The Chorro House: Quintessential California

Theresa and Michael Mulvihill began the restoration of their new home, San Luis Obispo's historic Anholm House (featured in the spring 2011 edition of SLO Life Magazine), in the fall of 2010. Hailing originally from Michigan, the owners wanted a garden that artfully represented their new California environment. Their goal was a water-wise landscape to complement and accentuate the Craftsman-style renovation they had in mind. The Mulvihills sought the skills of local builder Ryk Kluver to construct their home, and the Gardens by Gabriel crew who, in turn, enlisted the skills of Nick Wilkinson, of Cambria's Grow Nursery, to create their new landscape.

The Mulvihill's home was in the perfect location to blend a thoughtfully cultivated garden with the surrounding natural beauty, which happens to include both Bishop's Peak and Madonna Mountain. In essence, the garden became two separate projects: a welcoming front environment, and a lush, private back yard.

The front yard needed to fulfill three goals: accent the house, welcome passers-by, and instill a sense of privacy to buffer busy Chorro Street. To accomplish this, we built a series of gently rolling berms, and on their slopes, paired soft drifts of yarrow with New Zealand wind grass. To contrast their shapes, we interspersed striking forms of octopus agave, fan palms, and plum-colored 'After Dark' peppermint trees. In the crook of an L-shaped berm, we positioned a simple basalt column fountain, whose soft, gurgling water bubbles from a single hole that was bored straight through the stone's center. Even in the shadows, we worked to maintain texture and interest, planting shapely Australian tree ferns in the lee of the Camphor tree and in northeasterly pockets of shade near the house. The soft blue veil of a specimen weeping atlas cedar, planted along the neighbor's fence, was the front yard's finishing touch.

The driveway leading from the street to the garage was the passageway from front garden to rear sanctuary, so it needed to be inviting. Along its borders, we planted shade-loving ferns, aeoniums, and hydrangeas to accent the existing camellias. Ryk Kluver's elegantly designed solid-cedar pergola created a structure upon which an existing turn-of-the-century trumpet vine could happily climb. A stripe green swath of dusky blue carex glauca now paints a gauzy stripe down the center of the driveway, providing a visual break from the concrete, as well as a place for winter rains to collect.

Turning the corner into the Mulvihills' back yard, one finds both Bishop's Peak and Madonna Mountain in the near distance. Continuing our theme of quintessential California, we planted local staples such as Pygmy date palms, Hass avocados, a trio of figs, and a towering 21-foot redwood. With oversized slabs of sweetwater flagstone, accented by sunset river cobble, we wound a stony pathway round a center bed featuring artichoke agave rosettes, curvilinear aloes, spiky cordlylines, and delicately creeping sedum. Strategically-placed jumbo boulders gave structure to the planting as well as provided seating around the newly-constructed lava rock fire pit. Upright clumps of weeping bamboo, leafy verbena, and pom-pom-shaped papyrus were used to punctuate the perimeter. To call attention to the bold elements of the garden in the evenings, the Mulvihills invested in a full landscape lighting kit. Illuminating the palms, shapely succulents, and specimen trees by night will allow the Mulvihills to enjoy the garden's ambiance by night as well as by day.

Says Michael Mulvihill of his new garden, "Gabriel Frank has been fantastic to work with. He took a severely neglected and overgrown lot and transformed it into a stunning coastal Mediterranean landscape. Preserving historical jewels like a Mission-age wisteria, a trumpet vine and a paperbark melaleuca, his team interwove a very organic creation that shows the utmost respect for this unusual and beautiful piece of land."

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