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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.

ClimbingRoseMetalTrellis

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, 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. The trellis in the photo above was 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.

BasaltWall

ParkRidgeVariegatedTulipTree

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. At first glance the stripe could be a blade of the sedge, and even after your eye adjusts it still looks a little bit as if the sedge’s green was somehow injected into the Phormium.

ParkRidgePhormiumCarex

ParkRidgeCalycanthus1

Roger Raiche is a native plant expert and he used a lot of natives, 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.

ParkRidgeCalycanthus2

ParkRidgeWoodrose

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.

ParkRidgeUpperTrail

I put the other photos from the slideshow below.
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Lawn to Veggies, Flagstone, and Path Fines

AlamedaSideyard4:15

Unsurprisingly, we’re doing a lot of lawn-to-garden projects this year. We usually do a couple per year, but we’ve already done two so far, with several others scheduled. Most of them are primarily plant focused, but this one was more hardscape oriented. The clients actively used their lawn, unlike so many people who only walk on their lawn to mow it, so we had to replace it with something the kids could walk and play on.

AlamedaLawnBefore

It was a little strange how the grass made a lip over the edge of the front walk. Alameda’s soil is basically beach sand, so I have a feeling that the soil had drifted onto the walkway like a sand dune and then the crabgrass crept out to stabilize it. It was pretty tired-looking by the time we took it out.

AlamedaFrontBefore

The grass on this side of the entry was more of a path than a lawn, so we could use more plants. The wooden edging is unfortunately necessary to keep the dogs from kicking the mulch onto the pathway, but we should be able to take it out after the grass has been suppressed and the plants grow in. I like doing veggie beds; I leave behind an empty new bed and then come back later to find it filled with edibles and flowers.

AlamedaFront4:15

Natives, Mosaics, and a New Sitting Area

SeatingAreaAfter

I recently did a couple of small projects in an established native garden, a pleasant space with a laid-back, informal feel. Oaks, Bay Laurels, and annual grasses are visible outside the deer fencing. Gravel paths weave around berms overflowing with natives, some of the usual plants like Manzanita, Iris, and Buckwheat, but also some of the less common plants you only see at plant sales.

PathFinesPatioBefore1

My primary project was to create a little sitting area with blue path fines. We also cleaned the existing concrete patio next to the new sitting area and we redid the joints with blue path fines. I’ve done that a few times for this kind of old patio; a few bags of path fines and some scrubbing and the concrete looks pretty much as good as new.

PathFinesPatioAfter1

When I finished, I was thinking that with some furniture, a little mulch, and maybe some Snowberry in the narrow space against the fence, this would be a nice little sitting area. This past week I saw the finished result, cheerful and inviting.

SeatingAreaAfter2

EdgingAfter1

I edged the path fines with scrap pieces of basalt leftover from the stoneyard’s fabrication projects. It’s inexpensive and easy to install; the hardest part is sorting through the scrap pile figuring out which pieces to use.

EdgingAfter2

The garden has some other interesting elements, including a variety of mosaics made by the client. The wall piece is quite nice.

wallpiece

mosaictile1

My mom recently made one of these mosaic balls, so it was interesting to see that someone else had made one too. I guess I’ve seen them before, but I didn’t realize they were an established thing.

mosaictile2

dogwood

There’s a cone shaped one at the base of this dogwood. I like the look of the limbed-up dogwood; the trunk is almost like a manzanita.

stonelithograph

The client’s father had been a stone lithographer. The press is now an element in the garden along with several of the old stones.

stonetablet

NeviusiacliftoniiFlower

I was glad I got to see the garden this week, because a number of plants were in bloom, including Neviusia cliftonii, Shasta Snow Wreath, a rare deciduous shrub that was only discovered in the 90’s. I’d seen it at plant sales, but never established in a garden. It’s not the showiest plant I’ve ever seen — it’s easy to understand how it went unnoticed for such a long time, especially if it tends to grow intermixed with poison oak — but fun to see in a garden.

NeviusiacliftoniiShastaSnowWreath

Styraxoficinalis

I was also glad to see the California Snowdrop, Syrax oficinalis, in full bloom. These take patience to establish, but have such an elegant flower and fragrance.

