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A World Away

Photo by Mark Lohman

A house all dolled up in pink inside—from carpeting to countertops—might have scared off some prospective home buyers, but not Lidy Baars. She had only toured a couple of houses when her Realtor took her to see this 1960s Pueblo Revival ranch in Huntington Beach, California, just as it was about to hit the market.

Shown: In a shady corner of the backyard, a gnarly old ginkgo ringed by a tree bench shelters the entry to the garden house. Potted flowers and ferns and an orange tree line the pea-gravel patio in front of it.

California Couple

Photo by Mark Lohman

That was more than 20 years ago. “I fell in love with the space in the back garden,” Lidy says of the property she has called home ever since. Never mind the interior’s bubble-gum color palette, or that her shoestring budget would prevent any immediate upgrades. She rang her doctor husband, John, who rushed over between patients; and after a quick look around, the couple were all in. “I wouldn’t leave the house until the offer was submitted,” Lidy recalls.

Shown: John and Lidy Baars enjoy the backyard garden, where they frequently entertain.

Rebuilt Deck

Photo by Mark Lohman

An eighth of an acre felt like a generous lot for a coastal town—especially to a couple with two young daughters who had been living in an apartment pining for a garden. In the rear of the house, double doors off the kitchen opened onto a pergola-covered patio overlooking a tidy green space with mature trees, a low deck off to one corner, and brick raised beds snaking along the fence perimeter. “The front was absolutely horrendous,” says Lidy of the old lawn and poodle topiaries. But the couple decided they could live with the front yard and the house as they were—at least for a while.

Shown: Salt air gave the existing wood deck such a beating that John eventually rebuilt it using composite boards.

Beneath the Pergola

Photo by Mark Lohman

“I really wanted to tackle the backyard first,” says Lidy. With the house totaling a modest 1,450 square feet, the couple fully intended to use their outdoor space. “It’s why I designed the different areas of our garden as rooms, with seating where people can enjoy a glass of iced tea or a meal together.”

Shown: Perfect for a party, the long wood farm table beneath the back pergola seats a crowd; vintage bistro chairs, in varying colors, are easily moved or folded for storing.

Back-Garden Beds

Photo by Mark Lohman

In those early years, they did what their tight budget allowed—starting with trimming back the tree canopy to capture enough sunshine for growing flowers. The six park-size trees that heavily shaded the backyard were edited down to just two: a ginkgo and a navel orange. The brick-edged borders, once filled with leggy shrubs and red gravel, were soon amended with homemade compost and replanted with foxglove, larkspur, and other colorful bloomers common to the European gardens Lidy and John remember from childhood.

Shown: The back-garden flower beds bloom in a serene palette of white, pink, and blue. Here, sun-loving foxglove spires and blue larkspur mingle with billowy pink evening primrose and violet petunias.

A Seat Among the Flowers

Photo by Mark Lohman

In their native Holland, Lidy says, “every house has a pretty and well-kept garden.” Her grandfather was an avid gardener, as was John’s father. So you might say this couple came to their gardening pastime honestly. Like his father, John grows a collection of fuchsia in hanging containers. “Lidy isn’t a real fan of them,” says John, who is typically the one getting his hands dirty in the garden. “But I sneak them in anyway.”

Shown: A ‘Sterling Silver’ hybrid tea rose, a magenta-flowering butterfly bush, and lavenders surround a painted bench that John built to replicate a vintage one Lidy sold through her antiques business.

Front Yard

Photo by Mark Lohman

Mophead and lacecap hydrangeas are also potted up, as well as lavender, cascading cranesbill geranium, and a couple dozen cymbidium orchids, which can stay outside year-round in the mild Southern California climate. Scaling the fence and screening the patio is a white-blooming trumpet vine, while flowering shrubs—including butterfly bush, rose of Sharon, viburnum, and more hydrangeas—soften the garden’s edges and offer a lush backdrop for shorter plantings. Roses, both climbing and shrub varieties, seal this garden’s cottage look.

Shown: Drought-tolerant shrubs and trees, including rosemary, pittosporum, and lavender; potted lemons; and a front-and-center, nonfruiting ‘Wilsonii’ olive tree form the backbone of the front yard’s Provence-inspired planting scheme.

Breakfast Nook

Photo by Mark Lohman

To help define the corners of the backyard as distinct garden rooms, John installed pea-gravel patios edged in brick. On the left side, the gravel hugs a platform of composite decking, just big enough for the couple’s vintage patio set. And to the right, on another patch of gravel, stands the garden house—a 50th-birthday present from John to Lidy.

Shown: Semiprivate seating makes the front garden an inviting spot for morning coffee, reading, and neighborly conversation.

Butterfly Attractors

Photo by Mark Lohman

John designed and built the 10-by-10-foot structure himself, incorporating flea-market finds such as salvaged doors and windows; it went up over the course of several weekends, with the help of two friends. It was originally intended as an art studio. “Pretty much anything you can make, I love to do,” says Lidy, who has a fine arts degree and dabbles in everything from etching to floral design. “I was going to glue, glitter, and paint my heart out in there.”

Those plans shifted, however, when Lidy launched FrenchGardenHouse.com, her business selling French antiques online. The little house now serves as her workstation for packing and shipping orders, while the garden offers an ideal environment for testing and photographing her wares.

