Located in the Pacific Heights district of San Francisco is a residential garden that was conceived as outdoor architecture for everyday living. The intimate urban garden surrounds a single family home and is tucked in between a series of historic and modern homes, garden courtyards and a sunken carriage house. The home was designed in 1990 by the noted Bay Area architectural firm EHDD under the tutelage of the late Joe Esherick. Both the residence and the garden enjoy views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz.
San Francisco-based Lutsko Associates designed the landscape, and the two-year project was completed in 2011. Ron Lutsko Jr. says the client was looking for “modern, artistic and a good view from the upper levels of house.” He continues, “Given its small scale, the garden was envisioned as architecture without roofs; a space to both appreciate from the upper levels of the house, as well as an intimate set of restful courtyards to be enjoyed from within. The design pays careful attention to the sensory experience of materials and planting, which contribute to the richness and beauty of the garden.”
Divided into a series of three enclosed garden rooms, each has a variety of structure or edge treatments—translucent glass, hand-troweled plaster, a curved bronze wall and plantings. The walls between rooms are composed of clipped Carolina cherry (Prunus caroliniana) hedges planted within steel frames. The need to explore is evoked as the rooms’ entryways feel more like thresholds into a mysterious journey with spaces being defined by gates, walls, arbors and plantings.
Each room is unique. The first room is defined by translucent glass revealing elusive forms from the surrounding environment. Peppermint geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) and ivy leaf sage (Salvia cacaliifolia) bring subtle fragrance and reinforce the edge. A multi-branched Osmanthus fragrans grows by a clean plaster wall punctuating the perimeter of the space.
A dramatic large curving wall made of bronze dominates the second room. Lutsko states, “We needed privacy on the back edge and wanted water and sculpture; we combined all three goals into one piece. We conceived of the wall piece and partnered with Berkeley-based artist Eric Powell.” Powell is most well-known for his large works of art that relate strongly to site and architecture. “He’s a great guy with fine-tuned construction methodology and finishes,” says Lutsko. The wall with a cascading-water slot invites introspection as it flows into a basin cut into the paving below and minimizes distractions. The wall was manually carried and placed.
The third room has a translucent wall and open-window panel giving views of the city and Bay, including the Transamerica Building. A lemon tree is espaliered against the plaster wall.
The magic is in the transitions; it’s a constantly unfolding spatial exploration. The consistent palette of limestone (that glows in the San Francisco fog), metal, and translucent and reeded glass is thoughtfully layered and composed to define the experience and elicit a response.
Lutsko notes, “The planting palette is restrained; shades of green and grey with white flowers give precedence to form over color. Bold textured foliage contrasts dramatically with the materiality of the space.”
The garden is a literal extension of the house for everyday living. The combination of material selection and structural composition respond to the simple, distilled forms of the house.
When viewed from the home’s two balconies, the garden’s graphic composition of space, materials and planting carries the sense of the city’s urban fabric into the site. The intimacy and restfulness of each room is also obvious from this vantage point.
Lutsko concludes with three words to describe the project: “Simple, subtle, gratifying.”
ABOUT THE DESIGNERS
At Lutsko Associates we are dedicated to high quality, forward thinking landscape design. Our work explores and expresses relationships between people and the environment. We employ a rigorous design process to create thoughtful and meaningful landscapes with a sound theoretical base.
Headed by Ron Lutsko, Jr., principal and founder, the firm consists of 10 associates, each bringing a unique background to our projects. Since the founding of the firm in San Francisco in 1981, Lutsko Associates now works on projects throughout the world.
Citrus ‘Meyer Lemon’, Meyer Lemon
Davidia involucrate, Dove Tree
Luma apiculate, Chilean Myrtle
Pyrus calleryana, ‘Autumn Blaze’ Pear Tree
Abutilon ‘White’, Flowering Maple
Daphne odora, ‘Alba’ Winter Daphne
Gunnera chilensis, Chilean Gunnera
Prunus caroliniana, Carolina Cherry
Rosmarinus officinalis, ‘Tuscan Blue’ Rosemary
Adiantum hispidulum, Rosy Maidenhair Fern
Agave attenuate, ‘Nova’ Agave
Agave vilmoriniana, Octopus Agave
Asarum caudatum, Wild Ginger
Beschorneria yuccoides, Beschorneria
Epimedium pinnatum ssp. Colchicum, Epimedium
Helleborus argutifolius, Corsican Hellebore
Heuchera ‘Opal’, Heuchera
Iris confuses, Iris
Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Arabicus’, Black Mondo Grass
Pelargonium tomentosum, Peppermint
Salvia cacaliifolia, Ivy Leaf Sage
Sollya heterophylla, Bluebell Creeper
Stachys byzantine, ‘Silver Carpet’ Lamb’s Ears
Thymus serpyllum, Creeping Thyme
Vitis californica, ‘Roger’s Red’ California Wild Grape
Woodwardia fimbriata, Giant Chain Fern