Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Friday, July 5, 2013

My Favorite Fling Garden...

...was the Nichols garden in Oakland, CA.

Words fail me in trying to describe how much I adored and what I loved about this garden, and why it spoke so eloquently to me. It was simply jaw-droppingly, eye-poppingly gorgeous. Unfortunately, I fear that I've set you all up for disappointment -- because of the harsh, bright sun, most of the pictures I took are terrible, and do not do it justice. I've discovered a love of orange since moving to Washington, a love I can't explain, and this garden used that color a lot. It also employed a lot of collectibles such as porcelain ornaments, which I have a fondness for.

As the bus pulled away from the garden, I posted on Facebook: "I've just been to Heaven and I didn't even have to die first."

Garden Description by Ann Nichols:
"When eco-visionary landscape designer Bob Clark first visited Ann Nichols’ house in the late 90’s, he found a boring narrow walkway along the side that led up from the street to the back yard. Today one is drawn toward a whimsical fence built of tree branches and ropes which Cristo and Robinson Crusoe might have built together. One climbs past gurgling water that passes through salvage pipes onto shells, then along a mini-canal and into ponds surrounded by her personal collectibles embedded in cement. On the wall at the top, a mirror set within a mosaic mural invites the curious visitor into the back yard.

On the other side of the gate, one discovers a yard on many levels, each designed as an outdoor room. The black and silver garden, called the entry “parlor,” is bordered by a wooden fence and two cement walls. Another mirror hangs from the fence, as if to say “you are here!”  Jasmine, a Japanese maple, Heucheras, black mondo grass and various ferns create a restful spot for a visitor to sit and enjoy the cool shade.

Going past the patio, one enters the white garden. White digitalis, gardenias, white day lilies and other flowers whose hues range from chalk to cream give this room its color. Up another level lies a lawn, bordered brightly colored flower beds.

Higher on the hill is the Rose garden. Weeping Sequoia, tied together, form an allee into this fragrant garden underplanted with blue flowered perennials. Forget-Me-Nots, Salvias, Clematis, Irises, and Geraniums color this room, as does the blue star creeper that grows between the patio pavers.

The front garden at the street is the most recently developed. This garden was built around a Canary Date Palm, the only plant that remains on the property from the time the house was purchased 30 years ago. For the most part, there is a subtropical feel here. It is filled with Bromeliads, Echeverias, Orchids, Tillandsias and Aloes. The hope was to give passers-by a few seconds in the tropics on their way to their busy lives!"

A view of the Nichols front garden from the bus window

Aloe polyphylla/Spiral Aloe in the front garden

A smaller spiral Aloe in a swath of Oxalis

Probably Manfreda undulata 'Chocolate Chips'

Bromelaids and a Dyckia tucked under an enormous Agave attenuata

An enormous Bromeliad in the front garden

A bumpy Echevaria

Tall, heavily blooming Brugmansia next to a large Begonia luxurians

A succulent surges down the steps in waves

The crevices of the date palm in the front garden have various Tillandsias and Sedums tucked in

Blooming Bromeliad -- such amazing colors and flowers

Begonia luxurians and a large-leafed Rhododendron

Brugmansia flower

A cute vignette at the beginning of the stairs that go up the side of the house into the back garden

Another vignette -- I'm sensing a theme

Cats also appear in the garden in various incarnations

The first of several small ponds that you encounter as you make your way up the side of the house. It's covered with an ingenious and beautiful steel grate designed to keep raccoons out.

Terra cotta pipes have been salvaged and repurposed as plant containers

Two more small ponds, further up

Various collectibles embedded in the concrete edges of the pond

Pitcher plants and Bromeliads

In the back garden, water drips from a column, backed up by another huge Brugmansia (so sorry the sun has washed it out)

A door mural painted onto a concrete wall

Barberry ('Rosy Glow'?) and apricot-colored cactus Dahlias

Two stately and overpowering clusters of bright orange Cannas with striped leaves (possibly Canna 'Tropicanna') flank the stairs to the garden's next level.

