One Foot in
A SOUTH-FACING MARIN GARDEN BORROWS FREELY FROM THE EAST.
LANDSCAPE DESIGNER DAVIS DALBOK’S
lush half-acre garden in Fairfax, half an hour north of Mill
Valley, is in an atypically warm neighborhood he affectionately calls a banana belt.
Its Thai and Balinese influences epitomize the central
theme of the designer’s imminent monograph, which he says
will be called “One Foot in the Tropics.”
“I discovered my home accidentally during the dot-com
boom when I could not afford even a tiny lot in San Fran-
cisco,” Dalbok recalls. “I began to look in Marin and the first
time I peered through the old wooden gate to this property,
I just knew it would be mine.”
The garden was in disrepair, but through its dilapidated
front gate Dalbok could see beautiful old oak trees. “There
was a sizable plateau for the old house and swimming pool,
and the rest slid south toward views of great open spaces,” he
says. “Its boundaries were invisible and the garden seemed to
stretch across Cascade Canyon, which it abuts.”
Moreover, it was rumored that the famed horticulturist
and arborist John McLaren of Golden Gate Park fame used
to vacation there, and Dalbok was convinced that a beautiful
stand of Himalayan deodar cedars he could see two proper-
ties away were part of McLaren’s legacy.
A giant magnolia grandiflora, an enormous Atlantic blue
cedar and an odd “monkey puzzle tree” all had to be McLaren’s,
Dalbok thought. Their nestled location, which was warmer
than other spots on the property, was clearly just right for it.
Over the next two decades, the area proved ideal for a
palette of temperate and tropical flora Dalbok loves, because
cold coastal winds simply flit past the property. “I never lose
cycads and palms to frost,” he says.
His passion for tropical species began before he graduated
from Cal Poly, where he was studying landscape architecture.
Part-time work tending fancy gardens in Montecito during
summer breaks led eventually to a job at a nursery, where
BY ZAHID SARDAR PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARION BRENNER