I’d like to introduce you all to my friend and client, Judy Minium. Three years ago our local newspaper ran a story on our (then) new book, Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces. Within 24 hours I received a phone call from Judy, who was in desperate need of transforming her tiny, overgrown courtyard into one that appeared spacious, bright, lush and tranquil.
Judy had always loved gardening, but didn’t quite know how to tackle one that was quite this small (27’x 21′) and brimming with so many challenges.
‘Years ago, I had a fabulous, well established garden at my cottage home in Montclair section of Oakland, and was heartbroken to leave it when I was divorced. Just to show you life works in mysterious ways – the home, gardens, and the whole neighborhood was destroyed in the Oakland hills fire just a few years later. As interest rates were at 17%, there was no way I could buy a home. I moved into an apartment in Los Gatos and purchased the condo 7 years later in 1988. At the time I moved in, I knew the patio was the main feature of the home. It was the first thing I wanted to tackle, but Mark pleasantly noted that the peeling imitation wood grain kitchen cabinets might be the priority. With the rest of the condo remodeling completed, money left to me by my parents and the time provided by retirement, I started looking into the landscaping seriously. I looked at book after book on small gardens, and nothing was ever as small as my space. People’s definition of small and mine did not match up!’
And, as if the tiny dimensions weren’t daunting enough, Judy’s courtyard had a handful of other challenges that needed to be met, as well.
I thought it might be fun to share this special garden with you using before-and-after photos. Enjoy!
1. Wheelchair Friendly
The courtyard was both inconvenient and inhospitable for Mark, her longtime companion, who is wheelchair-bound due to Multiple Sclerosis. This area also happened to be the only private garden space for her condo, so for convenience’s sake she needed Mark to be able to easily access it from both the garage side door as well as from inside the home.
Once through the side door, the patio’s surface needed to provide a firm and solid footing, with no sand or gravel that would become lodged in the wheelchair’s tires and tracked inside the house. The courtyard also needed to have enough space for a dining table large enough for his wheelchair to pull up to, while simultaneously providing other seating options for larger group gatherings.
We used full-range Connecticut Bluestone pavers for the patio and built an L-shaped, stacked stone wall to help break up the potentially boring dimensions of the courtyard, as well as provide additional seating when necessary.
2. Privacy Please!
Looming 2-story condos surround this courtyard making privacy a top concern. Strict HOA regulations, however, prohibit adding a taller trellis-type fence, tall screening trees or even an overhead arbor. Heck, she wasn’t even allowed to paint the fence a difference color!
Scrambling up one side of the trellis is a fast-growing Akebia vine and on the other a climbing Iceberg rose. In the corner, where the two trellises meet, we left space for a ‘Forest Pansy’ Redbud tree to gracefully wind its way through.
3. A Place for Personal Touches
It was also imperative that I find a place within this garden for a few cherished antiques Judy had inherited from her family.
‘My grandmother lived in a magical brown shingle Craftsman home in Alameda, with stunning gardens. They collected Asian antiques and purchased many at Gumps in the early 1900’s. My parents then incorporated these antiques into their beautiful garden in San Jose, and they came to me on their passing. They are very important to me…speaks to who I am and those that came before me. My great grandmother was a botanist and one of the first women graduates of Northwestern University!’
The last item on Judy’s wish-list was to include a water feature to add the calming sound of water, as well as provide a refreshing respite for the little birds who visit.
4. Inside-Out Views
One of the chapters in our book discusses the importance of using the windows in your home to ‘frame’ the view outside, tying it in with the rest of your home – a concept designers call ‘inside-out design’.
This was particularly important to Judy as she has stunning, oversized floor to ceiling windows and doors along an entire wall that directly faces the entire patio area. Her goal was to make the inside of her condo seem much larger and brighter than it was by incorporating her new patio and garden within her home. She wanted the courtyard to be a natural extension of her dining and living rooms.
It’s always such a treat to go back and visit gardens after they’ve been installed – to see what has flourished (or what hasn’t) and to discover the homeowner’s loving touches dotted throughout.
I hope this tiny treasure of a garden gives you as much joy and creative inspiration as it’s given me!