Tropicalesque splendor on the mountain

Even though I'm an inveterate researcher, much of that happens after the fact. When I visit a garden for the first time, I prefer to know as little as possible in advance. In that sense, gardens are like movies I haven't seen yet: The plot basics outlined in the broadest of strokes is all I want—just enough of a hook to reel me in.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of visiting a mature private garden in the Russian River Valley. The arrangements were made by a friend of mine; I merely tagged along in blissful ignorance. All I knew was that the garden was several decades old, and its owner, Diana, was a retired garden designer.

As it turns out, Diana wasn't “just” a garden designer but also a photographer and a keen observer of nature, perfectly in tune with life in her corner of the world. She graciously led us through her hillside garden, which looked much bigger than its actual size of 1/3 acre, and she talked about all the changes the area has seen in the 40 years she's lived there. I had the luxury of listening to Diana's conversation with my two travel partners while letting myself drift away from them just enough to experience the garden on my own. That's a pleasure I don't always have, but I had it that day.

Diana was only too happy to answer all our questions—about the area, about the plants, about the ornaments and pieces of art—and I could include much of that information here. But I've decided not to in favor of simply letting the photos speak for themselves.

Look at this post as a coffee-table book with very little text—just some basic captions. You'll be able to enjoy what Diana has created without having to know the how's and why's.

If you could create a garden inside a tree house, the result may very much be like Diana's garden

A window in the entrance gate: is there anything better in order to ramp up the anticipation?

Elephant sculptures from Bali. The colors foreshadow the dominant color scheme inside.

Garden sentries—and impatiens?

Photos of Diana's printed on aluminum are scattered throughout the garden

I believe the dragon is from Bali, too

Words like “enchanting” and “magical” often sound hollow but here they fit like a glove

Dwarf gunnera?

Looking toward the front gate

Borrowed scenery: the tree-studded hillside in the background is on the other side of the road

A sea of chartreuse broken by pops of royal blue, magenta and lavender

Garden sentries and large impatiens

The photographer at work

This wooden walkway along the side of the house seems suspended in mid air

One of several welcoming spots to sit and take in the views

Diana's garden is lush and densely planted, but there's a sense of order and discipline

Sky-blue echeveria

Diana's color palette is both calming (lavenders, blues, greens) and invigorating (pops of orange and red)

The garden combines design elements from around the world. Earlier we saw elephants and dragons from Indonesia and wooden animals from Africa; these candle holders reminded me of Morocco.

I don't think the sliding door to the kitchen is actively used for egress and ingress

Carex oshimensis 'Evergold' is used liberally throughout the garden

Looking back toward the deck and the house

A meandering engineered-wood path leads away from the house 

Agave attenuata, an uncommon sight in Northern California

The stem of the Agave attenuata is so heavy that it needs to be propped up

What's waiting at the bottom of a side path

Two red chairs in front of a half-height royal blue wall: my jaw hit the ground when I saw this

This arbor was my favorite spot in Diana's garden

Proof that art can be anywhere and that it doesn't have to be in your face

Perfect encapsulation of lushness

Dare I use the "w" word? Oh, what the heck: whimsical!

Standing in the arbor looking away from the house. What is there to say when you're looking at perfection?

Diana's greenhouse

Diana's magical greenhouse, I should say  

Chartreuse and royal blue: the color scheme continues throughout the garden

I suspect the greenhouse is a lot fuller in the winter. On the left, Fascicularia bicolor in flower.

Looking back toward the arbor from the greenhouse

And now we're finally on the upper level where the red chairs and the blue wall are

I'm beginning to sound repetitive but to me, this is perfection

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii', Carex oshimensis 'Evergold', Cordyline 'Festival Grass'

The magic continues

A fringed triple-decker lampshade in the middle of the garden: wacky or wonderful? Wacky and wonderful!


...with pops of...


I don't typically publish photos of interiors, and most definitely not of bedrooms, but this is such a simple yet arresting view that I asked Diana if I could include it here. The plants outside the window are variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet).

View of the upper hillside from the deck in front of the upstairs bedroom

Bedroom deck with chartreuse hosta (Hosta 'Sum and Substance') and red bistro set

View of the downstairs deck framed by leaves in early stages of fall color

Diana's garden is very different from my own (duh!). Obviously, that's because of her design preferences and choices. But just as significantly, it's because of her discipline. I don't know whether it comes naturally or whether it's something she rigorously enforces, but she adheres to her color and planting scheme with a level of consistency that, honestly, makes me envious. 

As we were leaving, I felt pleasantly full, like after a really nice meal. I had seen so many inspiring sights that my mind would be busy processing them for days to come. While that sounds simple enough, it happens to me less frequently than you might think. And that says a lot about Diana's garden.

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  1. Beautiful, dreamy and a creation that places one intimately with nature!

  2. It DOES seem much larger than 1/3rd of an acre. Lush and densely planted yet orderly and disciplined is a goal I'd like to achieve! Diana's creation is beautiful.

  3. Viewing gardens with you very often means getting to relive the experience again through your photos and words. So glad you came. My own photos were useless. Would so love to organize something for the Hortisexuals or Cal Hort but as we now understand, access is the limiter at this wonderful garden. Certainly I'm happy that we got to see it in such a small and harmonious group. If I were trying to manage the logistics for a bigger group it wouldn't have been nearly so nice. I sent Diana a link to your write up of my garden and she says she would like to come to our next studio/garden party.

  4. There's not much that makes me happier than stepping into a unique garden that reflects the aesthetic of the gardener, and this one fits the bill. And who can't appreciate the lush green feeling in October-she must have a pretty favorable micro-climate. And the greenhouse !

  5. How fun. I think Diana may have posted a few photos herself in a Facebook group? (maybe the Hortisexuals?) I enjoyed the few I saw on your Instagram feed and appreciated this extended look.

  6. What is so charming is that the garden itself doesn't look disciplined. Just the right amount of management to make it so lush and inviting. Gorgeous!


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