Patio Garden: Small Space Oasis

Small Spaces and Courtyards

Many California homes have small space gardens in the front and back yards. Whether you live in a condominium, patio home, or a high density housing project—large home on a small lot—your goal is to make the most of your premium space. Whether it’s a simple wall fountain with lush, flowering plants, or a unique pool and spa with waterfall, your landscape plan must use the limited space properly, or your garden experience will not be a positive one. Whether you select a formal or an informal Patio Garden theme, the repetition of plants, hardscape elements, colors, and the balance of bold, bright features with fine, muted features must be consistent. Directing the viewer’s eye to a focal point, while making gradual changes in the height and color of the plant material, promotes visual depth to a cozy patio environment. Softening walls and structures with vines and espaliers makes the garden feel spacious. Outdoor social areas—gathering places—such as patio tables, benches, fire pits, and fireplaces with seating all add elevation changes. These elements are to be complimented with fragrant plants, various leaf textures, and garden sounds such as falling water.

Patio Garden Elements:

Staying in scale with the space afforded is critical to the success of the Patio Garden. Install wall fountains / statues / sculptures / bird baths / urns with running water / fountains with fire and water / patio deck materials complimenting the inside flooring of the home / outdoor kitchen in scale with the yard / walkways that meander and  “disappear” behind foundation shrubs giving the illusion of depth / seating and benches that add elevation change / containers of various sizes placed in groupings.  

Plant Selections

The plant selection features trees, shrubs and groundcovers that stay in scale, that is, do not grow too large. Successful plant choices include small foreground plants such as Sea Thrift, Dianthus, and Blue-Eyed Grass. Dwarf foundation plants such as Dwarf Daylilies, Salvia ‘Santa Barbara’, and Dwarf Kangaroo Paws add texture and color. Annual color is used as part of a focal point, an entry, or in containers. Perhaps a fruit-bearing Dwarf Citrus espalier against a wall, or dwarf flowering tree in container, suits your lifestyle. A side yard with appropriate sun exposure may be the perfect spot for a raised vegetable garden. Another consideration is mounded areas with succulent and rock garden plants. Mounds give a feeling of depth. Think of Disneyland®, where Walt placed a gigantic mound, or berm, around the entire park to make visitors feel they were surrounded by lush vegetation.

Craftsman Classic Garden

Inspired by The Craftsman Magazine and the Arts & Crafts movement in America, this architecture served the widespread demand by the middle class for affordable, attractive suburban homes. Joining Western and Japanese themes, architects like Green & Green produced wooden homes with low-pitched roofs unique to California. Craftsman homes have a low mass, therefore, the goal of the garden is to connect the home to the outdoors. The stylish porches with front-gabled roofs often wrapped around the structure, allowing an elevated terrace for viewing the garden. Dry-stacked cobblestone, capped with cast concrete or brick, supporting tapered wood columns, is the most recognizable feature of these homes. 

Craftsman Classic Garden Elements: An emphasis on natural elements, such as rock and water, the Craftsman bungalow look has promoted a Japanese garden influence (see Oriental Garden). The patio and walkways may be either formally shaped or free form, depending on the theme of the garden. Brick, stone, cobblestone, native stacked rock, textured concrete, scored concrete, and tiled pavers work well in this garden. A natural shaped pool and/or koi pond with waterfall becomes an inspirational focal point. Garden ornaments accent wood trellises and arbors covered with colorful vines. Patio furniture should reflect the architecture of the home with stylized wood, forged iron, and subdued colors. A Japanese influence is often an important consideration, but always your choice.

Craftsman Classic Garden Plants: A naturalized, woodsy environment is the design goal. Often, the Craftsman home comes with mature trees, a true benefit if the tree has been properly pruned and cared for. Interesting, textural foliage, especially plants with lime-green, burgundy, or gold leaves blend well with earthy tan, green and brown colors of the home’s exterior. Low-growing structural pines and Japanese Maples compliment the low roof lines. Notice the combination of evergreen and deciduous species. Shrubs should be layered, that is, low growing groundcovers along hardscape areas give way to medium sized foundation shrubs who give way to background trees. A variety of low-growing, flowering shrubs include Heavenly Bamboo, Cotoneasters, Iceberg Roses, and groupings of low-growing Sea Pink, Dianthus, and Mondo Grass. A few California natives add a nice touch to your Craftsman Classic Garden.

