How A Tricky, Overlooked Plot Was Transformed Into A Suburban Oasis

Surrounded by six neighbors on an awkwardly shaped flag lot, this California garden feels tranquil and private – thanks to a clever landscaping scheme of outdoor rooms that work in harmony with the newly built house.

The garden at Birdsong Ranch is divided into zones
(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

Paige Coleman believes that you should always live in a place for a year before designing a garden. This way you learn the dynamics of the space – how the light changes with the seasons, where the noise comes from, which views you want to enhance, and which ones you want to block. 

Key Details

Owner: Paige Coleman, an interior designer

Location: San Jose, CA

Project: Building new California board-and-batten style house with redesigned garden on a flag lot

Landscape design: Koch & Associates

Architect: Brad Cox, Architect, Inc

Paige lived on her property in San Jose, CA for eight years before creating the oasis she lives in today, so she knew exactly what she was doing. 

Birdsong Ranch is surrounded by houses on all sides. That’s because it sits on a flag lot – essentially two rectangular suburban lots interlocked at a right angle, making an L shape.

The house on the side of the L facing the street, where Paige lived for those eight years, is now rented out. And the side of the L nestled within the block is where she built her dream home.

It's hard to imagine a garden sanctuary with six (yes, six!) next-door neighbors. But, here, everything is green and quiet, save for the soft, constant backdrop of birds. Hence the name.

House And Garden Designed In Harmony

Patio of house with outdoor dining table and benches

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

The house itself is only 900 square feet, but it was designed hand in hand with the landscaping, meaning both spaces function in harmony with each other.

Paige is a firm believer in views: “You want to love your house when you see it from the outside… But you want to love what you see out the windows, too.”

View of patio and garden from living area

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

She also believes that it doesn’t take much – even an evergreen vine on a wall, or a fresh coat of paint on a fence can add texture, break up the light, and just make things nicer to look at.

“If you don’t do something special there, it’s a missed opportunity,” she says.

Zoning The Space With Outdoor Rooms

Outdoor dining table leading to patio

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

Design harmony doesn’t stop with just visuals. The yard is split into five distinct rooms that can function as an extension of the house year-round.

Leading off the main living space, a dining patio with a huge teak table abuts a pass-through window. It's perfect for shuttling food outside when Paige is entertaining outdoors.

Patio leading off the interior of Birdsong Ranch

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

Another patio for lounging sits behind the refurbished barn, the only original structure. The barn is a multifunctional space that serves as a home gym, storage space, and project room.

The windows at the side would make it perfect for serving cocktails on a warm summer's evening.

View to the barn with circular patio and firepit

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

A raised fire pit patio adds levels to the space and enables it to be used year-round. It's surrounded by laid-back Adirondack chairs, with a curved concrete bench providing additional seating.

The firepit also sits atop a secret – a dissipation pit that keeps the whole area from flooding, instead gradually seeping excess water back into the ground.

Outdoor sitting area with firepit

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

At the side of the house, an characterful stone pathway, flanked by fragrant herbs, leads from the front patio to the kitchen’s Dutch door. It's an ideal position for the grill, so Paige uses this space as an outdoor kitchen.

The tall black pot is planted with a kumquat tree, surrounded by strawberries – maximizing growing space.

Door of Birdsong Ranch with red grill to the side

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

And finally, there’s the Orchard Room. This room was the last piece of the puzzle – the only spot that, when the landscapers packed up and left, still felt empty.

Paige was mulling it over when she visited a friend whose house had not an outdoor shower, but an outdoor bath. Paige, who had always been a fan of a good soak, knew inspiration had struck.

Outdoor bathtubs

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

As soon as she got home she fitted out the Orchard Room with two bright red bathtubs, side by side and facing each other, “so you can chat!”

Working With The Landscape

Approach to Birdsong Ranch, with mature fir tree in yard

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

Separating and surrounding the rooms is the greenery that lends the place such a lush and private feeling.

The only plants that predate the build are an enormous fir tree that soars over the front house, and a grove of acacias near the barn.

You can tell that those have been there a long time, because one acacia actually grows through the barn’s roof.

But Paige is grateful for the little touch of oddity that gives the property. “You can’t plant an awkward acacia tree at the corner of the barn and have it go through the roof, right? That has to already be there.”

Barn with acacia tree growing through

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

Other than those trees, however, everything is new, and planted specific to the site.

Before anything else, the landscapers dug up the lawn to lay pipes, both water and sewage to the house, and irrigation for the garden.

By Paige’s account it was a real mess, but soon the trenches were filled in and the plants were in the ground, and the place transformed.

“You can’t believe it's there!” she says. “I mean, I know it’s there. I try not to hit it with my shovel… The whole yard is just pipes!”

Embracing Container Gardening

Large stock tanks used as planters

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

With so much pipework running underground, it made sense for Paige to maximize the benefits of container gardening. So she invested in large galvanized steel stock tanks, intended for livestock.

These are used to grow a mix of ornamentals and edibles, including raspberries and herbs.

Tanks like this make perfect planters, but they are heavy and require drainage holes to be drilled. Otherwise the soil inside will become waterlogged.

Designing For Wildlife

View from the living area out to the garden

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

So what kind of plants went into the ground? Anything birds like. There are two distinct pockets specifically for hummingbirds, where you (and the birds) can count on something to be blooming year-round.

Elsewhere there’s anything and everything that could make for bird habitat, and would grow quickly for privacy. 

The fountain positioned next to the main patio was chosen to provide birds a place to bathe and drink.

Quickly Established

The garden at Birdsong Ranch is divided into zones

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)

Thanks to Paige's clever choice of plants, Birdsong Ranch is already incredibly lush, and the border trees are tall – the neighbors might as well not be on the other side.

Is it actually relaxing, keeping up with all of that landscaping? According to Paige, that’s half the fun. “I don’t watch a lot of TV,” she says, sheepishly.

“If I’m gonna play, I'm gonna come out here and get dirty… It’s one of my hobbies I guess.”

The Garden Before

Before pictures of Birdsong Ranch

(Image credit: Paige Coleman)

Prior to Paige's project, the garden was an uninspiring space that did nothing to minimize the impact of overlooking from neighbors.

The barn is the only original structure still on the site, but it was in poor condition and needed overhauling.

Paige's finished home and garden work beautifully in harmony with one another, and have completely transformed the site.

Exterior of Birdsong Ranch with established fir tree at the front

(Image credit: Mark Pinkerton)
Liz Baessler
Senior Editor

The only child of a horticulturist and an English teacher, Liz Baessler was destined to become a gardening editor. She has been with Gardening Know how since 2015, and a Senior Editor since 2020. She holds a BA in English from Brandeis University and an MA in English from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. After years of gardening in containers and community garden plots, she finally has a backyard of her own, which she is systematically filling with vegetables and flowers.

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