When Lyn Chiet moved into her Gaithersburg home more than 18 years ago, she had to take immediate action. Her new lot had major drainage issues, and when it rained, it poured—into her basement. “There was so much rock in the backyard, the water was not able to soak into the ground,” she explains. Plus, a slope led the water directly to the house. “I had to come up with a way to capture the water and then funnel it out of my yard.”

The soggy basement and rocky soil weren’t the only problems in her new home. The lot was also shallow, irregularly shaped and tiny. “When I first moved in, I didn’t really like the house because the yard was so small—the property is only one-quarter acre including the house,” Chiet says. But the creative wife and mother of three, who had no master plan, came up with ways to tackle her problematic lot over time—starting with a fence for the puppy and kids.

Because she couldn’t garden one large expanse, she planted individual gardens wherever she could—on the side of the house, the front, on the deck, under the deck and on patios—on every available inch of space in her yard. Lyn and her husband, Cliff, wanted their outdoor spaces to serve many needs. “We incorporated our interests into different pockets of the property so we could have quiet areas, play areas, a hot tub and a big deck for entertaining. There’s a place to sit almost any place you could walk to.” The result is a beautiful garden with a variety of seating set amid colorful annuals, perennials and flowering shrubs. Chiet’s use of discrete areas exemplifies how out-of-the-box thinking can transform a drab, irregular lot into a colorful, cozy retreat.

Chiet does all the gardening and designing herself. “I just really enjoyed being outside so I didn’t hire somebody. I work all the time out here,” she says. As her garden has evolved, there’s been a lot of trial and error in her approach. Her graphic design background and summers as a high school student working at Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville served her well. She also did research, consulted gardener friends, watched gardening shows on TV and perused magazines.

She drew up a plan to funnel water out of the yard via a French drain disguised as a dry creek bed. “I had seen a couple of magazine articles with dry creek beds and a little bridge over it,” she says. “I drew a little picture but hired [a contractor] to have the work done.” The workers also built retaining walls to divert water away from the house.

The drain, with its footbridge, looks like a bucolic gravel-bedded stream. “When we have big storms, this is like a creek. It’s really pretty,” Chiet says. A colorful border, including snapdragons, yarrow, Knockout roses and dianthus, runs alongside, giving the area a pastoral, peaceful feel.

“I tried to make every little spot have some interest,” Chiet says. She transformed the shady corner of the front yard by the driveway into a welcoming spot for a swing surrounded by azaleas and vinca; the side yard boasts red roses, a Nikko blue hydrangea, a crape myrtle and a charming white wrought-iron bench—another place to sit and enjoy the many flowerbeds. The design “is just a mixture,” she says.

As the garden developed, “I had all different things. I pulled up all the builder’s stuff,” she notes. At one time there was a Southwest-style corner with a white yucca plant and pines. “I even had little cactuses, but the problem was the kids were constantly getting into them. [The garden] is more ‘cottage-y’ now.”

She lights up flagstone flowerbeds with red and deep pink Knockout roses all around the house. The roses grow quickly, are compact, hardy and disease resistant and don’t require pesticides. “It’s better that way with pets and children. I don’t like to use pesticides,” Chiet says. The Knockouts provide continuous bloom throughout the summer into fall. Also mixed in here and there are hybrid teas, and low-maintenance carpet and miniature roses.

In areas too tight for larger plants are plantings of blooming groundcovers and annuals such as New Guinea impatiens, adding bright flashes of white and crimson. Chiet has laid down little stepping-stones banked by purple salvia, which comes back every year. “I had lavender but it took over the whole space,” she says. Many gardeners would beg for an opportunity to do as well with the fragrant herb.

She also installed sod to make a grassy area that son Noah, 10, says is his favorite part of the yard. “I like to lie in it,” he says. Chiet has even managed to fit a hammock under a tree, a comfort usually reserved for larger yards. “It’s a little space but it’s enough for someone to lie down and be in the shade,” she says.

The elevated deck is the largest spot for outdoor gatherings. Lyn and Cliff and their friends and neighbors built the deck the second summer they were in the house. “It was supposed to take a couple of weeks and ended up going on into the fall. All my female friends were ready to just kill me because their husbands would just disappear saying, ‘I’m going to go work on the deck,’” Chiet recalls, laughing.

Finally, Chiet says, the wives started sending their kids over along with their husbands. Chiet was project supervisor and babysitter. But it was all worth it. The deck has several seating areas and is accessible by three sets of French doors—from the living, dining and family rooms. A big canopy can be put over the deck with curtains and zippers to provide shade and keep bugs away.

A shady flagstone patio under the deck houses—count ’em—seven robins’ nests. “We have a little hotel here and I just don’t have the heart to take them down,” says Chiet. “I wonder if it’s the same ones coming [every year].” Noah points out that “when you look through the top of the deck you can actually see the eggs.” The patio, which is near the drainage bed and accessible from the once-soggy basement, remains surprisingly cool even on the hottest summer days. “It’s a great place to escape to when it’s really hot,” Chiet says.

Around the corner from the deck and patio, just off what was once the garage, is a much-used hot tub and a small patio that Chiet says is the most popular part of the yard. What used to be the garage is now a comfortable room with a counter/ bar, compliments of Garage Takeover, a series on Discovery Channel. Chiet says her older children, 18-year-old Erin, a Quince Orchard High School student, and 20-year-old Justin, who attends Towson University, have taken over the room. “They have more parties down here than we do,” Lyn says. Drinks can be passed through a sliding screen window with a ledge that doubles as a bar. The patio has two barstools and Adirondack chairs.

This patio also has large containers of flowers, with mixtures of plants for extra pop and texture. Window boxes filled with bright red geraniums, fluffy white petunias, dianthus and vinca sit high on the ledge surrounding the deck. “I tend to like to plant red, white and blue… because of the house,” a deep blue saltbox with red shutters, she explains.

As far as her garden goes, Chiet says, “I’ve worked my way around the house. I think I’m done.” When the family first moved in, Chiet says the house was supposed to be a stepping-stone to a larger home. Now she says, “OK, I’ve been standing on the stone for 18 1/2 years. I really wanted a lot of land, but as it turned out, it’s fine. It’s definitely enough for me.”

Karen A. Watkins is a contributing editor of Bethesda Magazine.