Case Study Three:
The West Garden—Richard and Kate West, owners
Oakland’s historic Fernwood district is notable for the variety and quality of homes still in use, many with striking period features from the early 20th century. Families are drawn to this neighborhood by the charming jumble of Storybook, Tudor, Mission-Revival, and Regency-inspired architecture. The West family called us as they were approaching the tail end of a major structural remodel of their Fernwood Mediterranean home dating from the 1920s. In renovating their home, they had worked hard to maintain an authentic aesthetic while addressing serious structural problems that had developed over the years. They were seeking a landscape contractor who would be enthusiastic about approaching garden renovation in the same way.
In the backyard, the few existing garden features that remained from the ’20s had been neglected for so many years by previous owners that they needed to be replaced. Much of the backyard had been buried over time by massive blankets of ivy. What we conceived together was the recreation of a garden that had never been built; a new garden that looked like it could have been part of the original design.
Despite its general disrepair, the site had a few wonderful features that became central to the new garden. Temescal Creek flows through the backyard, flanked by stately redwood trees. One of the first design decisions made was to construct a large, arched stone footbridge to provide access to the far side of the creek. The stone was fitted and mortared carefully to look as though it had been 100 years since the last stone was set.
An original slate patio was rehabilitated, and new carefully fitted stone walls were constructed to match the old stone walls around them. We also needed to screen a neighbor’s unsightly shed form the patio. A pair of ornamental iron gates that were no longer being used were relocated from the front of the house, framed up in stout redwood, and placed to form a lovely screen trellis that effectively concealed the offending shed in an artful manner.
We created pathways and stone walls to form raised planters, and rebuilt a small pond and waterfall from the old garden to continue the overall look of graceful antiquity. Soft downlighting was suspended from large oak and redwood trees to illuminate garden features and paths, creating a moonlight effect. We also rescued some unusual low stone pillars from the ivy and adorned them with fuchsia standards. Other shade-adapted plants with bright flowers were set in the rear garden to animate the farthest reaches of the lot.
After a season or two of plant growth, the owners had a gorgeous garden that appears to have been there for many, many years, and reflects their home’s unique period character. The owners have recently retired, and report that they are delighted to have this beautiful, low-maintenance garden to relax in with their family.