Patio Garden - Small Space Oasis; 
Coastal Rock Garden;
Beach Bungalow; 
Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden; 
Ocean View Villa; 
English Country Garden; 
Modern Contemporary Garden; 
Mediterranean Estate;
Rock Pool & Grotto Garden;
Tropical Garden;
Historical Theme Gardens;
Oriental Garden; 
Feng Shui Garden;
Southwest Ranch; 
Spanish Revival Garden;
Italian Revival Garden;
French Revival Garden;
Colonial Revival Garden;
Craftsman Classic;
Desert Garden; 
Mountain Retreat;

Spanish Revival Garden

Spanish Revival Garden

As with all the revival themes, this garden style is best suited for homes that have authentic architectural features. However, a tile roof, an arched entry with an iron gate, a balcony terrace, or smooth plaster walls, are enough elements to invoke the design of a Spanish Revival Garden. The use of exterior spaces is the fundamental feature of the Spanish garden home. Porches and loggias, as well as open-to-the-sky patios and terraces, balconies, and decks make this a popular Southern California garden style. Beginning with a symmetrical, formal layout for hardscape areas, these gardens feature a courtyard, plaza, or enclosed entertainment area with a fountain(s) of reflection pool. A symmetrical swimming pool and spa create a separate space or outdoor room, typical with Spanish Revival styles. Hybrid styles like Mission Revival and the Monterey style home can be found from Monterey Bay, to Santa Barbara, to the Palos Verde Peninsula and south to La Jolla.

Spanish Revival Garden Elements: Stucco walls with adobe caps and colorful accent tiles give the outdoor kitchen and patio area a distinct look. A tiered fountain, centered in the courtyard, is surrounded by decorative iron and wood furniture with colorful cushions. Rather than a central fountain, several small fountains may occur in each outdoor room, or garden space. Terracotta pots, urns, and statuary complete the patio. Paving should be clay pavers, stone or tumbled pavers, patterned or textured concrete, with decomposed granite walkways. Walls of slump block with sack finish and iron gates accent the dramatic plant palette. Small space gardens may have one or two features, depending on the size of the area.

Spanish Revival Garden Plants: The garden must have symmetrical areas, “outdoor rooms”, to hold the authenticity of the true Spanish garden. The plant palette includes trees and shrubs with dramatic and colorful leaves that produce a cooling effect. Typical selections are feather palms such as a specimen Senegal Date Palm with multiple trunks or Queen Palms, Mediterranean Fan Palms, Giant Birds of Paradise, Olive Trees, and California Peppers. Appropriate shrub selections are dramatic succulents like Dwarf Agaves and Dwarf Aloes. Other selections include New Zealand Flax, Fortnight Lilies, Dwarf Lavender, Dwarf Salvia, and Rosemary. Bougainvillea and flowering vines cover the stucco walls. Citrus espaliers on walls and Citrus in colorful containers is a staple of Spanish gardens.

Southwest Ranch Garden

Beginning with a spacious courtyard theme featuring covered patios, arbors, and spreading shade trees, these arid, informal gardens reflect the ranch house or hacienda theme once so prevalent in the Southwest. Succulents and light-leaved deciduous trees surround a spreading, one-story home on a spacious piece of land. Patios and porches of sand-colored stone lead to exposed aggregate and decomposed granite walkways that take you and your guests to an informally shaped swimming pool and spa accented with natural boulders. An artificial rock pool that matches the surrounding native boulders is always spectacular. The patio contains rustic wood furniture and tables adorned with colorful décor. Perhaps one word describes these sustainable landscapes—simplicity.

