WHEN IT COMES TO OUTDOOR SPACES, CITY LIVING OFTEN HAS A CAVEAT: You may get great views but have very little open-air room to enjoy them. Landscape designer Thurza Campbell faced this problem when a couple approached her about their Back Bay town house renovation. Outdoorsy types, the homeowners wanted to bring some of the beauty and serenity of rural life to their bustling downtown environs.
They gave the designer what was essentially a blank canvas. "There was a garden in the little gated area out front, with a wrought-iron fence around it, but it was kind of untended and nondescript," recalls Jim Campbell, Thurza's husband and partner in their landscaping business, Timeless Designs, in Sherborn. Otherwise, the outdoor spaces were untouched.
Thurza's approach was to incorporate the owners' desire for restful family gathering areas with the clean aesthetic she honed through her travels in Kyoto, Japan, in the late 1990s. The result, installed in 2005, is five distinct outdoor "rooms": an entry garden, a koi garden, and three rooftop gardens. Each features different design elements and plant life, and each serves a different purpose in the owners' lives.
The entry garden greets visitors with cobblestone paths, dwarf boxwoods, and an ever-evolving variety of annuals, perennials, and flowering shrubs. This area beautifies the property, while the koi garden in the back - with its honeysuckle vines and its pond of multicolored goldfish - provides a private retreat. A limestone fountain helps block the noise of street traffic, further removing the garden from the city beyond.
Maximizing privacy was also a goal in the rooftop gardens, which double as family dining areas. Over the garage, the Campbells added arborvitae, an evergreen, along the rooftop in low teak planters and installed a decorative trellis. In the sixth-floor Zen garden, they filled long bamboo planters with corn and sunflowers to provide a shield from the street below. A sand garden in a stainless-steel rectangle is the focal point, but a Kamado grill, several teak benches, and granite Japanese lights make it a great place to gather on July Fourth, Thurza says.
The fifth-floor roof, with teak decking and furniture, is an ideal breakfast spot. Here, the owners get a bird's-eye view of city life and the skyline beyond. They also do a lot of gardening, planting and picking their own vegetables and herbs. Says Thurza: "They love being urban farmers."
Deblina Chakraborty is a freelance writer in Boston.