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A garden in Oakland, California

Our Oakland town home is located in the hills above San Francisco Bay. The climate here is found in Sunset Zone 15 (from Sunset Western Garden Book) which is quite temperate, with some summer fog; but it is neither very hot in summer nor very cold in winter. The soil is a heavy clay, shallow due to the leveling done during construction of the area.

The common area in front was designed by a local landscape architect and me (a Landscape Horticulture community college instructor and consulting arborist) in 2005 and was installed in 2006 by a landscape crew, with additional input from our landscape committee. It includes a fabulous view of San Francisco and the Bay from the front of the house. Since this area at the end of the street required a lawn, we took the existing lawn and 'downsized' it, to provide a place for children to play while using less water. I wanted a bench, both to serve as a focal point and as a place to enjoy the view of San Francisco and the Bay. The bench is shown here, surrounded by crushed granite. The area attracts local flocks of turkeys, California quail and native bandtail pigeons, along with many types of songbirds, deer, racoons, skunks, opossums, foxes and ground mammals such as gophers and mice. The abundance of wildlife, eager to eat anything possible, set some restrictions on the plant palette. The irrigation provided is only for the tall fescue lawn, along with some drip irrigation for the newer plantings.

Framed by mature specimens of Quercus agrifolia, this front garden includes many California native and Mediterranean shrubs and groundcovers, such as Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Rhamnus californica 'Eve Case', Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus', Rosmarinus officinalis 'Tuscan Blue', Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans', Carex barberae, Salvia leucantha, Rhus lancea, Acacia redolens and Nerium oleander. Jasminum polyanthum and Salvia clevelandii are found near the entrance, with pots of Cordyline sp., Campanula portenschlagiana, Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold', Lophomyrtus x ralphii 'Katheryn', and Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold'.

I planted the Olea europaea 'Majestic Beauty' as a 15-gallon plant at the back of our small rear garden in 2003. The Vitis 'Rogers Red'and the two Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum shrubs were installed in the largest pots around the front and side edges of the garden at about the same time, with the Vitis trained against the fence separating our unit from the neighbor's yard. (It is dormant in this image.) But the rest of the yard had to wait until November 2008, when a former student of mine and I could remove all of the existing plants from the central portion of this small garden and install them in his yard. My husband and I looked and looked for the 'perfect' fountain that would fit into this odd-shaped triangular yard, at the edge of the slope. And the fountain had to have spigots – like the fountain we'd seen in a town square in Provence. (We saw many strange fountains during our search)

The 50" wide fountain was installed in the winter of 2009, to fit the constraints of this small townhouse backyard. The fountain was installed on top of sixteen bags of gravel, to elevate it slightly. I placed a water-permeable weed barrier cloth beneath the gravel before the fountain was brought into the yard. After that, I moved in about 1,000 pounds of rocks to supplement the existing rocks from the old garden. Next I found the little bench that sits beneath the olive, created the flat 'island area' in front of the fountain, placed fabric cloth over it, set the big flat stones on top of the fabric cloth and then topped off this elevated level area between the stones with bags of an all purpose soil mix (containing some small red rocks) mixed with bags of pumice, in order to hide the weed barrier cloth. The flat area in front of the fountain includes Chamaemelum nobile and specimens of Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue', Sedum acre 'Elegans', Sedum spathulifolium, Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco', Sedum spurium 'Voodoo', Sempervivum 'Viking' and two Lavandula x [x not italic] intermedia 'Fred Boutin'. These plants were installed in holes made through the fabric cloth, in soil that includes the native clay mixed with the soil mix found above the fabric cloth, so that the plants can spread both below and above the cloth while weeds are discouraged.

In the right foreground is a Meyer lemon. Not visible are specimens of Cuphea hyssopifolia, Heuchera micrantha 'Palace Purple', and Corokia cotoneaster. The left foreground includes a lovely cultivar of Lantana montevidensis, Libertia peregrinans 'Goldfinger', Carex elata 'Aurea' and other miscellaneous pots of herbs and succulents. Also included are some large fake boulders, Geranium incanum, Felicia filifolia, a pink flowering Schizostylis coccinea, Penstemon barbatus'Cambridge Mix', Acorus gramineus 'Ogon', some Rumohra adiantiformis, Cotula coronopifolia groundcover, one Lychnis coronaria, Geranium sanguineum 'Autumn Pride', Penstemon 'Papal Purple', Senecio ciliocarpa var. polypodon, (with magenta purple flowers), Salvia patens, Solidaster luteus 'Lemore' x (Aster x solidago), Senecio vitalis 'Green Fingers'and Nepeta cataria. Irrigation to this garden is provided by a drip system and some microjets for the groundcovers surrounding the fountain.

Plants surrounding the fountain include Graptopetalum superbum, Sedum acre 'Elegans', Sedum spurium 'Voodoo', Echeveria 'Topsy Turvy', Sedum nussbaumerianum (Coppertone Stonecrop) and Oscularia deltoides (that looks like a gray sedum). Five specimens of Libertia peregrinans 'Goldfinger' in Thymus serphyllum 'Elfin' can be seen behind the fountain.

Shrubs found behind the fountain and under the olive include Euphorbia myrsinites, Euphorbia rigida, Kniphofia uvaria, Achillea 'Moonshine', Bulbine frutescens, Thymus polytrichus, Helichrysum petiolare 'Immortelle', Coreopsis auriculata 'Nana' and a blue-flowering Babiana. The yellow urn under the olive includes Crassula erosula 'Campfire', Echeveria nodulosa, Graptopetalum paraguayense 'Pinky' and Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'. Orostachys iwarenge 'Chinese Dunce's Cap' is found next to the little stone bench under the olive.

The patio area near the house is shown both in the second image and in this one. It includes a birdbath, Uncinia uncinata 'Red', Haloragis erecta 'Wellington Bronze' and many colored pots. The pots contain Lophomyrtus x ralphii 'Purpurea' yellow-flowering Hibbertia aspera, Physocarpus capitatus 'Diabolo' with Poliomintha longiflora (Mexican Golden Oregano), tomatoes, basil, chives, thyme, and oregano. Not shown are specimens of Pandorea jasminoides, Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum, Coprosma repens 'Pink Splendor' with Sutera cordata (sold as Bacopa 'Snowflake',) Scaevola 'Mauve Clusters', Pelargonium sidoides, Asparagus densiflorus 'Myersii' with Campanula portenschlagiana, and a dwarf, white-variegated Agapanthus africanus 'Blue Baby'.

With proper plant selection and judicious pruning, one can fit many plants into a small space. Although tiny, this delightful garden provides endless entertainment from the constantly changing plant palette, the activities of the birds, and the sounds from the fountain.


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