Flowers, Fruit Trees, and Entertaining Spaces Abound Inside This Organic Garden in California
When a Bay Area couple moved into a new home five years ago, the yard was a patchwork of concrete, dirt, and overgrown shrubs. Instead of planting a high- maintenance lawn, they went a little wild. The result is an oasis of flowers, fruit trees, and inviting spots where they can catch some air every day.
In Mountain View, California, where the weather is mild nearly year-round, software engineers Sarah Nguyen and Andrew Poon wanted their garden to be a sprawling outdoor living space. They envisioned beds overflowing with flowers, fresh produce to pluck for a salad, and breezy open areas where they could unwind and entertain. And since they were planning to have kids, it needed plenty of room to run and play.
The couple hired Oakland-based Pine House Edible Gardens for the transformation. "I like their philosophy of having as many edibles as possible without it looking like a farm," says Nguyen. Owner and designer Leslie Bennett and landscape architect Holly Kuljian worked closely with them, merging Nguyen's love of a floriferous English-cottage style with crops the couple wanted to grow, including strawberries, yuzus, and other citrus. The garden is organic, harnessing pollinator-attracting flowers like buddleia, penstemon, salvia, and yarrow to draw birds, butterflies, and bees. Drip irrigation provides efficient supplemental water, and beds are planted densely to leave little soil exposed, which suppresses weeds and minimizes evaporation.
Instead of a thirsty, time-consuming lawn, Bennett and Kuljian filled the front yard with a succession of easygoing flowers and perennials that morph with the seasons and "always look completely gorgeous," says Nguyen. The backyard, with its "rooms" for eating, lounging, and sitting around the firepit, is made for get-togethers. All the areas are linked by a concrete path that loops the plot's perimeter—and makes a perfect racetrack for the couple's sons, 4-year-old Hunter and nearly 2-year-old Darius, to run, bike, and pull their wagons on. Narrower paths paved with pea gravel lead to harvest spots and clearings under mature trees, where guests can overflow. "We prefer hosting at home to eating out," Nguyen says. "It's a lot more comfortable, since many of us have young kids."
As the garden has grown in, new traditions have taken root. Starting in June every year, the children harvest strawberries. In summer, Nguyen and Poon share their bounty with neighbors, giving away their abundance of plump tomatoes and figs. Each autumn, friends join forces with Nguyen's parents to pick and dry heaps of persimmons from their tree. And on any given day, you'll find the family tossing a ball in back, chatting with neighbors out front, or enjoying a meal made from homegrown ingredients. "This is where the magic happens," Poon says. "I have so many favorite memories tied to this space."
Asian pears, avocados, blueberries, pears, and strawberry guavas grow in a narrow front bed between the couple's driveway and their neighbor's; they can easily pluck them from a path of pavers. The fruit are tucked among evergreen lamb's ears, yellow 'Swane's Golden' cypress, 'Big Red' kangaroo paws, 'Icee Blue' podocarpus, and apricot-hued amber carpet roses.
Family Photo Op
Nguyen, Poon, and their boys, Hunter and Darius, pile onto a bench on the only patch of lawn in the backyard. It's both a play space for the kids and a breakout zone during gatherings.
A dining table is nestled amongst pink 'Eden' climber roses, swordlike Beschorneria yuccoides, and an apricot tree chosen to provide seasonal shade. The family eats as many meals as possible here.
Goods for a Gathering
Curved benches flank an entry courtyard made of flagstone pavers, interplanted with creeping thyme. The spot ushers in much impromptu chitchat. "We were inviting neighborliness," says Bennett.
Peachy Coprosma 'Rainbow Surprise' plays off the vivid-orange fruits of a loquat tree, blue-gray Teucrium fruticans, and an evergreen dogwood; together, they create subtle screening from the street.
A grid of nectarine, fig, pluot, plum, and peach trees is an homage to the vast orchards that once covered the region, while grassy Carex divulsa below blends in with the rest of the scenery.
Built-in concrete benches, generous enough for six people (with room to pull up additional chairs), surround the firepit, where the family often cozies up and roasts marshmallows as the sun goes down. Purple-stemmed Trache-lium caeruleum 'Hamer Pandora', claret Leucadendron 'Ebony', and silver Echeveria x imbricataframe one bench, while 'Burgundy Iceberg' roses and white-and-maroon spikes of Acanthus mollis flourish under a mature 'Fuyu' persimmon tree they inherited when they bought the property.