A Family Garden Gets a Three-Sided Cabana and an Inviting Meadow, Too
A backyard meadow with a water-tight cabana that opens up to the hot tub keeps a San Francisco family using their outdoor space all year round.
When Dani Coulter and Johnny Keegan, who own the landscape design firm Collecting Flowers , first saw their client’s garden in San Francisco, one issue was immediately apparent: It was pretty scary, especially toward the back.
“This happens a lot,” says Coulter. “The back of a garden usually has an old rotting fence or a shed that feels kind of creepy—something people don’t want to go into anymore.” Meanwhile, the lawn was a perfect rectangle—“so unappealing to me,” she says, and there was non-descript pea gravel. “Nobody wanted to go back there.”
Priority No. 1 for Coulter and Keegan, who are life partners as well as business partners, was to create a garden that their clients, Erin and Thomas Becker, would actually want to enter. So Coulter stood in the middle of the space to feel the energy and essentially asked the garden what it wanted to be. “I thought, ‘What does this garden want?’ And it was screaming meadow .”
Since Erin owns an organizing business and Thomas is a high school art teacher, the clients also wanted a structure that Erin could use as an office during the day and that the family could use for art projects and general “hanging out” in the afternoon and on the weekends. A hot tub as a relaxation space was also must.
It was important, Coulter says, that the meadow be pretty and soft , so they planted Lomandra Platinum Beauty, lavender, blue Fescue (an ornamental grass) and Helichrysum petiolare , an evergreen shrub. Agave ellemeetiana was paired with silvery-blue Dymondia margaretae to make the meadow “feel a little more California and modern.” Mexican beach pebbles were used because the owners like to walk around barefoot. (If going shoeless is your thing, Coulter says, stay away from pea gravel.)
The garden shed, which they refer to as the “cabana ,” meanwhile, is loaded with special details. It’s three-sided, with one wall open to the hot tub, so a family member can be in the tub and chat with others inside the structure. Collecting Flowers tiled the floor with clé tile , which is outdoor rated and can withstand wet feet.
To keep the cabana from getting too dark, Collecting Flowers added two skylights, along with slat windows for views of the plantings at the side of the yard and of the city. A hanging chair from Serena & Lily , pendants from Miniforms , and a sofa and table from Article complete the look. “The whole thing feels open and airy,” says Coulter, but it’s still water-tight.
The area around the hot tub also got extra attention. The cedar stairs are intentionally “loungy” and function as extra seating. Decking boards are staggered around an ornamental plum tree so the plants fall into the grooves between the boards. The underside is painted black so one can’t see the structure underneath, and the deck appears to float.
The garden itself is special to Coulter personally, because she was pregnant at the time. “It has a dreamy energy as a result,” she says. “I was picking the plants when I was pregnant, and I can feel this slow softness that was my vibe at the time.”
The result is a garden that the tight-knit family of three —along with their bunny, Buttercup—are no longer scared of. Instead, they use the space every night. “They go in the cabana and hang out there, play games,” says Coulter. “It’s a nice space to be without screens. A place to move, to breathe, do some art projects, do a puzzle and just be.”