The Hillside Gardeners of Montclair


Oakland, California

2017 Garden Tour Gardens

Garden #6

Stunning garden, gift boutique, plant sale and refreshments in the ‘banana’ belt

Photos courtesy of Owner and Peter D. Crigger

One owner of this property is a creative professional landscaper. The other sees opportunity in unlikely places.  During a walk in 2006, the second owner looked up at an eyesore—a burned house formerly used by renters to grow marijuana. Investigating, she saw a cottage, and several derelict buildings, as well as the unsalvageable house. The property backed up onto an EBMUD reservoir.  Overgrown with acacia, the place was a challenge due to a windy, southwest-facing slope. But the landscaper loves a challenge and together the couple transformed the site.

This garden has everything:  a half-acre with incredible views; whimsical art, some made by the owners from objects found on the property; a chicken coop; a water storage system; unique fruit tree varieties; a lily pond; a writer’s (or artist’s) cottage; imaginative hardscape, much of it recycled from the site.

Everyone knows Oakland has the best climate in the Bay Area, but “Banana Belt”?  Yes! Oakland has areas with this recognized microclimate and these gardeners takes advantage to grow dwarf Brazilian bananas, avocados, guava bushes, Peruvian ground cherries, and tamarillo, They also grow table grapes, perennial kale, blueberries, peppers, lemon verbena, and much more.

Of course, all this requires a lot of water, and the hot windy site creates further water issues. The owners have designed an amazing system that captures runoff from the replacement house’s roof and stores it in a cistern and huge tanks with an 18,000-gallon capacity. An old well holds more water. In addition, they capture gray water from the house, filtering it through gravel, and reusing it to water the bountiful garden.

This garden is not only beautifully laid out; it offers many creative solutions to Bay Area gardeners who love our great agricultural climate but must cope with the downside of water extremes, wind, and heat.


Garden #4

Unusual plants in an imaginative setting

Photos courtesy of Peter D. Crigger and the owner

Who knew that alpine plants could flourish in Oakland? The key is not altitude but hardiness. This front yard needed hardy plants. The soil is unimproved adobe tangled with tree roots. The owner asked her gardener and plant propagator Kia Mara to create a small mound and put in some small alpine plants that interested her.  The plants now flourish among recycled cobblestones fished from the San Francisco Bay by rowboat!  Note also native strawberries, pitcher plants in pots, and an Aloe plicatilis with its beautiful fan shape. Black bamboo screens the front porch.

Follow the gangway to the stunning back yard. The garden and basic hardscape were laid out in 1985 by landscaper Jim Dickson. But the garden, once sunny, is now a cool oasis with ferns, rhododendrons, fuchsia, philadelphus vine, loropetalum, ornamental oxalis, and unusual specimens from collections Kia Maria had or knew about. There are raised garden beds, calming garden structures, and pottery made by the garden owner. This creative gardener loves to haunt a West Oakland scrapyard where she finds treasures that add visual interest.

Water issues here eventually required garden redesign. After installing a sump pump in the house and rerouting a drain at the back of the lot, the owners raised all the planting beds. Crushed granite paths provide a permeable surface to control drainage. Campanula and other plants that don’t mind damp spots thrive in a stubborn area that gets swampy in the rain.

The owners invite you to come up on the deck to view more unusual plants as well as interesting rocks they’ve collected all over the world. Enjoy!


Garden #5

A Full city lot featuring plants from around the world

Photos courtesy of Peter D. Crigger

This imaginative garden is next to the owner’s home. A brilliant layout offers restful vistas and a variety of “zones” based loosely on areas where the owner has traveled or lived.

An elderly woman lived here for many years and grew Mediterranean crops. The underlying soil is adobe, but very fertile, perhaps because chickens once roamed the yard (or maybe because the former owner used fertilizers). Georgia Madden of Feyerabend and Madden Landscape Design noted that she had never experienced a Bay Area garden with such fertile soil. No herbicides were used in redesigning the neglected and overgrown garden. Weeds were pulled out by hand. Madden created the raised beds by simply scraping the topsoil into desired shapes, then lined the meandering paths with a product called sharp gravel.

The garden features 5 zones represented by 5 raised garden beds laid out in a pleasing design. The garden includes specimens from temperate climates as well as those from Australia and Africa. The New World is represented by cacti, agave, and a fabulous old opuntia (prickly pear cactus) at the back of the garden. Euphorbia varieties from many parts of the world are featured throughout the garden. Aeoniums represent the Canary Islands. Old gnarled figs and a few other trees were salvaged and add a sculptural quality to the design. Note the melianthus (honey bush) from Australia near the front entrance.

The garden features a dual watering system that includes a working well with filtration. The owner will provide before and after photos of the garden as well as a plant list for visitors.