Southwest Ranch Elements: The courtyard patio features colorful furniture and patio accessories with desert hues. Perhaps some Native American décor accentuates the overall theme. A shade structure is a welcome relief from the sun. Walls of stucco plaster, natural stone, and rustic wood and iron gates complement the terracotta tiles and clay pots, and a hacienda-style water fountain makes the courtyard an inviting retreat for you and your guests. Arbors and pergolas provide relief from the shade and support Wisteria, Bougainvillea, and edible Grapes. Outdoor lighting accentuates the plaster walls and structural trees. Evening entertainment centers around an outdoor kitchen built into the courtyard wall. In the cool evenings, a natural stone fire pit makes a great place to gather and socialize.

Southwest Ranch Plants: A mature California Pepper or California Live Oak provides shade for the patio courtyard. Sycamores line the perimeter as natives and Mediterranean shrubs bloom throughout the year. Bougainvillea vines cascade over plaster walls, while potted Agave, Aloe, Echeveria, Cacti and other succulents add texture and color with their dramatic leaves.  Gray-leaved and textural shrubs line a dry creek bed with native rock gives your yard a natural, riparian area look. Potted citrus and flowering vines soften the walls and structures. As in all the garden styles, lawn should be kept to recreational areas. Make the lawn, a warm-season lawn or synthetic turfgrass, look like a native meadow, surrounded by ornamental grasses and sword foliage. Drought-tolerant plants allow the use of water systems that use in-line emitters, commonly referred to as drip irrigation. A succulent rock garden works well wherever a slope or terraced area occurs.

Oriental & Zen Gardens

The quintessential Oriental Garden is about nature, peace and tranquility, providing a spiritual haven offering a balance in one’s life. In this garden, one admires the informal, natural curves dominating the landscape, with a stone walkway leading to a bridge spanning a stream or koi pond. Dry creek beds meander through evergreen shrubs and trees that produce a tranquil green background. Sand, stone, and partially buried boulders accent the curving pathways. Flowers are kept to a minimum and are seasonal. Asian ornaments adorn the harmonious garden. The Oriental Garden is an excellent choice for a small-space garden.

Oriental Garden Elements: Three main elements of the Oriental Garden feature water, rocks, and ornaments. Sand can also be incorporated, especially in a Zen Garden. Natural stone and exposed aggregate concrete make excellent surfaces for patios and walkways. The outdoor kitchen may include a teppanyaki grill, or a flat-iron grill. The patio features authentic Asian-style furniture and accessories while bamboo water spouts, stone lanterns, statues, sculptures and basins, Torii gates, rain chains, arbors, and bamboo fence panels add to the ambiance of the tranquil environment.

Oriental Garden Plants: Selecting plants that are in scale with your yard, some great additions to an Asian garden are Japanese Black Pine, Japanese Maple, Hinoki Cypress, Saucer Magnolia, Japanese Holly, Sword Ferns, Azaleas, Camellias, Dwarf Gardenias, Dwarf Junipers in bonsai form, Iris, Lily Turf, Mondo Grass with selected areas of Baby’s Tears and Elfin Thyme as groundcovers.

Bonsai specimens, especially in Asian-style containers, are a must for the Oriental Garden.

Zen Garden

The traditional Zen Garden is basically an outdoor rock garden with sand raked into a labyrinth pattern. If you have the space, this sea of sand displays rocks (islands) that are often designed as a focal point within a larger Oriental Garden. A popular pattern is a group of mounding rocks centered in a sea of sand or gravel. The hand-raked sand represents the ripples, or waves, on the surface of the water as if dropped by a stone. As the pattern radiates outward, they interact with other parallel lines.

Instead of natural rocks or boulders, you may use stones resembling animals.

A platform, or seating area, is an important element in the Zen Garden. Used to view the garden, the deck is often constructed of wood composite material. If concrete, a raised deck is important. Think of your home as a temple and the platform as a porch. A low, bamboo fence or rock wall should surround the sand bed, allowing you to separate yourself and the garden from stress beyond the wall.

