Backyard Terraces Above the Bay
This Point Loma backyard is always in bloom—and ready for gatherings
When Thanksgiving dawns warm and sunny, Bill Bocken and Paul Adams move their long dining table that seats 20 onto the terrace of their historic Point Loma home to savor fresh breezes along with sparkling vistas across San Diego Bay.
Paul, an accomplished landscape designer and event planner, styles the tabletop decor around gleanings from the bountiful ornamental and edible gardens that hug the tri-level home and cascade to the property’s edge. In his skilled hands, roses, magnolia leaves, Meyer lemons, peppermint geraniums, jewel-toned coleus and more combine to bring scent, color and natural beauty to the festivities.
“Along with candles,” adds Bill, an award-winning architect. “Lots of candles.”
In the mansion’s airy kitchen, homegrown red and green lettuces blend in salads with honey-sweet persimmons harvested from their thriving orchard. Fresh-snipped rosemary, thyme and other herbs flavor traditional favorites served to the couple’s large combined family.
Reminiscent of European estate gardens, this abundant landscape grew out of a multiyear home remodel, Bill and Paul’s 17th shared project over almost four decades. When a surprise offer on their previous residence left only three weeks to move, the couple took another look at a time-worn 1935 Spanish Revival home designed by pioneering San Diego architect Frank Hope Sr. A price reduction put the pedigree view home in reach. “We were in the right place at the right time,” Bill says.
Over the next 30 months, while living on site, Bill opened and updated the dingy interiors while preserving historic details, inside and out. His crisp contemporary design, he says, drew inspiration from the luxe “yachting lifestyle” at the San Diego Yacht Club, resorts and marinas lining the bay below.
In 2017, the makeover earned the life partners their seventh “Home of the Year” honor from this magazine. A City of San Diego historic landmark designation followed, commemorated in a plaque by the front door naming the residence for its first owners, Lawrence Oliver, a Portuguese-born tuna industry magnate, and his wife Mary.
When Bill and Paul moved in, uninspired landscaping on the sloped lot offered little privacy and few modern amenities. “There was lots of artificial grass and a garish Versailles-like fountain very out of place with the house,” Bill recalls. “Off to one side, there was a shallow dog pool. We wanted a people pool.”
Within weeks, fast-growing Indian laurel figs edged front and rear property lines to conceal neighbors’ homes and rooflines. Today, behind these dense green walls, the home seems perched near the water’s edge. “Guests sometimes ask if they can walk to the beach, not realizing there are other streets below us,” Bill says.
With no access for heavy equipment, a partially above-ground rectangular pool was laboriously hand-dug and excess dirt distributed around the backyard. New retaining walls shaped the slope into three levels designed to align with a stunning view corridor stretching from the front door to the glinting bay. Wide stairs link one new red-tiled patio, home to a poured-in-place concrete barbecue island, to the pool patio with its sleek gas fire feature and weathered teak seating.
New planting beds, also created by the construction, today overflow with flowering trees, shrubs, roses and perennials that reflect Paul’s lifetime around gardens, gardeners and colorful blooms. “Every garden grows memories—and holds memories,” he says. “I remember these in my mother’s Oceanside garden,” he continues, pointing to shoulder-high Shasta daisies that dance down a path to Bill’s home office. “And the ‘Julia Child’ and other yellow roses are gifts from family, living remembrances.”
From massed ‘Iceberg’ roses that swirl like seafoam near the driveway to raised beds where flowers cavort among herbs and veggies, the garden’s lush looks echo a signature vignette at Adams Flowers, Paul’s former floral shop housed in a vintage Oceanside Tudor. “In the cooler, with a stained-glass backdrop, I always arranged the cut flowers to resemble an English garden,” he recalls, delighting clients that ranged from the family church to those who held important society fetes and President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
The centerpiece of those displays, a white cherub, now sits in the sunny edibles garden, backed by espaliered figs happily soaking up heat from a retaining wall. Nestled in the branches of a tree nearby, staghorn ferns, moved from residence to residence over the years, relish cooling shade.
Paul’s design acumen also shines in the home’s dramatic container plantings and dried arrangements. In tall charcoal urns flanking the front door, he skirted calamondin (sour orange) trees with red and white peace lilies. On the shaded terrace, potted coleus, fuchsias and maidenhair ferns cluster around olive trees and outdoor lanterns.
Earlier this year, Paul and Bill capped a year of intense garden prep when they welcomed hundreds of visitors on the annual Point Loma Garden Walk. “I stood on the terrace and answered question after question—‘What is that? What is this?’” Paul says. “It was very gratifying.”
One tidbit he shared—his secret for jump-starting stately foxgloves blooming by the driveway: “I got this from Walter Andersen Nursery—a handful of E.B. Stone’s Sure Start in the planting hole and a feeding with E.B. Stones Ultra Bloom a few weeks later. It really works.”
Since their purchase in 2014, Paul and Bill have made history of their own here: settling in for almost five years. Are they craving a new address? “I don’t think so,” Paul says, smiling as sea breezes set the garden in motion on a postcard pretty day. “But if we did, we can always do another project and keep this house as our home.”