In this Yardzen design deep dive, Yardzen’s Design Director, Kevin Lenhart, shares his favorite features of a modern cottage garden landscape design for a home in California’s East Bay Area.
01 STRONG SENSE OF PLACE
A design succeeds when all its details work together to create a harmonious whole. When everything supports everything else, designs acquire a quality beyond the sum of their parts, expressing a new and potent sense of place.
This design achieves this trick with grace, transforming the existing yard, with its patchy vegetation, space-constraining railings, and unfocused layout, into a lush and floral retreat modern cottage yard that bowls you over with sensory experience (Learn more about cottage gardens here — one of our favorite landscape trends). It’s not overtly fancy, but it is rich with detail, particularly in the planting design. At the same time, the design maintains strong legibility, high functionality, free-flowing circulation, and a seamless relationship binding home to hardscape to planting.
How? Many small details add up to this overall impression, but the careful curation and dense arrangement of planting plays a key role. Tree canopy from neighboring properties complements the lush planting design, creating a cumulative sense of isolation from the surrounding world – the yard feels like a private retreat, cozy, calming, and abundant with life.
02 SENSORY DESIGN
Like many traditional cottage gardens, this design offers something for all the senses.
The gravel patio and paths provide a satisfying crunch underfoot, while rock walls, rough clay pots, and planting spilling into pathways offer a pleasant blend of textures.
The sound of wind through leaves permeates the entire yard, and is most pronounced in the plant-enveloped gravel patio and densely planted side yard paths. Jasmine, rosemary, lavender, and citrus trees offer lovely smells, not to mention cooking resources. Most significantly, the lush, layered planting, dominated by dense foliage but punctuated by small, bright blooms, forms a rich visual backdrop.
03 ATTENTION TO EDGES
The treatment of edges is a standout feature in this design.
The deck has broad, unobscured edges that allow for free-flowing circulation and a strong sense of connection to the broader yard. Using a wraparound stair eliminates the need for a guardrail, a clever strategy to strengthen connectivity and expand the perceived sense of space on the deck.
More exciting are the naturalistic edges along the gravel paths, with patches of groundcover planting (Sedum, Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’), low perennials and shrubs (rockrose, lavender), and even decorative boulders blurring the edge of the path. You get the sense that nature is running the show, and the atmosphere is one of softness and abundance.
04 EXTENSION OF HOME
The deck area elegantly bridges indoor and outdoor spaces, offering a hybrid experience – an outdoor living room of sorts. This space maintains the feel of a cottage garden by using materials like gravel, stone, and neutral woods (learn more).
The pergola and fire place are strongly architectural, but the unobstructed sides of the pergola, along with the wraparound deck stair, maintain strong connection to the yard. The deck experience is at once enclosed and wide open, a midway point between the indoor and outdoor experience.
05 THRESHOLDS + ENCLOSURE
The design does a good job manipulating the perceived sense of space – how open or enclosed an area feels. Juxtaposing enclosed and open spaces creates a dynamic landscape experience, and amplifies the way spaces feel – an open space feels extra open when you access it via an enclosed pathway.
That’s precisely what this design does. The side path, narrow and densely planted, entered by a vine-laden arbor, enables a dramatic reveal when it rounds the corner to the backyard, with its hillside backdrop, tall tree canopy, and elongated sight lines. The shift from narrow side yard to open backyard was built-in, the design just lent it a lot more drama, to very satisfying effect.
06 WATER-WISE PLANTING
Being a Bay Area design, water consciousness is a must. Luckily, you can have a lush design while remaining drought tolerant.
This design utilizes plants with low water requirements across the board, blending natives like Muhlenbergia rigens with species from similar dry climates: Australia (kangaroo paw), Mediterranean (lavender, rockrose, rosemary, olive tree), and South Africa (Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’).
Drought tolerant groundcovers Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ and Sedum ‘Goldmoss’ add to the roster, filling gaps between larger planting arrangements to amplify the sense of lushness without ramping up water needs.
Beyond water consciousness, the design manages to sneak in several pollinator crowd-pleasers, including Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha), along with the aforementioned rosemary and lavender.
Amidst all this environmental benefit, the plant selection maintains a carefully curated palette of bold golds, soft purples, white flowers, and dusty green foliage.
GET STARTED WITH YOUR CUSTOM LANDSCAPE DESIGN TODAY
Yardzen’s award-winning online landscaping design is tailored to clients in all fifty states in the U.S.
Our design process begins with understanding your space, your aesthetic preferences, and a discussion of your budget and vision to minimize surprises when it comes time to build.
Our top-notch designers then develop a personalized vision for your yard, shared through 3D renderings, 2D plan drawings, and plant and material lists. Your design will capture the look, feel, and function you are hoping for, all while keeping costs within range.
Once your design is complete, we’ll help you connect with a local contractor from our Pro Network of vetted professional landscapers to install your new design.