Tropical Garden

If you want to feel like you and your family are on a year-round vacation, the Tropical Garden is an excellent choice. Imagine lush, large-leafed, fragrant plants with vivid colors surrounding a patio of natural stone and colored, stamped concrete decorated with teak and rattan garden furniture  under a thatched roof shade structure—palapa. A tropical swimming pool and raised spa with spillway are typical of this style. If a swimming pool is a bit much, or space is at a minimum, a natural waterfall with a running stream with a bridge gives the yard a true sense of being in a tropical paradise. This natural style will give the feeling of being in a primordial forest, far from civilization.        

Tropical Garden Elements: Tropical-style furniture with colorful upholstery, bamboo fencing, colorful Mayan hammocks, and hand-carved island statues make the lush garden come alive. Swimming pools must be an informal, natural shape—a lagoon! Beach entries are excellent, especially with an island palapa offering relief from the sun. An outdoor kitchen veneered with natural stone is mandatory for this lifestyle. Keep in mind, the addition of rocks/boulders accents the pool. Boulders are also used within the landscaped areas and along pathways as seating. Fire pits in the landscape and round fire tables on the patio make evening gatherings warm and inviting. Adding citronella (oil) or gas-powered tiki torches (see Hawaiian Theme below) adds to the ambiance. Meandering stone walkways often display faux bamboo path edging. Rock speakers featuring subtle tropical animal and bird sounds can be used effectively when entertaining.

Tropical Garden Plants: Dramatic leaves, bold textures, vivid colors, and fragrant flowers compliment your tropical setting. Dwarf Palms with multi-trunks, Dracaenas, Tree Ferns, and Cycads rise above an lush undergrowth of Ferns, Aralias, Birds of Paradise, Dwarf Purple Flax, Dwarf Philodendron, Kaffir Lilies, Camellias, Gardenias, and Plumerias. Staghorn Ferns and Bromeliads hang from a Dwarf Coral Tree or a multi-trunked, twisted Ficus Tree kept as “bonsai” in a large organic container. Pathways are lined with lush ornamental grasses like small Carex species, Dwarf Lily Turf, and Dwarf Mondo Grass.

Annual color is used at focal points: entries and water features.

Hawaiian Theme: Popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s, this theme includes tiki torches, a palapa with thatched roof and a bamboo bar, fish nets with shells, and marine ornaments that goes with this theme. Add Hawaiian background music and a “South Seas Island atmosphere” transports you to paradise.

Mediterranean Estate

The Mediterranean Estate garden works well with most Southern California homes. If you reside in a home that is not custom built, often in a planned community, this style might be appropriate for your architecture. This garden features casual elegance with areas depicting an outdoor life style. Natural elements are used, including terra cotta pots, clay patio tiles, stone and paver walkways, decorative stone, statues, free-standing fountains, and of course, elegant swimming pools, spas, and outdoor entertainment areas. These gardens are often formal looking near the residence but become more informal as the landscape extends into the yard. Although the landscape plants look lush and elegant, the majority of shrubs and trees used are drought-tolerant. Water features are important. When you enter the back yard patio retreat, serene water fountains surrounded by flowering shrubs, combined with the smell of fragrant herbs and blooming citrus provide a calm, tranquil setting.

Mediterranean Estate Elements: Natural stone or tumbled pavers create interesting patios and walkways. Arbors and pergolas with decomposed granite floors add areas of relaxation, as do seating areas within the garden. Outdoor kitchens and entertainment areas are a popular addition, especially if a classic-shaped pool and elevated spa is part of the back yard design. Decorative tiered water fountains, water urns, and fire pits add audio and visual pleasure for family and guests. Depending on your lifestyle, a bocce ball court is an authentic element for the Mediterranean Estate.

Mediterranean Estate Plants: The Mediterranean plant palette contains wonderful choices, as well as surprises. Some familiar shrub species include Rosemary, Dwarf Lavender, Purple New Zealand Flax, and numerous drought tolerant species available at local nurseries. Citrus trees, both in containers and trained on walls as espaliers, are important. Trees include Olives, Dwarf Columnar Cypress, Junipers, Sky Pencil Holly, Patio Tree shrubs,  and depending on the size of the yard, some specimen Stone or Aleppo Pines along the yard’s perimeter. Placed properly, raised herb and vegetable gardens are an excellent addition. A maze or labyrinth may be created with small hedges such as Boxwood, Carpet Roses, or rows of Dwarf Daylilies with mixed colors.

