Permutations in Paradise

The one constant in a 2-acre Fallbrook landscape is that it’s never the same

Repeat visitors, like expert members of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America or garden lovers on the Fallbrook Garden Club tour, know they will discover intriguing new additions to Wanda Mallen and Gary Vincent’s 2-acre plant paradise.

“Gardens are about change,” Wanda says. “I call them a dynamic art form.” Since 1999, when they moved to Fallbrook from Orange County with a truckload of succulents and bromeliads in tow, Wanda and Gary have created a landscape dedicated to their evolving plant passions.  

“When you start out, everything is new,” Wanda says of early plantings the couple now considers “nice but ordinary.” “Now our quest is for the unusual, the rare.”

Plants that charm them, like the soaring evergreens in the quarter-acre conifer “forest,” have been joined by new fascinations, like quirky gasterias with fleshy leaves shaped like tongue depressors.  

“I really can’t explain why I like what I like,” Wanda says of collections that range from tropicals to tillandsias. “I just know that when something makes me go ‘wow,’ I respond.”

Fellow horticulturalists ooh and ahh over hundreds of rarities — a tropical succulent from the Caribbean, a variegated octopus agave and a pair of stiff-leaved ponytail palms (Beaucarnea stricta). But garden novices, too, often stop in their tracks, delighted by the garden’s many artful vignettes ablaze with bold color and novel accents, including stately Buddhas, Talavera geckos and birdhouses, benches and a tree house gazebo that Gary crafted.

Two of the garden’s newest displays line the long, winding driveway, just inside a custom gate forged by Lakeside artist Carl Glowienke to feature some of Wanda’s favorite plants. One is a broad, mixed-succulent border shaped by Escondido designer Peter Walkowiak into sinuous gullies, topped with gravel and studded with boulders. The other is a slender bed showcasing spiny cacti, a new passion.

“People may tell you they all look the same, but they are so different,” Wanda says.

Farther along, glimpsed between the frosty fronds of a Mexican blue palm, is a dragon that Wanda calls “the garden’s greeter.” Similar rusted-metal sculptures surprise throughout the garden, including a tall kangaroo peering over foliage in one of several Australia-themed gardens.

“I’m surprised more people don’t grow plants from Down Under. They’re perfect for our climate,” Wanda says.

The property’s largest succulent garden fills a gently stepped slope with mature plants unified like much of the garden with permeable gravel mulch. A growing collection of aloes skirts its edges along the driveway.

“I like to group plants from the same family to show how different they can be,” Wanda explains. “Plus, they make a greater impact together.”

That same philosophy shapes displays inside the sheltering lath house that Gary constructed. Here, gasterias, euphorbias and sansevierias in handcrafted containers fill shelf after shelf. Bromeliads cling to the gnarled stump of a fallen cedar tree. Staghorn ferns parade across a wall across from a viewing platform.

Wanda credits gardening for bringing out her artistic side and helping to conquer her fear of color. Once beige, their stucco home now glows terra cotta. The front door is royal blue. Exterior walls are a favorite backdrop for bold vignettes, like a grouping of earthy “face” pots, a cluster of Madagascar palms and a trio of trellises painted purple and turquoise.

Besides tending the garden, the couple makes regular visits to nurseries and plant society sales around the county and the West.

“We’re always on the lookout for the next rare thing — something that will surprise and amaze us,” Wanda says. “If I thought for a moment that there wasn’t something new out there, I’d be depressed.”




Categories: Gardening