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Old-World Garden in California

A European-Inspired garden near San Jose seems to be plucked from history. 

Written by Rebecca Christian
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  • John Granen

    How do you make the grounds surrounding a new home radiate old-world charm and hospitality? For Linda and Howard Graham of Monte Soreno, California, the answer lay in knowing exactly what they wanted—a garden that would reflect their Scottish heritage, their love of European gardens (they even grow wine grapes on another property), and their gift for entertaining, which often involves hosting charity fund-raisers. Oh, and having a place to store Howard’s collection of exotic cars wouldn’t hurt either. To accomplish all that, they recruited Monterey landscape architect Richard Wilson and his son, Patrick, along with San Francisco Bay-area interior designer Linda Floyd and Los Gatos architect Gary Kohlsaat.

    First came the English- and French-influenced home in stone with half-timbers, rafter tails with shapes and cutouts, and a statement-making entryway with a carved stone surround. Then the garden design emerged along with the architectural plans. For example, the European reclaimed stone from the home’s interior was taken to the outside terrace to provide flow, make the terrace look more expansive, and support the garden-to-be. “We had huge files of photos, magazine tearsheets, and memories of beautiful European gardens we had seen on our travels,” Linda Graham says. “We particularly loved the Cotswolds cottages and the look of Tudor homes.”

    (Note the thatched roof on the garage, built to house a collection of exotic cars.)

    Photography: John Granen
    Produced by Heather Lobdell

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    These showy roses are Rosa 'A Shropshire Lad'. Highlights of the garden include a mainly pink-and-blue plant palette, antique statuary, curving stone paths, old wooden wine barrels, and a quartet of antique French iron lampposts that were originally installed on the streets of Nice. The two Lindas—homeowner Graham and designer Floyd—sleuthed for antiques for the home and architectural pieces for the garden at the same time, creating a resonance between indoors and out. Floyd notes that the team worked to make the property look as if it had been added onto over time, with the conservatory meant to suggest it was built after the original Tudor home and the garage hinting that it was converted from stables. 

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    Today, colorful and inviting landscaping enfolds the house on all sides, with entertaining areas that include a 19th-century French iron gazebo draped in roses, a back terrace and patio for large parties, a picturesque fireplace pavilion for intimate gatherings, and a pond in a sunken garden with stone walls on each side.

    In the pond garden, the statue of a hunter with hounds rises from a pool afloat with water lilies and surrounded by tall, reedlike yellow iris.“We were fortunate to find some lovely pieces here in California,” Linda Graham says of the works of art. “The hunter-and-hounds statue started the theme. It’s a lovely piece from France but ‘speaks English.’ ”  Better yet, the bronze statue—an important piece titled Valet de Chiens by 19th-century sculptor Henri Alfred Marie Jacquemart and rendered at Val d’Osne, the renowned French foundry—had a large “G” on the side of the hounds. The coincidence of the piece, seemingly monogrammed for the Grahams, helped designer Floyd persuade an initially reluctant collector to part with it.

     

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    By sinking the pond garden and planting in layers to the property line, “We gave proper scale to the fireplace pavilion,” Wilson says. “It makes the pavilion seem much farther away, which allows the pond and statue to command their own area.”

    The Grahams use the entire lawn, front and back, for entertaining, sometimes with cocktail tables around the pond for conviviality but near enough to the fireplace pavilion for quiet conversation. With its climbing roses, the fireplace pavilion is Linda’s favorite spot—gorgeous any time of the day or year.

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    Purple clematis softens the gate leading to the patio. 

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    The barrels allude to the homeowners' hobby of growing wine grapes. 

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    One of four on the property, this lamppost is made of iron and was originally a streetlight in Nice, France.

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    A charming shady path leads to the gazebo. Landscape architect Wilson describes the garden as a series of outdoor rooms linked by a maze of narrow pathways and vistas. He explains, “The neighborhood is full of beautiful, mature trees, and I wanted to continue that feeling of seclusion.” Wilson’s favorite English garden is the famed one at Hidcote Manor, with its linked “rooms” defined by lovely plantings, a look echoed in the Graham garden. “One of the things I enjoy most about gardens in England,” he says, “is the use of local stone on houses, garden walls, and paths laid by local artisans. One of the skilled masons working with me on the Grahams’ garden jokingly said the walls looked like they had been made by a drunken farmer. That’s the look I wanted to accomplish—meandering, and with a rough texture. How these rustic walls were laid out and built was very important to the garden’s authenticity.”

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    The stone guest house beckons visitors to step back in time. See details on the next slide. 

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    Symbols along the roofline are Celtic, representing family and hospitality. 

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    The entry gate, giving a glimpse of the half-timbers on the Tudor-style home, gives visitors a sense of arrival. 

  • Andrew Drake

    Brilliant deep pink blooms of old-fashioned foxgloves help satisfy the homeowners' desire for a mostly pink-and-blue palette. 

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    Details, details—all of them adding to the Old-World look.

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    Fragrant thyme is planted between the stones where the goat-girl statue is set. 

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    Homeowners Linda and Howard Graham. Linda credits the garden’s beauty to a group effort and to constant walking of the grounds during the planning stages to make sure doors gave views of the garden and the garden gave back color and serenity. “It’s in constant bloom from spring through fall,” she says, “with surprises every day.”

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