Whilst we visited 12 gardens in the San Francisco area, the majority of which were private and all were beautifully maintained, there were 3 which I really found inspiring.

The Mechanics Garden

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This was the first garden we visited and I expect there are similar gardens in London and any city.  We arrived at an old style apartment block, entered the foyer and wondered where on earth we were going.  Down some stairs as if we were descending to the basement or laundry, down a corridor and there up ahead through an arch way greenery beckoned.  We entered what can only be described as a green cool oasis.  The planting was predominantly sub-tropical; lush and plentiful.  The large trees already in the garden space had been utilised to provide an overhead canopy and under planted with shrubs and smaller plants.

Whilst the planting was great it was the nick nacks and ornaments that I found inspiring.  In nooks and crannies there were sculptures giving focal points and drawing the eye in.  However, we are not talking about shop or gallery bought art here but art that has been created from, for want of a better word, junk.  I think the current trend is to call it ‘upcycling’.  A strange sculpture which reminded me of a prehistoric rib and spine turned out to be part of an old engine block.  Instead of a path made from uniform paving there was one created from random bricks, slabs and other things.

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To add interest to a wall an old fireplace had been utilised.  Not only does this break up the expanse of the wall but it provides a surface on which to display smaller plants and nick nacks at eye level.  In another location there was an old cupboard used for the same purpose.

This approach, for me, was fascinating.  By incorporating the various statutes and ornaments the plants no longer took centre stage they had been moved to the background, creating a backdrop to the owners various junk finds and adding a whole new level of interest.

Rebecca Sweet’s Garden

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Rebecca’s garden was the closest we came to what you could term an English garden with its neat lawn and borders.  However, whilst beautiful, this is not what I find inspiring.  Like the first garden mentioned it was the additions to the garden that I found fascinating.

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Rebecca too had a fireplace on which she displayed various bits and pieces.  There were also a table and cupboard in the work area which looked too beautiful to work on and put my work area to shame.  However, the inspiration I took from Rebecca’s garden was how she displayed her succulents.  Large shallow pots planted up with collections of succulents were placed around the garden and like the bits and pieces in the first garden, they drew the eye in and made you stop and focus.

Keeyla Meadow’s Garden

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Keeyla’s garden was like an injection of energy and blew me away.  This  is not a garden where the rules of design are obvious, with focal points, vistas etc.  This is a garden where colour and the diversity of plants is celebrated and showcased to a degree that I  think even Christopher Lloyd,  that well known proponent of colour, would be outdone.

It was fascinating to see the plant combinations which I think are only possible due to the Bay Areas climate.  A foxglove, a shady woodland plant for me, was sitting just below a Kangaroo Paw, a tender plant for me which has to be overwintered in the greenhouse.  There was every colour in the rainbow all mixed up together – none of this tonal shades, colour borders or complimentary colours.

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Amongst the plants, again, there was sculptures and pots.  They are all Keeyla’s own work since she is a well-known artist.  Again like the planting they are quirky and exuberant; challenging all your preconceptions of how to use colour.

For me this garden showed me that you could throw away the rule book and you could plant and grow whatever you wanted, bearing in mind of course the plant’s growing requirements, and with a little bravery you could create a celebration of colour and plants.  I learnt that you shouldn’t be afraid of combining colours that instead you should give it a go and see what happened – throw caution to the wind.

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These three gardens were my favourites of the trip. I learnt that you should feel free to plant what you want, how you want.  I learnt that to add an extra dimension to the garden you should add sculpture, ornaments call them what you will but that these do not have to be expensive works of art.  You can create the same, if not better, effect with random items you have acquired and which often will have more meaning and significance to you.  I learnt that you should give thought and consideration to how you display the smaller plants and that they looked better when displayed together rather than a random collection of small pots, as I have. But most of all I learnt that  creating a garden should be fun, it should be seen as an opportunity to showcase your interests and be an expression of your character.

Your garden should be a celebration of who you are and what you love.

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