Bocce by the Bay

Had you visited Vince and Janet Marino’s property in the spring of 2010, you would have seen a brown, rocky slope dotted with patches of weeds and lined with two of the Central Coast’s most abundant resources: Palm trees and birds of paradise. The wide windows of their Beach Chic meets Midcentury Modern home in Morro Bay advertised the beauty of the ocean and their neighborhood—but not of their own landscape. 

Recent transplants from the desert, the couple was used to temperatures so extreme that outdoor activities were practically prohibited. Moving to Morro Bay meant the opportunity for enjoying year-round greenery as well as a sunset or two, and the couple aimed to make that happen. The Marinos wanted a place to visit with one another and enjoy their surroundings. They wanted a garden to showcase the plants of our signature Mediterranean climate, one that would be easily irrigated and fun to maintain. They wanted an elegantly cultivated look. They wanted to play a little bocce ball. 

Our goal was to create an inviting garden environment for the Marinos and their guests. To cultivate this sense of welcome, we graded the front of the garden into a curvaceous, inviting incline. In the sloping beds, we planted pencil-thin chondropetalum, sunny yellow ‘Bright Star’ yuccas, and a veritable family of agaves, all with leaves overflowing in succulent bouquets. At their feet, we tucked low-profile purple and gold sedums and echeveria to slowly, but surely creep into a jewel-like carpet. 

The topside beds, bisected by a winding walkway of multi-colored flagstone, became home to red-tipped fan aloes, reaching for the sky in a strappy candelabrum; yellow- and green-striped bottle palms; and Escher-inspired Agave Victoria-reginae. The eye had something to discover at every level: the 6-inch smoky blue senecio; the 3-foot blazing spires of kniphofia blooms; or the serpentine 6-foot-tall tree aloes. “The best part of the garden are the surprises,” said Vince. “You think you know it and then, BOOM! There’s something new.” 

Our crowning contribution was the couple’s personal flagstone patio, elevated to provide a view of the entire garden as well as the bay. The boulders we selected to frame in the raised structure are a mottled medley of intense aqua, deep indigo and sandy green. From their sturdy shapes, we crafted the walls of an 18’x 18’ square patio, which the Marinos accessorized with plush outdoor seating and a custom made fire-ring table (which keeps Vince’s coffee hot for a few minutes longer in the mornings). Our native white chalk dudleya have already begun to take over, spilling their long-armed flower stalks over the rough edges of the rock altar. 
For the entertainment portion, we designed what any patriotic Italian family would gather around: A bocce court! Built by their contractor son Josh, the 60’ by 8’ court is as much of a work of art as the garden itself. Its elegant joinery and long, clean lines mirror the aesthetic of the home, while the natural wood and gravel enhance the beauty of the garden surrounding it. 

Now the couple finds reasons to be in their garden: a cool glass of water on a warm afternoon; “just one more plant” for Janet to flawlessly prune or nurture; a quick game on the court. The landscape was a larger project than they expected, but the Marinos view it as an investment. “We don’t travel,” Vince said. “This is where we want to spend our time.”

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