The Big Idea: Its centerpiece is a 20- × 20-foot terrace that sits about 2 feet lower than the surrounding grade. Stepping down into it feels like entering a room. Oklahoma flagstones cut into various-size rectangles form the floor.
The Plants: Four 'October Glory' red maples provide dependable fall color (even in the Lower South); rosemary in matching planters helps focus your eye on the table and keeps you from stepping off the retaining wall; dichondra seeded between flagstones gives a softer look.
The Details: A low stone wall around the terrace adds a sense of enclosure and offers extra seating.
Dividing the backyard into several smaller spaces, each with its own distinct purpose and feeling, makes the yard seem bigger and fills it with interesting details. You can't see it all from one spot. You have to go and explore. A maple in each corner shades the sunken terrace and a fountain visually cools the secret garden.
The Big Idea: This small, secluded garden, tucked into trees and shrubs two steps up from the terrace, is a garden within a garden. Splashing water from a fountain and a color scheme centered on white, chartreuse, and green make it feel cool and private.
The Plants: 'Diamond Frost' euphorbias, 'Aaron' white caladiums, white impatiens, 'Margarita' sweet potato vines, and white mazus all meld.
The Details: White-flowering mazus (Mazus reptans 'Albus') is ideal for planting between flagstones. It grows 2 inches high and doesn't mind being stepped on. Mazus spreads by creeping stems but never becomes a problem. In mild-winter areas like Dallas, it's evergreen. In colder areas, it will die to the ground in winter and resprout in spring. It prefers full to partial shade in most of the South. The most commonly planted form sports purplish blue flowers. Give it fertile, moist soil for best results.
This low stone retaining wall with a smooth upper surface does double duty: In addition to enclosing the terrace and defining the space, it also provides comfortable places for guests to sit during larger gatherings.