Marilyn and Peder's David Feix-designed garden on the San Francisco Peninsula

I joined the Bromeliad Society of San Francisco (BSSF) this summer, and the first garden I visited with them was that of Bay Area landscape designer David Feix. He's a big fan of bromeliads, succulents and tropical-looking plants, and his Berkeley garden reflects that.

As luck would have it, my second outing with the BSSF had a David Feix connection as well. The San Francisco Peninsula garden of BSSF members Marilyn and Peder was designed by David, and he's still very much involved in its maintenance.

According to David, the property is about ¾ acre (~30,000 square feet). The garden was started in 2015 immediately after Marilyn and Peder bought their new home. The only things remaining from the previous garden are the pool and the pool house as well as a few mature windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and giant birds of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai).

Originally, the garden was surrounded on two sides by a 30-foot Leyland cypress hedge. Not only did the cypresses make the space feel confined, they were also a major fire hazard, being so close to the house. The conifers were removed two years after Marilyn and Peder bought the property, and the resulting gaps were filled in with new shrubs and perennials.

Marilyn has been a member of both the Bromeliad Society of San Francisco and the San Francisco Succulent and Cactus Society for many years. She had a massive collection in their previous place, and many of the hardier plants made the move. In fact, the greenhouse, which you will see later, was the first project to be completed on the new property.

Front garden

In case you're wondering why there are so few people in these photos: I did arrive early specifically so I could take people-free pictures. In addition, there was such a wonderful spread of food and drink laid out in the kitchen that it took people a while to tear themselves away and venture out into the garden.

Front garden from the street

The property slopes gently from the street to the house and then more dramatically to the pool

The clump of flowering banana (Musa ornata) against the garage is underplanted with sky-blue Echeveria elegans, as you will see in a little bit

Opuntia robusta

Spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla), a holy-grail plant for many, thriving in the mild coastal climate of the San Francisco Peninsula

Agave titanota (Rancho Tamblor form) in a sea of Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga

As mentioned above, Echeveria elegans at the base of Musa ornata

Echeveria elegans

Echeveria elegansAgave bracteosa, and Sedum × rubrotinctum

Agave bracteosa youngster popping up through this clump of Echeveria elegans, curious to explore the world

Front of the house with flowering banana (Musa ornata) on the right and silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) next to it

Aloe vanbalenii between the two garage door bays

Closer view of Musa ornata and plantings closer to the house

This is what you see as you step out of the front door and look left

Bamboo! Vriesea! Standing stone! What's not to like?

Vriesea fosteriana hybrids

Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) on the left, flowering banana (Musa ornata) on the right

Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) with prickly trunk

Dyckia choristaminea in alpaca planter (I want one!)

Potted bromeliads and succulents

Prickly Aechmea pineliana var. minuta in prickly Mike Cone pot

Agave attenuata 'Kara's Stripe'

Side yard on the south side of the property, leading to the pool house (and the pool off to the right):

A great example of how to create lushness with water-wise plants

My favorite cordyline, Cordyline banksii 'Electric Flash'

Now we're at the pool level of the garden:

Pool house and pool deck

Echeveria 'Afterglow'

This is my kind of planting: fusion gardening doesn't get better than this

A combination I would never have thought of, but it's darn well perfect: Agave 'Blue Flame' and Callistemon viminalis 'Little John' Agave titanota (Rancho Tamblor form)

Dymondia margaretae knitting together the flagstone pieces

Agave geminiflora and Dyckia 'Burgundy Ice'

Looking toward the pool house

Trachycarpus fortunei and Aloidendron barberae rising above lower-growing succulents

Cramscaping at its best

Pool house (left), Marilyn's greenhouse to the right of it

Greenhouse across the pool

Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies' and Aloe tomentosa (fuzzy white flowers)

Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies' 

View toward the house from the far side of the pool, with the pool house on the right

The next set of photos was taken from the balcony (see above) on the main level of the house, i.e. one level up from the pool:

For me, the real genius in landscape design is in creating mosaics where every piece fits so perfectly that you can't imagine making even one substitution

View worthy of a magazine center spread

Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)

Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies' and Aloe tomentosa

Aspirational landscaping at its best

North side of the pool

Undeveloped lot next door, waiting to be turned into new homes

Adding to the long list of perfectly grown plants in this garden: lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus), the orange-flowering shrub, and Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'

Back outside, continuing our exploration on the far side of the pool:

Another tapestry of colors and textures that made me stop in my tracks

Neoregelia cruenta in red pot

For me, this one vignette encapsulates the entire garden

Stairs to the lowest (shadiest) level of the garden. The lighting was so contrasty, I didn't take any photos there.

