Susan and Michael McMillan were blessed with a large backyard — more than a third of an acre in the Trilogy development in Nipomo. The couple had visions of lush Mediterranean gardens, like the ones they strolled through in Europe.
In reality, the yard was generic: “Lots of grass, simple plantings and no lights,” described Susan McMillan.
A backyard reboot was in order.
The couple worked with Addison Landscape and Design and Sun Pool Construction to produce an elegant yet functional outdoor living space with Old World character. The result exceeded their expectations — and made a splash in the design world. Their backyard design won two first place awards for excellence in landscape design and construction from the California Landscape Contractors Association and also won “best residential project.”
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Just like an interior project focuses on rooms with distinct functions, the re-landscaping began with three components: A spa, outdoor kitchen and fireplace area. Consistent materials run through all three for a cohesive look. This includes Old World-style veneer stone and interlocking concrete pavers in a natural, organic shape. Custom cast concrete makes up the spa coping, fireplace mantel, hearth and outdoor kitchen countertop.
To break up all of those hard materials, Addison Landscape incorporated small planter beds that contain dwarf Italian Cyprus and blue fescue grasses. A waterfall ledge turns the spa into a dramatic water feature and adds another organic element to the hardscape.
A new yard, with its young plantings and immature trees, can lack vertical interest. So Addison Landscape built a trellis over the outdoor kitchen. This establishes the area as a focal point and also creates some much-needed height.
The team also brought in several field-grown olive trees that “provide height and movement,” said McMillan. The day a crane lifted the trees over the house was a show for the entire neighborhood. “At the end, we all clapped,” she said.
Lighting puts the final touch on the outdoor space, adding ambience at night. LED up-lights dramatically highlight trees. Copper LED path lights illuminate walkways and perimeters. And the kitchen turns into a resort-style bar at night with under-counter lighting.
Smaller conversation areas take advantage of under-used corners of the yard and allow more seating options for guests. One is a bistro set and water feature. On the other side, four lounge chairs encircle a fire bowl.
The couple chose their patio furniture for both looks and function.
Many pieces are dead-ringers for indoor furniture, but built with weather-resistant materials. They stayed away from big coordinating sets, choosing instead a mix of wicker and iron “so things would not be too matchy-matchy,” said McMillan. All pieces are pulled together by a similar dark finish, as well as fabric with red accents.
The outdoor kitchen is equipped to feed a crowd. The couple chose a large grill, a Fire Magic E790 because “that baby can grill a lot of steaks,” Susan said. Side burners are set several inches from the grill to accommodate large pots. A large counter acts as a serving area and has access to electrical outlets for blenders and crock pots. Underneath, there is ample storage for barbecue tools.
The couple was so pleased with their backyard, they asked Addison Landscape to redesign their front yard as well. New elements include dry-stack retaining walls, a Mediterranean-inspired plant palette, and a collection of rustic cast concrete pots with succulents near the front entry.
The McMillans are finding themselves outdoors more often, and inviting more guests to join them. Recently, they wandered outside onto their covered patio to enjoy a late summer thunderstorm. Susan says that the patio gives them the “feeling we are in a Tuscan courtyard,” but with all the comforts of home.
ADD HEIGHT: Many yards, especially new ones, lack vertical interest. Consider investing in a few mature trees or building a structure, such as a pergola or trellis, that adds some height to the yard.
GO TO YOUR CORNERS: The far corners of a yard are often “dead” spaces that go unused. Reclaim them by creating small areas of hardscape, then setting up a bistro set, a couple lounge chairs, or a firepit seating area.
SOFTEN UP: Use plants to break up and soften large expanses of hardscape, such as pavers or concrete. If you don’t have built-in planters, add clusters of potted plants.