Thomas J. Story
Awash in fiery golds, cooling blues, and a rainbow of other hues, Mario Trejo's garden is as stimulating as it is serene. Its design is also bold, clean-lined, and geometric, to match the look of his house.
When Trejo, a contractor, designed his Craftsman-meets-Mediterranean-style home in Albany, California, he turned for inspiration to the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán ― whose minimalist style and strong-lined, brightly colored buildings he admires. Venezuelan-born Trejo painted the exterior walls of his house a golden melon hue he calls "mango chutney." Then he chose taupe, dusty purple, and intense red paints as accent colors for fences, trim, and the garage door.Such a house demanded an equally bold landscape. So Trejo turned to landscape designer David Feix to transform a formerly neglected landscape of unkempt trees, overgrown shrubs, and blackberry vines into a vibrant sanctuary.
Feix designed the garden's layout and stucco seat walls, which he painted in the same colors as the exterior of the house. He also selected a tapestry of highly textural, colorful plants to further brighten the front and backyard (where Trejo enjoys spending most of his outdoor time).
Squares and rectangles appear throughout the garden and shape three multilevel backyard patios connected by wide stairs. Square marble tiles pave the top level; a rectangular lawn fills the middle level; and on the bottom level, just left of a rectangular pool and planting bed, four large concrete squares are separated by intersecting bands of inlaid stone.
Angular planting beds flank the backyard patios, and low, blocklike walls serve as artistic elements as well as seating. A rectangular fish pond/water garden that runs across the back fence is a focal point from all three levels. In both the back and front yards, gridlike fences painted bright red provide see-through screening.
To keep the garden looking good year-round, Feix relied on plants whose flowers and foliage harmonize with the paint hues. He chose largely subtropical plants with distinctive forms, textures, and colors ― including Colocasia, Delostoma roseum, Heliconia, and Tibouchina organensis. Big, bold leaves in bronze, blue, and a sea of greens play off finer feathery ones; bursts of blooms in golds, reds, and other colors occur throughout the year. "We've got a lot of things that bloom late in the year," Feix says of plants like Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi', Justicia brandegeeana, and kangaroo paw. "When most other gardens are going into their resting state, this one's just getting started."
With tall fences, a lush water garden, and low walls to sit on, Trejo's backyard feels worlds away from the urban scene beyond the property's boundaries. It's the perfect place to unwind at day's end ― and that's exactly the way he wanted it.
Trejo considers his garden a spiritual place where he can decompress and recharge; he meditates each morning and evening on a seat wall by the pond. "It fills me," he says. "I was looking for peace and harmony, and that's what this is."
Lessons from this garden
Stick to a single color palette for house and garden. Doing so sets a distinct mood, unifies the spaces, and maintains a consistent feel throughout the landscape.
Cluster containers carefully. In Trejo's garden, several prominent container groupings serve as accents. Feix chose pots that combine well for shape, size, or color, and filled them with the same types of plants as in the beds. "The pots look like their own garden area," Feix says. "I see them as a finishing touch."
Plant in groups or drifts. Hundreds of plant varieties fill Trejo's 1,500-square-foot backyard. To keep the design from looking spotty like confetti, Feix massed groups of a particular plant or type of plant in sweeps and drifts to give them a more substantial presence.
Info: David Feix Landscape Design, Berkeley (510/472-2702); Trejo's Design, Albany, CA (510/ 418-0823).