Who knew a tiny Oakland backyard could contain this secret English Cottage garden? When you walk down the short driveway the garden starts to reveal itself in layers through a whimsical wrought iron gate covered with fragrant roses and lush purple clematis. There are so many new and existing plants covering every square inch of soil. The colors and smells wake up your nose and your eyes as soon as you enter. A huge Coast Live Oak and established Pittosporum undulatum tree create the backdrop screening and canopy for the rest of the garden. Along the sides, we planted a hedge of Podocarpus to create a clean green and narrow screen. Existing established rhododendrons screen the Tudor style garage. The vast majority of the garden is dedicated to planting beds, rather than patios.
My clients number one priority was to be able to view the garden looking down from their eating nook and they were right. The formal half circle of lawn is anchored by a central bird bath. Pink flowering dogwoods anchor each end and enforce the formal symmetry of the half circle, while the planting beds around the brick-lined lawn are whimsical and packed full with flowering plants. Established rhododendrons on the perimeter and a few existing hydrangea make this new garden installation seem timeless. As with many English Cottage Gardens, there are formal lines and symmetry that relate to the architecture of the building. But the formality is never left exposed to be cold and stark because it is softened by the color and texture of the jam-packed planting beds.
Although, the back yard is small, it is able to house several distinct rooms that make the garden feel larger. The first room is the largest when viewed from above. It contains the formal semi-circle of lawn edged by generous planting beds. Directly across from the lawn, separated by a brick path, is the original brick patio and fireplace nook. We had to do some additional brick work and patching due to safety issues but the new brick blends in seamlessly with the old. Splashing mortar on the surface of the brick really helped to disguise the new brick. On the back of the fireplace is a small herb garden complete with an espaliered lemon tree. Behind the fireplace we refurbished the existing greenhouse by framing out a row of different salvaged windows and replacing the roof. A coat of turquoise stain makes it blend in with the original door and siding. Beyond the wrought iron fence, two metal troughs act as raised beds for growing strawberries, tomatoes, and even more cutting flowers. Hard perimeters are always softened by plants. The rhododendrons screen the wall of the garage while the vining clematis and rose weave in an out of the fence. The existing concrete retaining wall separating properties is disguised by the Podocarpus and soft blue geranium.
The biggest challenge in this garden was dealing with the shade the magnificent existing trees and rhododendrons created. Since the Oak and Pittosporum were already established and have large canopies, the lawn and flowering plants below suffer from the shade and leaf litter in the winter time. Additional seed in the winter and thinning of the trees could help, but this is just a fact in gardens sometimes. The symmetry of the lawn and border of roses can’t be changed to anything else. The changes each season brings help you appreciate the garden in different ways throughout the year. When the roses are dormant and bare branches in the winter, the evergreen Daphne perfumes the air with it’s sweet, soapy scent. The winter brings out the beautiful peony blooms of the Camelia, while spring triggers the Rhododendrons to light up with bright purple and pink clouds. The summer brings jaw-dropping displays of puffy purple and pink Hydrangea and peach Alstromeria, while the climbing roses, David Austin Rose and tea rose perfume the air.