2014 East Bay Open Garden Day: Rancho Diablo, part 2

From the comments that were posted in part 1 of my post on Rancho Diablo it’s obvious that I’m not the only one who thinks that the landscaping of this property is spectacular. Beyond the plants themselves, what impressed me the most was how precisely and deliberately every element was placed without appearing in any way forced or artificial. That is not an easy thing to pull off!

I wish I could tell you more about the history of this garden beyond what is contained in this blog post, for example when it was established, where the plants were sourced, etc. What I can do, however, is post more photos. I’m hoping they will give you an even better idea of how special this garden is.


What a view!


Climbing up the stairs next to the house…


One of several large Mexican grass trees (Dasylirion quadrangulatum)

…takes you to an elevated patio with sweeping views of the cactus garden and the hills beyond.


The purple chair matches the wisteria blossom on the pergola above the breezeway


Notice the chairs made of horseshoes


Another Dasylirion quadrangulatum


Cactus garden panorama from the patio

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Dasylirion quadrangulatum and wisteria (not in bloom yet)

Behind the patio is a breezeway that connects to the front of the house (first photo in yesterday’s post).


Breezeway with Dasylirion quadrangulatum

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Notice the top dressing of flagstone pieces and the tillandsias tucked into the palm tree on the right

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Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)

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LEFT: The very tall flower stalk is from an Agave parryi. Behind it is a clump of Agave mitis. RIGHT: Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) and sago palm (Cycas revoluta)


I love the sheet-metal cactus tucked behind the window bars


Potted aloes in front of the old wing of the house. Succulent and More follower Walt told me that these are Aloe ‘Hercules’ and Aloe ‘Goliath’ and were planted just three years ago. Wowza!

Since I was taking so many photos, I was lagging far behind my group. I was still up on the patio when my friend Laura told me that there was a “secret garden” a little ways down the hill—just behind the oak in the next photo. I asked Laura to describe this secret garden, but she mysteriously told me that I had to see for myself. Needless to say I was intrigued.


The first thing I saw was a beautiful cluster of palm trees and cycads…


…including this Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata)…


…and this Macrozamia, a cycad from Australia.


But then things became really mysterious. Was I in California or ancient Rome?


Or on a movie set?



It turns out that the capitals nestled between the palm trees were salvaged from the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the Roman statues from the old San Francisco Public Library. One of the homeowners is an architect and presumably worked on the restoration of these buildings, or at least he knew somebody who did.

The homeowners also have the largest collection of architectural miniatures in the world (more than 5,000). They are housed in a separate building which you can see on the left in the next photo:


I peeked in through the door but there was a lecture going on with virtually no standing room left so I didn’t linger. The interior of the building was magnificent though. Maybe next time I get a chance to look at the collection.

I’m so grateful to the Garden Conservancy, truly an organization worth supporting, for making outstanding private gardens like this one available to the public. Take a look at their Open Days schedule to see which gardens might be open in your area this summer or fall. Personally, I’ll be heading to Marin County on Saturday to tour what I expect will be four other very special private gardens.




  1. Awesome. Thanks for sharing your visit.

    typo on 9th photo from the bottom, pots are full of aloes not yuccas.

    1. I stared at those containers for awhile thinking they had to be aloes, then decided "what do I know!"

    2. Gail, you're completely right. These are aloes. My brain must have been fried yesterday when I wrote the post.

  2. Wow wow wow wow. Love the plants and the architectural fragments, thank you for sharing your wonderful photos in this gorgeous landscape.

    1. I would love to be friends with the homeowners so I can visit their garden over and over again :-).

  3. This place is breathtaking Gerhard! I could look at those photos over and over again!

    1. Me too! Makes me wonder how many hidden treasures there are out there...

  4. A very nice tour indeed, although I'm not sure about the secret garden, especially when compared to the rest of the gardens.

    1. Aah, the secret garden. Yes, it was something else altogether. But I loved the element of surprise. I think every garden should have something quirky even if it's meaningful only to the homeowner.

      Having said that, I'm not sure what's quirky in my yard. Maybe my collection of multi-colored plastic nursery pots that keeps growing and growing? LOL.

  5. People actually live like this? What a reality. Needless to say I am jealous. We've got a day of Garden Conservancy tours coming up at the end of the month. Doubt I'll see anything like this though.

    1. Yeah, it's not my reality either. But for once I thought these were landscaping dollars well spent. In my book, you can hardly do better in terms of hardscaping and plant selection. But it wasn't any one thing that made me go "wow," it was everything together. The overall effect was magical.

  6. Zowie! What a great garden full of surprises!

  7. When I think of how much pleasure my tiny garden gives me, I can only deal with a garden like this by guessing at multiplying pleasure inputs. How does that work? How much can one person absorb? Thanks so much for this tour. I knew Aloe 'Hercules' was fast, but wow -- just brought one home too.


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