ABOUT EIGHT YEARS AGO, Tiburon art collectors
Stuart and Gina Peterson approached landscape architects James Lord
and Roderick Wyllie of the San Francisco firm Surfacedesign, Inc. for an
unorthodox hilltop garden to mesh well with their modern, art-filled home.
“The journey through the garden was to be as important as the destinations within it,” Lord says.
Now, less than half an hour across the bay from San Francisco’s Crissy
Field, where the Petersons helped fund an SFMOMA off-site exhibition of
Mark di Suvero’s steel sculptures, the couple’s rectangular five-acre “park”
at home is also one where walking, running, jumping, sliding and playing
hide-and-seek amid wild grasses and art are all possible.
Although they wanted a garden that echoed the whimsy of their art
collection, the Petersons also desired a place for their two boys and little
daughter to play in. European play structures with slides and swings were
one implemented solution, but in addition the designers offered more
imaginative encounters with the land.
So, “on the south side of the garden, which was sheltered by the house,
we created intimate, dense areas to lose oneself in,” Wyllie says.
They formed paths that are telescopic corridors to view art and that
also link the entry garden on the west end to the rest of the undulating
site that stretches eastward.
Just inside the pivoting entry gate, a straight path, conceived by artist and landscape architect Topher Delaney and left undisturbed, has
stepping-stones that spell out a love poem by English poet Christopher
Marlowe in Braille.
Midway up the path, a new ipe deck extends the wood floor of the
dining room (when its large aluminum-and-glass garage door is rolled
open) to the outdoors; it then ramps down, its increasingly faceted form
resembling origami, and stops short of the paved path before hopping to
the other side. This hyphenated deck is a formal threshold to the garden
and also a climbing and sliding zone instantly favored by the children,
two of whom were kindergartners when it was installed.
Beyond it, the path transitions into a newer walkway that is covered
with long rectangular cement pavers laid in a staggered pattern; it wends
past existing magnolia trees and a newly planted thicket of tall bamboo,
interspersed with Japanese maples. This shaded rain garden, bordered by
river rock and ferns, is fed by storm water that flows downhill and meanders past an amphitheater composed of a sculpted lawn and repurposed
curbstones. It then turns into a beaten path that arcs around a wide grassy
clearing graced by “Roundout,” a 2005 aluminum rabbit-like sculpture
by Travis Constance that is ensconced within native grasses, including
feathery yellow Nasella tenuissima.
“By choreographing a spatial sequence, you form an experience.
When you go through a tall, narrow opening into a horizontal space,
it is like swimming, and like slicing through water before spreading
your arms,” Lord says.
As it happens, the open lawn slopes northward and covers four round
mounds that took the place of an old swimming pool that had collapsed
and was torn out. These artificial hills atop the repaired site mimic the
open, rolling landscape in the distance, helping to frame views of the
Marin hills and the San Francisco Bay.
“They look beautiful, but when you look closely, they are all about fun.
They are play structures,” Lord says.
Built into one of the manmade hills is a ground trampoline for the
children to jump on. Another, “Rabbit Hole Hill,” is riddled with holes
The dining room’s garage
door opens to a sculptural,
faceted steel-and-ipe deck by
Surface Design; It stops short
of Delaney’s Braille path and
resumes its undulating trajectory on the path’s other side.