Tranquil entry courtyard in Davis, CA (design by Chris Corbett)
Recently Chris Corbett, a Davis-based architect and landscape designer, asked me if I would photograph some of his projects for his portfolio on Houzz. Even though I’m not a professional photographer and have no experience photographing landscape design projects other than what I’ve done for this blog, I said yes.
The first project I photographed was an entry courtyard in Village Homes, an ecologically sustainable community in Davis developed by Chris’ father Mike Corbett in the 1970s. It was one of the first projects of its kind in the world and attracted a great deal of international attention.
Properties in Village Homes are typically small, with a focus on shared community spaces rather than insular backyards. I can’t speak for the homeowners, but maybe their desire to have a private front yard is in direct response to the communal living philosophy underlying Village Homes. Even if you like your neighbors and people passing by, it’s nice to have a private space where nobody bothers you.
At least that’s my feeling. I purposely didn’t ask Chris about his design approach to this project since I didn’t want anything to cloud my experience.I
As you can see from the photos above, the front yard is fenced all the way around. Inside the fence, Chris created a entry courtyard that offers plenty of space for entertaining (and casual dining) as well as generous planting areas for shrubs and perennials around the perimeter. A small water feature consisting of a bubbling urn is a focal point in the bed that connects the covered patio with the open seating area (the one with the umbrella).
The choice of higher-end materials, especially bluestone for the patios and walkway, lends this courtyard elegance and sophistication. The furniture and umbrella aren’t my style, but those are personal preferences.
It may seem odd, but one of my favorite features of this project is the silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae) growing in the cracks between the flagstone pieces. It’s perfect for this kind of application. In fact, I love it so much that this fall we will replace the small patch of lawn in our backyard with it.
This project was completed several years ago but Chris wanted photos of what it looks like now that the plants have matured.
This is a small space, and the plant palette is different from what I would have chosen. For example, there are no succulents—not a single one. While I personally think that’s a crime against horticulture, I realize that not everybody is into spiky plants. While landscape designers like Chris can certainly put gentle pressure on clients, they don’t have the final say.
If I had to rate this project on attractiveness and livability, without taking into account my personal preferences, I would rate it a high 8 out of 10. The 6-foot fence creates a tranquil retreat that becomes an extension of the living space inside the house simply by opening the patio sliders. This is the kind of private sanctuary that is in high demand by homeowners who live on a small lot in a cramped neighborhood—a category I certainly fall into.