Inviting outdoor rooms make the most of a small space
In Seattle, Margo and Gary Bennett found a property that was, as Margo says, spec-built on the site of a dilapidated bungalow that had been demolished. The new house had zero street appeal; older houses on either side and construction taking place on the slope behind meant there wasn't a lot of privacy. Plus, the lot was small, leaving little room for a garden. The couple saw the potential but needed someone who could turn their "before" into a successful "after."
Enter landscape designer David Pfeiffer. Among his challenges was the fact that the main entrance was oddly positioned at the side of the house. Because of this arrangement, the first issue Pfeiffer tackled was getting people to the front door. "I wanted to create a subtle 'invitation' for visitors to follow a path to the side entry," he says. "People are drawn toward water and its sound, so I positioned a circular fountain as a formal centerpiece in the front garden space."
Garden design: David Pfeiffer, Garden Architecture Inc., P.O. Box 9013, Vashon, WA 98070; 206/463-5400; fax, 206/463-1466, davidpfeiffer.com .
Photography: John Granen
Produced by Linda Humphrey
For the front garden, Pfeiffer proposed a stone-walled enclosure, reached through an iron gate from a cobblestone drive, and a gravel apron to capture the oft-neglected piece of ground between curb and sidewalk. Everything but the stone walls was enthusiastically accepted. "Gary was reluctant to use so much stone, but I took him to visit another project. I was showing him the cobblestones, but all he saw were the stone walls—and fell in love!"
In the front garden, an existing red-leaf maple tree and Margo's much-loved crabapples soften the geometry of the house facade. The seasonal change from flower to fruit is complemented by the underplanting of low-growing flowering shrubs like Hebe 'Blue Mist' and H. topiaria, Daphne burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie', 'Fred Boutin' lavender, and the evergreen, sweet winter box, Sarcococca humilis.
Beneath the shrubs are layered plantings of spring-flowering tulips, hyacinths, narcissi, and muscari, which are followed in summer by old-fashioned perennials like the Japanese windflower, Anemone 'Honorine Joubert', hardy geranium 'Anne Folker', and the perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'.
Two large boulders mark the transition between the fountain court at the front of the house and the stairway that leads to the back. "It's the mystery of 'where does this go' that leads you on. I like it when you can't see the end of the path," says David, who advises that in small gardens it's important to organize the outdoor rooms so they connect to the house in a way that makes sense.
The back garden was divided into two rectangular, outdoor rooms, one carpeted with turf, the other paved. Square urns and a slight change in grade mark the transition between the two sections. In the lawn area, a seating alcove set against the garden retaining wall faces the house. It's nestled in a simple wooden pergola given presence by the wrought-iron panels-brought from the Bennetts' previous garden-that form the sides. The alcove is the couple's private retreat, where they decompress at the end of a busy day. "It's beautiful in the evening when the garden is full of flower scents from lilac and daphne," says Margo. "David said he wanted to create a garden for the eyes as well as the other senses."
A detail of one of the wrought-iron panels that help frame the lawn seating area.
Choosing hardscaping materials that coordinate with the house colors helps it sit comfortably in the garden. But, there's more to it as David explains: "We also had to blend the colors of the hardscaping materials—the bluestone pavers with cobblestones and gravel—with the plant materials."
"People always think you begin a garden with plants," muses Pfeiffer, "but really, they are very last thing to consider when designing a garden. It's helpful to pick a theme and then limit your plant list accordingly. Then edit it!"