We are going to examine a few styles of gardens:  Spanish Moorish, Chinese, wild and native Californian, arid and dry xeriscape, San Francisco eclectic, and a touch of Europe to close.  As we go, consider the climate culture and mythology of the particular region, the function and use, the audience and client, the maintenance and care over time, the plant selection and placement, and the materials.  Okay here we go!

Oh its so hot in the south!  Olive trees dot the hills, thick white walled houses built of mountain boulders clay and mud, lime whitewash, tile roofs. Fennel and giant reed grass on fallow land next to grazing goats on oats.


Ride your donkey out to the farm to work.  Come home on the narrow streets, tether the burro up, go inside for a siesta.  Its so hot.  Old folks be outside in the shade, chatting away, telling jokes, gossiping, watching the kids play in the streets, keepin’ an eye out.

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The garden, the courtyard, the sanctuary is inside, beyond the arches and tile work.


Wrought iron gates, a table for afternoon snack time, and plants that will tolerate the shade, the heat, the container culture.  Palms, ferns, leafy aroids, and some begonias.  In a sunny spot, pelargoniums.  The garden is a place of beauty, a space of tranquility somewhere between the home and the utilitarian work place.

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Much influence in the south comes from the African Arabic moors who crossed over the strait of Gibraltar back in the day.  Nine plus miles of sea separates the two continents – Europe and Africa.  In the garden, this means ornate carvings honoring the prophet and Allah, horseshoe arches, water fountains that run down the middle, and an abundance of  roses, fragrant herbs, and fruit trees the likes of pomegranates and figs.  Tiles like these:

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Patios like this.  Aside from the intricate architecture and formal style of plantings, note that the garden often depicts symbols of power or totems of mythology.  In this case, it is a ring of lions in the castle known as the Alhambra in Granada.

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Okay.  Leaving the Mediterranean California-like climate of Spain and headed off to the subtropical realm of south China and Taiwan Formosa.  No more dry and hot.  Now for the wet and sticky.  Fogged up glasses and clingy t shirts.

At the Dragon mountain temple, the buildings are colorful and florific.  The carvings – always more carvings and tiled roofs…

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Strolling through the garden, you come across this rock on a pedestal.  A rock on a pedestal?  All craggy and pitted, with ferns and moss crawling all over it?  Yes the Chinese have a very different aesthetic when it comes to their values and sense of harmony in the universe.  Stay off the lawn!


All that walking makes you mighty tired.  Let’s sit down for a bit.  Well, here’s a little nook.  But these seats.  This table.  Fresh soaked from a monsoon rain.  Smooth but so ‘unrefined’.  So simple.  Look like stumps of a tree, like straight outa the quarry with a polish and buff.  As if some rock or mountain spirit still dwelled within.  Hmmm…


The taxi cab driver said “This is a good place, it is full of magic and nature spirit and if you are sincere and good the volcano mountain will grant your wishes and answer your prayers.”  We like “ok”.  Then, at the entrance to the mountain was these. Roots.  Yeah.  Roots.  Not quite the symmetrical archway with neatly trimmed ivy.  No this is a very different style.

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So if that is the wood work, what about the stone work?  Show us some dry stacked retaining walls or stairs.  In the casual but labor intense look.  In granite.  Wobbly, side to side drainage, following the contours of the mountain all the way up without dynamiting the whole thing flat or cutting it only in straight angles.  Built by hand.  Hmmm…


This must be the land of dragons.  On the roof lines, in the curves of the rocks and bends in the trails.  Up there on the big rock, hidden, the statue is Matsu.  The goddess of the sea, protector of fishermen and sailors.  Back in Spain, she is known as the Virgin of Carmen, queen of the seas.  Notice how there is painted and carved writing on the rocks.  It is not looked down upon as graffiti, nor is it seen as somehow sacrilegious to pure and unspoiled pristine nature.  It is one and the same.  There is no conflict.


Before leaving Asia, saw this strange path liner to share with you.  Remember that in design, a demarcation between spaces – between the lawn and the flower bed, or between the orchard and the perennials – is essential both as an aesthetic border, but also to establish that line of maintenance.  So in wet humid zones, it is hard to keep cactus alive outdoors.  The constant moisture leads to rot and death quickly.  In order to showcase them, one must plant them inside of a greenhouse.  Not so much to keep em warm, but to keep them dry.  Here was one such greenhouse with an interesting use of a plant as a path liner in lieu of say redwood bender board or a metal strip tacked into the ground.  After they sprout, outside you go!

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Of late, because of a number of factors, the dry and arid landscape has become more popular.  You go to a fancy neighborhood, and the lawn has been replaced with succulents, cacti, and ginger colored gravels.  The annual show and sale of the Cactus and Succulent Society in Golden Gate Park – once it was a fringe specialist nerd hobby.  Now it is lines out the door jam packed with people all coveting another small poky thing from the deserts of Chile or a webby squat little guy from the high mountains of the Alps.  Many of these plants are ideal for our area.  They are relatively low maintenance and require little irrigation.  Many seem to like the well drained sands of the western parts of San Francisco.  Most would probably like a little bit more sun, a little bit more heat.  But in general, they tolerate the cool summers here.  They are beautiful creatures.