Garden #3

A Lush oasis in oakland


Photos courtesy of Peter D. Crigger

Visitors to this property may be excused for thinking they’ve been transported far from Oakland. A lush Mediterranean style front garden originally created by the owners surrounds a house with dazzling blue balconies that contrast with rich adobe-colored walls. Solandra vines with buttery gold blooms climb up to soften the unusual horizontal texture of the stucco. Landscape designer and craftsman Tyrone Perry refined the front garden and redesigned the back. He also designed the balconies, replacing narrow originals.

Near the front terrace, notice the tall stump of an Italian pine. Perry drilled holes into the trunk and planted aeonium and other trailing plants. The pine was replaced with a camphor tree but until it grows larger, the stump offers privacy. Bromeliads surround the base of the trunk.

Notice the contrasting shapes and textures in the front yard, the farfugium with its round leaves contrasting with phormium (New Zealand flax) and other low growing plants. Descend the shallow steps at the side of the house and enter a tropical park.

A graceful spiral staircase leads to a deck. Under the deck is a profusion of clivia, sheltered from the sun. Large planter pots are used here and below to hold the soil, taking the place of retaining walls.  A huge Bird of Paradise in a corner leads the eye up to the clever trellis with moving parts on the upper deck.

Bamboo—Mexican bamboo, timber bamboo, low frothy-leaved bamboo-- screens the yard from neighbors. And careful placement of trees and bushes allowed the owners to maintain the tropical nature of their yard despite 5 years of drought. A gravel leach pit beneath a small grassy lower terrace collects water from the driveway and runoff from the upper terraces.

Note the clever reuse of brick and the round concrete steps created by Tyrone Perry and decorated by the owners and their children. You will find treasures imbedded in the steps. See what you can find!

Continuous hedges of roses, trumpet vine, abutilon, and pineapple guava ensure the total privacy of this all-succulent garden. Visitors to the vibrantly sunny space enter through a double wooden gate to discover the whole of the garden cannot be seen from any single viewpoint. This very private garden rewards the eye on many levels, with large moss stones framing a series of berms, planted with succulents in a range of sizes and colors.

The beds are designed to provide a series of “vignettes” organized by types of plants or color combinations. Visitors are invited by large flat stones to sit and observe the garden’s changing vistas from a variety of perspectives. Two tall moss stones serve as fountains to the delight of finches, robins and hummingbirds. Visitors approach three large berms along a curved pathway and arrive at a dining area shaded by a Japanese maple.

Succulents are perfect plants for our climate and the water-conserving gardener; this gardener uses a “smart” Rachio drip irrigation system that minimizes evaporation and water waste, and adjusts automatically to weather changes.


Garden #2

Charming Terraced Garden with a Serenity Spot

Photos courtesy of Peter D. Crigger

Prepare to be delightfully surprised as you walk up the modest approach to this garden. Through a narrow opening, you will begin to see a large terraced garden with varying textures, interesting structures, and well-designed hardscape. Espaliered fruit trees delight the eye. The garden offers many features, including a shaded dining area at the top (created by the garden designer), a conversation area with fire pit, and a cozy spot at the side of the guest cottage with a bench for reading or watching wildlife.

Succulents in the garden originally came from a humble source:  a flat of numerous varieties, some still unidentified, from Home Depot! The succulents trailing down the retaining wall in the cozy reading nook came from that flat. The owner kept propagating pups from the original collection and today has a lush profusion of healthy plants, augmented by many unusual varieties she has collected.

Eighteen years ago, this garden presented many challenges besides the concrete basketball court at the top of the yard that the owners removed themselves with a jackhammer. The soil was very compacted. There were areas of dense shade, contrasting with very hot areas.  Today, the garden features wonderful textures and soil amended with oak leaves, grass clippings from neighbors, and a cover crop over the vegetable garden in the winter.

The severe drought over the past five years forced the owners to redesign the garden. They removed all plants requiring lots of water. They hired garden designer Tyrone Perry to reconfigure the retaining walls and steps and reposition many of the plants, adding specimens from his father’s home in Santa Barbara.

Today, the first tier of the garden features sterile flowering crabapple trees, farfugium with its rounded leaves, and on the cottage’s deck a copihue, an unusual trailing vine that grows in the forest in Chile. Fruit trees include Anna’s apple from Israel, a Mission fig, Braeburn apple, persimmon, and pomegranate. Hugging aeonium and dimondia are featured at the top of the garden, as well as a cactus and aloes in the hotter areas.

Note the sculpture near the vegetable beds. Designed by an art student, it is made from old farm implements the owner used to play on at her grandfather’s farm in Nebraska and had shipped to California.


Garden #1

A Hidden Succulent Paradise

Photos courtesy of Garden Owner