Justin's and Max's Oakland garden: the back

In part 1 of my visit to Justin's and Max's Oakland garden I showed the plantings in front of the house. This post is about the back garden. 

While the front garden is more of a square, the back garden is a long rectangle along the side of the house, maybe a bit over 1,000 sq.ft. in size. But don't let that description fool you. What this area lacks in size it more than makes up for in visual impact. 

As I mentioned before, Max is a horticulturist with a deep plant knowledge—an access to wealth of plant sources. Justin, an Episcopalian priest, may not be a plant professional, but he, too, knows a ton about plants. Both of them are drawn to plants that are anything but ordinary. This post is living proof.

Iochroma 'Royal Blue' from Annie's Annuals. Iochromas are shrubs or small trees native to South America where they grow in relatively moist forest conditions. That explains why I've failed miserably trying to grow them in our garden in Davis.

The back garden has a L-shaped planting strip that runs the entire length of the two fence sections as well as other in-ground beds. These are complemented by a large assortment of containers.

One of several clusters of containers

Aloes, agaves, and even a cycad

A small but perfect specimen of spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla)

Justin setting out nibbles for lunch

Peruvian feather grass (Stipa ichu), often touted as a safer alternative to Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima), but in Max's experience it's equally invasive. It sure is pretty, though!

Lunch aftermath; I primarily took this photo to show the dozens of containers against the house

×Mangave 'Red Wing' and sandstone blocks for additional interest

Helichrysum and geraniums, another beautiful foliage combination

Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) with a semi-hidden seating area behind it

Because of the strategically placed screening plants that enclose two semi-hidden “rooms,” the back garden seems much bigger than it actually is. The view is veiled, but never obscured.

Rental unit on the left, hidden “room” straight ahead, seating area on the right

The green and yellow of the seat cushions and the table are perfectly chosen

Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata var. aztecorum) on the left

Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi' and Hypoestes aristata, a small South African shrub

Agave mitis var. albidior

×Mangave 'Kaleidoscope' and chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Cabbage tree  (Cussonia paniculata), specimen #1

Cabbage tree  (Cussonia paniculata), specimen #2

Agave attenuata and Aloe arborescens 'Variegata'

Agave attenuata and wandering flower

Back to this view, with the rental unit on the left: 

Acacia cognata provides visual screening for the “hidden” room behind it

Acacia cognata is a wonderfully airy tree. The prostrate form of Acacia cognata, 'Cousin Itt', is much more familiar to West Coast gardeners, but the regular tree form is a beauty in its own right.

Vintage recliner in the “hidden” room; notice the massive staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) against the fence. It's one several staghorn ferns in the back garden.

Agave attenuata against the corrugated metal siding of the house (a great look)

Alcantarea imperialis

Now let's take a closer look at the many (many!) containers against the side of the house. This spot gets a lot of sun and is therefore ideal for succulents as well as sun-loving bromeliads.

Hohenbergia 'Purple Majesty', Hohenbergia leopoldhorstii,  Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata', and Quesnelia marmorata 'Tim Plowman'

Hohenbergia 'Purple Majesty', Hohenbergia leopoldhorstii,  Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata', and Quesnelia marmorata 'Tim Plowman'

Repurposed galvanized containers (including a trash can on the right) from Urban Ore in Berkeley

The colors of these echeverias complement the gray of the metal containers beautifully

The aloe in the metal barrel is a tilt-head aloe (Aloe speciosa)

Aloidendron 'Goliath'

Aloidendron 'Goliath'

So many containers and plants begging for closer inspection

Aechmea recurvata with striking coloration

Aechmea 'Bert' in what used to part of a fan Max found on the street

The hummingbird feeders on the porch are Grand Central Station. I've never had so many hummingbirds zooming around my head!

×Sincoregelia, an intergeneric hybrid between Sincorea (formerly Orthophytum) and Neoregelia

Baby toes (Fenestraria rhopalophylla)

Tillandsia resembling a gnarly hand—perfect for Halloween

One final vignette

Quesnelia marmorata 'Tim Plowman', the largest and most perfect specimens I've never seen

Max likes to call himself a plant hoarder, and while there are a lot of plants in the back garden, they are so harmoniously incorporated into the in-ground plantings and the container groupings that there is no visual clutter. That's no mean feat to pull off, as I'm sure you know if you've ever tried it yourself!


I found the image below on Google Maps. It was taken in December 2016 (Justin and Max bought the house in the spring of 2017). The difference between then and now is staggering!


  Justin and Max's Oakland garden: the front

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  1. I'm in awe over what Max and Justin have accomplished in just 3 years - their achievement makes me feel like a slacker. I expect you could have spent days there just exploring the pots in the back garden. The job of taking care of the pots alone makes my eyes cross. There were too many impressive plants to comment on individually so I'll just say I appreciated the whole assembly. Thanks for sharing your visit, Gerhard.

  2. A lot packed into such a small space. The gold Aechmea recurvata are stunning. Surprised the broms are growing in full sun. I always thought they required dappled shade and lots of humidity. Thanks for a great tour of a gorgeous garden.

    1. Quite a few broms tolerate, even like, full sun. The golden Aechmea probably would look much less vibrant in the shade.

  3. WOW! Even better than I thought. I am so glad Max shares images regularly on Instagram, just the sort of shot-in-the-arm of beauty I'll need over the winter months.

    1. I hope you'll get a chance to see their garden in person soon!

  4. So that's what Brugmansia suppose to look like, when it is happily planted in the ground. I love the heavily lobed leafs of the Cabbage Tree #1, and the masterful arrangement and plantings of the square pots.

  5. I was particularly interested to see how they addressed the back wall of their house-one of my pain points. I saw a couple ideas to steal, and it will help when I get the house painted a darker color next year. I really enjoyed the tour-I have been following them both on IG for a long time but didn't realize they were in Oakland .

    1. Isn't it great to see how other people solve problems similar to yours?

  6. They have a lot of choice plants and have done a lot with a small space. Interesting how reflected heat (guessing) affects A. speciosa. Mine looks nothing like. Seems fussier than most of the other Aloidendrons I've grown.

    1. Their Aloe speciosa gets a ton of sun and heat, that's why. Probably more than yours.


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