Sanchez garden in Morro Bay: Petite and picturesque

Variegated agave, aloe, purple Agonis and a Hollywood juniper (out of sight to the right) take the place of a fence in Sylvia Sanchez's front garden.
Variegated agave, aloe, purple Agonis and a Hollywood juniper (out of sight to the right) take the place of a fence in Sylvia Sanchez's front garden. The Tribune

Sylvia Sanchez says she was lucky to find a house within walking distance to the beach.

Undeterred by the fact that the small cottage needed a lot of work, she did much of its renovation herself over a two-year span, finishing with a bright and cheerful exterior paint job.

Aside from a large variegated agave and an overgrown Hollywood juniper in front, the neglected yard was all weeds. Desiring a welcoming front garden and a private hideaway in back, Sylvia envisioned a low maintenance “picturesque landscape.”

“When it came to the garden, I wanted to hire a professional landscape designer,’’ she said. “Gabriel Frank, of Gardens by Gabriel, came with very good recommendations, and he did not disappoint.”

Gabriel began with the nettle-filled back yard.

Its virtues were a privacy fence and an elevated wooden deck with a built-in bench. While the deck was retained, Sylvia also wished to sit at ground-level, surrounded by plants.

After removing the weeds, Gabriel dug and amended the clay soil, formed raised berms around the perimeter to assure adequate drainage, and installed drip irrigation. The plants, selected for color contrast and dramatic forms, include Banksia and Coprosma shrubs, red kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos), a fine-textured Cape rush (Chondropetalum ‘El Campo’), and low-growing Gaillardia ‘fanfare’, with petals that resemble pinwheels.

The small sandstone patio in the center is Sylvia’s favorite place to observe and photograph wildlife, including bees and butterflies that are attracted to the passion flower vines covering the fence. None of the plants seem to be bothered by the occasional bunny visitors.

The front yard soil treatment was similar to the back. A tree-like Dracaena in the side yard balances the bulk of the existing variegated agave. A tall, blue rectangular pot containing bluish senecio fills the gap between the Dracaena and the agave.

On the street side, Gabriel pruned the Hollywood juniper to a size more in scale with the space. Between the juniper and the agave, he planted a burgundy-leaved peppermint tree (Agonis ‘Afterdark’) to screen the open space. A purple Cordyline near the house echoes the dark foliage of the Agonis.

The sandstone patio in front is spacious enough to accommodate two Adirondack-style chairs. Plants selected for their contrasting textures include the ruffled leaves and tall, pink nodding blossoms of Echeveria, the flat, rounded leaves of Kalanchoe thrysiflora and the spiky forms of aloes.

Sylvia enjoys working as a physician assistant in women’s health facilities. Her schedule, with three-day weekends, allows time to explore Morro Bay’s many recreational and volunteer possibilities. “Besides continuing to enjoy hiking and beach walks,’’ she said, “I have taken up bird watching, whale watching, kayaking, and my photography has taken on new meaning.”

After having a photo published in the August Slo Coast Journal, Sylvia continues to take courses to sharpen her photographic skills. She’s also joined the local Audubon Society and volunteers as a Harmony Ambassador, monitoring the recently opened Harmony Headlands trail. She appears to have found a perfect way to edge toward retirement.

Sharon Crawford is a freelance writer who lives in Los Osos.

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