Mark Delepine's Berkeley fusion garden

In April 2017,  as part of the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program, I visited a garden in Berkeley with a very intriguing name: Pseudonatural Freakshow. I took many photos and blogged about it here. The description of the garden is long but it provides valuable background information. Please scroll down beyond the jump break to read it.

Little did I know that I would become friends with the mastermind behind this garden oasis, Mark Delepine. Mark is very active in the California Horticultural Society, and I've met him on several occasions since my first visit.

Last Sunday Mark and his wife, renowned textile artist Lia Cook, had an open garden/open studio. I jumped on the opportunity to see their garden again.

Here is how Mark described his garden in the 2017 Garden Conservancy Open Days program:
My garden began as an effort to develop my yard as habitat for birds and other winged life, shaped by the natural spaces I love to visit. Though originally stocked with many plants that provide food and nesting material for birds, it is being filled in more and more with the strange and fantastic plants that catch my eye. I’ve tried to make a garden that feels like Nature is—if not actually winning—at least making a good showing. The 5,000-square-foot back garden is the oldest part and is mostly multi-storied verge areas to appeal to birds. A creek on our northern border is part of a natural flyway for birds. Aesthetically, I pay attention to site lines and plant combinations, especially those with interesting foliage. I like to start with wide pathways and then allow the plants to encroach. My aesthetic is definitely naturalistic, but I make no effort to be geographically correct nor do I favor California natives for any reason other than their individual, inherent excellence. Our house is in an old frumpy warehouse where my wife does her artwork. So there is little relation between it and the garden and very little by way of views out to the garden from inside. Most everything in the garden was made by me from repurposed materials including an urbanite courtyard off our backdoor made from the concrete demo’d from a school basement where I taught during an earthquake retrofit. The redwood staves from an old water tower were used to make decking, fencing, and a smaller storage shed. More reclaimed materials went into building a forty-foot pergola over the front garden, more raised beds, and many sitting areas. Plants include succulents, bromeliads, begonias, roses, echiums, solanums, phormiums, fruit trees, passion vines (including an older Passiflora membranacea), a wide range of herbaceous and woody plants including many from the cloud forest like Telanthophora grandifolia, Salvia wagneriana, Abutilon tridens, iochromas, agapetes, fuchsias, brugmansia, and Deppea splendens.
It starts outside the fence/wall, along the sidewalk:

Mark and Lia live in a converted warehouse in a mixed light-industrial/residential neighborhood.

Although the colorful plantings along the sidewalk are clue, there's little indication that a truly special garden is hidden beyond the gate.

Accidental photo; a bit blurry but it shows the outside of Mark and Lia's warehouse/home

The courtyard inside the gate is open and sunny. The back garden, as you will see, is much shadier.

My eyes immediately went to the many clumps of white-flowering giant geraniums (Geranium maderense), one of many plants from Annie's Annuals in Mark's garden. The influence Annie Hayes has had on gardeners in Northern California cannot be overstated. Many rare plants that she and her team of propagators have introduced are now staples in Bay Area gardens and beyond.

The pink-flowering form of Geranium maderense is more common, but I think the white-flowering form is more elegant.

Mark is the guy in the green shirt in the photo below. I don't know how many people showed up for his and Lia's open garden/open studio, but it must have been dozens. I bet he was hoarse at the end of the day from all the talking!

Another signature plant in Mark's garden: Wigandia urens var. caracasana, a shrub/small tree from Central America. It was in full bloom. The plant on the edge of the photos below is Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum).

Sitting area in the courtyard

Wigandia urens var. caracasana

Wigandia urens var. caracasana and butterfly garden

Mark's garden is full of details. I love it when I discover things I had missed previously

Aeonium 'Thunder Cloud'. This clump gets full sun most of the day and is dark purple. In the back garden you'll see a much bigger clump that's mostly green. When I told Mark how much I liked this aeonium, he got out his loppers and cut off a branch for me. That's the kind of guy he is—generous to a fault, like so many gardeners I've met.

Aeoniums are deliriously happy in the mild Bay Area climate

Cuphea 'Vermillionaire' (left) and Helichrysum sp.

Perfect specimen of Aeonium 'Mardi Gras', surrounded by echeverias

Cuphea and lupine

Butterfly bed, looking towards Mark's and Lia's home

Butterfly bed looking towards the street

I thought this bowl was a nice touch of color on the deck

This is the walkway outside the wooden fence you saw in many of the photos above. On the right is Strawberry Creek. This is such a wild-looking spot, it's hard to believe you're in an urban area. 

Covered passageway from the front garden to the back garden. The window on the left faces Strawberry Creek. The faux-stone wall beyond looks surprisingly real...

...and features planting pockets stuffed with a variety of bromeliads

This is the "bedroom." It's in the same shed as the covered passageway above.

I can only imagine how nice it must be to take a nap on a summer afternoon!

Now we're in the back garden. The plantings here are lush and mature. I bet on a hot summer day, the back garden is a good 10-20 degrees cooler than the front garden.

The steps you see in the next photo...

...lead to a partially hidden deck...

...with a wonderful view of Strawberry Creek Park beyond.

Two standout plants in this corner of the back garden: marmalade bush (Streptosolen jamesonii), a South African native popularized by Annie's Annuals, and green dream (Mathiasella bupleuroides), an herbaceous perennial from Mexico with flowers that reminded both Mark and me of  Helleborus foetidus.

