Cricket Riley's garden: my new garden crush

As I mentioned in this post, Cricket Riley’s garden was my personal favorite on the 2023 Ruth Bancroft Garden Waterwise Garden Tour. The obvious question, of course, is why. The answer is simple: As I walked into Cricket’s backyard, I felt at home. I’d never been there before and wasn’t familiar with her garden beyond the photos on Cricket’s Instagram account, but the plant palette she selected and the design decisions she made felt right—as if they had been my choices. To put it in the most basic terms: Cricket and I like many of the same things, although she has a far more refined aesthetic.

Cricket Riley is a professional landscape designer and Director of Design Services at the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG). She teaches classes for the RBG’s Dry Garden Design Certificate Program and answers quick design questions from garden visitors on Wednesdays from 9:30 to 12:30 as part of the RBG’s Designer in the Nursery program.

Cricket lives in Walnut Creek’s Rancho San Miguel neighborhood where developer Joseph Eichler built 300 tract homes in the mid-1950s. Like all Eichler homes, they are much sought after today. Cricket has a large lot, almost ½ acre; I assume there originally were two lots that were merged. In addition to the original home built in 1955, there’s a separate guest cottage and another small building used as an exercise room. And there’s a spectacular raised-rim pool built just last year. It’s pretty darn amazing, all of it.

In her blurb for the 2023 Ruth Bancroft Garden Waterwise Garden Tour, Cricket described her garden style as “Wild Modern,” stating, “I wanted to install a climate-appropriate garden where I could experiment with a wide variety of species. I love the beauty of this space and how it provides a place of refuge.”

“Wild” and “experiment,” these are concepts I can relate to!

Cricket’s garden was originally installed in 2012 and has reached a level of maturity where the plants have moved past the gangly and awkward phase and appear comfortably settled. This was a marked contrast from most of the other gardens on the tour where the plants looked like they had just been pulled out of their nursery pots.

Cricket’s front yard is small, but it packs a punch. It’s dominated by a gaggle of agaves—always a plus.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ and Agave weberi

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ and Agave weberi

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ and Lavandula × allardii ‘Meerlo’

The Agave ovatifolia at the far end of the front yard bed was surrounded by a sea of white-flowering California poppies, a cultivar called ‘Buttermilk’.

Eschscholzia californica ‘Buttermilk’ and Agave ovatifolia

Eschscholzia californica ‘Buttermilk’ and Agave ovatifolia

Eschscholzia californica ‘Buttermilk’ and Agave ovatifolia

Cricket told me she removes all the poppies that revert back to orange

Enclosed entry courtyard

Agaves, yuccas, dyckias, and cacti

Pilosocereus azureus and Eschscholzia californica ‘Buttermilk’

The front yard is pretty great, but it didn’t prepare me for the wonderland waiting in the backyard. On her Instagram account, Cricket said, “When we talk about gardens we often talk about creating habitat for wildlife but just as important is creating habitat for people. We need plants too: flowers, shade, protection.” In my book, that’s a hugely significant aspect of garden design, but it often doesn’t receive the attention it should.

I’ll always have a soft spot for a good clump of bamboo

Sitting area outside what I imagine is the living room

Same scene from the opposite direction

Path leading into the garden

There are some flowering plants in the backyard, but not many. “Flowers are great,“ Cricket says, “but clearly not necessary.”

Path branching off toward the guest cottage (I’ll call it that for convenience sake; I don’t know what it’s actually used for)

Orange-flowering kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos hybrid) and foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’), an unexpected but totally kick-ass combination

Wider view

Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)

Large patio in front of the guest cottage

Elkhorn fern (Platycerium sp.)

Agave weberi and Aloidendron ‘Hercules’

Agave ovatifolia in front of a juvenile clump of bamboo

Yet another Agave ovatifolia. I think there are seven in the front and back.

Concrete planter with Agave ‘Blue Flame’ and Eucalyptus macrocarpa, one of many plants from down under

Different angle

Yet another seating area, with agaves and bamboo. This was one of my favorite spots in the garden.