It is important to go and meet plants in different places, on their own terms, so that you can learn to culture and grow them appropriately.  This way you will understand the diversity and specificity of particular groups, and be able to plant them in the right place as a designer.   At Cacti Mundo botanic garden in San Jose del Cabo Baja Mexico is a nice display.  Notice the shade cloth stretched over the top.  Shade?  Cactus?  What?  You mean cactus can be burned by too much sun?!  Yes.  On the other end of the spectrum, some cacti  grow in wet foggy high altitude forests in the crotches of trees!  ?!?!  So match the natural ecology of the plant with the cultivated garden where you want it to grow.  Usually  you cant just ram a style down nature’s throat cause that is what you want.  Figure out the forces you are dealing with.  Then harmonize with her and the garden will sparkle.


Yeah something like this.  This would be a nice centerpiece for a dry garden style landscape…  Well San Francisco, with its fog and wind, is not really the Sonora Desert.  Growth is going to be slow.  Rot and hard calluses will be an issue.  Then the pests that sit in those wet soggy little wounds and feed and feed…


Around here.  A nice lady named Ruth Bancroft really got into it.  There is a garden for this style of landscaping in Walnut Creek close to Berkeley and Richmond and Oakland on the eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay.  It works!  Go check it out!  Heard that back in the day, establishing the garden in clay soil, drainage and wetness was a problem.  Cacti do not like those wet goopy roots.  So they mounded the soil, added tons of volcanic rock pumice, and made it work.  Established the plantings.  Looks like:


With a garden of fantastic forms and unusual flowers, what kind of hardscape and cultural symbols do you match it with?  Well that is the modern dilemma.  No more lions and dragons and rigid symmetry.  Try some art, ceramics, and a touch of whimsy.


Coming round home again.  Native plants are another ‘style’ or fashion or trend that has hit hard in the last ten or fifteen years or so.  Once relegated to enthusiastic weed warriors and grizzled folks hauling around a tome of Jepson Manual Vascular Plants of California, natives are now used everywhere.  These days, every landscape architect’s plan – full of natives.  So lets go back to the inspiration and the source and see why this style is making a come back.

This here in the mountains is the water source for San Francisco and some of the surrounding cities as well.  In the foreground, bear berry manzanita.


In the garden then, one tries to replicate or imitate or mimic this ‘look’.  This natural and fluid and at ease feel.  My old buddy Luke Hass who took care of Jenny Fleming’s native plant garden in the hills gave us a tour of their epic native plant garden which took decades to grow and mature.  One of the funny things he mentioned was that a favorite part of the garden was a beautiful manzanita growing over the swimming pool out of the rocks.  It had the arching form, peeling magenta brown skin, and branching structure which took your breath away.  And it had not been planted by humans, a little bird probably planted it back in the day and it grew and grew!  Took forty years for it to look good.  Wasn’t even part of the original ‘design’.  So let that be a lesson to all y’all designers with clients who want their garden to look good ‘right now’!  ‘Right away!  I’ll pay top dollar!’  Mosses and lichens take time.  Dense knits of ferns and grasses take time.  A garden takes time.


Start to see the exquisite strangeness of nature, one that is not set in design rules that say ‘no you cant do that.’  Nature says ‘?’  Or she shakes her head and in the clearing of oaks and redwoods this madrone gestures like this:


Or, the oak tree in the mountains forgot to listen to the arborists.  And survived in spite of:


Okay a little off topic.  Back to styles and local color.  San Francisco eclectic is a combination of the myriad of tastes and flavors of the bay area.  In the concourse of Golden Gate Park you have the plane sycamores in a pollarded French kings style, the palm trees reminiscent of southern California or the desert springs of the middle east.  And the new DeYoung Art Museum with its copper clad patina skin and tower into the sky.  Modern?!


How about Shane Eagleton’s wood sculpture, his ‘acupuncture  needle for the earth’?  Set in the children’s garden of the San Francisco Botanical Garden.  Where does this fit in on the spectrum of garden styles?


On 24th Street in the Mission, a little mini park sits.  Thanks to the efforts of the community, Aztec mythology, and landscape architects from the City i.e. Marvin Yee, the park got a make over and a plumed serpent for kids to ride on in their fantastic voyage in the garden.


Tiled mosaics are a great addition to any garden space.  They are durable and vibrant, and spice up that ten foot tall gray concrete wall with some stories and happiness.  Artist extraordinaire Dan Stingle had this to say at a local elementary school:


A  style that has had tremendous and major influence in garden design comes to us from Europe.  It is the formal garden of medieval kings and queens, lords bishops and nobles.  Symmetry, straight and clean lines, attention to detail.  It is  represented minisculey here at the Conservatory Valley in some beds of annuals, well mowed lawn, and a big glass Victorian age greenhouse:


The symbols and underlying mythology and origins are shown here, at the top of City Hall in front of the Civic Center Joseph Alioto Performing Arts Piazza.  Nice caduceus!:



Okay.  Heres the assignment.  Look up 1) Versailles orangerie 2) the Potager garden (kitchen garden) at Villandry, and 3) the gardens at Filoli in Woodside.  Google images and associated texts.  Compare and contrast these formal gardens with another style.  Either a style covered here in this blog, or one in the text.   Maybe the gardens of Mesopotamia or Egypt, or the gardens of the Incas.  Think about the plants used, the hardscapes of stone or wood or ceramics, the overall layout, and the cultural symbols.  Who was the audience?  What was the purpose of the garden?  In addition, discuss the maintenance (high, medium or low) and labor (highly paid professionals, serfs, slaves, etc.).  Lastly, tell me which one you liked better, and why.  About two page essay, typed or handwritten.  Due date announced in class…