Good things come in small packages 

Often, the magic of a garden can be found in the smallest feature. But what happens when the garden itself is a tiny jewel?

Katey Mulligan’s San Francisco backyard measures 25-feet wide and less than 12-feet deep.

“I thought, what to make of this postage-sized lot?” she says.

A landscape designer with Liquidambar Garden Design, Mulligan’s challenge with her own garden was to create something that made the space seem larger and more inviting.

“Any outdoor space can become a refuge,” she says. “Think storage areas, an unused garage entrance or driveway, passageways or paths between neighbors’ properties.”

Mulligan used creativity and imagination to transform and expand the space into a sanctuary.

First, she avoided straight lines. Angling the patio paving and deck boards at 45 degrees — directing the line of sight along the garden’s longest axis — makes the space appear larger.

Second, Mulligan planted vertically. With limited horizontal space, she maximized height. The tall birch becomes the garden’s primary focal point.

Third, she created dimension. Mulligan planted in upward layers. In the sunny, south-facing area, the birch sits atop a raised bed. Along the shady north side, Mulligan layered various shades of green. A forest-green fig vine covers the fence, creating a dimensional backdrop for the massive apple-green ferns and bamboo in front.

Mulligan avoided small elements, too. Lots of tiny elements or plants distract the eye and make the garden seem constricted. A 16-foot bronze Phormium/flax is a strong feature and adds a splash of color.

She also limited the palette to different hues of the same color. She avoided yellow, which “hogs the limelight.”

Mulligan chose a small range of sages in different sizes, highlighted by lime green and scarlet blooms of the fragrant pineapple sage. She also stayed in the same range for decking and patio materials.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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