A Berkeley Hills garden paradise (part 2)

Part 1 of our tour of Ben’s garden in the Berkeley Hills ended with a photo of Ben standing in front of the beautiful bamboo you see below:

Walking up the stairs, the first thing I noticed – after tearing myself away from the bamboo – were three trees in tall urns, two banksias and one Cussonia paniculata:

The vertical effect is fantastic. As is the color of the wall. The stone art on the wall is by Glasgow stonemason Moray Henderson.

Sobralia virginalis, a large terrestrial orchid from South America:

On our way to the top of the hill, I stopped frequently to take in the views:

Haitian metal art inlaid and Ancestral Pueblo pottery shards in the concrete walkway:

Another octopus sighting:

Potted Dudleya virens ssp. hassei:

Poky yucca and its shadow:

San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachinoi) and Leucadendron ‘Ebony’:

Aloidendron ‘Hercules’:

Apart from the plants and the views, the rock work done by Ignacio Medina was my favorite feature:

Every rock had to be hauled up the slope and then cut to size. I can’t even begin to imagine what a back-breaking labor that must have been. But the result is spectacular.

One of several seating areas integrated into the rock wall, with flagstone squares as backrest:

A few outstanding plants among the rocks:

Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’

Yucca rostrata

Yucca rostrata

Agave parryi var. truncata

Aeoniums, agaves, yuccas, palm trees...

Even a fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis)

Ben’s lot isn’t huge, about 10,000 sq.ft....

...but the dense plantings make it look much larger

Native oaks provide high shade:

Another flagstone-backed seating area:

Now we’re at the top of the hillside:

Agave ‘Blue Flame’

Views of the house:

There’s good stuff higher up in the trees, too:

Monkey tail cactus (Cleistocactus winteri ssp. colademonis)

Staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.)

The airy foliage is from an Acacia cognata

At the top, Ben planted a living cholla fence to keep people (and coyotes) out. It also acts as a fire retardant.

Eve’s needle cactus (Austrocylindropuntia subulata)

Austrocylindropuntia are the South American cousins of the chollas native to the southwestern US and northern Mexico.

Austrocylindropuntia subulata flowers

Moving down from level from the very top of the property:

The gate you see on the left in the next photo leads towards the front of the hill:

Lots of yuccas

Soehrensia formosa

Tall (6 ft.) weathervane

Garbage cans hidden behind a flagstone wall

View of the same wall from the front

As Ben was showing us around his garden paradise, he repeatedly emphasized that much of the credit goes to his landscaper, Ignacio Medina. He and his crew did most of the back-breaking work terracing the hillside, building the hardscape, and getting many of the larger plants in the ground. If readers in the Bay Area need a reliable landscape contractor, Ignacio can be contacted at (510) 898-8271. He lives in Richmond and works primarily in the East Bay.

Much of the plant material in Ben’s garden came from Cactus Jungle in Berkeley (co-owner Hap Hollibaugh has been a mentor for all things plant-related) and the Ruth Bancroft Garden Nursery in Walnut Creek. Other sources were the Dry Garden in Oakland, the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, and East Bay Nursery in Berkeley. More recently, Ben has begun to add Australian natives from Waltzing Matilija, my friend Troy McGregor’s nursery in Pittsburg.

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


  1. The rock and hardscape work is magnificent. I loved the view from above of the house and its surrounding area in photo #47, as well as the Yucca-lined walkway in photos 49 and 50. The chollo fence to keep out coyotes and miscreants had appeal too ;) Thanks for sharing your visit, Gerhard.

  2. Fabulous garden and stonework perfect for the setting!

  3. Amazing garden. I particularly love the trees that provide a bit of dappled shade, specifically the native oaks and Acacia cognata. The placement of the lounge chair is perfect: after a climb to the top, lounging it just the thing to do.
    Lovely weathervane (#52)! The Musa plant, (or is it a Bird of Paradise), to its right, is also flapping it's "wings" trying to take off.

  4. Absolutely magnificent. Yucca paradise! The trees in tall narrow blue pots were surprising to me; they look like they might be unstable, but surely not. Also interesting that their roots would agreeably grow in such a narrow, deep space.
    So many details here. Remarkable job, Ben. Thank you!

  5. The rock work is stunning, holy cow that is some hard work on the steep slope! The plantings do make the space feel so much bigger. Beautiful and inspiring, thank you both for sharing.

  6. Mr. Medina did some truly impressive work, and the plants wisely chosen and beautifully cared for show the dedication of the homeowner. Amazing, very special garden.


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