Whimsical and wonderful: Bunny Jean Cunningham’s art garden on Pence Gallery Garden Tour

The Pence Gallery (or “Pence,” as everybody calls it) is an institution here in Davis. Established in 1976, this not-for-profit community art gallery is not only a popular downtown destination, it’s also a leading player in the visual arts scene in Northern California.

As a fundraiser, the Pence organizes a tour of local gardens every May. My wife and I had done it two years ago (see here: 1 | 2 | 3). Since this year was the 25th anniversary, we decided to pony up the $25 per person and do it again.

We visited eight of the ten gardens (the other two were the small garden at the Pence as well as the UC Davis Arboretum Terrace next to Whole Foods, which I’ve blogged about before). This post is about the one garden that truly stood out. My second post will briefly touch on the other gardens.

This year’s gardens were all located in the downtown area. While not an official theme, it became apparent that the ongoing drought has had an impact on most of the gardens. Some gardens had no lawns at all, others had drastically reduced the areas dedicated to turf. Some gardens had been designed by professionals, others by dedicated homeowners.

A large budget obviously buys you flashy things, but personally, I’m much more interested in the intimate connection between gardeners and their garden. That has almost nothing to do with money.

The garden I want to feature in today’s post straddles both worlds. It’s had professional help (design by Margot Anderson), but it’s also a deeply personal space. Its owner, Bunny Jean Cunningham, ran one of Davis’ top hair salons for decades, and she’s also an enthusiastic and accomplished ceramic artist.

This is the first thing we saw as we approached Bunny Jean’s garden:


Even though I’m not a big fan of Agave americana ‘Marginata’ (inside lurks a monster of epic proportions),  the wire-haired cairn troll was fantastic.

Next to it was a bed of agaves, aeoniums and echeverias so perfect it stopped me in my tracks:


As if that wasn’t enough, this dude greeted us at the edge of the driveway:


Apparently he dresses in seasonal costumes when the fancy strikes him.


The front courtyard is very private:



It houses quite a few of Bunny Jean Cunningham’s ceramic creations:





A narrow walkway on the far side of the garage leads to the backyard. The fence is decorated with a selection of masks:


Even a vertical planter packed with echeverias (below on the left):


The deck in front of the living room—the back patio, if you will—was completely enclosed, creating an outdoor space that is usable all year long.

The cabana curtains were spectacular (I wonder how we could incorporate something like that?)…


…but so was the way the patio was furnished…


…and the art on the walls:


View of the backyard from the deck:


Bunny Jean’s pieces were everywhere, in front of the deck:


And on top of it:


The lawn area has been reduced by two thirds…


…by creating planting beds stuffed to the gills with perennials and aeoniums…


…and by creating a hacienda-style courtyard in the corner:





I wanted nothing more than to sink into the soft cushions of the outdoor sofa above, but these ladies had beat me to it. The free-standing, wood-burning fireplace was pretty sweet, too.

Here’s a view of the “cabana deck” from the “hacienda courtyard:”


The planting strip along the fence was filled with aeoniums and bamboo-inspired ceramic poles. More masks and figurines were hanging from the fence. Behind the fence on the left side is Bunny Jean’s studio and kiln.





I particularly liked this clump of aeoniums and echeverias growing in an oval area in the middle of the walkway:


My favorite Bunny Jean Cunningham pieces were these:



I don’t know why I like them as much as I do—and I don’t care. I don’t even know where Bunny Jean sells her art, or whether she does, but I will have one of these in our backyard. Even if it means I have to knock on her front door and beg.


  1. The ceramics are fantastic! I love the mailbox guard and I thought the statue first photographed through the gate was real.

    1. There was so much to see--and more than a few people. I bet I missed quite a bit.

  2. Beautiful! Those statues are cool, but I'm drooling over those well grown aeoniums!

    1. I had never seen aeoniums so large and perfect in Davis. She must have the perfect microclimate.

  3. Ahh to be an artist with a garden!!

  4. The art work is woven into the garden beautifully! I like her work and collection of plants. There is a lot going on but it works. I love the greeter. If you find out where she sells her work I would love to know! Looked like great weather for touring gardens.

    1. What I loved most about this garden was how engaged I was. I wanted to stay longer--that's always a good sign.

  5. : ) Here is what I found on The Google
    Garden Art by Bunny Jean Cunningham - Sites - Google
    Garden Art by Bunny Jean Cunningham. Ceramic art for the garden. My studio is in Davis, California. Contact me at bunzart29@gmail.com.

    1. Laurin, you rock! That's the kind of info I was looking for but couldn't find. I'll send her an email.

  6. The subject of ceramicists and their gardens is worthy of a book in itself. Their energy level as expressed thru the garden always floors me. The medusa head in the last photo is my fav too, even tho I avoid faces in the garden -- perhaps my sanity is not robust enough!

    1. I have a concrete face on the fence in the backyard. Actually, it's a 3/4 face. I do like things that are a bit creepy :-).

      As for artists, I'm endlessly fascinated by creativity and the many expressions it takes. I'm a decent photographer, but I mostly respond to what is already there rather than create something new out of nothing.


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