“Schizophrenic exuberance:” Enchanting Planting's private garden in the East Bay

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the personal garden of landscape designers Shari and Richard Sullivan in the East Bay. Shari and Richard are the principals of Enchanting Planting, the landscape design and construction company they founded over 30 years ago. Richard is also an inveterate plant nerd with wide-ranging interests as well as a passionate cactus grower and hybridizer. Many of you may already follow him on Instagram (@enchplant1).

The Sullivans bought their ~1 acre hillside property over 20 years ago. While many areas of the garden continue to evolve, they do so against a backdrop of mature trees that provide almost total privacy and frame distant views of Mount Diablo and the Briones Reservoir

As you will see in the 60+ photos below, this is a stunning space designed to keep the outside world at bay and provide a sense of peace and tranquility. At the same time, it functions as a living lab where Shari and Richard can experiment with new design ideas and plants.

 I knew I was in the right place when I spotted the Enchanting Planting truck, parked next to a large Agave weberi:

Even though it was a bit hazy, Mount Diablo was visible in the distance:

 The Sullivans employ a massive plant palette ranging from lush tropicals to xeric aloes and agaves. Here are just some examples outside the fence:

 The front garden slopes downward from the street level. Sheltered by a 6-foot fence and tall plantings, it's an intimate space full of exuberant leaves and colorful flowers set off by thoughtfully designed hardscape.

If this had been the extent of the Sullivans' garden, I would have gone home happy and inspired. As it turned out, it was only the beginning. But what a beginning!

Richard pointing out a monkey-flower he collected earlier in the year on Table Mountain

As was evident throughout the garden, the Sullivans are big fans of vibrant colors provided by perennials as well as annuals such as zinnias and million bells (Calibrachoa)

Another unifying design element are carved stone pieces from Bali, such as this urn

Even the front door—brushed metal—is anything but ordinary

The sitting area near the front door...

...is the kind of space I usually only get to see in books or magazines

Farfugium japonicum and Alstroemeria

This is the very definition of lush

Looking back towards the front door

Another carved stone planter from Bali

More art, this one from a local artist

Graptopetalum spilling down a retaining wall built with chunks of used concrete (aka urbanite)

Agaves, too, in this case Agave parrasana

Bamboo trimmed to perfection

Different angle, looking towards the exterior fence

 Now we're in the back garden. When I saw this vignette, I had to pick my jaw off the ground:

Seriously, when do you ever see beds like these in a private garden? This is the kind of floral extravagance usually found in well-staffed public gardens like Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. 

To me, this “schizophrenic exuberance,” as Richard referred to it, looks like a pure expression of his love of all plants great and small and the gardening heritage of his native country, Ireland. The way he combines plants with wild abandon reminds me of another Irishman, Jimi Blake, whose boldly idiosyncratic garden, Hunting Brook, in County Wicklow has become a major destination. 

As it turns out, Richard and Jimi actually know each other and spent time together when Jimi visited Northern California a few years ago. I would have loved to listen in on their conversations about plants and gardening!

The topiary cones are Pittosporum ‘Oliver Twist’ planted from 5-gallon cans in the winter of 2019

I assume this area always looks great, but it's particularly spectacular right now because Shari and Richard's son just got married here.

The annuals and tender perennials, like petunias and calibrachoas, are in 5-gallon containers so they're easy to swap out at the end of the season. Richard finds that many of them grow better in pots. He regularly takes cuttings from his favorites to make more.

 View away from the house (off to the left in the next photo) and towards the lawn:

 Arguably, the biggest surprise here is this striking Agave ovatifolia, grown by Richard from seed:

A still juvenile Aloe reitzii to the left of Agave ovatifolia. The rose on the right is 'Jump for Joy'.

Smaller agaves and aloes on the right

Many of the echeverias in these shallow bowls are hybrids created by Richard

Succulent bed along the edge of the lawn. According to Richard, the lawn will be removed in the near future. The plans aren't final yet, but it might be replaced with crushed stone and more seating, with a small area of grass reserved for their two French bulldogs.