PCHIris

Buckwheat

Buckwheats, Foothills Penstemon, and California Poppies were also blooming, with other plants like Coyote Mint getting ready to follow. And photographs of course don’t show the bird calls and all of the bird activity around the natives. A lovely little garden.

Pennisetum and Lomandra

Pennisetumorientale1:15

Requests for Mexican Feather Grass are one of the constants of doing landscapes in the Bay Area. I don’t blame anyone for wanting it. It’s stunningly beautiful, especially at the end of the day in the golden hour. But of course it’s also highly invasive. Planting it in your yard essentially means you are planting it in your neighbors’ yards as well. I try not to plant it, and in fact the only time I have planted it in recent years was for a parking strip in an urban part of Berkeley. I warned the client that it would spread to the neighbors’ yards and he pointed out that the neighbors were already growing it. It was hard to argue with that. But, otherwise, when clients request it I try to find an alternative.

This planting is one of my attempts. Instead of a gold-colored grass — PlantRight has a list with several alternatives that are fine plants but not really as graceful or beautiful — I went with the more cream-colored bloom of Pennisetum orientale (a Pennisetum that doesn’t reseed) and a background of Lomandra ‘Breeze’ to keep things looking green in the winter. I had the idea that the two of them together might combine into the equivalent of Mexican Feather Grass. I think they do end up having a little of that vibe. I should be able to get a better photo later in the year when some of the other plants are blooming and when the shrubs have grown a bit more, but this is pretty good for a January photo. Some ‘before’ photos are below. (more…)

Pergola Shadows

A little while back I took some photos of the cast shadows from a pair of pergolas we designed last year. The pergolas are made with rectangular aluminum tube, a little different from most of what I show on this blog, but it still follows the underlying aesthetic of my drystone work. The way the two pergolas overlap echoes the overlapping roof lines of the house, the house’s best feature, but it also overlaps the way stone in a drystone wall is supposed to overlap. Similarly, the rectangular concrete paving has the broken joints of a drystone construction. Even when I’m not designing with stone, I like to see things follow the drystone rules.

There is some stonework in this garden, but it’s not drystone and it’s built by another contractor, not by me. You can’t see it so well in the high-contrast mid-day lighting that was creating the shadows, but the courtyard has a limestone veneer, large thin slabs that are machine-cut and honed and installed with an adhesive instead of mortar and with a rubber crack-isolation layer (nicely explained in a patent application) between the stone and the underlying concrete slab. The stone has an interesting patterning and nice color variation; I’ll probably photograph it in softer light at some point after the planting has grown in.

For now, though, I’m happy with the way the cast shadows highlighted the young viburnum. The shadows on the door and on the courtyard steps were expected, but this raking line across the wall was a bonus.

A couple of before photos are below.

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The Spring Fling

Some of the Bloggers Eating Lunch in the Garden

I’m quite late with this, but one of our gardens was on the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling tour earlier this year. I don’t know how well known the Spring Fling is among garden blog readers, but it’s an impressive event. Once a year, garden bloggers convene in a city and spend several days looking at gardens together. This was the sixth year. It began in Austin, then Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle, Asheville, the Bay Area this year, and next year it will be in Portland. I’m interested in going to the Portland fling, especially after getting a taste of the tour this year.

I didn’t go to the entire tour, just the one garden that we had helped create. Three days of gardens seemed like a lot to fit into my schedule and I had already visited all of the public gardens and most of the private ones, but in retrospect that was a missed opportunity. Everyone seemed to enjoy the tour immensely and to appreciate the intensive overview of Bay Area gardening. Fortunately, the fling organizer, Kelly Kilpatrick of Floradora Gardens who helps the owners with the maintenance and created many of the plantings, was kind enough to invite Anita and me out to the garden. After almost five years of blogging, it was great to meet some other bloggers, however briefly, and I loved getting the perspective of out of town gardeners. I only took a couple of photos, but several bloggers wrote posts about the garden.

Digging
Garden in a City
Piece of Eden
The Outlaw Gardener
Danger Garden

Another Group of Bloggers, with Mt Diablo in the Distance

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