Miraloma Mediterranean Curb Appeal: Design for Flora Grubb Gardens

Like with my last posted garden design, this little number involved designing a pieced front garden and rear garden, with a container planting for inside a courtyard entrance in SF’s Miraloma neighborhood. This, too, was a design I did last year for Flora Grubb Gardensdesign team, and the installation took place in phases over a few months.


The clients had recently begun renovations on an inherited house, and wanted to make the outdoor spaces more inviting and reminiscent of their favorite vacation spot – the Ace Hotel down in Palm Springs. As is usually the case, recreating the look they wanted took some interpretation, since the desert of Palm Springs and the cool north-facing front garden here are completely different conditions. The back garden, too, is dominated by a topped redwood with significant girth, right on the property line, shading and dampening the back side of the lot.

(“Before” shots of front and back.)


Discussions led to a desire primarily for olives, palms, and drought tolerance. I immediately had visions for the front of the house: left and right sides of the property flanked with pole “cactus” (Euphorbia ingens), leucadendrons, and succulents, and the largest plot between the driveway and walkway filled with a palm and multi-branching olive, and succulents with a background hedge along the wall.

I pictured the palm for the front as a tight-crowned column, right against the house and framed by the upstairs windows. The perfect candidate for the spot is a windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei. It’s incredibly slow-growing for our climate, and is exactly what I wanted for the space. With this slow of a palm, it’s important to get one with as much trunk as possible if you want to be able to see its form in your lifetime. A bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. We picked a tree with about six feet of trunk.


Centered in the garden is a triple-trunked olive tree (fruitless) that will make a nice silvery canopy in front of the house. Silver-leaved astelias brighten the ground-level plane, and the row of bright yellow-green Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’ will make a nice hedge as it grows in along the house. The Dymondia margaretae groundcover will ultimately fill in densely, further adding a silver-green layer to the palette.


The back garden took much longer to accomplish, partly because of some unknowns with adding a sliding glass door to the kitchen with steps leading directly into the garden (vs the original situation of having to enter the garden through the garage downstairs). The lot is sloped clay, so after they had the steps built with as little intrusion into the small yard as possible, they decided to add some turf for a level and functional space for their growing family. They kept my original design of horizontally-slatted fencing with a seating-level planter across the back, and modified out some of my other features such as side beds and a row of planters along one side. The plants for the back are tolerant of the shady clay setting: Philodendron selloum and Azara dentata anchor the corners, and the fence is lined with red-flowering abutilons. I repeated the coleonema from the front hedge, but here only as color spots. Dianella ‘Blaze’ repeats the form of the astelia from out front, while adding a subtle hint of dark red to pull in from the abutilon. The ground will fill in densely with Rubus ‘Emerald Carpet’.

After several months of planning and changes, the clients finally have front and back gardens they enjoy and can use. Lots of texture in a small amount of space!

Here’s the full Flickr set for your viewing pleasure.

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