As you walk through the pleached evergreens you see the actual gate from the mural, with its cutout kitty-cat garden ornament.

Another vignette from the garden

And another

And another

Astilboides tabularis? in a pot

The black and white garden was tucked away in a shady spot and so restful after all that sun and flaming orange

Imagine having this view of the garden from your kitchen

I could have spent all day here, I would eagerly have traded time in any of the other gardens we visited during the Fling for more time here. There was so much to see, and so many things I didn't capture with my camera. I suppose I should have started at the beginning of the Fling and covered every garden in detail from the first day to the last. But this garden was one of the last, on the last day, and I loved it and wanted to share it.

So here it is.


  1. All the gardens look wonderful and I can see why you
    especially like this one. After seeing all the wonderful found items and creative use of them in gardens I am heading to Habitat and junktique stores today! gail

  2. Gorgeous! It has all the elements I love in a garden too. I haven't seen any other gardens from the tour but I can see why this would be your favorite. Everything looks so well done yet casually put together at the same time even though we gardeners know something like this needs talent and planning.

    I enjoyed seeing your photos and look forward to the rest of the gardens.

  3. Nice write-up Alison! And I think your photos are wonderful! This garden was hard to was one of my favorites, too. It was just the right mix of order and chaos and had loads of interesting (and thriving!) plant material, which, I realized on this tour, matters most of all to me. Enjoyed reading your take on this one.

  4. I liked the front and the side garden but I wasn't so keen on the back garden. I'm not sure why maybe it was too English looking and I was looking for something else, maybe it was the colour of the Cannas. But the side area was full of so much inspiration I spent ages there

  5. I think Daricia summed up well why I liked this garden so much "just the right mix of order and chaos"...and the plants! Always the plants...

  6. I also loved this garden! The Astilboides tabularis is actually Begonia 'Lotusland.' (I asked.) Where did you find the description of the garden?

    1. Peter, thanks for correcting the ID. There were so many wonderful Begonias throughout this garden. The description came from the Garden Bloggers Fling blog post, which you can find here:

  7. The variety in this garden is amazing! It looks like you could explore this garden for hours and not see everything.

  8. I can see why you singled out this garden as your favourite amongst all the other beautiful gardens fling attendees visited...

  9. I loved the formal structure and the wild, hot colors in this garden. It was also one of my faves.

  10. I was so excited to show Norm that raccoon-grate...he looked at me like I'd grown a third eye ;-)

  11. This was my favorite as well, so much to see here !

  12. Holy cow! I think my favorite was the succulents on the staircase and the garden gate. Thanks for the tour. It was a beautiful place.

  13. It's so hard to choose, but I think I agree with you - the Nichols garden was my favorite. The sitting nook, the water feature along the side - but also the sunny back garden with the roses and the evergreen arbors ...

  14. The side pond gardens were my favorite here, so much whimsy mixed with the cooling sound of water. Would love to grow some of the plants, too, but am afraid our Texas Death Star would blast them to smithereens.

  15. There really was a lot in this garden at every turn. Color everywhere too. I was glad to have stayed to see it.

  16. I can see why you loved this one...I loved the use of the succulents and those

  17. Wow, that is an incredible garden and very nice pictures! love it!

  18. So glad you posted on this garden, which I missed. Looks like a plant lover's dream garden. All the gardens were a challenge to capture in photos -- you've done a wonderful job. Thank you!

  19. This certainly was a full garden, something for everyone. I am not sure that I have a favorite, though this one was certainly wonderful. I enjoy reading what others saw in each of the gardens. It is almost like seeing a different garden.

  20. You got great photos. It was a challenge with the light being either harsh or barely there, and people everywhere, and the heat...

    My favorite garden, too!

  21. I love your stroll through this amazing garden! Yes, very heavenly. I'm sorry I had to miss this one.

  22. I'm speechless while looking at your pictures. I can't imagine how I'd feel if I walked through there. I really like the water features. The ponds remind me of an oasis. And I think that water column was quite unique. Thanks for sharing! -Bridgette @ Good Earth Outdoor


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