Landscape Design by Wayne, My Garden

Rock Pool with Infinity Edge 3-D animation video

As an veteran landscape architect, horticulturist, and pool designer, I have witnessed many changes in landscape design and construction industry the past thirty years. Prior to computer software, the only visual aid I had to offer you, my client, was a 2-D watercolor rendering or pencil sketch of my landscape design. Effective, but certainly not three-dimensional. Plus, the rendering never allowed you to “walk through” your newly designed yard! Over the past decade, computer software has allowed me to offer my clients actual walk-throughs of their landscape project based on my design recommendations. Here you see images selected from my 3-D video showing all the landscape design elements, including plants and lighting, incorporated into my infinity edge Rock Pool project that features a grotto/waterfall, raised spa, Baja shelf, and stream with rock bridge. My clients are now able to compare the 2-D master plans I drew for them with a high-quality 3-D video depicting the EXACT landscape design layout. You and your family now have a choice of not only viewing my working drawings, but viewing my actual VISUAL video presentations. You now see exactly what the yard of your dreams looks like!

Click on the image below to view one of Wayne’s 3-D Animations of a Rock Pool with grotto, spa, and infinity edge.

Patio Garden: Small Space Oasis – Part 1

Hello, this is Wayne, founder of My Garden, Landscape Creations.

This video features a review of the 21 landscape styles featured at the My Garden website. If you are looking for the appropriate landscape style for your home, you’ve come to the right place.

Once you find the garden style you like, please visit our You Tube channel at My Garden. There you will find a video describing your favorite landscape style in greater detail.

So, sit back, relax, and enjoy your review of the twenty-one garden styles.

Although several landscape ideas might appeal to you, your favorite garden will be easy to identify based on your personal energy—likes and dislikes—your home’s location and architecture, and your lifestyle. From experience, I know you will select the right garden for your home and your family when you see the photos, read the descriptions, and visualize your new exterior living space.

By selecting a garden style you truly like, the landscape design process begins with positive energy. You now have a starting point that will grow into the quintessential garden of your dreams—a beautiful and tranquil outdoor environment.

If you like what you see, give me a call at 866-My-Garden, and we’ll discuss the rebirth of your landscape—your garden.

Enjoy the videos.

My Garden: Landscape Creations – Introduction Video

Hello, this is Wayne, founder of My Garden, Landscape Creations.

This video features a review of the 21 landscape styles featured at the My Garden website. If you are looking for the appropriate landscape style for your home, you’ve come to the right place.

Once you find the garden style you like, please visit our You Tube channel at My Garden. There you will find a video describing your favorite landscape style in greater detail.

So, sit back, relax, and enjoy your review of the twenty-one garden styles.

Although several landscape ideas might appeal to you, your favorite garden will be easy to identify based on your personal energy—likes and dislikes—your home’s location and architecture, and your lifestyle. From experience, I know you will select the right garden for your home and your family when you see the photos, read the descriptions, and visualize your new exterior living space.

By selecting a garden style you truly like, the landscape design process begins with positive energy. You now have a starting point that will grow into the quintessential garden of your dreams—a beautiful and tranquil outdoor environment.

If you like what you see, give me a call at 866-My-Garden, and we’ll discuss the rebirth of your landscape—your garden.

Enjoy the videos.

Modern Contemporary Garden

Modern Contemporary Gardens are formal—bold, organized, well kept, sleek—landscape designs that are popular in Southern California, especially along the coast. Symmetrical, clean lines and bold patterns allow for a clean, fresh style. As an extension of your home’s interior, the purpose must be to create an outdoor room with straight or geometrical lines with grids of green plants having formal shapes and interesting textures. The focus is on the hardscape, not the plants. Focal points may be a formal wall fountain, sculpture, or painted wall with colored glass inlay. Outdoor lighting is a critical component in the modern garden.

