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Fiesta garden in Cambria pops with color

Tour the Greer garden in Cambria

Take a look around the bird-friendly and water-wise garden of Jan and Jerry Greer in Cambria.
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Take a look around the bird-friendly and water-wise garden of Jan and Jerry Greer in Cambria.

Jan Greer, a self-taught garden expert, greets visitors cheerfully. So does her garden.

“We have a ton of landscape magazines and have never thrown one away,” said her husband, Jerry. “I’m really proud of her,” he said.

They make a good team. One member plans just the right features and plants, and the other engineers a water-capturing solution that keeps both birds and plants happy.

Jan Greer’s extensive Fiesta and Bauer Ware collection is kept in a custom-designed open shelf wall unit. Bright orange, turquoise, yellow and cobalt blue wow visitors as soon as they enter the home. Her favorite colors are evident everywhere. However, the absence of all color in the mostly white kitchen and dining area allow the eye to focus on the garden beyond through a wall of windows.

Stepping out the glass back door, jelly bean bright red pots and mid-century American clam shell chairs in yellow, red, blue and green catch attention first. Then the eye is drawn to the white kissing dove fountain that Jan sourced from Henri Studios. It adds southern charm.

Clever engineering is immediately evident because the view of the terraced back garden unfolds in the most spectacular manner. The terrace is elevated three steps. This puts plants, fountains and bathing birds at eye level when seated at the dining table inside. The original slumpstone retaining wall is topped with 2-by-12 boards that can work for overflow seating or elevate ground covers such as the delicate pink erodium (cranesbill) for greater appreciation.

Soft pink flagstone is used on stairs, paths and the circular patio. Jim Schemmer and his team did the stone work. He is well-known for his artistic expertise when working with challenging sites.

Along with steep hillsides, Cambria poses another challenge.

“We knew Cambria was always in dire straits for water, and I couldn’t sink a tank in the ground because of tree roots. Jan found a couple of 500-gallon tanks from Temecula, and we nested them against the house,” Jerry Greer said. He calculated the roof’s square footage and rearranged gutters and downspouts so that all rainwater would go into the tanks rather than down the hillside and into the sea. When the tanks overflow, the french drain alongside picks up the water and distributes it to the front yard.

Jan really studied and put together an encyclopedia of plants and water features she wanted. We had a great base of concepts and then they allowed us to use our creativity to put the whole thing together.

landscape designer

Jan Greer asked Gabriel Frank of Gardens by Gabriel to design a plan. “I like clients who are involved,” Frank said. “Jan really studied and put together an encyclopedia of plants and water features she wanted. We had a great base of concepts, and then they allowed us to use our creativity to put the whole thing together.

“Jerry was fun in that he enjoyed the pieces like the rain catchment and the fire feature,” Frank continued. “We came up with better solutions with his collaboration than we would have alone. They really trusted us. The quality of the project was really brought up because we worked together so closely.”

Admiration was mutual. “It was a lot of fun to work with a landscape company where beer cans didn’t fall out of the back of the truck when they showed up,” Jerry Greer said. “Everybody was on board with everybody else, and nobody copped an attitude. There was zero conflict, and that never happens.”

Due to the lack of water, a smart plant palette of unthirsty California natives and other Mediterranean climate zoned plants were not so much a choice as an imperative.

Tall blue blooming Ray Hartman ceanothus border the left side of the garden and look down on sweet-smelling, profusely blooming white Carpinteria californica (bush anemone) and Ribes viburnifolium (Catalina perfume) thriving under the Greers’ oak tree.

A large spread of Lessingia filaginafolia “Silver Carpet” cascades over the retaining wall with one lavender flower. It promises a beautiful summer is on the way. More shades of blue are represented with Salvia “Pozo Blue,” Dianella Casa Blue, Salvia “Blue Spires,” candelabra lavendar, Scabiosa “Butterfly Blue” and upright verbena.

On the right a large, artfully pruned melaleuca dips and sways as its branches curve to the gardener’s whims. A huge stand of impressively large aeonium canariense and aeonium “Sunburst” add color and texture without demanding water.

More color is added by the many birds that visit this garden.

When the wind off the sea in Cambria chills, doves flock to telephone lines above and snuggle side by side. They enjoy the bubbling fountains, bath water and food. This haven is known to many different species of birds because the Greers welcome them with wild bird seed, suet, sunflower seeds and thistles for the gold finches.

Walk across the stone bridge that crosses over a dry riverbed to sit in the perfect pergola and swing on the swing Greer made for his wife, and nirvana is not far. Add a tiny hummingbird sipping delicately from a stone bubbler to the scene, and you have a garden that transports.

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