Tucked away

This Old House Magazine|July/August 2020

Tucked away
A quest for privacy—and a flair for collecting—takes a California homeowner on a 14-year journey to turn a blank-slate backyard into a lush, layered getaway
MARY-KATE MACKEY

DONNA MARTINEZ didn’t set out to create a one-of-a-kind oasis in her suburban backyard. But when she and her family moved to a small-lot subdivision in southern Orange County, CA, with houses all around, the longtime gardener felt a strong craving for privacy.

So she started planting. “I kept on planting until I couldn’t see the dirt,” she says. She began with trees, including a fast-growing Chinese flame tree, and vines like showy bougainvillea then added favorites such as geraniums, alstroemeria, and roses, attracted to their bright colors. Since the neighborhood association rules that enforced conformity in the front yard didn’t apply in the back, Donna embellished her plantings with found objects and vintage furniture snagged at bargain prices at garage sales, flea markets, and online. “I had no idea what to do with some of them when I dragged them home,” she says. “I liked them. That was all that mattered.”

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July/August 2020