This residence in Silicon Valley perches at the top of a 9-acre parcel and looks out across a valley dotted with oaks. Mature trees block out neighboring residences and surround the main house, creating a sense of prospect and refuge. At the project’s inception, lines of tea roses edged the pathways, English ivy hugged the hillsides, and sheared spherical boxwood hedges dominated the landscape. Using a hybrid of restoration, plant-insect ecology, and modern landscape design, our challenge was to recreate the robust habitats of primarily native plants that populations of native bees, birds and other wildlife have co-evolved with, while simultaneously ensuring that the resulting gardens were stunning, delightful, and maintainable.
Our clients came to us with the usual wish list – reduction in water use and maintenance coupled with a beautiful landscape suitable for entertainment and events. Interestingly, they added another desire not typically voiced: rather than solely focusing on “sustainability,” they wanted us to develop a set of common denominators to unite aesthetics with application, translating lessons from ecology, habitat restoration, planting design, maintenance, and storytelling into the context of landscape architecture. This meant removing invasive, maladapted, and water-loving vegetation, converting the overhead sprinklers into an estimated six miles of drip tubing, crafting vegetated niches to serve the dual functions of habitat and human well-being, and installing a palette of more than 20,000 primarily native, mostly local ecotypes to support biodiversity and highlight the co-evolutionary relationships between plants and insects. Perhaps most importantly, the clients wanted to avoid a resource-intense revamp of the garden infrastructure. They proposed making the project carbon negative by reusing the existing system of walls and paths and increasing the amount of vegetation on the site.
The Wildlife and Bird Habitat Hillside Garden is made up of three zones – a sunny area below the house, a shady area circling the front of the house, and a hedgerow at the foot of the slope. Here, we selected and sited vegetation to provide shelter, perches, food, and nesting materials for native birds, bats, and other wildlife. The sunny area is dominated by a matrix of native grasses and interplanted with swathes of summer and fall blooming native perennials. Spring-flowering shrubs and perennials comprise the majority of the shady zone, where a river of iris winds through shrubby patches of native chaparral and amongst bands of heuchera. Existing six-foot high agaves punctuate the iris at irregular intervals.
As the hillside tapers down from the residence, a hedgerow rises up to block views of the driveway below and frame the rolling hills in the distance. Comprised of a mixture of toyon, ceanothus, and redbud and flanked by the same native grasses from the hillside above, the hedgerow provides food and habitat for wildlife living in the broader area and draws them into the gardens, allowing observations of native butterflies and beneficial insects. Diverse bird species nest in the dense hedgerow and forage among the gardens near the house.
The Pollinator Garden relies on a combination of native and non-native flowering perennials to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, as well as some lesser-known beneficial insects, including Dicyphus hesperus, a critical whitefly predator. The most traditional of all the gardens, formal lines of existing tea roses blend into a more naturalistic planting edged by wild roses, anchored by grasses, and dotted throughout with seasonal color.
For hosting large events, our clients needed an entertainment space that felt both intimate and elegant. The Oak Patio opens out onto a flat terrace anchored by oaks and surrounded by flower gardens. The patio itself contains a mixture of open spaces for socializing and shaded nooks for quiet contemplation. White ribbons of anemone and yarrow sparkle in the dappled light of the oaks, giving way to bands of heuchera, hellebores, and iris.
Near the vineyard, a California Native Grassland Meadow planted with native grasses, perennials, and self-seeding wildflowers, functions as both a powerful carbon sink for the property and a low-burning fire break to help protect the residence. Native grasses form a matrix of foundation plants, ribbons of flowering perennials increase habitat value (while reducing weed competition), and grassland wildflowers attract pollinators and provide bursts of color. This particular habitat type is vital ecologically: less than 1% of native grasslands remain intact in California, and more than 90% of California’s rare and endangered animals need native grasslands to survive. Here, in stark contrast to the vast majority of residential yards, a myriad of plant-insect interactions take place, providing the clients and their guests a rare opportunity to observe these coevolutionary relationships up close.
Office Name: Miridae
Project category: Private garden
Role of the entrant in the project: Landscape Architect
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: Haven Kiers and Sara Anning, Landscape Architects
Project location: Bay Area, California
Design year: 2017
Year Built: 2018
Photography: Saxon Holt