SLO Tribune: Garden Daydreams Come True, February 2009

Friday, February 6th, 2009
Written by Sharon Crawford, Photographed by Lance Kinney

This time of the year, even avid gardeners might daydream about a garden that is attractive year-round and needs only moderate maintenance.

The two small, corner-lot gardens featured here demonstrate that it can be done. While both of these gardens are the work of one individual, we are fortunate to have numerous local landscape professionals who also promote Mediterranean-style gardens.

While enrolled at the New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture, Gabriel Frank interned one summer at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. The experience convinced him that California's coastal climate was ideal for the Mediterranean-style gardens he wanted to create. He returned three years ago to establish his business, "Gardens by Gabriel".

Houston Garden

Although Marsha Houston lived in Orange County most of her life, she's been familiar with the Central Coast since childhood. Her family drove up the Pacific Coast every summer, and their first overnight stop was always around Morro Bay. Later, Marsha followed the same tradition with her own family, and her daughter settled in San Luis Obispo.

Marsha moved to Los Osos after she retired from teaching three years ago. During a year-long house remodeling project, Marsha filed clippings of gardens she liked. Gabriel describes her garden as "eclectic mediterranea" because it includes plants from all the mediterranean regions of the world, plus a few others.

Under the gracefully weeping branches of three Australian peppermint trees, the winter blooming blue hibiscus, red grevillea, yellow gaillardia, violet verbena and several proteas glow among a sea of grasses, sedges and rushes, each of which contributes its individual color and texture. Marsha maintains several birdfeeders, and is tolerant of raccoons that visit the two fountains in her garden, a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

McBride Garden

In the garden Gabriel designed for Alaina and Sandra McBride's San Luis Obispo property, eighty percent of the plants are California natives. Alaina and her mother purchased the house as a student residence when Alaina enrolled at Cal Poly in 2001. After graduation, Alaina supervised a remodeling of the house, and now manages it as a rental property while working as a marketing consultant.

Low block walls and lacy "Silver Sheen" Pittosporum set off the front walkway. Gabriel used stackable Allan Block walls from Santa Barbara Stone to terrace the sloped corner lot. Beach strawberries overhang the block wall, and a flowering vine embraces the sidewalk edge. Winter color comes from purple verbena, salvias, lavender, leptospermum and kangaroo paws. Spaces between shrubs are filled with blue moor grass, Mexican feather grass, and blue and green fescue tufts, planted to evoke a dry stream.

Alaina is pleased with the garden, saying, "The house will soon be available for new tenants, so it is very important that I can rely on the garden to remain appealing without requiring constant maintenance."

TIPS from Gabriel Frank:

  • Plan ahead. Even if the garden will be developed in stages, it will be more coherent if you begin with a plan for the entire space.
  • Plan for foliage color and textures to intermingle, but consider the plants' mature size. Planting too close will require frequent pruning or removal later.
  • Understand your microclimate. There can be considerable differences in temperature, light, wind, soil and water table, even within your own yard.

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