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Colorful and unthirsty, thanks mostly to concrete.

A medley of Caribbean colors saturates the walkways and patios, privacy walls, retaining walls, and planters in this northern California garden. Concrete and stucco have abandoned their traditional background roles here and usurped the job of flowers by filling the landscape with eye-catching hues and distinctive forms. The garden reflects concerns of the drought-conscious 1990s. Flowers and shrubs haven't been forgotten, but they are confined to a few beds and containers. Except for a small lawn, and plants need little water and are easy to maintain.

Three zones, many details

The San Francisco landscape firm Delaney & Cochrane designed the garden around a spec house on a flag lot (see plan above). The house, surrounded by neighbors, offered no privacy; it had a driveway for a front yard. Its wedge-shaped side yard narrows uncomfortably close to the house, and the long rear area provides less than 30 feet between the house and fence. Each area--front, side, and rear--offered a challenge to the designers. The house needed a sense of entry to break up the expanse of concrete that led to the front door. The owner wanted the shaded side yard to become a private sitting area with easy access to the kitchen. And the sunny back yard needed privacy, organization, decks for sunning by the pool, and the softening textures of plants.

The spaces that resulted are architectural, sculptural, and whimsicall. Each area has its own character, but the three are linked by similar materials, playful colors, geometric shapes, and practical solutions. Designers Topher Delaney credits the owner, an artist, and craftsman Pedro Castillo with many of the decisions about color and texture.

For permanence and depth on horizontal surfaces like the river in the side-yard patio and the entry, color was mixed into the concrete at the time of the pour; for most of the walls, color was added with plaster or paint.

The entry court

Just 13 feet square, the entry patio steps up 4 inches from the driveway and nestles into a corner where a wing projects. Low, rose-colored seating walls (stucco-covered concrete block) define the outside edges and make two openings that channel guests toward the front door.

Diamond-shaped pavers set in a mortar bed over the old driveway make up the surface of the patio. The pavers were hand-cast in forms built on the site and laid in a pattern of light, medium, and dark gray that appears almost three-dimensional.

The side yard

While the entry patio is open for all to see, a few steps away is the most private and playful of the new spaces. This side yard is designed to be seen from the kitchen or enjoyed while seated at a small garden table at its center.

A weathered wooden gate opens into the 44-foot-long tapering space. Within it, the designers played freely with color, texture, and shape. The paved surfaces and plastered and painted privacy walls mix ocher, terra-cotta, red, pink, dark blue, sky blue, gray, and celadon.

The paving is full of surprises. Orderly, diagonally running grids of hand-packed concrete squares intersect with a freeform concrete landscape: a blue river winding past fragmented islands in a gray field. A band of dark blue high-gloss ceramic tiles cuts across the patio, while a row of shiny marbles is inlaid close to the house.

Textures vary unexpectedly. A panel of glass block divides and brightens the two long sections of blank privacy wall. Some areas of concrete are smooth, while others are scored and brushed.

The rear garden

"We treated the rear garden as if we were furnishing a room," says designer Delaney. A few of the rear area's main features, such as the 10- by 60-foot lap pool and a zigzagging retaining wall, were carefully planned, but enriching details such as the teacups embedded in a wall were devised or improvised as the project unfolded.

Because of the site's slope, the house sits high above the rear yard. To mask some of its tall foundation wall, a 36-inch-tall planter formed by a zigzagging wall of colored plaster stucco steps across the highest end of the building. Some sections of the planter are colored lavender, others shift to rose dotted with blues. The raised planter holds drought-tolerant perennials such as Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Geranium sanguineum, ornamental grasses, bulbs, and succulents.

Muted colors mark the concrete around the pool's edge. Terra-cotta grout lines handmade trapezoids of faded blue and purple concrete. At one end of the pool, a dappled gray retaining wall looks intentionally like a ruin.

Not all the innovation is colored concrete. Rising near the side of the pool closest to a two-story neighboring house is a tall fence framed with galvanized pipe and 2- by 4-inch wire screen. In less than a year, the fence has been almost covered with Lady Banks' roses and variegated ivy. The ivy has been trained into columns that rise behind symbolic plinths--square bases colored with warm-toned plaster. The fence was designed to give maximum privacy and a green facade to both houses, to take up little space in the cramped yard, and to be easy to build.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1991
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