HOUSE TO HOME: Small garden spaces require imagination and know how

By: debbie travis Special to The Gazette
July 22, 2013 Updated: July 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm
photo -  Frosted glass panels and a low, oxidized steel water feature frame the sitting area in a city garden. Photo by King Features Syndicate
Frosted glass panels and a low, oxidized steel water feature frame the sitting area in a city garden. Photo by King Features Syndicate 

Urban gardens require the most imagination to design. Generally, having limited space is a challenge, but with a little knowledgeable planning they can be tiny perfect Edens that offer blessed escape from high-density living.

The compact size and close proximity to neighbors calls for ingenuity, a trait that the landscape architects at Earth Inc. have in large supply.

I was thinking about city gardens and the options for building in privacy in a way that did not distract from the lush views of trees, bushes and flowers for me or the neighbors. What I was searching for was a garden wall that was appealing yet practical.

Garden structures that demarcate boundaries vary from ancient dry stone walls to picket fences, from latticework enclosures to plantings of high shrubbery. In the backyard shown here, Earth Inc. designed and built a different kind of garden wall - a large outdoor screen - from wood and glass. The framework is composed of 6-inch-by-6-inch posts of pressure-treated wood. The wood is covered with a 3/4-inch veneer of Ipe wood, a very strong hardwood that grows in South America. Ipe wood is a top choice for exteriors, as it is highly decay- and termite-resistant, has no splinters and stays smooth. The panel's tempered glass, which should be 3/8 inch thick to withstand various weather changes, is frosted or acid etched to provide privacy; however, the translucent finish allows light to flow through. To avoid high maintenance from dirt splashing onto the lower sections of glass, panels are either built on a deck or raised on a wood or stone foundation.

Water features are a garden feature that remain popular, but they require maintenance. Circulating water requires a pump, and the water vessel will need to be emptied and cleaned in the winter months. They are a soothing addition to any garden or deck as long as they are designed in such a way that the sound of the water is controlled and subtle.

In this city garden, a water feature is built with three spouts. The concrete basin sits in a long, Corten steel trough along the perimeter of the deck. Corten steel weathers through oxidation to a rust-colored appearance, creating a protective coating that resists corrosion. By combining old and new built-in features with ivies and lush greenery, this garden is a haven during the day and long summer evenings.

Where privacy is not an issue, rather than building a solid wall, you can define garden spaces with an oversized wood frame as Earth Inc. did for a second city garden that was long and narrow. The frames were built with pressure-treated wood clad in MDO, which is similar to MDF, but for exterior use, and stained a dark gray. The L-shaped structure acts as a focal point designed to draw your eye in two directions - into the back garden where a tiger eye sumac catches the morning sun, and to the left and the entrance to the garage through a bright orange door.

Urban fire pits are trendy now, but be sure to check your local fire codes before lighting any fires. High-end garden furniture is pricy, but you may want to splurge on one great chair or lounger.


House to Home is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Email

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