Outdoor furniture as art...

...or art as outdoor furniture?

The statue you saw earlier in the wider-angle photo taken from the balcony

Blue butterfly bush (Rotheca myricoides), yet another exotic plant in a garden full of them

Another envy-inducing Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'

Speaking of envy: This Phylica pubescens may still be small, but it's pretty darn perfect. After killing three, I've given up on Phylica pubescens; our summers are just too hot.

Looking past Leonotis leonurus and Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' into the side yard on the north side of the house

And looking back toward the pool

Tree fern (Cyathea cooperi) in side yard 

Unfurling tree fern fronds

View down the side yard

Another seemingly low-key composition that's masterful in its simplicity: Aeonium canariense, a trademark element in David Feix's designs, and Echeveria elegans

Echeveria elegans

Back at the street level above the house:

Corner planting abutting the empty lot next door

Looking at that empty lot from the driveway. Apparently, there are plans to carve up the 5 acres and build 10 single-family homes, no doubt each one priced well into the 7 digits. It's the way of the world, but each empty lot developed means more precious open space lost.

I suspect being a landscape designer always involves a certain degree of tightrope walking, and sometimes you fall no matter how hard you try to stay balanced. But when your own vision for a space aligns seamlessly with the wishes of your clients, the result can be pure magic.

That kind of magic is on full display here.

I was able to spend some one-on-one time with David as he showed me around, and it was apparent that he has a deep personal connection with the garden and with Marilyn and Peder.  Being plant lovers and collectors, they are sophisticated clients. But by trusting David's experience and artistic eye, they have given him the freedom to create something so cohesive and harmonious that it's hard to imagine the space could possibly look any different.

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  1. Every once in a great while a brilliant designer/plantsman like David gets to work with dream clients -- I knew this garden was one of those rarities! Thanks so much for the extensive coverage, Gerhard!

  2. I appreciate the "aerial" views and I love the densely intricate plant combinations. I suspect having David Feix in one's corner is an advantage but clearly the owners are plant lovers. The lesson I'm taking away from this garden is to think of my compositions, especially those involving succulents, as mosaics - more plants, less grout!

  3. That's a lot of fabulous plants! Thanks for the tour.

  4. Wow, yeah! Love it all. Cramscaping is so difficult, I look for how-to clues. Are there places to step, for maintenance? How important is a very mild climate? And so forth.

    Empty lots, fewer and fewer of those to support what wildlife survives. Newsome is pushing for more housing, more housing--when what California really needs is less people.

  5. Access for maintenance/weeding is an important consideration, and we used stones/petrified wood placed in key locations to enable access, but there are areas without which have bigger plants that can be stepped between without trampling them. I mostly design for milder/banana belt Bay Area microclimates so I do use plants that would freeze outside Sunset zones 16/17 climates(USDA Zone 9b/10a). Thick mulch and keeping on top of aggressive reseeders like Erharta grass is important when one doesn't want to weed continuously around viciously thorny Cacti, Dyckias and Puyas. I try to avoid overhead spray irrigation to minimize conditions for weeds to self-sow, but also occasionally use pre-emergent herbicides like 'Preen' to control spreading windblown weed seeds.

    My clients bought this property knowing the adjoining property was slated for eventual development, and I would consider this in-fill development rather than loss of wild open space, it was formerly used as horse pasture and has always been zoned for houses. Admittedly the low density/luxury homes going in don't address affordable housing issues, but the neighborhood has zero public transportation and no commercial stores within 5 miles of the property. The zoning does allow for secondary units on each lot, so there is at least that benefit with many owners using the second units as rentals or housing for help with assisted living situations or adult kids back home after college...

    Would that it were possible to reduce population growth rather than build out more empty land, urban infill does create problems with traffic and water use, but in my opinion is a necessary solution.

  6. I always enjoy seeing photos of this garden on Davids' FB feed and Instagram and love this comprehensive tour !

  7. Must be thousands of plants. Do they keep records of what's planted in the garden? I really appreciate how all levels of the landscape have been used making it look incredibly cohesive. A real gem.


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