Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Landscape Designer Visit: At Home with Flora Grubb in Berkeley, CA

Search

Landscape Designer Visit: At Home with Flora Grubb in Berkeley, CA

January 29, 2020

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.”

Photography by Caitlin Atkinson.

Flora Grubb loves enclosed spaces. “We live in the garden. We dine in the garden. We sit in the garden everyday,” she says. “It’s not just a tangential part of our lives.” Her porch is flanked by an Acacia cognata tree and a Farfugium japonicum ‘giganteum’. The white chairs are from Bend Goods and are available at Flora Grubb Gardens.
Above: Flora Grubb loves enclosed spaces. “We live in the garden. We dine in the garden. We sit in the garden everyday,” she says. “It’s not just a tangential part of our lives.” Her porch is flanked by an Acacia cognata tree and a Farfugium japonicum ‘giganteum’. The white chairs are from Bend Goods and are available at Flora Grubb Gardens.

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.

Stepping stones are sliced basalt from American Soil and Stone. Grubb chose them for their shape and color. They&#8\2\17;re honed on both sides, rough on the edges and set in a bed of gravel, which offers calming negative space the length of her garden. She has had to move them to make room for growing plants. &#8\2\20;I&#8\2\17;m a pretty obsessive gardener,&#8\2\2\1; she says.
Above: Stepping stones are sliced basalt from American Soil and Stone. Grubb chose them for their shape and color. They’re honed on both sides, rough on the edges and set in a bed of gravel, which offers calming negative space the length of her garden. She has had to move them to make room for growing plants. “I’m a pretty obsessive gardener,” she says.
Kalanchoe &#8\2\16;Beharti&#8\2\17; stands tall amid Crassula perforate. In the planter behind is Rhipsalis teres var. heteroclada.
Above: Kalanchoe ‘Beharti’ stands tall amid Crassula perforate. In the planter behind is Rhipsalis teres var. heteroclada.
Farfugium japonicum &#8\2\16;giganteum&#8\2\17; grows next to the front porch.
Above: Farfugium japonicum ‘giganteum’ grows next to the front porch.
In containers, Grubb planted spiked Dudley brittonii and Cotyledon &#8\2\16;Silver Storm&#8\2\17; while Buxus &#8\2\16;Green Mountain&#8\2\17; provides the backdrop. All planters are available at Flora Grubb Gardens.
Above: In containers, Grubb planted spiked Dudley brittonii and Cotyledon ‘Silver Storm’ while Buxus ‘Green Mountain’ provides the backdrop. All planters are available at Flora Grubb Gardens.
The view from indoors, from Grubb&#8\2\17;s Garza Marfa Oval Leather Chairs, \$\1,600 apiece.  The wire ottoman also is from Bend Goods.
Above: The view from indoors, from Grubb’s Garza Marfa Oval Leather Chairs, $1,600 apiece.  The wire ottoman also is from Bend Goods.
&#8\2\20;Greens imply there&#8\2\17;s water, but the reality is that this is a low-water garden,&#8\2\2\1; says Grubb. A longtime advocate for wise water usage, Grubb cut her design teeth in water-restricted Texas. &#8\2\20;Any responsible gardener is thinking long and hard about how much water their garden is using,&#8\2\2\1; she says.
Above: “Greens imply there’s water, but the reality is that this is a low-water garden,” says Grubb. A longtime advocate for wise water usage, Grubb cut her design teeth in water-restricted Texas. “Any responsible gardener is thinking long and hard about how much water their garden is using,” she says.
Inspired by one of her favorite landscape designers, Bernard Trainor, Grubb installed the most simple of fountains. &#8\2\20;For so little water, it offers so much feeling of water,&#8\2\2\1; she says. Acacia cognata flowers at left as a Phlebodium aureus fern hugs the fountain. Pittosporum tenuifolium &#8\2\16;Silver Magic&#8\2\17; is far in the background while an Acacia cognata &#8\2\16;Cousin Itt&#8\2\17; is at right.
Above: Inspired by one of her favorite landscape designers, Bernard Trainor, Grubb installed the most simple of fountains. “For so little water, it offers so much feeling of water,” she says. Acacia cognata flowers at left as a Phlebodium aureus fern hugs the fountain. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Magic’ is far in the background while an Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’ is at right.
Grubb consistently turns to her low-water favorites: boxwood, acacia trees, shrubs, and pittosporum. From left are Acacia cognata &#8\2\16;Cousin Itt&#8\2\17;, the silvery Leucophyta brownii, Buxus &#8\2\16;Green Mountain&#8\2\17;, Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis &#8\2\16;Diamond Heights&#8\2\17;, Aeonium &#8\2\16;Mint Saucer&#8\2\17;, Santolina virens &#8\2\16;Lemon Fizz&#8\2\17;, and Peperomia ferreyrae.
Above: Grubb consistently turns to her low-water favorites: boxwood, acacia trees, shrubs, and pittosporum. From left are Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’, the silvery Leucophyta brownii, Buxus ‘Green Mountain’, Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis ‘Diamond Heights’, Aeonium ‘Mint Saucer’, Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’, and Peperomia ferreyrae.
Uplifting amid the gravel are the non-trunking Aeonium &#8\2\16;Mint Saucer&#8\2\17;, Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis &#8\2\16;Diamond Heights&#8\2\17;, Acacia cognata &#8\2\16;Cousin Itt&#8\2\17;, and Santolina virens &#8\2\16;Lemon Fizz&#8\2\17;. Grubb calls &#8\2\16;Cousin Itt&#8\2\17; the best new plant introduction in the past \10 years.
Above: Uplifting amid the gravel are the non-trunking Aeonium ‘Mint Saucer’, Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis ‘Diamond Heights’, Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’, and Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’. Grubb calls ‘Cousin Itt’ the best new plant introduction in the past 10 years.
 Dymondia margaretae spreads amid ceanothus and succulents.
Above: Dymondia margaretae spreads amid ceanothus and succulents.

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.

&#8\2\20;So much of what we love taps into something deeper for us,&#8\2\2\1; says Grubb, in discussing a desire for bright, spring green lushness.
Above: “So much of what we love taps into something deeper for us,” says Grubb, in discussing a desire for bright, spring green lushness.
Grubb believes in the power of an enclosure. &#8\2\20;You want to be clear about when you&#8\2\17;re entering your own space,&#8\2\2\1; she says. Here, a bit of turf provides open space to stretch out.
Above: Grubb believes in the power of an enclosure. “You want to be clear about when you’re entering your own space,” she says. Here, a bit of turf provides open space to stretch out.
Visitors to Grubb&#8\2\17;s home enter and exit through a handmade gate constructed of reclaimed fence boards. An old window grate from Tunisia is sourced from Grubb&#8\2\17;s shop.
Above: Visitors to Grubb’s home enter and exit through a handmade gate constructed of reclaimed fence boards. An old window grate from Tunisia is sourced from Grubb’s shop.

For more ideas for adding a fountain to a  landscape, see In Praise of the Water Fountain. Visit Flora Grubb’s nursery in our post, 9 Secrets to Keeping Succulents Alive Indoors.

For more Bay Area gardens, see:

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0