A few months ago somebody at the Ruth Bancroft Garden told me about a fabulous front yard in Walnut Creek. It took me a while, but I finally checked it out yesterday when I had meeting in the East Bay anyway.
What did I think? Well, the title of this post, “I’ve glimpsed paradise,” may be a tad exaggerated, but if this were my front yard, I’d be one happy camper. It’s the perfect marriage of hardscape and softscape. And the plants are definitely not run of the mill (Agave americana aside). There is a wide variety of succulents, flowering perennials, grasses, trees, and shrubs from all over the world. Clearly this is the garden of a plant lover: well designed, well curated, and well tended.
I must admit that I don’t know anything about the folks who live here, the history of this project, who designed it, where the plants came from (although I assume quite a few are from the Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery). While these are details that would be interesting to know, sometimes I prefer to experience a garden completely unburdened. That allows me to respond exclusively to what I see rather than what I know. And in this case, I loved what I saw.
This property is a corner lot so the front yard is quite large. The house sits higher than the street, and I’m sure that originally there was lawn that sloped down to the sidewalk. The lawn is completely gone now.
On one side of the front yard, a raised bed (beautifully built!) adds a second planting level. Below that are several large Agave americana (variegated and non-variegated) that contrast in size with the lower-growing succulents. Several large pots create additional visual interest.
Agave americana ‘Marginata’
Agave americana. Also note the weeping cedar.
These folks are gardeners and plant lovers. I can tell by the plant labels!
This looks like a weeping blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca pendula’). Also note the Yucca rostrata in the blue pot and the smoke bush (Cotinus sp.) in the right corner.
The strappy plant in the foreground looks like Dasylirion longissimum
Now we’re at the corner of the property. This is looking back towards the area you saw above…
…and this is looking in the other direction, towards the area still to be explored.
Another Agave americana, with Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga and various dudleyas
Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga and Dudleya pulverulenta
What caught my eye here was the palo verde tree on the right—probably the Desert Museum hybrid (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’)
Now we’re approaching the front door. The plantings here are getting even more interesting.
Another Agave americana ‘Marginata’ to mirror the one around the corner on the left
Agave americana ‘Marginata’ and yellow-flowering aloe (no ID)
Agave americana ‘Marginata’ and Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’
Variegated yucca, probably Yucca ‘Color Guard’
Aloe marlothii, getting to be large enough to flower
×Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’ and Arctotis sp.
At the entrance we have a row of Agave ‘Blue Glow’ underplanted with Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’
In addition, there are three turquoise pots filled with echeverias and, to the left, what looks like several Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’
Beyond the front door we have a slope similar to the other side of the front yard. Instead of building raised planters, the homeowners kept the slope and added a number of rocks to break up the space. In terms of plantings, the succulent theme continues, but it is complemented by ornamental grasses, a few shrubs, and more wispy trees.
I think this planting scheme is a resounding success
Agave potatorum appearing to spill out of a half buried pot
The Japanese maple next to the front door, the ornamental grasses, and the Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’ were beautifully backlit in the morning sun
I was particularly fond of this young tree. Troy McGregor, the nursery manager at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, told me it’s a zigzag wattle (Acacia merinthophora).
Zigzag wattle (Acacia merinthophora)
Looking back towards the entrance to the house
The bright green clumps in the front on the left are Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’, easily the best looking specimens I’ve seen in our climate
The aloe in bloom is Aloe striata. It’s unusual to see it in flower this early.
Opuntia gosseliniana (aka ‘Santa Rita’)
Cordyline australis in the foreground. On the extreme right, jutting into the frame just a little, is a variegated leucadendron (Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunrise’). So many interesting plants wherever you look!
I think the agave and grasses in this photo are technically on the neighboring property. Kudos for continuing the theme!
Google Street View, July 2015 (image © 2015 Google)
So, what do you think of this front yard? Hard to imagine this was once a boring expanse of lawn!
I just found out that this front yard was designed and installed by Linda McSwain based in Lafayette, CA, with plant advice from Walker Young, assistant curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden.
This front yard looked quite different as recently as May 2014. Using the Google Street View history feature, I’ve created this animated GIF that shows it in May 2011, May 2014, and July 2015:
What a transformation!