get enough of our backyard. All our guests want to go out there.”
Design by: Outer Space Landscape Architecture, San Francisco,
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Before: Phoenix 1,600 sq. ft. sun-drenched paved space
Surrounded by bleak concrete blocks, the pool in Mary and Paul Schweikher’s backyard felt hemmed in. Designer Christy Ten Eyck transformed the space with a new rock wall, raised planters, sculptural planters, and less-severe paving.
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After: Phoenix cozy poolside lounge
Now, backed by the enveloping curves of a stone-filled wire-mesh wall, this part of the yard feels cozy. The new rock wall was installed in front of the old wall. The space created between the two conceals pool equipment and a new outdoor shower. Yellow and gray shade sails overhead provide much-needed respite from sun, and raised planting beds, made of steel, balance the heft and drama of the river-rock wall. A generous sprinkling of lush plants adds softness. Because of the intense sun, these plants were chosen for endurance as much as beauty: yellow-flowered Euphorbia rigida, verbena, and, along the wall, candelilla.
Design by: Christy Ten Eyck, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Phoenix,
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Before: 400 sq. ft. Portland alley
Long and skinny, this paved side yard looked like a bowling alley. That was, however, before someone took a jackhammer to it. Layered plantings, an irregular path, and giant pavers transform the small backyard into a soothing garden escape.
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After: Portland soothing garden escape
With the concrete gone, landscape designer Darcy Daniels used foliage to give the space a warm, lush feel.
Rich goldenrod walls now set the mood, and drifts of gold-tinted perennials—Japanese forest grass, autumn fern, and ‘Bowles Golden’ sedge—reinforce it. Blue Hosta ‘Halcyon’ adds contrasting color, and Japanese maple and variegated fatshedera give a sense of volume. Now the soothing garden is a pleasure to walk through.
Once upon a time, there was a house that was not exactly welcoming. Overgrown Monterey pines obscured the front door, making the approach gloomy. And for guests, getting from the driveway to the front door was a pain—after parking, you had to return to the sidewalk, skirting a jungle of juniper, and climb a steep staircase. (And if you thought you could maybe slip through the juniper, forget it: A wooden railing stood guard.)
See the after on how Kendra Berger and John Eisenhart created a brighter entry with sculptural steps and graphic plants.
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After: Del Mar welcoming front yard
Removing the pines and replacing the junipers with a garden of carex, ‘Tiny Monster’ geranium, and Scotch moss groundcover definitely brightened things up; a row of low-growing purple ‘Tom Thumb’ phormium and a single showy ‘Red Star’ cordyline punctuate the palette of lime and dark greens. And now, broad stairs lead hospitably from the driveway straight to the front door.
Design landscape by: Kendra Berger, Revive Landscape Design, San Diego,; stairs: John Eisenhart, Union Architecture, San Diego,