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Pretty small gardens.

Visual trickery lies at the very heart of these successful Southern California gardens. Their creators employ all means to leap the visual bounds of garden walls and to instill interest and intrigue without clutter. Though each of the five landscapes on these six pages has its own style and personality, all incorporate basic techniques and design principles to defy their boundaries.

To create an illusion of space, the designers used plants to blur walls and fences, making the plots seem larger. In the cottage garden shown above, curving brick paths disappear near the garden's edges, hinting that more lies beyond. Other techniques that make gardens seem larger: changing levels, creating depth through layering plants and structures, borrowing scenery from neighbors' gardens, and using cool colors and fine textures to help backgrounds recede.

Simplicity in design helps the elements work together to make the gardens feel spacious; each designer started with a plan that reflects a single garden style. Repeating plants and colors helps simplify. In the photograph on page 72, gray-green plants throughout the garden unify paving and plantings.

Details make the difference when space is limited. Everything shows in a little garden, and each plant, structure, and ornament must contribute to the overall design. Without enough detail, the garden is bland; with too many details, it's cluttered and confining.

Focal points and accents, such as a single showy or sculptural plant, or water features and statuary attract attention and keep the viewer from taking in the whole garden at once.

Secluded streetside cottage garden

Plants in the ground, on the walls, and overhead blur the boundaries of the Laguna Beach garden, designed by Lew Whitney of Roger's Gardens. That's a staghorn fern growing at far left; a trumpet vine edges the house eaves. Simple weathered brick paths set off colorful pockets filled with such plants as foxgloves, campanulas, violas, white roses, and gray dusty miller. Visual eddies created with accents such as a sundial, an inviting wooden chair, and containers like the one pictured below--it holds a fancy-leafed geranium--bestow a warm romantic character.

Open-air dining in a backyard hideaway

With a flair for the practical and aesthetic, landscape contractor Rob Lane designed his Santa Barbara backyard for privacy and an expansive view from the bedroom doors that open onto it. He softened the potentially stark and towering privacy wall with a potato vine. The contrast between brick and flagstone paving provides variety in color and texture, while pockets of gray-green plantings throughout the garden, including the side yard leading to it, visually tie pavers together. Unified by their color scheme, the plants--which range from ground-hugging woolly thyme to spiky fox red curly sedge (Carex buchananii)--are eye-catching accents in varied textures and forms.

Restful and rustic backyard sanctuary

Every inch counts in this intimate garden in Fullerton. The patio, partly shaded by a Chinese elm, is made of puzzle-like pieces of broken concrete. Around it, billowing and vining greenery unifies and softens hard edges of concrete, walls, and doorways. Landscape architect Jana Ruzicka countered the boundary walls by layering plants. She planted vines on the neighbor's wall and, in one bed, trained ivy up three 7-foot-tall cones of wire mesh; the variegated Algerian ivy on the cones contrasts with the green Boston ivy on the wall, giving the bed an illusion of depth.

Opposite the ivy-covered wall, perennials--including coreopsis, Geranium incanum, Jupiter's beard, lavender, and snow-in-summer--grow in a bed between the broken-concrete patio and the garage. Instead of mixing individual plants, Ruzicka massed plants of the same kind, which gives the small space a more unified look.

Small wonder within a zero lot line

Plants and paving contribute equally to this Irvine landscape, designed by Steve Mudge and Hudson Elliott. Flagstone rich with color and pattern brings interest to the foreground, while cobblestones blend paving and planting bed; plants within the bed echo colors in the flagstone.

To make the back wall appear smaller and farther away, the designers gently mounded the garden in front of it. They created an uncluttered look that gives the sense of openness by using only a few varieties of plants--mounding blue fescue accented with dollops of green aeonium and purple echeveria and kangaroo paws--by choosing plants that are in proportion to the bed, and by planting in groups. The main accent--a tile fountain--and secondary accents like kangaroo paws and boulders, focus attention within the garden rather than on boundaries.

Country charm in a city side yard

Sandy Kennedy of Kennedy Landscape Design in Woodland Hills combined pathway, plantings, and a sitting area to transform a once-wasted strip between a garage and property line into the flower-filled retreat in Venice pictured below.

The chair and arbor at the garden's far end draw your attention through the garden, away from the imposing side boundaries. Poured concrete pavers meander through a pea gravel path leading to the sitting area. This curve interrupts the path's straight line, inviting a visual pause midway to the arbor and making the space seem longer. Plants--white-flowered lamium, lilac purple Verbena bonariensis, and deep purple statice--are arranged with the tallest against the garden walls and smaller ones spilling toward the pathway. The size gradation provides a sense of depth, while the soft textures of the centermost plants further obscure the linear path. Lattice-topped fencing gives privacy and masks the views of nearby neighbors, yet its open pattern eliminates any sense of confinement by letting light shine through.
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Author:Ocone, Lynn
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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