A Southern California family stretches the limits of their small front yard, designing spaces to relax, gather, and play.

By Miranda Crowell
September 01, 2020
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Design inspiration can come from unexpected places. For Stephanie Poole, it was her home’s driveway that struck her imagination. “It was dead flat, and I always thought, That would make a perfect bocce court,” she says. From there, a vision of her family’s yard came together as a space for play, resulting in a design that won our second annual America’s Best Front Yard contest!

blue house with cactus
Credit: David Tsay

“Our property is a postage stamp, so it was important for me to make use of all of our space, not only the backyard,” says Poole, an architect, who lived in the Santa Barbara house with her husband, Bruce Hickey, and their son, Liam, for more than a decade before she finally had time to revamp the front yard. Enlisting landscape contractor Ashley Farrell to help with the installation, Poole started by replacing the chainlink fence with a low wall made from local sandstone that’s wide enough for neighbors to sit on when they stop by for a chat. In that wall, they added geodes the family picked up in Canada, Hickey's homeland, for an extra personal touch.

The family also got their driveway bocce court, which they created by covering the cement with decomposed granite and a stabilizer to prevent dust. For matches, they bring out a vintage scoreboard Poole found on Etsy and wooden boards to keep the balls from rolling into the street. A couple of chairs and a firepit at one corner of the front wall create a conversation area close enough to the bocce court for spectators. That's also where Poole and her husband like to relax while sipping a glass of wine at dusk.

outdoor vertical garden
Credit: David Tsay

Vertical Garden

Alongside the bocce court, Poole grows herbs and vegetables, most of them in fabric pocket panels. “I don’t have a lot of experience growing vegetables, and this felt like a manageable size for my skills,” she says.  As it turns out, the vertical garden has been so successful that it provides ingredients for almost every lunch and dinner in summertime.

Poole garden
Credit: David Tsay

Water Wise Plant Choices

In addition to the vertical edible garden, a breezy, less obtrusive collection of drought-tolerant grasses and succulents took the place of the overgrown tropical plants that once hid the house. Unthirsty plants, such as sculptural agave, blue chalksticks, and wispy feather grass, were a priority given the area’s tendency toward drought. Most of Poole's choices survive on minimal drip irrigation; rain barrels along the driveway capture enough water for the trees.

The home’s exterior also informed many of Poole's landscaping decisions. “I wanted the front yard and house to be in a conversation,” she says. Low-growing plants with mint green foliage and orange flowers coordinate with the paint colors and preserve views.

bocce ball in Poole garden
Credit: David Tsay

Social Connections

During the recent months of hunkering down at home, the front yard has kept the family connected not only to one another (“the bocce court has gotten a workout,” Poole says), but with the neighbors as well. “I say hello to people who come by, wave to their kids, pet their dogs,” Poole says. “I appreciate the neighborhood rhythms more than ever.”

More About America's Best Front Yard Contest

We received nearly 1,800 entries for BH&G's America's Best Front Yard Contest this year! We were so impressed with each entry we saw and the amazing diversity of styles and plants these gardens showcased. Keep on planting, pruning, and painting, and you, too, could have the chance to win the honor of America's Best Front Yard. Stay tuned for information on next year's competition.

Comments (7)

Anonymous
September 19, 2020
Not my cup of tea
Anonymous
September 19, 2020
My motto is'keep it simple',and nice.This looks like a lot of maintenance to me,and it is the winner,??.
Anonymous
September 19, 2020
Yikes! There is not one thing that I like about that "yard". Way too much going on - looks unkempt
Anonymous
September 19, 2020
Crud. Now I have to go outside and at least mow down the weeds in my front yard. Like I don't feel guilty enough not going out there in 90° heat and 90% humidity in Central Florida. And not everyone can afford a landscaper and a lawn service. But this is very pretty And I congratulate them for their effort.
Anonymous
September 19, 2020
Crud. Now I have to go outside and at least mow down the weeds in my front yard. Like I don't feel guilty enough not going out there in 90° heat and 90% humidity in Central Florida. And not everyone can afford a landscaper and a lawn service. But this is very pretty And I congratulate them for their effort.
Anonymous
September 17, 2020
Mexican feather grass is invasive and contributes to the fires here in California. I wish it wasn’t promoted in California gardens
Anonymous
September 17, 2020
Nice use of space, but they are going to grow (pun intended) really tired of the grasses.....they become a nuisance!