Shown: Summer-flowering butterfly bush in the back garden attracts pollinators, including hummingbirds.

Foliage Contrasts

Photo by Mark Lohman

But for all the work Lidy and John do in and around the garden, they also play. “We love to host parties there,” Lidy says. As she sees it, “I don’t have a lot of space in my house, but I have a big party room outside.” Nearly all of their loved ones have celebrated at least one birthday in the garden, including Lidy’s mother, who rang in her 65th with a sit-down dinner for 80 hosted by the couple. “I volunteer our garden for my friends’ events, too,” says Lidy, who has held numerous showers and church gatherings there. “It allows us to meet those that our friends love, and it’s my secret way of getting my to-do list done.”

For two decades, the couple focused on the back garden and house, without giving much attention to the front. Then the 2013 drought struck California. Water restrictions soon followed—forcing John, who was watering every other day, to cut back to just twice a week.

Shown: A drought-tolerant and fast-growing shrub or small tree, pittosporum sports muted evergreen foliage that nicely contrasts with the purple-flowering groundcovers at its feet.

Lavender Display

Photo by Mark Lohman

Something had to give. “In order to keep the cottage garden in back, we decided to make the front a drought-resistant garden,” explains Lidy. “That way, what water we saved in the front, we could sprinkle on our babies in the back.”

Shown: A massed planting of Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) out front makes the fragrant herb’s foliage and white flowers easy to admire. A willow basket shows off another lavender’s colorful blooms.

Kitchen View

Photo by Mark Lohman

The couple wasted no time brainstorming their front-yard redo—compiling magazine clippings, lists of water-wise plants, and sketches for a custom fence. After settling on a Provence-inspired landscape featuring a circular pea-gravel center framed by white fencing and shrub borders, they delegated the hardscaping to the local contractor who had remodeled their kitchen. His team hand-removed the sod and lightly graded, before pouring pea gravel over a bed of landscape fabric for the courtyard, and erecting a wood-slat fence with masonry corner posts.

Shown: The kitchen window offers a view of the pink-flowering ‘Eden’ rose that climbs the pergola.

Antique Finds

Photo by Mark Lohman

“We really wanted the colors to be muted and soft, reminiscent of the French countryside,” says Lidy of a plant palette that includes silvery-leaved ‘Little Ollie’ olive trees and variegated ‘Silversheen’ pittosporum, alongside a mix of Spanish lavenders, ball-shaped Japanese boxwood, and masses of fragrant rosemary.

Shown: A potting bench off one side of the back patio gives Lidy a spot to display her latest antique finds.

Slatted Front Fence

Photo by Mark Lohman

At the courtyard’s center stands a fruitless ‘Wilsonii’ olive tree, not far from an IKEA patio set—a thrifty choice for a French-antiques dealer, but as Lidy jokes, “I didn’t want to lose sleep, in the event that someone hoisted it over the fence.” On Saturday mornings, you’ll often find the couple here drinking coffee together. “It’s a great place to sit and talk about garden plans,” says Lidy, “especially in early spring, when we’re working in front and figuring out which plants to add, move, or cut back.”

Shown: At 30 inches tall, with evergreen plantings on both sides, the slatted front fence offers just enough year-round privacy without totally blocking the view from the street.

Pea-Gravel Courtyard

Photo by Mark Lohman

Their recent front-yard makeover is just another evolution; gardens never stop changing, after all. “Tastes evolve,” John says matter-of-factly. “Some plants work out, others don’t.” No garden is ever really done—and for their part, Lidy and John wouldn’t have it any other way.

Shown: A severe drought spurred the decision to replace a traditional front lawn with a pea-gravel courtyard and water-wise plantings.

Garden Plan

Illustration by Ian Worpole

Two garden styles duke it out on this snug 60-by-100-foot lot. In front, drought-tolerant plants encircling a gravel courtyard offset the water demands of the backyard’s lawn and flower-packed borders. A garden house in back serves as a home workspace, while multiple seating areas—including a tree bench and dining sets on the pergola-covered patio, the back deck, and the gravel courtyard in front—encourage outdoor living nearly year-round.

A. In a shady corner of the backyard, a gnarly old ginkgo ringed by a tree bench shelters the entry to the garden house.

B. Perfect for a party, the long wood farm table beneath the back pergola seats a crowd. A potting bench off one side of the back patio gives Lidy a spot to display her latest antique finds.

C. Salt air gave the existing wood deck such a beating that John eventually rebuilt it using composite boards.

D. The back-garden flower beds bloom in a serene palette of white, pink, and blue. Here, sun-loving foxglove spires and blue larkspur mingle with billowy pink evening primrose and violet petunias.

E. A ‘Sterling Silver’ hybrid tea rose, a magenta-flowering butterfly bush, and lavenders surround a painted bench that John built to replicate a vintage one Lidy sold through her antiques business.

F. Drought-tolerant shrubs and trees, including rosemary, pittosporum, and lavender; potted lemons; and a front-and-center, nonfruiting ‘Wilsonii’ olive tree form the backbone of the front yard’s Provence-inspired planting scheme. At 30 inches tall, with evergreen plantings on both sides, the slatted front fence offers just enough year-round privacy without totally blocking the view from the street.

G. Semiprivate seating makes the front garden an inviting spot for morning coffee, reading, and neighborly conversation.