Troy's garden: what does a landscape designer do with his own space?

When we remodeled our house years ago, our contractor told us that his wife always complained about the half-finished projects in their own house—he just didn't have the energy to finish them after long days at work. In a similar vein, I recently read an article about famous chefs eating fast food on their days off because they didn't have it in them to whip up fancy meals when they didn't have to.

These thoughts were on my mind as I went to visit my friend Troy McGregor a few weeks ago to pick up some plants he had for me.

For years, Troy was the nursery manager at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Under his guidance, what used to be a small corner with a limited selection of plants became a premier destination nursery for succulents, Australian and South African natives, and other drought-tolerant plants.

Troy has since moved on to run his own landscape design and installation company, Gondwana Flora. Since he spends his days creating beautiful outdoor spaces for his clients, would his own garden be a patchwork of unfinished ideas or, worse, just a tangle of weeds?

As it turns out, there was no need for me to wonder or worry. While there was a project in progress when I visited (a redo of a section of backyard), the rest was ready for primetime.

Troy and his wife Vicki live at the end of their street, and there's no question which house is theirs: The landscaping in front is a lush and visually complex tapestry of texture and color. And like every plants(wo)man worth their salt, Troy has a dog. Heck, he has a cat, too! That guy's got all the bases covered!

Nothing gets past Patterson. Plant thieves don't stand a chance!

Patterson the dog was there to greet me as I pulled up. Being the ever vigilant guard dog that he is, he immediately let his human housemates know that I had arrived.

Troy and Vicki showed me around, I loaded up my plants, and I left. Quick and easy, you might think. In and out. And yet, almost three hours had elapsed by the time I got back into my car. That's what happens when you talk plant talk with fellow plant nerds!

Fortunately, I had my camera with me as we walked around, and I managed to capture at least the broad brushstrokes of Troy and Vicki's garden. I'll be back when the backyard project is done for a more complete look.

As adorable as Patterson is (is he embarrassed if I call him that?), he does take your attention away from the plants so let's get him out of the way. Sorry, Patterson!

My eyes immediately went to the three tall planters against the wall adjacent to the front door:

There's some pretty cool stuff going on here, including mistletoe cactus and astelia (left container), tylecodon and Agave bracteosa 'Monterrey Frost' (middle container), and pedilanthus and bromeliads (right container)—not to mention the manzanita branches!

The walkway from the sidewalk to the front door is lined with plants as well:

That little dyckia jumped right out at me!

It's easy to tell that plant people live here!

The small sitting area in the front garden felt surprisingly private. That's what dense plantings do for you! 

Fiery red aloe flowers and purply-black aeonium leaves provide just the right amount of color:

You prefer texture? Got that too!

Aloe 'Erik the Red'

Hechtia texensis

Agave 'Snow Glow' and echeverias

Aloe inermis, a toothless aloe from the Arabian peninsula

The seating area you saw earlier is behind the flowering aloe on the left. The tree—a real stunner—is a Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp aspleniifolius) from the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast. The vine climbing up the ironwood tree is a California pipe vine (Aristolochia californica). In the lower right you can see portion of the curving concrete wall that separates the private space on the left from the more public part of the front yard on the right.

Different angle

I want a snake like that! All the tricks I could play on visitors...

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica). Every California garden should have one!

Aloe castanea

Lomandra longifolia 'Breeze' along the sidewalk, one of many nods to Troy's Down Under home

Different angle

Agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba' perfectly placed between two lomandras

Leucadendron 'Ebony'

I wish every hellstrip were as interesting as this!

Agave geminiflora, miscellaneous soft-leaved succulents, and Aloe 'Safari Sunrise' with striking two-tone flowers

This large Grevillea 'Peaches and Cream' is technically in the neighbor's front yard, but it was planted by Troy

No, this is not a left-over Christmas tree stuck in a pot. It's much more antipodean than that. It's a young lancewood from New Zealand (Pseudopanax crassifolius). The distinctive juvenile form lasts for 15-20 years, then it slowly morphs into a tree (see here). Some may say it's ugly, I say it's cool. Über-cool. I want my own dead ringer for a dead Christmas tree now!

I'd been ruminating on the fate of a straggly abutilon in our own backyard for months. When I saw this beauty at Troy's and Vicki's, I knew immediately what I would replace it with: Abutilon 'Victor Reiter'. It stays nice and bushy instead of constantly reaching for the sun.