Agave ‘Blue Flame’

This looks like a magazine photo come to life

Another seating area and another small building, this one used as an exercise room

The raised-edge pool, and the row of palm trees behind it, were installed less than a year ago

Pool and palm trees

According to Cricket’s Instagram account, they installed these varieties of palm trees last year:
  • Brahea armata
  • Brahea clara
  • Brahea edulis
  • Chamaerops humilis
  • Chamaerops humilis var. cerifera
  • Livistona decora
  • Sabal ‘Riverside’
They were sourced from Grubb & Nadler, Flora Grubb‘s wholesale operation in Southern California.

If I had seen this photo without context, I would thought this was somewhere in the tropics

As we make our way back towards the front, a word about the paths: They are covered with black-and-white gravel. Until experiencing Cricket’s paths up close, I had been fairly ambivalent about the use of gravel as a surface material. But it looks so good in Cricket’s garden that I can’t imagine it with anything else. Cricket’s crew must have compacted the heck out of the gravel and/or used a binder or stabilizer, because walking on the gravel was smooth and easy. It didn’t shift under my feet like it sometimes does.

Cricket (right) talking to visitors

Decorative wooden panel on the outside wall of the house

Now that you’ve seen my photos, watch this video walkthrough of Cricket’s garden on her Instagram account.

© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. What an amazing garden! So relaxing and natural looking. The garden is a dream come true. I would love to have the creativity and ability in my little back garden! I do try my best! Thanks, Gerhard, for the inspiration!

    1. My garden will never rise to that level either. That's why I love seeing gardens that reach for the sky--and get there.

  2. Beautiful garden. Loved the twisted trunk of the tree with the elkhorn fern hanging from it. I wonder if Cricket ever gets to sit or lie in any of the seating areas? Sounds like she is pretty busy.

    1. I hope Cricket gets to enjoy all the seating options in her garden!

  3. Oh that was marvelous! That first ovatifolia in the small front garden is so unusual, almost like seersucker it's so puckered. I'm curious though, how many agaves make a gaggle?

    1. Haha, I think a gaggle would have to be three or more. What do think? I'm open to a different name as well. A poke of agave? A bleed? A pain?

  4. I love the pairing of agaves and California poppies in the front garden, which reinforced my intention to distribute poppy seeds more broadly next year. (I've never gotten then to "take" on my back slope.) I appreciate all the seating options too. I could use more of those in my own garden, even if I seldom seem to sit there, at least when just my husband and I are here. Do you know what the grassy or grass-like foliage is in photos 27 and 28?

    1. I want to get white poppy seeds for the front yard. I wish we had more seating, but when push comes to shove, I'd rather use the space for plants.

      The grass-like foliage is some kind of Carex. I'll ask Cricket what it is.

  5. Were you able to visit any of the Lafayette properties on the rbg tour ? I didn’t notice pictures or mention of those in your last blog. One of them is up on a big hill, and the owner has done a spectacular job with rocks, agaves, and many other drought tolerant plants that we like. That with lots of orange poppies scattered across different parts. If you missed it, it would be worth your time to drive by if you were in the area

    1. No, I didn't see that garden, unfortunately. It was too far out of my way. A friend of mine told me how nice it was.

    2. The house itself is also very cool. Looks like a mid-century modern to me

    3. Yes, the house was built in the mid-1950s and is classic Mid-century modern.

  6. Garden agrees nicely with the house. Paths look great. The right stone makes a good path. I have the wrong kind on mine--though that was the LA's pick not mine. Nice mix of plants and relaxing sitting areas. Good point, "Gardens Are For People" harkens back to Thomas Church innovative mid 20th century NorCal Landscape Architect. :)

    “Flowers are great,“ Cricket says, “but clearly not necessary.” Hmm. Unless you are a bee?

    1. I know what Cricket means about flowers. However, personally, I'd rather have flowers, not just for bees and other pollinators, but for myself.


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