See how one family turned an old play area into a landscape to love
Thomas J. Story

Dream Garden

A San Jose, California, family provided both brains and brawn to transform their backyard from a kids' hangout into a dream garden.

Here, a generous patio is also an outdoor dining room, where curving beds frame the space and offer soothing views from every angle.

Family's first garden makeover: Before

Before: Ready for More

Grass and a tree with a tire swing were fine for active, growing kids. Once the youngsters reached college age, though, the family decided it was time for change.

Family's first garden makeover: After
Thomas J. Story

After: It's a Peaceful Space

Within a few months, the garden became an oasis. The flagstone-ringed pond was a father-son collaboration: Dad designed; son and friends assisted with the installation. One of the daughters drew up the final garden plan.

Garden landscape plan
Damien Scogin

A Series of Activity Spaces

One of the daughters -- now studying landscape architecture in college -- drew the final landscape plan, which divides the 2,900-square-foot yard into a series of garden rooms. The family also hired a landscape architect to guide the process.

Garden makeover: Before

Before: A Fresh Start

Any successful makeover starts with a good evaluation of the site. Analyze what's already there, including trees, shrubs, and paving. Determine what to save and what to remove.

In this case, the family stripped the plain side yard bare before turning it into an elegant walkway.

Garden makeover: After
Thomas J. Story

After: Classy Transformation

A society garlic border and a fresh pathway add elegance to this newly defined small space.

Consider faux stone
Thomas J. Story

Consider Faux Stone

For style on a budget, the family opted for raised planters covered in stone veneer (Drystack Ledgestone in caramel from Cultured Stone, 1-800-255-1727).

An affordable alternative to rock, the veneer has the rustic, multi-toned look of the real thing but is manufactured from Portland cement and bits of stone.

Add an easy path
Thomas J. Story

Add an Easy Path

Decorative and functional, a dry-laid flagstone path is bordered by ferns and red-flowered Cuphea ignea. A thick layer of mulch keeps soil moist.

Create layered plantings
Thomas J. Story

Create Layered Plantings

For greatest impact, the family planted in layers: short plants and trailers in front, tall plants in back. The colorful, low-care plants include artemisia, penstemon, rosemary, and salvia, with a Japanese maple as an accent.

Mix colors and textures
Thomas J. Story

Mix Colors and Textures

Blue and green foliage around the pond enhance its serenity.

Clockwise from bottom right: Lime asparagus fern, pale variegated grass, blue fescue, and yellow Japanese forest grass are texturally diverse yet not overwhelming.

Add flowing water
Thomas J. Story

Add a Little Water Music

Flowing water is an important element of any pond; not only does the sound mask street noise, but it also keeps a pond from becoming a breeding ground for mosquitos.

This waterfall is fringed with lime green Houttuynia cordata.

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