Modern Contemporary Elements: The outdoor “room” must feature materials such as concrete, metal, colored glass, and wood. Natural grey concrete, weathered corten steel and wood decking is common. With contrast as your goal, blacks and silvers must be accented properly with bright colors. Less is better, meaning, pick two or three focal points in the yard and feature one element for each. Sleek walls of various heights, built-in seating on retaining walls accented with colored cushions. Rectilinear pools, spas, and fountains (add fire if possible) with formal waterfall features are standard elements. Formal-shaped fire pits with fire glass works well on concrete, stone, or wood decks. Furniture must be sleek, modern, and match the color scheme of the surrounding structures.

Modern Contemporary Plants: The plant palette is critical to a successful Modern Garden. Repeating a limited number of plant species is important. Repeated in straight, neat paths or rows. It is important to use formal-shaped plants with textural, interesting leaves. Some excellent plant choices are ornamental grasses against grey or white walls. Bold, sword-like foliage is mandatory, including such plants a Dwarf Purple Flax, Dwarf Agave, Dwarf Aloe, spherical Agaves, Dracaenas, Sago Palms, and Dwarf Kangaroo Paws. Depending on the design and the limited use of lawn areas, formally pruned hedges may be used, as long as they display symmetry and balance. The overall look of the planter beds is important. Due to the separation, or space between shrubs, a glossy, colored rock/cobblestone should be used in the formal planter beds. Focal-point, raised planters should contain a specimen plant with a fire glass bed. Specimen trees, limited in number, are  typically multi-trunked with twisted limbs and textured bark. Selections include Pink Melaleuca, mature Olive Trees, xxx, xxx. Known as abstract specimens, large multi-trunked Cycads or mature succulents like a Dr. Suess Tree or a Dragon Tree are spectacular.



English Country Garden


Each English Country Garden has its own elegant charm, whether designing an informal or a semi-formal theme. This means you may choose a natural theme with meandering walkways and flowering shrub masses, or a semi-manicured garden with a central fountain or low-growing labyrinth hedge. The architecture of your home may determine the appropriate theme, keeping in mind that most English Garden designs appear irregular in shape and do not feature straight, geometrical lines. This design works well with a bridge arching over a natural stream and pond with cascading waterfalls placed off the patio or sunroom or conservatory. Brick patios feature wicker furniture, ornate wood or cast iron benches, and antiques. There are times when the masses of flowering shrubs make this garden appear a bit full or “overgrown”. Nature at her best!


English Country Garden Elements: White picket fences, arbors, quaint bridges, and gazebos with brick walkways are typical for this garden style. Pergolas and trellises with gravel paths, stone pavers, and a decorative birdbath or a sundial, accent the custom patio area laid with custom brick, stone, or rustic pavers. Decorative containers are an excellent choice for Dwarf Citrus Trees and Standard Roses. Don’t forget the birdhouses! A meandering path leading to a simple bench surrounded by Iceberg Roses offers a garden retreat.


English Country Garden Plants: Lush, fragrant shrub masses, climbing roses on an arched trellis, a rose garden area, and groups of herbaceous plants such a Daylilies, Fortnight Lilies, Ornamental Grasses, and Iris give the garden its charm. If a bit of formality is requested, formal Boxwood hedges may line the meandering walkways. Rolling lawns are a traditional feature in English Country Gardens. Keeping water conservation in mind, a low-growing lawn substitutes are used to present an open, meadow look, allowing for a recreational turfgrass area in the backyard. Homeowners may also install the new synthetic tall fescue type turfgrass with has a natural looking thatch base. A combination of evergreen and shade trees allow summer shade and winter sun. A raised herb garden works nicely, as do seasonal bulbs and annual color placed near garden focal points.


Informal Theme, The Natural Look: For clarification, the informal garden theme consists of free-flowing, meandering pathways leading to, or through, outdoor “rooms”, or areas of interest. Shrubs are allowed to assume their natural growth habits and must be pruned with a selective pruning technique (rather than formal pruning).