An ‘Endemic Creation’ in El Cerrito
I enjoy visiting gardens that unsettle my designer’s sensibilities. One of my sons once told me that he thinks of me as a photographer who likes taking images of “beautiful things” (rather than edgy street scenes, etc.) and I guess that’s what my mindset is when I design – somewhat traditional gardens with as much beauty in the design concept as I can pull together. So when we visited a garden on the APLD Conference Tour described in our materials as an “East Bay hillside in a modern vein,” I was delighted that our schedule let us spend some time there so I could take it all in.
Created by Brian Swope, who describes himself as a ‘contrarian designer,’ the back yard garden welcomed us first.
Where to start? The sloping site has been brilliantly handled; the gravel “trail” that is visible just beyond the perforated steel obelisk ( which is lit at night) climbs a hill that is modeled after trails in Marin County, complete with switchbacks.
The plantings in the garden are predominantly native species, including small buckeye saplings that cast shadows at night against panels set above a retaining wall behind the dining patio.
Poured concrete walls, as well as the edging for the planting beds shown above, have been textured with Trex – something that I never would have thought of doing in a million years.
Closer to the house, in a shady site, planting combinations were softer.
The front yard, installed in a second phase of work, is defined by a previously existing bamboo hedge. Swope chose other large forms – substantial rocks, Corten-steel edging, and gravel – to respond to the bamboo as counterpoints. (For a look at some other Corten steel projects for the garden, click here.)
In a harsh and challenging setting (with a fabulous view of the Bay), Swope and his client have created an inviting, modernist landscape. We felt privileged to visit it – and I knew my designer’s horizons had expanded, more than a little.
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