Anyone seeking garden inspiration need go no further than the Dillis garden in Los Osos. It is situated on Highland Drive with its backyard terraces climbing up to open space.
Karen and James Dillis don’t just read garden design magazines and tour gardens. They incorporate ideas from everywhere. Karen is the horticulturalist while James constructs the hardscape.
They’ve taken inspiration to vibrant new heights. Color is everywhere from bright plants and pots to mosaic walls and color coordinated fences and gutters. The result makes visitors want to pop into a red Adirondack chair and bask in the beauty.
Nineteen years in the same home has enabled the couple to fully realize all areas in both the front and back yards.
Soft, easy-to-grow plants that propagate well are favorites of Karen Dillis. And everything meets the needs of Soda Pop Snap Joy, their black Labrador. If she breaks off a piece of a plant, it needs to be one that can be stuck back in the ground and grow. A dog washing station with warm, soft water is always ready after a high-tide romp. There’s even a “doggy high- way” (you have to see it to believe it).
The hedges of aeoniums lining the driveway are impressive, but they barely hint at the magic that awaits visitors in the rest of the garden.
The entrance to the home features a dog park unlike any you might imagine. Three whimsical circles of artificial grass line up in the center of the yard. No gophers, yellow spots or watering here. Pine cones placed in flower beds keep Soda Pop from tromping over daffodils and succulents. A large royal purple princess flower shrub blooms prolifically despite “winter” weather. Three tall pittosporums create lacy privacy with the neighbor, and leucodendrons add contrasting red and yellow foliage. Terra cotta pot towers filled with succulents add vertical interest.
Along the east wall, calla lilies and sword ferns stretch for sunlight and surround sculptures by daughters Lexi and Ayla. A bubbling wall fountain is located here just outside the dining room window. The fountain may be lit in the evening so the garden is brought indoors both day and night.
Tillandsia (air plant) multiplies prolifically and has its own baker’s rack displaying the collection. Karen Dillis said these are easy to grow. Daughter Ayla’s succulent collection is on shelves nearby.
Stepping out to the low maintenance wood-alternative decks, a gazebo covered hot tub takes center stage. The terraced decking allows for a pond with large red ceramic pots spilling water into a recycling pond. “We love the sound,” Dillis said. Several areas may be used as seating, with a long bench near the hot tub and red Adirondack chairs on the deck above.
Colorful bird houses, handmade stepping stones and beach rock sculptures attest to the prolific creativity of this family. Who takes ball jars, puts colored water inside and uses an old ladder to make a colorful, jewel-like sculpture? Who takes a drill to a fence and inserts clear colored marbles to make bright color patterns on a terrace when the sun begins to set. There’s magic here and it truly inspires.
Through the back gate two chickens rule and are often visited by children in the area who are also drawn to what Dillis calls the “Giving Tree” with a swing and a platform for small escapes. A lifetime’s worth of homemade concrete stepping stones covered with the children’s handprints and sentiment make memorable paths through the oaks.
The beauty and whimsy this home and garden exudes creates a truly magical environment. However, magic sometimes needs the soothing help of hot tub bubbles after James Dillis finishes his part of the job creating the hardscape. For example, rolling large red ceramic pots into position so they can become a tumbling fountain aimed at a frog pond gives him satisfaction while others might croak at the effort.