Harmonious Landscaping

In the summer of 2014, Alan Vander Horst contacted Gardens by Gabriel, Inc. to design and install a landscape. The angle? A landscape that didn't look like a landscape, and one for an entire township to boot. Alan and his wife, Becca, had recently returned to the coast of his alma mater, Cal Poly, purchased the historic Town of Harmony, and was ready to orchestrate its rebirth. Alan enlisted Aarika Wells, the town manager, and Tom Halen, his project manager. 

"Harmony is a different creature," says Alan. "We wanted someone who could create something whimsical, something modern but also antiqueish. Even though Harmony's a space for the public, it was important that this not look like a commercial landscape." Alan's ideas resonated with Gardens by Gabriel owner Gabriel Frank. That's his approach when landscaping, he says: Naturalize the cultivated landscape, bring it to life while keeping it wild, and create an authentic sense of place. 
"Gabriel got the idea from the start and had a fun approach," says Alan. "It was a natural fit between us. He wanted rusty iron antiques as well as modern water conservation--the perfect blending of old with new." 
Gardens by Gabriel's design team at the time was Gabriel himself and Landscape Architect Tom Hessel, and the two labored over plans for weeks. How to capture the essence of the Central Coast's quirkiest landmark? How to channel that essence into living, breathing plants and a one-of-a-kind hardscape able to withstand the foot traffic Harmony expects every week? 
The combined visions of all involved wove Harmony into a tapestry of new and old, of artisanal and antiquated. Gabriel and Tom's design highlights the industries of the town--pottery studio, glass studio, wedding chapel, creamery, recording studio--with tribute spaces throughout the garden. It showcases longstanding local businesses and honors the legacies of generations before. 
Gardens by Gabriel and Barcellos Construction carefully cleaned Harmony's existing patio bricks and Barcellos's team re-installed them in a pathway that acts as a solid current, winding the visitor past shops, garden beds, and secret vignettes. 
With his sights on "old with new," Gabriel searched for materials seasoned with age and utility. He hiked fields to hand-pick feed troughs from cattle ranches around the county. He and his team dug up old cattle gates, bought rusted pipe cylinders, scavenged hoops from barrels of our local wine country. When hunting for plants, Gabriel looked to capitalize on the micro-zones created by Harmony's unique footprint. "Harmony's a small town with a rich history and niche ingredients," says Gabriel. "The garden is a living ribbon that ties them together through time." 
At the time of this article, a tour through Harmony starts at the inviting entryway where a low cattle trough overflows with drought-tolerant restios, aloes, and other succulents. The future restaurant takes shape to the left, while a long contoured bed to the right hosts tree aloes, echeverias, kangaroo paws, specimen agaves and more. The bed is backed by silvery corrugated tin (metal from the roof of the former restaurant) and supported by a low bench, again faced with corrugated tin and capped with Barcellos' concrete bench seats, exposed local San Simeon beach pebble on their surface. 
Bronze loquat trees offer shade with their more than 30-year-old canopies, setting a stage for Barcellos' poured concrete patio that's dedicated to Jehry Miller's locally-famous album, Harmonizing in Harmony. Low-profile grooved spirals (filled with tumbled glass in honor of Harmony's Glassworks) curve toward local artist Allen Root's large-scale steel-plate model of the late-70s album. Local artist Stephen Plowman was contracted to refurbish the intricate wood-burning stove that had warmed the creamery building for decades. The towering stove with its Highway 1-esque flue was originally crafted by Big Sur legend Peter Fels. Too beautiful to hide inside, Gabriel relocated it to the future restaurant's patio space for all to enjoy. 
At the corner, Pottery Works welcomes visitors with locally-made wares. Then you're in the historic Harmony Chapel's zone, a shady nook bordered by lush, low-light grasses, elephant ears, and ever-blooming digiplexus. As its website states, "The famously quaint Harmony Chapel accommodates about forty seated guests with standing room for twenty more, while Harmony Gardens is an outdoor ceremony option for those who prefer their nuptials au natural, or have a larger guest list." Beyond the Chapel the pathway veers both right and left. 
To the right, GBG installed flowering maples, native chain ferns, and groundcovers designed to blend into the shadier nooks of the creek willow grove. They're bordered by a free-stack rock wall accented by remnants from years past: shards of pottery, chunks of brick, gears found onsite. In this zone of antiquities, 12'-tall scalloped iron streetlight poles from the 1950s frame the scene and suspend a metal heart reshaped from a wagon wheel from the Righetti Ranch.
Back to immediately outside the Chapel, a rustic gazebo and stage hold court, perfect for hosting bands and guests alike. Past the gazebo, farther down the walkway that has changed from brick to Sweetwater flagstone, Gabriel's crew reinvented Harmony's historical photo op stop. They reused old beams, reset the foundation for the posts, and rehung the classic  "Harmony, CA" sign. Cultivated meadow weaves through this area, with perennials and grasses swaying in the beds and blending into the hillside. 
Gabriel and his team welded cattle gates together to form a rustic fence that stretches behind this meadow zone from the gazebo to the parking lot. "Gabriel met us at a ranch to go artifact hunting," says Alan. "There he was buying banged up cattle gates that I would have thrown away--but again, it's about old and new, and I love it. It really works." 
The visitor finishes their tour at the steps of Harmony's old recording studio, on deck to merge into the renovated Creamery building that will include restaurant, wine bar, Dairy Shoppe, and more. "One of Alan's goals was to keep the historic storyline alive and well," says Gabriel. "That meant reconnecting Harmony with its lineage of being a dairy cooperative. Part of our mission included spaces for projects to come like the Cow Parade and the vintage ice cream truck." These visions have materialized, such that 4 hand-painted cows now form their own small herd onsite, and the Harmony Valley Creamery Truck serves up utterly delicious ice cream around SLO County. 
"Harmony is about respecting the past," says Alan. "Respecting our forefathers and mothers, agriculture, and elements of the earth. That's what that town stands for. Not pavement and shopping malls and fancy signs. The hard work from the people before us paved the way. When you look around Harmony today you can still see what needed to happen to survive in the 1900s. We're breathing life into it all again." 
Visit www.gardensbygabriel.com
Visit the Town of Harmony: http://harmonytown.com
Visit the Harmony, Ca Chapel: http://www.harmonychapelca.com

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