Ribbons of Delight

Garden Peckham 010

A stellar residence finally meets its landscaping match

THE WATERFRONT RESIDENCE HAS IT ALL: Mid-century Modern design by acclaimed architect Henry Hester, a nearby sandy beach and stunning vistas across San Diego Bay that entertain homeowner Nancy Peckham daily. 

But even with the aid of trailblazing designers over the years, her home’s landscape wasn’t its equal — until now. New and revitalized gardens, created over the past six years by nurseryman and landscape designer-installer Michael Buckner, have captivated everyone from neighbors walking their dogs to 1,200 visitors on last year’s Point Loma Garden Walk.  

“People stop by all the time to tell me how beautiful the garden is,” says Nancy, an energetic philanthropist for Rady Children’s Hospital. She has lived here since the 1950s when she and her late husband, civic leader Peter Peckham, built on land owned by his family since the 1920s.

Most praise is for the striking streetside succulent garden that Michael describes as “Nancy’s gift to the community. Gardens tend
to be private, and this one can be enjoyed by anyone strolling by.” 

Mounded soil and Baja cuesta red boulders contour the ground, creating nooks for sculptural plant vignettes. Succulents, like silvery blue Agave titanota and Agave franzosinii, echo colors of the sea, while others — aloes, crassulas, stonecrops and senecios — reflect the sun’s yellows, golds and reds. “I plant in ribbons and use repetition for unity,” Michael says of the rhythmic design.

Adding depth are tall plants like the spiny Madagascar ocotillo (Alluaudia) that casts sinuous shadows on the fireplace chimney. The chimney’s bricks — as well as the entry gates, mailbox and house numbers — were acid washed to a verdigris hue that contrasts with the home’s gold exterior. “As the sun sets, everything glows like a Maxfield Parrish painting,” Michael says.

‘Donger,’ ‘Dr. Osser’ and other variegated bromeliads (Michael’s favorites) link the succulent garden with entry and courtyard gardens, where the mood turns tropical. Near the front door, pygmy date palms and colorful cordylines sway above striped ‘Pink Nymph’ bromeliads, tall sansevieria blades and clumps of mondo grass. A sea-green boulder and glittery chunks of slag glass “bring the ocean in,” Michael says. In winter, a rock rain chain adds a soft pitter-patter to the mix.

Nancy’s most private garden is a walled courtyard outside the living room. Sheltered from ocean breezes, the patio and lawn are embraced by angled pygmy date, kentia and Mediterranean fan palms (favorites of Peter Peckham). One clump is ringed with pink azaleas planted decades ago by the late legendary designer Sinjin when he worked on the landscape.

Beneath the palms, in boulder-studded beds, Michael added depth and four-season color with ‘Tricolor’ dracaena, ‘Zwartkop’ and ‘Sunburst’ aeoniums; ‘Razzleberri’ loropetalum; and other bold foliage. Birds visit daily, and some stay to nest, says Nancy, who hung a sign, “Quiet — Birds Sleeping” during the Point Loma garden tour.

From the courtyard, glass walls magnify the home’s indoor-outdoor links, capturing views through the house and across a patio and sloping lawn to the sparkling blue bay. After almost 60 years in residence, Nancy is still captivated as she strolls her garden — neatening beds, taking cuttings for friends or watching
a pod of pelicans dive for fish. “It’s just a delight,” she says
with a smile. 

Gardens: By Mary James Photography by Bob Wigand

Categories: Gardening