a garden is difficult but still doable, just
with a smaller plant palette,” she explains.
“Once you know the constraints of a gar-
den, your opportunities explode.”
For true garden success, she says,
“you really must let the space reveal
itself at all times of day and in all sea-
sons. When you tap into the spirit of the
place and fully respect the sun orienta-
tion and soil conditions, when you really
dig deep, everything emerges from that.”
For example, it’s important to consider
how one will experience the garden when
moving through it, to understand how
one’s eye will naturally follow the sun-
light or seek the vista or long view. “There
is nothing more frustrating than to move
into a garden and be stuck with nowhere
for my feet or my eyes to go,” she says.
In this particular Mill Valley garden, a generous few acres situated under
redwoods with some areas that receive
hot sun, Hook’s client wanted unusual
plants, ones that would offer seasonal
interest, and ones without shiny leaves.
“She’s an artist, she loves the land
where she lives and she loves the red-
woods,” Hook says. After two small
creative arts studios were built on site,
“she wanted to feel that land had been
returned to nature.”
The key to achieving this was soften-
ing harsh lines, avoiding use of concrete
paths or patios, and concealing the view
of any building.
That’s where the idea of a living roof
garden for the lower studio originated.
Its planting scheme visually pays homage to the mosaic of native plants one
might see while hiking nearby Mount
Tamalpais. Planted with sedums, sem-pervivum, senecio and echeveria, the
living roof gives the studio below extra
insulation and better fire protection.
Large water-washed bluestone pavers guide the visitor’s step through the
landscape, but it’s the careful placement of the bright green plants such as
Corsican hellebores or variegated ones,
like Japanese forest grass, Carex “
ever-gold,” Heuchera “green spike,” pieris or
daphne, that guide the eye.
“This is a gardener’s garden,” Hook
says. “There is a delicacy about it, where
plants have space for their full expression.”
You have a hill. You have the wind. You need a plan.
That was the situation for the owners of a gorgeous
half-acre in Tiburon, except they had one more slope-
related issue — poor drainage.
Gretchen Whittier and Kate Stickley, partners at
Arterra Landscape Architects, took all of this in when
they first surveyed the project. Due to the drainage
issue, “when we arrived on the scene, the hillside was
being torn up,” Whittier says. “It sloped directly onto
the house and the house had suffered water damage and
was being repaired.”
Still, the visual appeal of the property with its
incredible views of the open lands posed yet another
challenge: the homeowners wanted full access to all
That meant “they wanted to increase the access to
the lower garden and pool, they wanted a seating area
to drink a glass of wine and take in the view, and they
wanted it to remain open, and not fenced off from the
open space,” she explains.
First, though, the poor drainage needed to be
addressed. Whittier and Stickley devised a gently
curved grassy swale in the center of the garden that
redirects water from the hillside away from the house.
A small stone footbridge allows the garden visitor to
experience the garden on both sides of the swale.
A stepped path, framed by lavender and both
drought- and salt air–tolerant plants, follows the swale
as it heads downward. Along the way, remnants of a former rock formation once near the house are now seen
along the steps and form the viewing platform, or perch,
with a pair of chairs for watching the changing view.
When it came to a planting scheme, the land again
played a role. “The homeowners were interested in
getting rid of water and wanted the side garden to represent the opposite,” Whittier explains. So, to counter
the cool nature of water, she and Stickley chose an
intense hot color plant palette, creating a subtle yin-yang effect.
The kangaroo paws are the standouts. “They love
“The clients love their garden now,” Whittier says.
the climate and really give this garden the bursts of
red and yellow,” Whittier says, while the new grasses
play with the wind. “Our clients really wanted to see
sweeps of moving grasses,” she adds. “Grasses are a
great way to see the wind but not have it be destruc-
tive to the plants.”
And because the owners wanted to welcome wild-
life, including deer, into the space, deer-resistant
plants like smoke bush and pineapple guava were
“They spend a lot of time on that little perch with the
chairs and their teenagers love it, too. They wander
through the space and go for lots of walks.” m