Normally a driveway is a less than desirable place to grow a garden. When I moved into my home back in 2010, I fell in love with the circa-1870s house and its proximity to downtown Half Moon Bay and the beach. I was happy with the weird, quirky little rooms of the house, and the ample garage and basement space. Even though I moved in solo, I knew the space was too good to pass up, albeit a bit too large for just one person. Another hesitation was the backyard, or lack thereof. My gardener’s mind kicked in pretty quickly though, trying to figure out how to surmount the issue of very little actual dirt and a giant, long concrete driveway, for which I had no use. Through my Wildflower Farms garden design firm, I’d been creating gardens for clients for ten years. But my landlords told me, “No plants, no dogs or other animals, please.”
I agreed to move in, and during the few days they took to draft a lease, I built a picket fence with copper post tops and a double gate. As a devout ask for forgiveness, not permission kind of girl, I was happy when they drove up, handed me the signed lease, and told me they loved the fence.
Six years, five chickens, three dogs, a husband, and countless plants later, this house has grown into my messy version of a garden oasis—driveway and all.
Photography by Rob Co.
Above: The dogs normally greet you at the gate but in this image, Agave attenuata is ready to say hello. I harvested this agave from a garden design job I did years ago. (Can you imagine someone not wanting agave in a garden?) Adjacent is a cluster of mixed potted Aeonium, with one giant one standing tall above the rest. Medicinal herbs such as oregano, mint, and curry stay contained in separate smaller pots leading to the back porch.
Above: My newly retired firefighter father recently discovered Craigslist (!), and found me these gorgeous terra cotta chimney liners. I tend to plant flat or cascading perennials in them, such as Scleranthus biflorus, Chondrus crispus, and Artemisia. They hold dual purpose: looking lovely—and more important, holding my Mason jar filled with wine while I garden.
Above: This is my first year of dedicating some roses to become cut flowers and others to the bees. ‘Just Joey’, ‘Sally Holmes’, and David Austin’s ‘Graham Thomas’ ($27.95) are among the ones I use for flower arrangements at my Garden Apothecary shop. I’m experimenting with leaving my ‘Benjamin Britten’ roses for the bees, and even without deadheading, they seem to be thriving even better then last year.
Above: Confession: I hoard sweet pea seeds. I don’t know why I’m convinced I need to buy every single sweet pea variety out there, but I do. This year they are happy from strategic watering (I keep them on the dry side, top dressed with steer manure), a bit of haphazard staking, and foggy mornings.
Above: As much as I love my messy container garden, every now and again I try to gain some sense of design and control—but it hasn’t happened this spring. I keep the structure and thoughtful design for my client’s’ gardens; for me, it’s all about what I love in the moment. Right now, my favorites are Stipa ichu, Eschscholzia californica var. maritima and this gorgeous variegated Aloe (from Succulent Gardens).
Above: Pittosporum ‘Silver Sheen’ in 24-inch boxes creates a screen, allowing me to section off parts of the garden, and providing privacy from the street to my home office. Stipa and other grasses give movement, which I find is incredibly important in container gardens. Clusters of potted plants can feel heavy and stagnant without a feeling of openness and ample movement.
Above: A lone cactus that a past client wanted to toss out, surrounded by a rambling rose whose name I have since forgotten. They make an odd combination even in full bloom, but are quirky companions I have grown to love in the garden. On a much larger scale, I could see this combo being interesting in a vast landscape with clusters of tall cactus.
Above: Digiplexis is just one of the organic perennials we stock at my shop, along with a wide array of Campo de’ Fiori terra cotta pots.
Above: This rose is so dear to me, as it was just a cutting from my mom’s beach-side garden which I rooted in 1999. I have carried it around with me from house to house for the past 16-plus years (not unlike Linus and his blanket). It’s a spindly little thing, in terms of its growing habit, but come early spring it produces the most gorgeous and spicy fragrant flowers. If it only made just one bloom a year, it would still be worth the effort and space in the garden. I simply adore it.
Above: David Austin’s ‘Benjamin Britten’ ($27.95), Cerinthe ($4.95 for a 4-inch pot at Annie’s Annuals) and Agave attenuata. This trio is a constant in my garden, needing very little water, fertilizer, or care. The copper mailbox (from our local Ace Hardware) gets a shining once a year, because that’s basically how long it takes me to polish the massive thing! With the salt wind, it’s a labor of love that is futile, and I usually give up half way through.