Rolling hills studded with gnarled oak trees surround this home and expansive garden in the San Francisco Bay Area, offering a taste of country living
Interior Designer Rolling hills studded with gnarled oak trees surround this home and expansive garden in the San Francisco Bay Area, offering a taste of country living on the edge of the suburbs. Homeowners Jamey and Karen Jacobs saw the property’s potential when they purchased it a few years ago; they remodeled the home and garden in tandem. With the renovation completed, the couple now retreats to a farmhouse-style home and a garden inspired by the surrounding oak woodland and nearby wine country.Photos by Mitchell Shenker and Martin HoffmannLandscape at a GlanceWho lives here: Jamey and Karen JacobsLocation: Danville, CaliforniaSize: Half-acre backyardLandscape architect: Martin HoffmannLandscape designer and installer: Tracey BlumeThe new design, by landscape architect Martin Hoffmann, blurs the line between the cultivated landscape and open space beyond. A series of new outdoor living areas includes a dining patio, an observation deck and a fire pit seating area, offering a number of spots in which to hang out and appreciate the view. Homeowner Karen Jacobs is an interior designer and acted as the general contractor for the home and garden renovation, hiring and working with all the subcontractors. Additionally, she selected many of the plant and hardscape materials and all the furnishings for the project. Hoffmann, who completely overhauled the landscape layout and design theme, was cognizant that a light touch for the new design would keep the focus on the stunning views of the nearby hills that lead to Mount Diablo. “The idea for the design was an attempt to blend with nature and blur the line between what was done and what was there to begin with,” Hoffmann says. “I wanted to avoid doing too much. The background to the site was just so dramatic. It offered so much of an opportunity that I thought that we could enhance nature and not dominate with a pool that was too big or a fire pit seating area with too much paving.”Look for a landscape designer near you on HouzzBefore: A hillside at the back of the property separates the back garden from open space. Hoffmann and his team kept a small viewing deck, seen here in the background, that was part of the original backyard design. The platform offers views back down to the house as well as into a grove of native valley oak trees. The team preserved the property’s existing mature redwood and oak trees during the renovation as well.After: A new bluestone slab pathway leads up the hillside to the platform deck, curving past a newly planted miniature vineyard and a dry-stacked stone wall surrounded by flowering perennials. “We really tried to limit the amount of paving, and instead used natural stone pathways and boulder steps to avoid ruining the shape of the land,” Hoffmann says of the stonework design. Water-washed bluestone steps: SBI Materials The vineyard, which sits on the south-facing side of the slope, receives primarily full sun — perfect for growing wine grapes. Landscape designer Tracey Blume seeded nitrogen-fixing clover between the vines; it returns nutrients to the soil and reduces water runoff and slope erosion. A rustic picket fence keeps the homeowners’ Labrador retriever off the hillside and out of the vineyard.Fire Pit AreaThe stone steps lead down the other side of the hill to a new fire pit seating area that offers the best views of the valley. The gas-burning pit is smoke free and minimizes the potential for sparks. A wide ring of stones and a gravel patio for the seating area reduce the fire risk even further. Low-water plants, including verbena, kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos sp.) and coneflower (Echinacea sp.) fill in the border planting. Cushioned teak chairs provide an invitation to sit back and enjoy the view of the valley.PoolThe homeowners wanted a pool, but they didn’t want it to dominate the backyard. Hoffmann proposed a design that he describes as “purposely undersized and organic; more of a watering hole than a traditional pool.” The pool measures about 22½ feet long and 15 feet wide. To give it more of an organic feeling, the team skipped traditional pool coping and surrounded the pool with water-washed boulders instead.A giant pancake-shape stone from SBI Materials is the centerpiece of the pool’s design and one of the project’s biggest “finds.”Placing the boulders and stone slabs wasn’t easy, Hoffmann says. “They had to be strapped on [a] Bobcat for installation to avoid scarring and then carefully placed in position.”PlantingsA flagstone patio flanks another side of the pool. A no-mow meadow of native seashore bentgrass (Agrostis pallens) grows behind the patio in a sunny patch in front of the redwoods. Blume used shade-loving ferns, Japanese barberry and other woodland plants below the redwoods and planted sun-loving perennials around the patio. Low-water calandrinia succulents, which bloom bright fuchsia in spring and summer, have found a home in the rocky crevices between hardscape.No-mow grass: Delta BluegrassFor the borders around the lawn and up to the vineyard, Blume relied on a mix of ornamental grasses and flowering perennials in pale yellow, gold, purple and white to create a cottage-garden-style planting scheme. Perennials include yarrow, coneflower (Echinacea sp.), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.), ‘Rozanne’ cranesbill (Geranium ‘Rozanne’) and fan flower (Scaevola aemula). The airy white flowers of gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), held on 4-foot-tall stems, and delicate seed heads of ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’) catch the light and add a soft haze to the plantings.‘Elfin’ thyme planted between flagstone pavers softens the pathway. The beds are set on a mix of drip and spray irrigation systems and receive seasonal maintenance, such as cutting back perennials and pruning hedges to control their size. The perimeter fencing largely deters deer from coming in for a nibble, Hoffmann reports.Art Shed and Kitchen GardenA newly added cottage sits across the lawn, to the left of the redwoods; Karen Jacobs intends to use it as an art shed. The Dutch door opens up to allow breezes to drift in from the garden. Vines will cover the trellising out front in a few seasons.Three large aluminum stock tanks — with holes drilled at the bottom for drainage — serve as the kitchen garden. In summer they’re planted with herbs and warm-season vegetables, along with dahlias and other cutting flowers.This view from above the vineyard provides a sense of the overall backyard layout, including the outdoor dining patio and kitchen (closest to the house), and the pool, sun lounge patio, art shed and kitchen garden.