Thursday 10 May 2012


Some posts ago I made the promise to raise my eyes above the flower beds and I think that I basically kept to that commitment. However, there is more than one way to raise your eyes, figuratively speaking. Last week I had the great opportunity of visiting two exceptional gardens up in the Berkeley Hills, which let me lift my brows without leaving the flower beds!

The elevations above Berkeley (and El Cerrito) offer paradisiac conditions for ambitious gardening. Granted that South Berkeley is a marvel of small gardens along its small streets, their delicate splendor is even surpassed by the more grandiose locations up in the hills.

It is not only a matter of properties situated on steep slants providing challenging, but at the same time proficient, conditions for creative landscape architects – let's face it, artists. The climate conditions also differ from those in the lowlands. The Berkeley and El Cerrito Hills north of Campus lie exactly opposite the Golden Gate. This in itself is worth of noting, since the residents there have ample opportunities to take shots of the sun setting over Golden Gate Bridge around December. For that reason alone, I wish I owned a property up there.

More importantly, the fogs drifting in from the Pacific through the Golden Gate tend to linger more readily on those hills than on the lowlands at their feet. The reasons for this have already been explained in an earlier blog post. Almost year-round, cool and humid conditions prevail during the morning hours, letting the flowery vegetation prosper to an astonishing extent.

Of course, fog alone doesn't a beautiful garden make; it takes ever-lasting dedication, work and resources to make the most out of the beneficial conditions. But the hill residents usually are apt at making those conditions work for them and it is pure pleasure to take the car up there and drive around houses full of garden treasures, even if you can but catch glimpses of those treasures from the street.

Last Tuesday I had the privilege of being invited inside one of those promising properties, and allowed to pursue my photographic activities to the full. It is situated not far from Indian Rocks, already known from an old adventure trip of mine. The estate is owned by an academic family, with the wife also being a dedicated and enduring gardener.

The whole estate is breathing serene harmony; trees, brushes and flowers in all colors and shapes are adorning the lay-out.

The garden is spread out over a steep slope, with three small leveled terraces, accessible by wooden staircases. The lowest staircase can be seen in the overview below, with the upper terraces somewhat receding and partly hidden in the lush vexation.

As the proud owner explained it to me, she views her garden as a kind of semi-vertical sea, with waves of color undulating over the surface, in ultra-rapid, as the growing seasons evolve and each flower generation is superseded by the next. A telling metaphor indeed!

Since there is never a freezing winter (temperature below zero Celsius) up in those hills – with the rare exception of 1972 – the question arises how such a lovely garden can stand defended against all kinds of parasites and other damaging critters. Swedish gardens are being blessed with long winters that kill off many an unwelcome garden fiend, but this natural defense is sadly lacking in the benign Bay climate.

That notwithstanding, the owner, a true Lady of the Land, steadfastly refuses to apply toxic chemicals as a remedy, relying instead on nature's natural balance, aided by avoiding monocultures and, if bad comes to worse, assisted by the gardener's delicate fingers, picking the offenders off the roses one by one, as I was able to witness on the day of my visit. As you can see from the pictures, the garden is saluting her dedication with delightful splendor; I am raising my cap to this foremost of private gardeners. 


Rudi Schmid said...

Another splendid account. Fog provides, as Emil correctly notes, a cooler moderating climate, but it also provides an important source of water, up to 16.9" (43cm) of moisture a year in the coastal redwood forests. Condensation of the fog on leaf surfaces can be so extensive that the resultant runoff, "fog drip," can be quite audible. In the Berkeley Hills fog drip equals about 10" (25cm) extra moisture per year, mostly in summer. Regular rainfall in the Berkeley Hills is about 30" (75cm) a year. In the Berkeley flats average annual rainfall for 1893-2011 was 23.4" (59.5cm), supplemented by fog drip. Incidentally, coast redwood is fairly well restricted to the fog belt, extending only 35mi/56km inland.

Per Magnus Wijkman said...

If Voltaire had been able to cultivate a garden as elevated as your host's, he would truely have believed that he lived in the best of all possible worlds.
Best, Per

Anja Ek said...

Kära Emil!
Tack för Dina blomsterbilder! De ger mig tröst i min stora sorg.
Min älskade Ove gick bort den 26/4, 2012


Kathy C said...

Such a refreshing break in the day to read your enthusiastic prose. I love your use of English- sure makes me smile. That first shot with the light streams is heavenly indeed.

Usually takes somewhere from "not here" to help us see and appreciate our own backyards.

Tack så mycket, Emil!