With its narrow brick streets and houses tucked between quaint shops, the historic German Village district of Columbus isn't known for elbow room. To Tim Straker, that's part of the charm. "When you live here, you don't have a big lawn to take care of," he says, "but you can have a nice garden and terrace."
Pictured: Annabelle hydrangeas against a brown fence offer a pretty background for the U-shape living room's seating and fire pit.
Eschewing the one-big-patio idea, Tim divided his 50x50-foot backyard—bookended by house and garage—into four outdoor rooms filled with amenities for relaxing or entertaining.
There's a dining area, with a shaded table for eight, just a few steps from the kitchen door. Opposite is a cozy seating area for two where Tim likes to read the Sunday paper. Tucked behind screening trees and close to the garage is a south-facing sunroom with a burbling fountain and chaise lounges that rotate easily to follow the sun. Opposite lies the main seating area, featuring a coffee table that moves aside to reveal a fire pit for cool nights.
Pictured: Slender hornbeam trees divide the yard into four equal spaces.
To draw guests to the outdoor living room (pictured), Tim sets up a portable bar by the garage. "A little mixology goes on while I finish grilling." Music drifts from outdoor speakers, rattan-wrapped hurricane lamps flicker, and subtle uplighting grazes trees and shrubs.
The garden's rectilinear plan befits Tim's 1880s Italianate house, but the plantings and decor suit his personality. Quirky vinyl boating cushions and industrial-chic metal chairs mix with classic teak furniture. Understated bed plantings emphasize foliage and texture, with tropical houseplants filling containers. A boxwood hedge pruned like dentil molding edges the garage. "I like using common things in uncommon ways," Tim says. "That's what makes it fun."
A scrolled pot holder mounted on a fence keeps fresh herbs close to the dining table for instant seasoning.
Talk about an extreme makeover. When Ron and Deborah Clarkson bought their home in Lincoln Park, the building was a derelict commercial dairy surrounded by grounds that were basically a trash pit. Today, it's a one-of-a-kind residence with a wonderful secluded garden shielded by aged brick walls. "It's been a blast having this completely enclosed space in the city," Deborah says.
A privacy wall and two garages (one facing the street, another the alley) frame the backyard. From the garage, a path leads around a juniper screen to a series of three outdoor rooms. The first is an 18x21-foot potager (pictured) — an ornamental kitchen garden mingling herbs, flowers, veggies and fruit. Landscape designer Will Spiegelberg trained six espaliered apple trees to form a living fence around the center bed. "It's like the apple fence at Monet's garden in Giverny," Deborah says, but no harder to maintain than roses.
Two lollipop-shaped ornamental pear trees herald the transition to the second space in the Clarkson's backyard: a cozy seating area with a backdrop of boxwood, anemone and a small tree called seven-son flower. "It feels like a secret garden," she says.
A brick arch marks the entrance to the alluring third room, an ivy-draped "dining court." Seeing no need for a huge house, the couple "blew the roof off" the back corner of the dairy, keeping its brick walls intact. "We call it the grotto," Deborah says. "It's the best place to host a dinner party."
French doors connect this inviting dining area to the kitchen. "As soon as spring arrives," Deborah says, "we spend as much time as we can outside. Our house becomes twice as large."
Climbing ivy softens the aged brick walls; a rusty door, original to the dairy, adds earthy character.
Potted plants supply the majority of accent colors. Both homeowners use tropicals or geraniums that can overwinter indoors to save on the budget as well as provide instant lushness in spring.
Both homeowners use trees creatively (not just for shade). Here, pollarded (severely pruned) willow-leaved pear trees divide garden and living space. The Clarksons also trained linden trees into a 20-foot-tall "hedge on stilts" for privacy.
Use outdoor materials to delineate "rooms" as you would indoors with rugs and hardwood and tile floors. Bluestone, brick and flagstone, along with mulch that holds its color year-round, mark boundaries in both yards.
This apple tree bears about 100 fruit each season. Other pruned apple trees were lashed to a framework of bamboo and leather to create a "living fence" around the potager's center bed, which yields herbs, flowers, veggies and, of course, fruit.