Iochroma cyanea, a shrub from the cloud forests of Ecuador (meaning, it would never be happy in Davis)

Shady, yet airy

 Abutilon 'Victor Reiter', my new plant crush

 Abutilon 'Victor Reiter'

 Abutilon 'Victor Reiter'

Path connecting the area along the eastern fence to the western section of the back garden

View of the plantings along the eastern fence

View of the plantings along the eastern fence

Cool vignette in the central planting bed between the eastern and western sections of the back garden. The ceramic pipes add vertical interest.

White birches and Sonchus palmensis aka La Palma sow thistle, a giant dandelion relative from the Canary Islands

Sonchus palmensis

Sonchus palmensis and secret corner behind the birch trees

Another great place to sit and enjoy the plants all around you. Strawberry Creek Park is beyond the fence on the left.

Different angle

I was excited by the many bromeliads tucked away here and there... these aechmeas

Giant fuchsia (Fuchsia boliviana?)

Another wonderful surprise: Leucospermum 'Tango' backed by Anisodontea 'Strybing Beauty', originally found at the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Leucospermum 'Tango'

Clever planter idea!

Canary Island tree euphorbia (Euphorbia lambii)


Different angle, with Euphorbia lambii on the left

Lobelia aguana. Mark bought this rare Central American perennial at a San Francisco Botanical Garden plant sale and shared with Annie's Annuals, where you can now buy your own. The salvia is Salvia wagneriana. with a potential size of 10x10 ft. one of the largest salvias in cultivation.

Lobelia aguana

At this time of year, the standout plant in this part of the back garden is Echium fastuosum  'Star of Madeira'. Its attractive variegated foliage and blue flower spikes make for a combination that simply cannot be denied.

The echium's neighbors are completely unexpected: several clumps of silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii). They look perfectly at home in this lush landscape that brings together plants from all over the world—fusion gardening Berkeley style.

Aechmea recurvata var. benrathii

An Agave attenuata thrown in for good measure

Alcantarea imperialis

The standouts keep coming. Next, the clump of Aeonium 'Thunder Cloud' in the middle of the next photo. It would stop traffic if there were traffic. Mark got it from Succulent Gardens in Castroville. This is the same aeonium cultivar you saw earlier, except here it gets less sun and is much greener.

With is many flower spikes, Aeonium 'Thunder Cloud' makes quite a statement

This is my favorite color combo in Mark's garden: Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi' paired with two  royal blue Adirondack chairs. What an inviting spot to sit and talk!

And one final photo from a garden full of superlative plants:

Agapetes 'Ludgvan Cross', a blueberry relative from the foothills of the Himalayas. 'Ludgvan Cross' is a hybrid between Agapetes serpens and Agapetes rugosa. Its parent plants have flowers of solid pink and red, but this cross sports very distinctive red chevrons against a lighter background. Coming from a temperate climate and needing moist soils, it's unlikely to do well in Davis—even though I'm tempted to give it a try.

So there you have it. A veritable wishbook of uncommon plants from all over the world, growing in a very special garden oasis next to an old warehouse. That's Berkeley for you!

Thank you, Mark, for creating such a magical space—and for sharing it with us.

© Gerhard Bock, 2018. No part of the materials available through may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Gerhard Bock is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by  United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. If you are reading this post on a website other than, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Any unauthorized use will be reported.


  1. Wow! Thanks for all the pictures. I really enjoyed looking at them. All of them. I got some ideas. I like the term "fusion" garden.

    Pasadena Garden Conservancy Open Days could learn a lesson here. Gardens don't have to be all squares, plastic chairs and hardscape. They need a little vibrancy as shown here ... charm, fluidity, changeability ...

    So glad you did this. You'd be a great tour leader for local gardens. While I'm waiting for that I'll go over these photos two or three more times. Thanks again.

  2. I love touring plant collectors gardens, it adds such a dimension--I think your first visit was the day we went to the Nichols garden , right ? I had to be back home and couldn't see the rest of the gardens. I was sorry I missed this one . I will go back and review your post from that day.

  3. Lovely garden, impressive. I tried to grow a Brugmansia here, but Concord is too cold, after the 2nd year of cold, it succumbed.

  4. What a treasure trove this garden is! Most exciting to me is that you've just put a name to a plant that I've been unable to identify for years, Wigandia caracasana. I'm sure this is the plant I discovered in a vacant lot in my own neighborhood. I'd previously concluded it was in the borage family but I never got any further in putting a name to it. It's self-seeded all over the vacant lot and I've always been tempted to dig up one of the seedlings, some taller than I am - and now I'm even more tempted! I wonder if that would be considered trespassing?

  5. A real treat to see one's garden through your lens and hear your impressions, Gerhard. I'm honored.

    I only noticed one "?" for Helichrysum, which picked up at a UCBBG sales few years back - but I don’t know if it was a particular cultivar. It was the one beside the Cuphea ‘Vermillion Million’.

    The lupine in that area is ‘Cobb Mountain’, another Annie’s find. Here is a photo I got of the larger specimen across the path from the one you shot.

  6. This is a very inspiring garden Gerhard, have found myself poring through the photos and feeling the urge to garden. That Wigandia is fantastic!!

  7. This creative horticultural extravaganza reminds me of a "Hortisexual" garden -- I wonder if Mark was a member? Fabulous post of a tremendously inspiring garden.

    1. Very happy to tell you I am very pleased to be a member. They organize the very best garden tours both locally, regionally and worldwide, and I like everyone in the group I've met. So far San Diego is the furthest trip I've taken with them. I organize garden visits myself for the California Horticultural Society (based in S.F.), and the gardens I've seen first with the Horties have certainly aided my efforts with Cal Hort a good deal. Are you also a Hortie, Denise?


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