Backyard Gardens: Small Treasures
Learn how each square foot of space was utilized in this small backyard, which features feng shui style.
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By Dan Vierria, Sacramento Bee
Huei Young's sense of design and desire to please her father has squeezed every drop of gardening space from her small Davis, Calif., back yard. No space was wasted. Each square foot is sacred soil.
Tranquil, stunning and oh-so-tiny, her Chinese/Japanese-influenced garden graces a narrow strip of earth that had been nothing more than lawn, a wooden fence and a fruit tree. Only 20 feet separate the patio from the back fence.
A popular stop on the local garden tour circuit, Young's meticulously groomed mini-garden recently received national attention when it was featured in the book Great Gardens in Small Spaces. Its attractions include multiple water features, lush plantings and a Buddha statue sheltered under a decorative redwood pagoda.
Alongside winding paths are Japanese maples, Mexican weeping bamboo, pines, juniper topiary and wisteria. Every few steps, there's a reason to pause and absorb beauty and fragrance.
"I've spent about 15 years on this garden, which is why I'm so tired all the time," Young says with a smile. "Really, I never get tired while I'm in the garden, but at night I just collapse into bed."
Young was born in China and raised in Taiwan, where judicious use of land is a necessity. Even after arriving in the United States at age 24 and marrying Frank Young, a draftsman at the University of California-Davis, she found herself with scant land for gardening. No problem.
Inspiration and motivation came from Young's late father, Js Liu, who had hoped to someday have enough land for his own garden. Because of limited space at the family home, he grew house plants and orchids, which he could fuss over indoors.
Although her father visited Young in Davis a few times, he died before he could permanently move to the United States -- and before her garden had reached its final phases.
"My father always wanted a dream garden, a beautiful garden he could enjoy when he was retired," she says. "I tried to give him that dream garden here. I wanted to entice my father into coming here. He was my hero. Some days I can feel him right behind me in the garden."
Young has borrowed from Chinese and Japanese landscaping styles. After her garden was featured in several garden tours, word of it soon spread outside Davis.
Last year she received a phone call from a photographer who was assigned to shoot the garden for possible features in national gardening magazines or books. A few months later, the garden was showcased in Great Gardens in Small Spaces.
Karen Dardick, the book's Los Angeles-based author, says Young's garden follows an important principle for small spaces — the use of multiple levels for a layered, more spacious look.
"Layered landscaping can make smaller spaces so dramatic," Dardick says. "So many people just put plants in the ground and stop. Use your fence or walls as another level or layer for plants. Go up and use more plants."
Trellises, arbors, raised beds and water features lend a layered look to Young's garden. Plant shadows on the fiberglass panels of a custom-made, Shoji-screen fence project shadow puppet-like backgrounds that dance along the back of the garden. Mirrors mounted on fences give the illusion of space while satisfying the demands of Feng Shui.
To optimize the illusion of space, Young's plan incorporated indoor living areas with the outdoors. Large bay windows and a wall of glass along the back side of the home allow a panoramic garden view from inside.
Sliding glass patio doors have been installed in two bedrooms on the narrow eastern side. The bedrooms look out on individual garden areas planted in camellias, azaleas, sweet olive and hydrangeas. In another home, the area might be a dog run or a space for storing leftover lumber and old lawnmowers.
Seven mirrors are hung along one fence to reflect positive energy, a Feng Shui practice. Young believes Feng Shui, the Chinese art of positioning objects, maximizes the free flow of energy, or chi, in her garden. She is a devout follower.