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He calls their Los Osos garden ‘managed chaos.’ Visitors would call it amazing

This expansive Los Osos garden reflects couple’s travels around the world

The Los Osos garden designed by Greg Smith and Karen Worcester reflects their many interests and world travels. He calls it “managed chaos," with plant communities from around the world flourishing side-by-side.
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The Los Osos garden designed by Greg Smith and Karen Worcester reflects their many interests and world travels. He calls it “managed chaos," with plant communities from around the world flourishing side-by-side.

Many notable gardens have a theme running through them. The Los Osos garden that Greg Smith and Karen Worcester designed reflects their many interests and world travels. It is not a one-note garden.

Their secluded home rests on four acres in one of the coldest areas in town. This provides both adversity and opportunity.

For example, a forest glade similar to that found near Yosemite’s Bridalveil Falls, shelters several varieties of semi-tender plants that would otherwise not thrive. This habitat allows Spanish moss and huge staghorn ferns to grow under the trees.

Smith calls the garden “managed chaos”: “I find a plant I want and then I have to find a hole for it.”

Although they don’t have deer or raccoons in their neighborhood, bobcats and cougars roam the area.

“First I put the plant on the ground in a pot to see if it gets nibbled on by rabbits.” If it lasts, he plants it in the ground.

Since retiring as coastal superintendent for State Parks, Smith now leads naturalist tours around the world. His travels inform his gardening pursuits.

“Buying plants and going to nurseries is my vice,” he said.

Plant communities from around the world now flourish side-by-side but not always peacefully. It’s a war zone out there, with some plants pushing and shoving their way to the forefront.

As you enter the garden next to the driveway, a large banksia integrifolia, an Australian native with large yellow bottlebrush-like flowers, commands attention. An unruly Cecile Brunner rose climbs through the trees, splashing pink blooms to and fro. To the right of the path a crimson foliaged Japanese maple surprises visitors with its perfection. It is far enough from the salt air to be beautiful.

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A tropical paradise is completed with an Asian sculpture. Greg Smith worked as a mason to build the low garden wall. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A curving path leading to the front door features custom concrete pavers into which the couple pressed ferns and other leaves for texture. The path winds past an Asian statue, a fire bowl and a bright stand of tall burgundy and orange-striped Tropicanna lilies.

Because the yard is sloped, Smith built a low, curving wall to help terrace the garden. His wife, a well-known musician, also works in ceramics and plans to decorate their backyard stairs with her custom-made tiles.

Turf grass was replaced with a polygonum groundcover, which Worcester systematically installed over time. It requires much less water, blooms white, and stands up to foot traffic. The resulting variation in heights adds a lot of interest as one meanders through the garden. It invites visitors to slow down and take in different vignettes.

The rose arch entices. It is an Alister Stella Gray rose, billowing its prolific blooms every spring. Passing through it we encounter a variety of stone fruits, persimmons and apple trees. Smith recommends the Beverly Hills apple variety and said he got two and a half bushels off it recently and that they were the best ever. The edge of one raised planting bed was lined with potatoes. It’s hard to beat fresh potatoes, and they’re easy to grow, he said. Their Mission fig was grown from a cutting from San Simeon Creek Ranch.

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A rustic gate is seen under a rose arch. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

An unusually large Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana “Contorta”), features prominently at the side of the orchard. During the winter, this deciduous shrub amazes with its contorted branches. The polygonum ground cover continues through this area.

All the oaks on the property were grown from acorns. Although some of the property is cultivated, most of the couple’s four acres are environmentally sensitive and left wild. Smith is very concerned about the encroachment of veldt grass and works to keep it off his property and also a neighbor’s, so one can enjoy what Los Osos looked like before this alien invasion.

A pair of giant blue Agave americana and a huge Western Australian Grass Tree (Xanthorrhea preissii) form an eye-catching trio just below the deck at the back of the home. No houses can be seen from this vantage point, just the wide open space of an environmentally sensitive habitat.

Stepping off the deck, a greenhouse where Smith propagates plants and protects his rare and unusual specimens, shows his dedication and persistence. This winter’s rains proved too much for some of his plants; some agaves just couldn’t take the amount of water the Central Coast enjoyed.

Generosity is a wonderful trait in a gardener. Smith and Worcester freely share the abundance of plants, fruit and vegetables they grow with visitors and friends.

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