Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Oakland Hills Foliage Garden

This past weekend was the Bringing Back the Natives Tour. I spent Sunday afternoon volunteering at a garden that we maintain, Carol Baird and Alan Harper’s garden in the Oakland Hills, an extensive garden on five acres overlooking Redwood Regional Park. It’s a tremendous garden and there’s a lot I could say about it, but this post just scratches the surface. I’m sure I’ll post about it again at some future point.


To give an overview, the house and garden were put in about fifteen years ago. Roger Raiche, who I have mentioned on this blog before, planted the garden, imprinting the main areas around the pool and entrance with his signature style — closely-spaced interwoven plantings, an extensive variety of plants, lots of chartreuse and variegated foliage, strong forms, bold contrasts. Afterwards, the maintenance gardener began weeding and taking out blackberry thickets on the rest of the property using the Bradley method (a quick primer: be patient, start in the area with the fewest weeds instead of the area with the most weeds, try not to disturb the soil as you work so that you won’t encourage weed seeds to germinate, and clear out weeds only as fast as you are able to establish new plants in their place), restoring a lovely section of oak woodland and making quite a bit of progress on a grassland area. She retired two years ago and we took over the maintenance, continuing to use the Bradley method in the restoration areas, as well as making some upgrades in the area around the house. The trellis in the photo above is new, recently added for the climbing rose, and I’ve done some stonework in a couple of areas, including this little basalt wall next to the parking area.



Some of these photos include flowers but more than anything this garden is a celebration of foliage. Roger Raiche’s concept was ‘Every shade of green’ and I can attest to there being just about every shade imaginable. A lot of the foliage is set to contrast, but there are also a lot of interesting ways that the colors and forms are carried from one plant into another, such as the way the green striping on the Phormium echoes the Berkeley Sedge in the photo below. At first glance the stripe looks like a blade of the sedge, and even after your eye recognizes that the stripe is part of the strappy Phormium leaf, it still looks a little bit as if the sedge’s green has been somehow injected into the Phormium. Plant design is about combining plants to create a greater whole, and this is a subtle but masterful example of that, made even more impressive to me because both plants are fairly run of the mill. I see them in a lot of gardens, but never combined together like this.



Roger Raiche was in charge of the native plant area at the UC botanical garden and he used a lot of natives in these plantings, including this clever use of Western Spicebush, Calycanthus occidentalis, to drape over a ten foot retaining wall along the driveway. I’ve never seen Spicebush used like this anywhere else; it’s effective and easy to maintain, casually matching the scale of the wall.



The majority of the natives in the garden, however, planted themselves. Anita is more involved with the restoration and maintenance than I am, so I don’t always know for sure what was planted and what came as a volunteer, but a tremendous variety of native plants were uncovered from the blackberry thickets or seeded themselves afterwards. I love the combination of plants in the photo above, a beautiful woodland mix as pretty as anyone could hope to design.


I put the other photos from the slideshow below.












2 Responses to “Oakland Hills Foliage Garden”

  1. May 4th, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Gayle Madwin says:

    Beautiful! I love that use of the spicebush. It’s wonderful for you to be associated with such an impressive garden.

  2. May 5th, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    ryan says:

    Gayle, you’re right, it’s wonderful to be associated. We don’t usually maintain gardens that we didn’t design, but this one is pretty special.

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