A landscape designer takes 300 square feet of unusable backyard from bleak to beautiful.
There wasn’t a whole lot to look at when landscape designer Michael Glassman first saw L. Elaine Waetjen, M.D.’s 20-by-15-foot backyard in Davis. Waetjen, an OB-GYN with UC Davis Health System, remembers Glassman looking around and asking, “‘Does everything go away?’ When I said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Good.’”
So what did Glassman see? Some bedraggled plants and a timeworn brick hardscape. Well, that wasn’t so bad. But the tiny courtyard—it’s enclosed on three sides—had much bigger issues: a southern exposure with no protection from the sun and a two-story house next door that offered, for anyone who wanted to indulge, an unobstructed view. Glassman took on the project, completely changing the space, and as it happens, his life and Waetjen’s, too. As the work was winding up—they were shopping for furniture—it dawned on them that they had fallen in love. Today, they share their lives, the Davis home and the revamped courtyard. Do endings get any happier than that?
From Hot and Ugly to Cool and Cozy
“The important thing was to get shade without blocking all the light,” Glassman says. An attached overhead structure of Douglas fir covered with shade cloth shields the sun. A fast-growing living screen of non-invasive clumping bamboo took care of the privacy problem. “What’s interesting about the space now is we chose not to do a dining room in the house because we eat almost every meal out here—unless it’s pouring rain or freezing. This is where we entertain and spend our time. We have a big oversized table, we can eat inside or outside, but this is everyone’s choice. When it’s cold, we put on a sweater and eat out here.”
Theme: “I really liked what Michael designed for me because he looked at some of my favorite things inside my house,” Waetjen says. “He knew that, because I spent some of my growing-up years in different parts of Africa, I would like having things that reminded me of that in some way.” The rainbow limestone on the vertical structures and water wall basin, for example, remind her of Namibia.
Art: Stone sculptures by Zimbabwe artists Edronce Rukodzi and Nicholas Mukomberanwa were moved from inside the house to the courtyard. A 300-year-old Balinese temple door anchors plantings against the neighbor’s garage.
Building contractor: Matt Haseltine of Davis.
The unexpected: “In a space this small, every detail is important,” Glassman says. His color choice for the wood trim? Plum-colored paint, to bring out colors in the rainbow limestone.
Creative solutions: A water wall for soothing sounds and attracting wildlife. An aluminum dining table that looks like wood (from Pottery World in Rocklin).