California landscape designer Flora Grubb and her small son knew it when they saw it.
“This is our house,” they agreed, and she bought the Berkeley bungalow. No worries about that strip of lawn and concrete out front. Grubb, who owns an eponymous plant nursery considered a Bay Area mecca for gardeners, knew she could create the retreat and rejuvenation she sought. “With small city gardens, a lot of it becomes about creating the illusion that you’re on your own little island,” she explains. The house and front courtyard could really be something special.
First, Grubb created a sense of enclosure with a large acacia tree. A bulky palm leant another layer of privacy. “They went up immediately,” she said. Then came a wide-slatted fence. “It’s pretty transparent,” she says. “I see people peeking into my garden all the time, which is great. I’m totally a garden peeper myself.”
When she planted the garden two years ago, she replaced the turf grass and tore up the concrete. Grubb also obsessed about the color green, particularly vibrant, spring greens and the emotional responses they evoke. “Those bright greens tell you that there’s enough—enough water, enough food, enough everything,” she says. She packed the small landscape with low-water plants that reflected a lush sensibility.
Proper watering is job one, says Grubb. One of the biggest mistakes people make is not watering plants enough and then drowning them to make up for it.