Gardens are like people — they have their own attitude. The best ones communicate on multiple levels at once.
When the owners of a Glen Park Victorian undertook a major renovation of their home, it left their garden, a full city block at 3,200 square feet, in complete disarray.
To complicate matters, the lot is on a very steep slope, which created runoff problems and challenges with vertical planting.
The owners, both studying to be psychologists, hired Katey Mulligan of Liquidambar Garden Design to help them transform “a construction site” into a terraced garden with sustainable plants and flowers.
They also wanted a garden that wasn’t just a pretty space. From the entry gate to the back fence, it had to touch all the senses.
In the front, Mulligan stacked stones for a whimsical, “Hobbit”-inspired retaining wall that edges the landing. She laid stepping-stones to form a path to a lavender door that leads to the back garden.
Between the stones she planted a medley of lemon and lime thyme. Redolent jasmine winds around the entry fence and rosemary drapes over the front wall.
For conservation, Mulligan planted low-water, drought-tolerant, mostly Australian and New Zealand shrubs and foliage, which work well in the Bay Area. There’s grevillea, a hardy flax, New Zealand phormium, melianthus major and buddleia — a butterfly bush in a bright, silvery color.
She used hardy cordyline and, along the fence, after dark, a variety of the Australian peppermint tree, as well as leptospermum, or tea tree.
In the back, Mulligan carved a terrace into the vertical slope, designing a dining area and patio with a sunken hot tub. The retaining wall is composed of local Napa and Sonoma fieldstone set above gravel and sand, making it permeable for water retention.
A sculpture of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy, functions as a focal point among honey bush shrubs.
Other plantings in the area are canna, magnolia, ginkgo, birch and Japanese maple trees. For tactile delight and scents, Mulligan also included succulents, scented geraniums and grasses.
The garden functions as a treat on many levels, with its own persona coming through loud and clear.