In April 2009, when Vince and Janet Marino moved to Morro Bay, just half of their lot was planted, with grass, palm trees, and one giant bird of paradise. The other half had been cleared by the previous owner, who had planned to build a second house there.
That autumn, Josh Marino, their contractor son, built a retaining wall to stabilize the disturbed soil on the uphill portion of the property. The family joked that the leveled site resembled a bocce ball court. Only Vince considered the idea seriously.
The couple attended the fall home and garden show for landscaping ideas. Afterward, they invited three of the landscape designers, individually, to view the site and discuss their garden concepts. They chose Gabriel Frank, of Gardens by Gabriel, who envisioned a succulent garden with a “botanic garden feeling.”
Gabriel encouraged the Marinos to read about succulents during the winter. He lent them his books by Debra Lee Baldwin: “Designing with Succulents” and “Succulent Container Gardens.” He also suggested taking walks through the succulent displays in the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden and the Cal Poly Arboretum to help them envisage the garden possibilities.
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With their garden concept in mind, they purchased a fountain from Daylight Home Patio & Lighting, a custom gas fire pit from Eric Leasure of Leasure Concepts, and outdoor furniture from Costco.
The following March, their two sons came to help make their dad’s dream become reality. Together, they built an authentic bocce ball court surfaced with crushed oyster shells. An outdoor sculpture with images of bocce balls and ocean waves enhances the far side; it’s by local artist Jim Jacobson.
In late April, Gabriel escorted the Marinos to the Negranti mine near Cayucos to view the colorful serpentine rock that he proposed using. The Marinos agreed. Later, he timed their trip to select flagstone for the paths to coincide with the closing of Santa Barbara Stone’s San Luis Obispo location, with sellout rates.
The garden was finished by July 4, 2010. The Marinos, who initially had favored concrete, are delighted with all the stonework. They were particularly impressed with Mindy Renee, Gabriel’s crew forewoman, who laid out the flagstone paths. They love the birds that the garden attracts, and find the fire pit patio ideally sited for viewing sunsets and July 4th fireworks.
Although the plantings seemed sparse at first, the Marinos now acknowledge Gabriel’s wisdom in spacing to allow for growth. The garden appears fairly mature because the plants vary in size; their containers ranged from four inches to five gallons. The novice succulent growers’ only complaint about Gabriel’s envisioned “botanical garden without labels” is that they are sometimes embarrassed when asked the names of plants.
Garden tasks are shared. Vince mows the backyard lawn with a push mower. Janet tends the plants and has added some garden accents to fill the few open spaces. When people stop to admire the garden, Vince invites them in, saying, “Janet’s the gardener; I give the tours.”
Recently, they were requested to open their garden for the annual AAUW Garden Tour next April. Both said “yes.”