Stately Agave weberi contrasted on the right by wavy Boophone haemanthoides

Agave potatorum 'El Camarón' (back), Agave seemanniana ssp. pygmaea 'Dragon Toes' (front left)

Agaves and aloes

Since the Sullivans' garden is so large, there's room for wide paths—a luxury I really appreciated

The Australian grass tree (Xanthorrhoea glauca) on the left is mirrored by the soap tree yucca (Yucca elata) on the right

Mount Diablo again in the distance

Plantings in the courtyard off the kitchen include agaves, aloes, and this architectural manzanita

Out of all the various garden areas, this was my favorite. I can't even imagine what it would be like living here.

Momo, one of the Sullivans' two French bulldogs, sure is a lucky fella!

Under the trees off to the side, an adoquin fountain salvaged from a client's garden, now planted with trailing donkey's tail sedum (Sedum morganianum)

Olive tree with trailing sedums—both donkey's tail (Sedum morganianum) and burro's tail (Sedum morganianum 'Burrito')—as well as rat tail cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis)

Different angle

 Off to the side of the courtyard, tucked under the oak trees, is yet another seating area, complete with an outdoor fireplace:

Seriously, this couldn't get any better

Olive tree from the back, looking towards the house. This olive was planted as a mature tree. It spent the first part of its life as a crop tree on an olive plantation in Corning, half way between Sacramento and Redding.

Life-size sculpture, I believe by Eileen Fitz-Faulkner

Monkey tail cactus (Cleistocactus winteri ssp. colademononis), driftwood ball, and seed-grown Echeveria hybrids in large shallow planters

Looking back at the courtyard and the house. The red flowers are from an ×Amarygia hybrid (Amaryllis belladonna × Brunsvigia sp.) planted next to a small Agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba'

Succulent plantings along edge of the lawn, including yuccas, aloes, agaves, mangaves, and echeverias

This piece of mosaic art is called “Runaway Fashion;” it was created by a former neighbor, Eileen Fitz-Faulkner

 “Runaway Fashion” by Eileen Fitz-Faulkner, different angle

Another pair of seed-grown Agave ovatifolia. While most of them are solitary, as is typical, Richard also has one A. ovatifolia that has produced more than 15 offsets to date. Just one of the surprises you can expect when you grow plants from seed! 

The path between the two Agave ovatifolia leads down to Richard's growing areas: a lath-type structure for his Echinopsis (and Trichocereus) hybrids and a greenhouse for smaller cactus, many of them grafted and/or variegated. We spent quite a bit of time down there but I was too focused on listening that I forgot to take photos. Next time!

Speaking of next time: While I managed to photograph many angles of the Sullivans' garden, I definitely didn't capture everything. This is an expansive space with many nooks and crannies that beg to be explored. 

In fact, there's so much to see and learn, Shari and Richard could (and should) write a book on the evolution of their garden. Since this the private sanctuary of two design professionals who are married to each other (and living together), I'd love to hear more about they make sure each other's ideas are accommodated. To an outsider like me, their garden looks fully realized, with no jarring compromises in view. It really is perfect the way it is.

© Gerhard Bock, 2021. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Honestly, I have never seen a more beautiful garden, and I've seen many in person and online. Just a couple of questions: how are these gardens watered? Who takes care of all the plants? It would seem an impossible task for 1 or 2 people!

  2. Great tour of a great garden. Thanks!

  3. Spectacular! I loved everything. Thanks for sharing your tour.

  4. This is such a beautiful garden, you fortunate to have the opportunity to visited it. I've always loved olive trees and their gnarly trunks; this one is so majestic and just perfect with all the trailing sedums. I grow Graptopetalum and have a retaining wall, but never thought of "spilling it down". I’ll try to implement this idea.

  5. Stunning. Love the beautiful trees adorned with the hanging pots of succulents. With busy careers and a large garden I wonder how often they get to sit in all those lovely seating areas?

  6. Huh, I wrote a comment on this post right after you put it up but I was on my phone so maybe it didn't know me? Any how once again you found angles to photograph I never considered and provided so many one gets a strong sense of being there.

    I wonder if I share a photo with you here? Everyone has been fascinated (as am I) by this succulent i photographed in Richard's greenhouse. No idea if this will even work but here goes.



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