How to Create a Garden That Pleases the Whole Family
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How to Create a Garden That Pleases the Whole Family

This California garden checks all the boxes. Here’s how it came together.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz
Fri, Aug 6, 2021 11:22amGrey Clock 4 min

THERE WAS was nothing you could call a yard,” recalled landscape designer Janell Denler Hobart of first visiting the San Anselmo, Calif., site where her clients, a young family, had recently bought a residence. The home’s main entrance opened onto a hillside that was extremely steep and utterly barren, said the designer, whose firm, Denler Hobart Gardens, is located in nearby Ross, Calif. “I think most people would have looked at it and thought ‘What can you possibly do here?’”

Happily, Ms. Denler Hobart was not deterred. Inspired by the owners, an accomplished landscape painter and a talented cook, she envisioned “a layered garden where the wife could work on her veggies, the school-age kids could explore, and the husband could have a spot to lounge.”

She started with a skeleton of hardscape elements dating to the 1939 construction of the French Mediterranean-style home, including a twisting stone staircase flanked by mature orange trees. She then introduced a mix of classical French design features—a parterre potager, or kitchen garden, espaliered fruit trees and geometric boxwood hedges—yielding a romantic landscape at once cultivated and dynamic. Inviting oases in which all ages can wander, gather, and play prove that a “family friendly” yard doesn’t need to be all lawn.

Here, five strategies to help homeowners recast a less-than-ideal plot into a welcoming haven.

Open Invitation

Thanks to the quirks of the terrain, one of the yard’s primary outdoor seating areas—a grouping of chairs and table nestled against a wall covered in creeping fig and set among whimsical boxwood topiaries—sits in an unconventional location: directly across from the home’s front doors. Indeed, after the garden was completed, the homeowners staged a 40th birthday bash right there. “People have this reaction like ‘Can I really entertain here?’” said Ms. Denler Hobart. “But why not? It’s very welcoming and the perfect gathering place before setting off further to explore.” Potted evergreens, shorn into geometric sculptures, and a potted orange tree underplanted with million bells embrace the seating area to make it even more inviting.

Found Fruit

Another lucky inheritance were the slender Italian cypress trees already on the property. “Here, punctuating the view, they create little moments of magic and really transport you to Europe and another time,” said Ms. Denler Hobart. Atop the winding stairs a newly added Arbutus tree brings dramatically textured red bark and jewel-like red berries that attract wildlife. To the right, mounds of dwarf olive bushes, “brioche”-style boxwoods and sprays of hardy carpet roses give way to a meandering hedge of Meyer lemons. “I encourage weaving fruit and vegetables into the landscape,” Ms. Denler Hobart said. “Line the front of your cutting bed with a border of strawberries, or plant blueberries with roses. To walk along a path and be able to pluck a bite and pop it into your mouth—it’s a happy thing.”

Arty Veggies

“Since the architecture of the house is French Mediterranean and the wife is a daily cook and out in the garden every day, I wanted to reference the history of the French cook’s garden, or potager,” explained Ms. Denler Hobart of the parterre vegetable garden, which combines herbs, flowers, and vegetables, set into one of the middle levels of the slope. Loose pea-stone gravel paths soften the bed’s formal edges, while tomato cages and bamboo cloches from England prevent critters from pillaging the family’s harvest. The contents of the beds are rotated seasonally, to include everything from spinach and other sturdy greens to buttercrunch lettuce, shown here deftly interspersed with purple-hearted ornamental cabbage.

Liquid Refreshment

This petite hillside landing with two cushy upholstered chairs perched above the potager commands a view of the house and Mt. Tam beyond it. The perch has become a favourite place for the family to bring friends for evening drinks. Even in northern California, however, the sun at cocktail hour can bring on a swelter. To take down the mercury and add another sensual layer to the European atmosphere, Ms. Denler Hobart installed a verdigris copper wall fountain that burbles gently into a trough below. “The old walls immediately made us think of old Italian or French gardens where you’d see water spitting out of the walls,” she explained, “and there’s something that really cools you, both physically and psychologically, when you have that little bit of water running.”

World Feeders

Left: Another angle of the poteger, or kitchen garden, shows chianti artichokes in the foreground and a bower of table grapes in the middle ground. Pea gravel paths traverse the whole property, said Ms. Denler Hobart, adding to the European flair of the garden. The gravel “has a tidy look but has an organic quality that feels natural,” she said.

Right: Sunflowers grow on the edge of the potager. “When the summer is winding down, it’s amazing to watch the birds come to eat the seeds,” Ms. Denler Hobart said. “That’s the kind of family this is—they really care about feeding not just themselves from the garden, but also the wildlife.”

Order of the Day

Ms. Denler Hobart admits that the unorthodox topography of the home’s front yard—a steep embankment—freed her company to be a little less formal in its design. Still, the ever-changing assortment of colourful container blooms, dramatic potted dwarf Washington navel oranges and lush terraced beds above is grounded by the curving patio and walkway of rusticated stone, which is original to the home. “I think the best approach is always to try and find some sort of structure in the chaos,” said Ms. Denler Hobart. Similarly, a staid linear wall of creeping European fig contrasts with the tidal wave of distinctive, feathery grey cobweb bush (Plecostachys serpyllifolia) that crests dramatically and spills over it. “It’s fine if you want to plant eight different perennials in one small area, but everything can’t be wild and crazy,” she said.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 5, 2021

 

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