When Julia Alexis chose the Shell Beach home that she calls “Shimmersea,” it wasn’t because of the garden. Ivy grew through the cracked concrete front patio, which was exposed to the street. Around three sides of the house, the narrow pathway left little planting space.
An artist, Alexis designed her garden as she conceptualizes a painting. Her goal was to create a garden with color, foliage, variety, and a loose, naturalistic appearance. After eliminating the ivy and concrete, she divided the front garden into three segments.
The largest segment is adjacent to the house and the garage, which is also Alexis’ painting studio. Its large window overlooks a small mobile of round mirrors just outside. Beyond that, another brightly painted metal mobile, a birdbath and a nectar feeder also inspire the painter.
The red brick patio allows rain to seep through. A Meyer lemon tree grows conveniently near the door. The gray-green foliage of licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) glows against the dark marine blue exterior wall. In the shady bed below the house’s window wall, asparagus fern and variegated vinca intertwine. Alexis built a low wall of perforated concrete blocks to define this private area.
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In the sunny middle garden, jade plants, agapanthus, and blue Felicia daisies thrive. The sandstone surface supports self-seeded plants. In one corner, a large Japanese pot sits in an iron frame, and a dark African stone sculpture peeks out from a hedge of small-leafed Hebe and Coleonema.
The street-side patio is shaded by an old black Acacia tree, and paved with bricks, spaced to encourage self-seeders. California poppies, sweet alyssum and mint dominate in spring. A silver gazing ball reflects the surrounding daisies, daylilies, pelargoniums, iris and roses, while Valerian, nasturtiums, osteospermum, and vinca mingle on the slope down to the street.
Alexis has made the most of the narrow spaces around the house by decorating the tall wooden fence with a variety of artistic objects. Trumpet vines grow up a trellised walkway leading toward the hidden front door. The gentle sound of water draws visitors to a small pond with a bubbling fountain beside the entrance.
From there, the walk around the house passes a seating area in the widest area and on to a colorful mosaic-covered birdbath beneath a young palm tree in the back corner. A mirror on the back wall of the house reflects sunlight into the shadiest area.
Around the corner, a rustic sign declares a wide shelf attached to the house wall to be “The Potting Shed.” The potting bench extends over the potting materials and refuse cans. Decorative objects on the fence keep the area from appearing too utilitarian.
Alexis says she is not a gardener, and some of her recommendations are contrary to professional advice: “Buy every color of flower, and vary the color and shapes of leaves. Don’t be afraid of invasive plants: mint fills up a lot of space and smells good. Regard California poppies, Jupiter’s beard and nasturtiums as wonderful gifts. Buy only what makes your heart sing.”
By following her own heart, she has created a delightful cottage-style garden.