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A Patio Becomes a Modern Hillside Garden

Simple improvements can make a crowded patio look larger, cleaner and more modern.

Frank and Donna Somerville have a small hillside backyard with only a patio for usable space (figure A). They don't use the area much because it's crowded and unattractive, but they can see that it has potential. Landscape Smart comes to the rescue with simple improvements that make the space look much larger, cleaner and modern.

Landscape designer Donna Eagles-Smith comes up with an easy fix that Frank and Donna love. She removes overgrown bushes, replaces the big, crowded furniture and builds benches for extra seating. She brings in modern elements to complement the style of their house and fixes the existing fountain so that it becomes more of a focal point.

Day One

The crew removes the overgrown rosemary bushes that surround the patio, which makes the area feel much larger. They level the dirt flower bed because the mounded bed also made the area feel closed-in.

Eagles-Smith chooses plants that will add color but not get so big that they take over the yard, as the rosemary did. Sweet pea shrubs, or Polygala dalmaisiana (figure C), which grow to about 2 feet high and wide, go in the corners of the perimeter bed. Campanula, a groundcover with white flowers, fills in and softens the perimeter.

Day Two

Contractors Fred Norgaard and Mike Meehan buy a sheet of zinc, which is cut and bent for the bench seats, for only about $50. They build wooden benches up against the railroad tie retaining wall that surrounds the patio. Eagles-Smith says that the benches are the most important part of her design, yet are easy to install and inexpensive.

The simple benches are 18 inches high, the standard height of a chair. The benches are composed of redwood 2x4s attached to the retaining wall and the wall posts, with a redwood plank on top.

Wooden braces support the seat from underneath. Construction glue is applied to the underside of the zinc seats, and the seats are pressed onto the wooden planks, for a clean, modern look (figure D).

To help the flow of the fountain, a piece of zinc is attached, using a water-resistant glue, to the top of the fountain, for the spillway (figure E). The white PVC irrigation tubing that runs along the retaining wall to the fountain is painted brown to blend in with the retaining wall.

Next, the concrete patio is pressure-washed and stained to brighten up the area. At only about $80 for this patio, this quick fix is much less expensive than a new patio. As the day comes to a close, Donna adds some finishing touches — colorful potted plants, a lounge chair in the perimeter bed, a hanging lantern and a gazing ball. A metallic table and chairs complement the zinc benches, which are softened with outdoor cushions. The creative, modern patio is much more spacious and ready for entertaining.

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