Astrid Gallagher’s hilltop house has an airy ambiance, with floor-to-ceiling windows. The wide glass doors have flat thresholds that allow Astrid to zip in and out in her motorized chair. Although she could still walk when the house was built in 1996, Astrid says, “My goal was to have a totally accessible house and garden without looking ‘medical.’”
Architect Tim Woodle fulfilled her goal. As Astrid puts it, “The outdoor spaces are simply an extension of the indoors. You’ll see a different landscape and garden from every window.”
Astrid’s son, Devin, a contractor, installed the garden walkways, patios and pool. Devin and his family occupy a second house on the eight-acre property.
Gardening has been challenging. Calcareous tufa rock underlies the soil, and winds can be fierce. Deer, rabbits and gophers feed regularly. Astrid says she’s grateful for “gopher snakes, three half-wild cats and, at the moment, a coyote who is literally digging huge holes in a slope to get at the gopher burrows,” and also for a 16-year-old friend who “shoots and eats our rabbits.”
Initially, the wide walkway to the front door was flanked by clipped rosemary hedges, grass and roses. The wisteria arbor over the swimming pool patio, and the trellised bougainvillaea flanking the front door were planted then, along with the lawns, trees and agaves around the house. Now, one huge agave has developed the tall seed spire that signals its impending demise.
In the backyard, four California oaks commemorate each grandchild’s birth. A bed of iris demarcates the lawn’s outer edge, beyond which shrubby ceanothus is pruned to preserve the mountain views from the house. Continuing around the house, a low pyracantha hedge beside the walkway was planted to preclude accidental slides downhill from the “party patio.” By the driveway, a lemon cucumber, artichokes and fruit trees share space with flowering perennials.
Four years ago, Astrid asked landscape designer Jacquoline “Jacki” Williams to make her garden less formal, less thirsty and more colorful.
Jacki was given free rein with one exception: Astrid refused to give up her beloved roses, despite the fact that the only way to protect them from deer is to surround them with chicken wire fencing.
The transition was gradual, with Jacki routinely monitoring and revising the garden. Her first step was to improve the soil by incorporating truckloads of used mushroom compost. Chipped tree mulch, replenished regularly, conserves moisture and keeps weeds at bay.
Some badly damaged roses were replaced with tree roses, safer because deer usually won’t stretch upward to eat. Jacki filled the flower beds with plants the deer don’t like: lavender, salvias, catmint, penstemon, society garlic, santolina, kangaroo paws, pelargoniums and assorted daisies.
Last fall, she scattered California wildflower seeds for additional spring color. Jacki says her aim is to always have something in bloom. To that end, she refreshes some of the plant material every winter and adds seasonal plants as they appear in nurseries.
Astrid appreciates each addition. As for the remaining wire-encircled roses, she asserts, “When you’re inhaling their lovely scent, you’re not thinking about fences.”