Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Garden Conservancy Open Days — a Lilian Bridgman House

This past weekend I went to two more gardens from the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. The first is a house owned by Ace Architects, a firm known for quirky postmodern architecture such as the Saxophone House. (Their company website has probably the only Flash Intro that I have ever enjoyed.) This house on the tour is a historic lodge that they’ve renovated and added on to, different from what I think they usually do but beautifully done.

I’d seen photos of the house somewhere before. It’s a beautiful little Lilian Bridgman (a Maybeck-influenced, Berkeley architect) house from the 1930’s, originally built as a hunting lodge back when Lafayette represented the outer reaches of the Bay Area. The brickwork on the house is beautifully restored, and additions to the house blend with the original elements while still contrast enough to reveal the original design. For instance, the concrete pillars of this new trellis contrast with the brick to show that they are from distinct eras, but the contrast is not so glaring that you notice it if you aren’t specifically looking at the architecture.

The garden is suitably quirky for owners like Ace. I walked through it before I found out it was designed by them, but for a variety of reasons I could already tell it was designed by an architect. There’s something about the training or the mindset that always seems to show up when architects design landscapes. The gardens are often interesting, but usually somewhat static. For instance, in this garden, it seemed like very little would ever change; there would be little seasonal variation, the planting would always emphasize the structural form of the plants, and the plants would get bigger but never touch each other or need to be moved. Also, it was completely purist, with zero non-succulent plants, and it ended abruptly, delineated as if it were a built structure in the landscape. Perhaps the architect influences were more prominent because Ace has such a distinctive style. It was cool, though. I liked it. There were some great specimens, especially the Yuccas and a big Xanthorrhea.

Further down on the property, surrounded by the dried-out grassy hills of Contra Costa, was a roundish lawn watched over by five statues reclaimed from the San Francisco public library and edged by a wide hedge of aloes. I’m not sure how one ends up with old statues from the library, but they were a very strange and cool thing to find in a private garden.

4 Responses to “Garden Conservancy Open Days — a Lilian Bridgman House”

  1. August 3rd, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Greg says:

    Yes the statues create a unique rhythm on the last slide, I like them also. And I agree with you about an architects design style outdoors. How about a engineer, straight lines with order. ha.

  2. August 4th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    ryan says:

    Right, Greg, engineers are another one you can usually recognize. Some day it might be interesting to do a post about the differences between gardens designed by gardeners, landscape designers, landscape architects, architects, and so forth, if I had enough photos to illustrate it.

  3. August 27th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Scott Weber says:

    It’s very intriguing, what you say about garden reflecting the mindset of an architect. I see gardens like that once in a while here in PDX, as well, and they do seem to usually belong to people for whom “design” is paramount. It does create what seems to be a “gallery” of plants, rather than a unified garden. I always have the feeling that such gardens are a little too “cool” and “distant” to be welcoming…the plants are treated more like objects…or even decor.

  4. August 28th, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    ryan says:

    Cool is probably accurate in both the positive and the more negative ‘too cool’ connotations, and to be fair the spiky succulents are never going to be ‘welcoming’ per se. It’s quite far from your garden or the gardens of any ‘gardeners’ I know. Even the Ruth Bancroft garden, which has a lot of the same plants, has a very different feel.

Leave a Reply