After years spent working in England, this homeowner arrived in Mill Valley seeking a piece of paradise. The realtor showed her a leaky, old brown-shingle on two+ sloping, ungardened acres of Mt. Tam. She made an immediate offer. With a passion for working in nature and taking advantage of place, she began a multi-year long process of creating an indoor/outdoor space, one where the boundaries between home and nature disappear. Individually chosen big boulders, selectively placed small stone hearts and hidden sculptures enable discovery as one strolls along the paths. Without an increased footprint, the remodeled house is now open to sunshine and forested views. When deciding to build two studios on her sloping hillside, she had a problem: on the path approaching the lower studio, one would be forced to look at the roof the whole way down. Creating a truly unique roof garden, a quilt-like design of succulents, a living mosaic representing the variety of plants and plant communities on Mt. Tam, solved the problem.
For 40 years the homeowners happily raised a family on the original property with its egret fountain garden and family swimming pool. However, a seven-foot privacy fence blocked city, bay and ridge views. A few years ago when two adjacent properties became available, they bought both. Thus, an art collector with a gardening passion now possessed three acres of property. Working with a team for five+ years, this now legacy garden contains South African stone sculptures, rare Greek goddess statues and whimsical garden art. Acquiring two additional properties meant the acquisition of two additional swimming pools. So, the family now has a lap pool, and the third pool is a wildlife-friendly habitat, enjoyed by migrating waterfowl. Lots of space enabled the planting of an edible kitchen garden, miniature fruit trees, a grape arbor and an open-air cymbidium arbor displaying just some of the collection of these orchid lovers. (Note how small orchids have been placed in trees throughout the property.) A 460-foot well and five water-holding tanks enable the irrigation of three acres of plant life. Solar panels provide electricity for nighttime use of the garden as well as for night viewing of the garden and its art.
Pooh Bear’s Paradise
A few years after moving into her new home, the homeowner realized its garden demands were too much for one busy Mom. In 2002, she invited friends and neighbors to plant a plot and grow whatever they would like, creating a Community Garden of food and flowers. Evidence of over 15 years’ efforts to achieve a modicum of sustainability are: solar panels that provide electricity to the house, as well as to serve as a rain catchment system collecting rain water via a gutter and pipe system for two 1,100 gallon cisterns; an owl box for rodent control and a bat box for mosquito control; former survivor-stock bee hives for pollination and honey; hens for company and eggs. Named Fruit House by the owner and her children, both mature and young fruit trees can be found scattered throughout the less than one acre property, e.g. an old grandfather apple, and above it an old peach tree. Both still produce a tremendous amount of fruit. Currently there are a persimmon, large plum, small yellow plum and red plum, two pears, an Asian pear, a lemon bush and a couple more peach trees plus two new Satsuma mandarin orange trees.
This Spanish Revival bungalow’s front garden was overgrown with vines, thorns and the poison sisters (ivy, oak and sumac) when the current homeowners first bought the property seven years ago. But it was a challenge this author of Gardenista could not pass up. She suspected it was a garden worth restoring, but the tricky bit was to figure out how to revive the best of the past while creating a modern garden. Brush clearance revealed the garden’s structure, a charming series of winding paths. Wanting to greet visitors with a rolling swath of color, the planting beds were filled with drought-resistant, deer-proof perennials of varying heights with purple, yellow or white flowers. This color scheme was extended to the backyard where there is now a lot of white roses and espaliered olive trees. The lacy stair rail is thanks to a neighbor. He brought the homeowners an ornately patterned section of rusted iron that a previous owner of the house had found in the cellar and given to him to use as a trellis. From that fragment, a blacksmith fabricated a rail that looks as if it has always belonged to the house.
A Manicured Village Garden
Beginning with an empty lot, this architect homeowner chose to site the house sideways thus maximizing a southern exposure that fills the house with light and provides the garden with full sun all day. Fond of symmetry, the house has identical doorways at opposite ends of a room that echo each other. Outdoors, pathways run between mirror-image garden beds. On a patio, two lounge chairs, twin planters, and carbon copy topiaries define the space. An architect’s dream, the garden is all straight lines forming beautiful spaces and complementing the interior architecture of the house. Every window looks out on an outdoor view of a space defined by structure: a courtyard, path, fence or hedge. Two colors define the garden’s color palette, green with white flowering peonies and clematis blooming seasonally, in succession. Texture, height and shape of plants create structure and focal points. Choosing to eschew a high-maintenance lawn, a green, serene and amazingly life-like carpet of artificial grass completes this manicured village garden.
Recreating the Farmstead
Raised in a West Marin rural setting and relocating from more urban environments, this homeowner initially saw the property as a place wherein she could recreate a version of her childhood home within the confines of a village. The house was unfinished, but working with the builder she chose features that would evoke memories: a barndoor-like opening to the family room, rustic light fixtures and reclaimed wood accents. Outside, she imagined creating a garden resplendent with color, one with roses, dahlias, lavender and other flowers for cutting. As important as flowers, a kitchen garden, planted in the outside spot with the most sun, is where artichokes, cucumbers and corn have been successfully planted and where strawberries, lettuces and herbs are regularly harvested…. Four years later, the house is complete and the garden is well on its way to being a place where one can wander to enjoy its colorful variety or cut a bouquet of flowers to bring color inside.