Variegated mint bush (Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata') on the left, Troy's toy on the right

This Aloidendron 'Hercules' has been waiting patiently for 3+ years to be put in the ground. It's tethered so it doesn't fall over. I believe it will be planted in the backyard as part of a project Troy is working on.

Check out this fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis)! OK, who am I kidding? I took this picture because fan aloe plus Patterson equals irresistible. Bonus: Did you spot Patterson's buddy?

Troy and Vicki have definitely hit the jackpot when it comes to neighbors. A neighbor across the street has given Troy free reign to plant whatever he wants in her front yard. I'll show you in separate post.

Shameless plug for a guy who truly deserves it: If you live in the East Bay and need help with your garden, get in touch with Troy. He specializes in water-wise residential landscapes that are as attractive as they are sustainable. And he's got a great accent and a wicked sense of humor!

© 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. My kind of garden! Super dog, too.

    Best looking Leucadendron 'Ebony' ever, any Troy tips on growing that one? Biggest 'Peaches and Cream' Grevillea, too. Good info on the Abutilon 'Victor Reiter' also, I'll look for that one to replace 'Souvenir de Bonn', sun-reacher par excellence.

    1. Patience is your best friend when growing Ebony. It sat and sulked for a few years. Once it realized that eating its vegetables was better then no dinner it at all, it came down from its room and joined the rest of the garden at the table. It's about 6 or so years old now. If you have sun, airflow and an acid to acid-ish soil, you're doing the best for it that you can.

    2. Funny, 'Souvenir de Bonn' is the very abutilon I'm looking to replace. "Sun-reacher par excellence," perfectly put!

  2. What a fabulous garden, and I'd say Troy's neighbors hit the jackpot too. I'm surprised their Pseudopanax crassifolius is in a container. We have to do that up here, since they're not completely hardy, but I thought down there they'd be fine in the ground.

    I grew Abutilon 'Victor Reiter' for a season (again, not hardy here) it was wonderful!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. The side of our house (mostly shade) is the only location that suits the Pseudopanax. New Zealand plants try hard to fit in around here but once their awkward vowels (google "New Zealand Deck Cleaner Video") are spoken it makes life tough for them... of course I jest. Considering its final size, I was a bit leery about putting it in the ground with such a small footprint.

    2. Loree, you garden is where I saw my first pseudopanax. I didn't think it would grow down here, but it clearly does. Looking forward to receiving a seedling from Troy.

  3. That 'Peaches & Cream' is the best I've ever seen. I was pretty impressed by the hefty variegated Prostanthera too. (Mine never live long nor get that bushy.) As impressed as I was by the overall landscape, my takeaways from this post are all the wonderful small succulent vignettes. I need more rock! (Does one ever have enough?)

    1. The mature size of ''Peaches and Cream' was a little unexpected... obvious by its closeness to the path. It's now over 6' tall and 8' wide, much larger than the Robyn Gordon's, Ned Kelly's and Superbs. Prostantheras appreciate a little afternoon shade in this area. They can do full sun, but need a bit more water. They're also a useful indicator plant for new landscapes. The new growth literally points to its roots when it needs a drink. Once hydrated, it perks right with no hard feelings and the rest of the plants are grateful too. No, you can never have enough rock. If I could pull off an orange spotted tunic and blue tie, I'd totally be a Flintstone.

    2. I agree with you re rocks. My bigggest problem is finding rocks I like!

  4. What a treasure trove garden ! I'm going to assume Troys garden is in a location a bit winter warmer than mine-he has some things in the ground that I would have some issues with -or does he cover ?

    1. We're bang in the middle of the Carquinez Strait so our climate has the advantages of the bay with the warm of the Valley - we're really lucky. We have a no cover rule in place. I really don't like to fuss with plants preferring to grow them hard and slow (perhaps a bit faster than the Ebony) so that they can take a cold spell in their stride.

    2. Troy is in a Goldilocks zone. A few degrees (32°F vs. 28°F) makes all the difference when it comes to certain plants.

  5. A treasure trove of a garden. That simple planting of lomadra and 'Ebony' rings clear as a bell. Among such plant riches I still have to mention that pot with the dyckia by the front door -- love the pot itself! Incredibly happy plants -- Patterson has quite the kingdom to oversee!

    1. I love lomandra because it delivers such a beautiful, yet neutral canvas. The perfect foil for divas like 'Ebony'.

  6. Lots and lots of familiar plants that also find their way into my garden designs. Great to see how big Lomandra Breeze get, I had severely underestimated their ultimate size. Nice to get some background info on Troy, although I'm not sure if we've ever actually met, as I don't get out that way very often. Nice post Gerhard!


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