Mediterranean Marin

Last weekend I visited three outstanding gardens in Marin County. I’ve already blogged about Under the Sea, High in the Hills. Today I’m showing you Mediterranean Marin, a garden located in Mill Valley.


In the Garden Conservancy program it was described as follows:

This multi-level Mediterranean-style garden is terraced down a hillside overlooking Richardson Bay and a wildlife preserve, with San Francisco in the distance. A large Canary Island palm frames these views from a curved terrace and sets the tone for the property. The visitor is led down stone stairs and along low stone walls past pear trees being espaliered over the vegetable garden arbor, and on through the length of a unique water cascade walkway recirculating captured run-off water, and then around other terraces with their own water features. All terraces have seating areas to take in the views and diverse garden treatments. Plantings include olive trees, swaths of mature aeonium, agaves, bromeliads, citrus, roses, wisteria and more. Large Italian pots holding displays of other succulents accent the garden. A series of mature cypress serve as punctuation to the relaxed setting.

This description suggested a spectacular garden but I wasn’t prepared for how jaw-droppingly beautiful it really was. I hope my photos will give you at least a sense of how special this property is. Unfortunately, it was a bright, sunny day and many corners of the garden were half in the sun and half in shade, which made for very challenging photography.

From the street, it was impossible to tell what’s behind the walls but as soon as I approached the gate (photo above) I caught glimpses of the rich vegetation. Right across from the front door is this stone bench integrated into a retaining wall—the stone work is stunning throughout the property—and in front of it were these two wooden totes with paper umbrellas. I thought they were just for decoration but as it turned out, the umbrellas were for visitors to use as they toured the garden.


The focal point of the plantings right next to the front door was this fox-tail agave (Agave attenuata). While it’s a common enough plant, I can only dream of having such a large specimen here in Davis. Agave attenuata is one of the wimpiest of all agaves, tolerating virtually no frost and also hating high heat.


Beyond the front door, the path followed the exterior wall of the property and soon crossed a stream cascading down the hill and eventually ending in a small pool on the patio with the Yucca rostrata (four photos down). This was one of numerous water features—I lost track of how many.


It’s interesting that in all three gardens I visited, succulents played a prominent role. To me it’s a clear sign that succulents are no longer a niche category but a staple of garden design. In this garden, succulents were literally everywhere. In the ground, in planters, and tucked into every nook and cranny. These Echeveria agavoides were perfect.


Tree ferns are another group of plants I would love to grow but they struggle in our heat and low humidity. No such problems here!


This patio is off the kitchen, and in many way it was my favorite. It’s private and sheltered, yet through the large glass windows and doors you have an unobstructed view of the Bay and the skyline of San Francisco beyond.







Continuing down the path from the kitchen patio I arrived at a small landing with two chairs against a rock retaining wall studded with these flawless Aeonium ‘Sunburst’. This garden was full of little vignettes wherever you looked. Truly, a plant lover’s paradise.





The vegetable garden is tucked away behind an arbor. It’s very small, but it’s impeccable.


One of the biggest patios in the lower part of the garden has beautiful views of Richardson Bay.





I love how they have lamb’s ear growing in the cracks between the flagstones.



The house itself is a Southwestern design, an architectural style I personally love for its right angles and its unadorned simplicity.


The most impressive water feature in the whole garden was this rill that runs along the property boundary on the lower level. The water makes just enough sound to give the impression of coolness even on a hot day. As is the case everywhere, the hardscape is perfection.



Another tranquil spot to rest and relax.


I would have loved to see a blueprint of the garden. I lost track, but I think there were four sets of steps connecting the various levels.




Tucked away in the farthest corner of the garden is this potting bench. I talked to one of the homeowners, and he is a plant lover. It clearly shows throughout the garden, which he designed himself.


This spot was very popular with the visiting crowd.


This beautiful corner is across from the arbor above. The blooming protea was a nice surprise.


I’ve never seen coloration quite like that on a coral aloe (Aloe striata). The colors perfectly matched the rocks.


On the garage level (the wooden doors on the left) is another sitting area offering spectacular water views.





But the best views are from the upper deck outside the living room. I was wishing I could be a plant on that deck so I’d never have to leave!







As hard as it was, eventually it was time to leave. I know that taste is intensely personal, but for me, this was the most beautiful property—house plus garden—I had ever seen. It would be my dream to garden on a 1/2 acre plot like this one!



Other gardens I visited:


  1. Great tour of an amazing property! Do you know if they maintain it themselves, or do they have a gardener or two helping out?

    1. I don't really know. I do know that the homeowners are passionate about plants and gardening. Since there are no lawns, I don't think there's a lot of maintenance aside from trimming the boxwood hedge around one patio. I assume everything is on drip irrigation.

  2. As beautiful as it is for me it was made even better by the fact that owners actually's not just a show piece!

    1. I enjoyed talking to one of the homeowners, and it was clear that he loved succulents and plants in general. He said he'd been on many garden tours in the past and that it was time to share their garden with the community. I'm very glad they did.

  3. I salute you for taking so many photos, the sun and heat really discouraged me. Lots of crowds when I was there too ! I'll enjoy your photos instead.

    1. I spent quite a bit of time in Photoshop reducing the contrast. But I wanted to do this place justice.

  4. A beautiful garden Gerhard, and compared with the previous one you featured I much prefer this one. There's something more 'natural' and at ease about this garden. Lovely!

    1. I agree. I love how many different outdoor "rooms" there were. It's the perfect property for exploring and relaxing--and for gardening. I'm still dreaming of owning a place like that someday. But unless I win the lottery or move to a state with much cheaper real estate, it probably won't happen.

  5. Wow. Just perfect. Thanks so much for blogging about this beautiful garden. And wonderful that the owners garden. In that setting they would be crazy not to.

  6. Wow Gerhard this place is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful photos with us! I love those outdoor sitting area too!

  7. Thank you, Gerhard, for a glorious journey. To John (It's not work, etc), as a retired landscape designer and long time Marin resident, I can assure you the residents have help maintaining that perfection. There's a lot more work keeping succulents flawless that you'd think, and Marinites tend to Have Things Done a lot.

    It's my home. I can say that out loud.

    Enjoy the ride!


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