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Three Standouts from the New Book 'Private Gardens of the Bay Area'

There's more than one way to landscape in SF.


A rock-hard hilltop

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Green walls and free falls

(2 of 3)

Pretty as a parking spot

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Flip through the new coffee-table book Private Gardens of the Bay Area (out this month from the Monacelli Press), and you’ll see your fair share of enviable, sprawling landscapes. The book opens with the 75-acre Woodside spread of the Fleishhacker family, complete with a 300-foot-long pool evoking Roman ruins.

Subsequent pages, showcasing properties on the Peninsula and in Marin County and the East Bay, offer no shortage of Japanese footbridges, meandering hedge mazes, and man-made waterfalls. But flip to the chapter on San Francisco, and suddenly the word garden is freed from its leafy, green confines and allowed to be something else entirely. “Many of the San Francisco gardens illustrate creative responses to the challenges of designing a garden in the city: our small urban spaces, foggy cool climate, and unique topography,” says Marion Brenner, the Berkeley-based landscape photographer who shot all the gardens in the book.

From a child-centered play area where the only green that grows is on the walls to a Tetris-like assemblage of concrete ramps and steel walkways leading to the top of Telegraph Hill, it’s immediately clear that in the city we do gardens, like so many things, a little differently.

A Rock-Hard Hilltop
Landscape designers don’t always deal in green, as Andrea Cochran proves with her sophisticated hardscaping for a Telegraph Hill home with unusual siting. With their house clinging to the edge of a rocky cliff, the homeowners didn’t need privacy hedges—they needed a striking yet practical way to get to their front door. Cochran used a combination of concrete, Corten steel, wood, and glass to create a sequence of ramps, steps, and dramatic overlooks. For those stepping out to the sheer glass ends of a pair of distressed-steel balconies jutting from the rock face, the heart-stopping experience evokes walking the plank of a pirate ship.

Green Walls and Free Falls
To use synthetic grass and to do without plants were just two of the challenging directives landscape designer Monica Viarengo got from her clients for their Mission district yard. What they really needed was a space that required little to no maintenance and would be a safe place for their children to play in—constraints that allowed Viarengo to sneak in some rooted greenery, albeit on the walls. The result is as showstopping as it is playful: The side of the custom children’s slide sprouts with hardy ferns, heuchera, oxalis, and more, while the ground is laid with durable but realistic-looking artificial turf. Embedded lights add some extra glow to the backyard.

Pretty as a Parking Spot
Every day, Madeleine Nash backs her car directly on top of her garden. The inventive homeowner worked with Dan Carlson of Wigglestem Gardens to transform her concrete Castro driveway into a low-lying succulent and herb garden that doesn’t interfere with the space’s essential function. Carlson filled its mosaic edges with creeping mint, which maintains its cheery green appearance despite being rolled over by an automobile a few times a day, while the center is planted with robust succulents as well as thyme, sempervivum, and echeveria, none of which grow higher than six inches. “I wanted to get low, to have the whole show right on the ground,” Carlson says.


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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