As with a previous installation I did, this is following another plan by Patrick on the design team at Flora Grubb Gardens. Nestled in a valley a few miles west of 101 in Marin County is the town of Fairfax. It’s nearing the western edge of the populated Sir Francis Drake corridor before it heads off into the rural protected open areas of West Marin and Skywalker Ranch (yes, as in that Skywalker.) The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane played against each other in a softball game in Fairfax in the 1960’s, and Van Morrison had a home here back in the day as well.
This client came to Patrick wanting a design for her deck space, and perhaps a little plot out front (but that part will be a future project.) The house is in a neighborhood that is nestled into a slightly tamed rugged landscape. Untended areas all over the county are knee-deep in wild grasses, now brown for the summer. Acacia dealbata groves impinge on everyone’s property lines, a weedy wattle waiting for someone who doesn’t realize or care enough to keep them at bay. The hilly scrub-oak community
thrives all around. It’s rural and wild to the initial eye, but somehow a bit refined at the same time. Dustiness pervades in the warm months. The client’s own property is the same grass and scrub, but cut and kept clear from the house. The land itself extends easily four stories down from the main living level, and they haven’t had time yet to deal with terracing the slopes to make the land usable. To make a more appealing outdoor space for the meantime, they wanted to upgrade the plantings on the deck and make it a more inviting space to relax and serve as their garden retreat until they can tackle the areas below.
Patrick’s design set out to set this house apart, and called for repetition in front and back to unify the spaces. Already in place is a beautiful Japanese maple that draws the eye to its green that is softer than the surrounding foliage. A series of red pots were selected to stand out in the golden brown and dusty grey-green of the hills. The front of the house got a short colonnade of four matching pots with four matching palm trees – Trachycarpus wagnerianus, or Wagner’s Windmill Palm. (We call them Waggies at work.) A couple more red pots next to the front door across the front parking deck draws the eye into the entryway, and the bright yellow-green of Myers’ Asparagus (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’) stands out despite the shade of this vestibule.
The back deck has these fantastic shade structures resembling sails. They’re made of a plastic mesh outdoor fabric, and mounted on special brackets to their deck framing. Provides a great bit of shade during the most intense part of the day. They say their deck would be uninhabitable during a summer day without it. We planted a larger one of the same style red pot for the back deck, with another matching Waggy. All of the palms were planted under with a red grass – Uncinia uncinata ‘Rubra’. Planters
with some soothing grassy plants further frame in the back deck, using Elegia fistulosa and Cannamois grandis to screen away the prying eyes from neighboring houses.
Another great and exciting planting here was in using Woolly Pockets to install vertical gardens. These are increasingly popular at Flora Grubb, and offer a great way to make use of wall space for planting almost anything that can live in a container. The need for these came about from an interesting discovery. The client has a daughter, and she loves strawberries. So they planted some, and watched in dismay as they kept disappearing. Deer are plentiful in the area (the buck in the pic at the bottom came toward me like he was gonna eat my camera, and got less than two feet from me), but the deck is fenced in. They tried anti-raccoon screening, bird screening, and still had the same problem. Turned out it was their own dog! So, UP go the strawberries onto the wall, right over Bella’s bed. 🙂 This vertical planting was further edibly filled in with prostrate rosemary and the local native mint, Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii).
I installed another little Woolly Pocket garden on a shadier wall, brightly planted with Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea ‘Creme Brulee’), Himalayan Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum venustum), some Lysimachia ‘Aurea’, and a mite-resistant fuchsia hybrid called ‘Del Campo Glazion’. So bright and colorful!
Lastly came succulent compositions. One was planted on the back deck right in front of the non-sliding side of the sliding glass doors, in another matching red pot. The client also had a set of five fiberglass/clay grey pots on hand, and I did a grouping of succulent compositions in those, to add yet more punch to the deck. Each pot has a unique focal point, but they all tie together by at least one species being repeated in 2-4 different pots. No two
match exactly, but the continuity of plants (and breaking up individual plants) makes them all work in unison. I am so pleased with the resulting effect!
At the end of the day, the client was thrilled to have a soothing place to retreat outside and look out over the town of Fairfax from the deck, the dog was glad to get back to her bed in the shade, and the daughter was anxiously awaiting the strawberries. A rewarding day, indeed!