the young unlicensed landscape architect really got to know
his favorite plants.
“That’s when I also got turned on to the landscapes of
Brazilian designer Roberto Burle Marx, who always has
ponds and running water in his gardens,” Dalbok says. At
Living Green, a garden showroom he co-founded in 1980
at the San Francisco Design Center, he stocked the largest,
most exotic plants and the most beautiful containers, pots
and fountains he could find.
Lucky for Dalbok and his partner Michael Postl, their
choices caught the eye of legendary interior designer Michael
Taylor, and they were soon filling the fashionable living rooms
Taylor designed with large-leaved hothouse plants.
Now in Fairfax, a carved Bali-style gate inset with Chinese
wood doors offers a clue to what’s within the garden. Orchids,
lilies, tillandsia, bromeliads and succulents all thrive outdoors
amid a collection of subtropical rhododendrons.
Before planting all these, Dalbok pushed the terraced area
out farther toward the view because it was too small, then
tackled the restoration of his saltwater swimming pool, which
is lined with pea-green plaster that turns aquamarine when
the pool is full of water. Flagstone coping and slate tiles all
around it have replaced ugly concrete pavers and, using Burle
Marx’s example, Dalbok removed rows of pines that had
been planted by the previous owner to make room for a lotus
pond and new beds and paths that are more curvilinear, for
a less formal look.
Dalbok’s living room that once looked like a Western
dance hall is also exotic by design. Artifacts from India, Bali
and the Far East, where Dalbok sources his wares, spill out
from the interior onto a veranda where he has set up a divan
near a de rigueur water garden and artificial pond.
Various Buddha statues Dalbok finds during his travels
sit for a while within the tranquil bamboo and grass-filled
vignettes, reminiscent of Thai and Balinese gardens he has
seen. They soothe the mind, while the buoyant solar-heated
pool is suitable for aquatic bodywork that Dalbok’s friend
Vivi Macedo, a water therapist, uses to advantage.
When he is not designing for himself, Dalbok has a varied
opus, including small desert gardens in Las Vegas and Palm
Springs, gardens in lush Hawaiian enclaves, and other projects in the temperate regions of the Bay Area. Some were
for equally varied clients such as Lars Ulrich, the drummer
for Metallica; actor Jimmy Stewart’s family; Walt Disney’s
daughter Diane Miller; and Matthew Mullenweg of Word-Press, for whom he recently created a vertical garden outside
a penthouse bedroom. A 2,000-square-foot indoor garden is
in the works at the new Salesforce office, up on the 30th floor
of a building in downtown San Francisco.
Bringing palms and cycads together in these locations is
fun, but the work that moves him most lately is the restoration of eight gardens in ancient Buddhist locations such as
Bodh Gaya, now a UNESCO World Heritage site in India.
“I am not a Buddhist, but I am definitely drawn to gardens
in the tropics,” he says. n
From top: Beautiful
old oak trees surround
a sizable plateau on
the sloping site where
the old swimming
pool restored with
aquamarine plaster is
now surrounded by new
slate tiles; succulents
and bougainvillea bring
shots of color and
texture into the garden.
from Bali adds atmosphere to a lotus pond
with a fountain that is
enveloped by bamboo,
cycads and palms.