Growing Into The Neighborhood

More than any calendar, a garden shows us how to live by the seasons. It teaches us to relish peaceful moments, to leave work at work, and to appreciate tiny, miraculous changes. It shares with us the gifts of connection, rejuvenation, and cultivation.

Even before the last plant was in the ground in 2011, Michael and Theresa Mulvihill's garden was connecting them to their new neighbors. Transplants from Michigan, the Mulvihills had begun a restoration of San Luis Obispo's historic Anholm house, and hired Gabriel Frank of Gardens by Gabriel, Inc and Nick Wilkinson of Left Field to renovate the garden.

"One of the biggest surprises was just how many people would stop by--old or young, local or tourist," says Michael. Passers-by would linger on the sidewalk out front to admire the arbor, the fountain, the elegantly sprawling Weeping Atlas Cedar. "People stopped all through the garden's installation," says Michael. "And anybody that stopped, I enjoyed talking with them." A handful of years into the Mulvihills' residence in San Luis Obispo, the conversations are still plentiful. "People will comment that they've been following the garden and say that they notice changes, or something new," says Michael. "It's really gratifying."

"The porch was left open as a request by the City because the house is historic," says Michael. "It's called a 'gift to the street.' It's funny because we feel like the garden is the real gift to the street."

The front garden is where the Mulvihills engage with their community. "The back garden," says Michael, "is our respite. It's our escape." The Mulvihills travel for work and asked that their garden be a space of rejuvenation. Not only that, but that the plants be hardy enough to endure a month or so without care. Nick and Gabriel designed it with these goals in mind, and for the four years since its debut, the garden has been a haven. "You could think you're in Provence, or somewhere tropical," says Michael. "You could get lost out here for a whole day in the nooks and crannies. It's a very enhanced experience."
A surprise for the Mulvihills was the garden's seasonal ebb and flow. "It's constantly changing and transforming," says Michael. "I always say to Theresa, 'I think we've got it under control now.'" Michael smiles. "And then she says, 'Well... Let's give it a week.'" Michael and Theresa have tuned themselves to the needs and rhythms of the plants. They've learned to nurture the edibles with compost and gentle pruning, and to amend and protect the soil of the beds with thick layers of mulch. They cultivate yearly crops of tomatoes, apples, figs and avocados. "I've had to learn that not everything works, and that that's okay. I have a whole different outlook now," says Michael. "When you get into the rhythm of it, you see the garden as a way of life. It will leave you transformed."
Gardens by Gabriel, Inc designs and installs water-wise havens throughout San Luis Obispo County. 

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