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Planting a dry bungalow garden

by Timber Press on June 7, 2018

in Design, Gardening

Home owned by Marcia Coleman and Phil Grinton, garden designed by Michelle Bellefeuille.

This pink storybook bungalow is a study in designing with a careful eye and restrained hand. Nan Sterman walks us through the colorful renovation and garden design of this 1930s-era bungalow in the college area of downtown Santa Rosa, California.

Following an extensive remodel, Marcia Coleman had the house painted a coral pink similar to the original color. For contrast, she chose bright teal and deep cherry red trim and used tone-on-tone to bring out the architectural details.

For the garden, form comes first, so Bellefeuille mounded dirt to sculpt planting mounds on the otherwise flat 1,400-square-foot space. Then, Bellefeuille set out to match her plant palate to the home’s color palette. She chose plants that echo the home’s colors and emphasize California natives, accented with other waterwise Mediterranean-climate plants.

The entry walkway of this colorful and beautiful waterwise garden in Santa Rosa, California, is flanked by flowers, while colorful foliage fills the rest of the beds.

Outside the home’s picture window, Bellefeuille envisioned a large shrub or small tree lacey enough to let light into the room but dense enough for privacy. A tall, upright dwarf olive tree was the perfect option. Its mass offers privacy while its narrow, silvery foliage lets light in and complements the teal trim.

Next to the olive, Bellefeuille planted an arching, vase-shaped Cestrum ‘Newellii’, a shrub whose cherry red flowers match the front door. The pinks and burgundies are repeated in pink-flowering Eriogonum grande var. rubescens (native buckwheat), Epilobium ‘Schieffelin’s Choice’ (California fuchsia), Punica granatum ‘Nana’ (dwarf pomegranate), Muhlenbergia capillaris (pink muhly grass), and red-berried Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon).

Cestrum ‘Newellii’ is one of the few large shrubs in this garden. While the garden’s palette is mostly soft colors, the cestrum blooms a deep cherry red to match the front door.

To compliment the teal trim, Bellefeuille planted blue-flowering rosemary, small mounds of ornamental blue fescue grasses, and several varieties of laucus-leaved manzanita. Bellefeuille knew that a bit of complementary color would brighten the pinks and blues. Stipa gigantea (giant feather grass), with its golden flower heads, and the soft yellow flowers of Eriogonum nudum ‘Ella Nelson’s Yellow’ (naked buckwheat) add just the right touch.

One of the most exquisite pairings in this garden is a beautiful specimen of manzanita, Arctostaphylos ‘Lester Rowntree’, planted against the coral pink walls. The small blue-green leaves are edged in the same coral pink and the tiny springtime flowers are almost a pearl pink color, similar to the billowy flowers of the Sally Holmes rose that clambers over the white picket fence.

Arctostaphylos ‘Lester Rowntree’ is a selection of native manzanita with lovely pink flowers that match the home’s coral pink stucco. New leaves emerge green with red margins, stems, and veins. As they age, leaves turn a glaucus blue similar to the window trim.

“Designs are form driven and function driven first, and then color is the next layer,” says Michelle Bellefeuille. Beyond form and function, this garden is beautiful, colorful, quiet, and demure.

Arctostaphylos densifl ora ‘Sentinel’
Arctostaphylos ‘John Dourley’
Arctostaphylos ‘Lester Rowntree’
Epilobium ‘Schieff elin’s Choice’
Eriogonum grande var. rubescens
Eriogonum nudum ‘Ella Nelson’s Yellow’
Muhlenbergia capillaris
Rosmarinus offi cinalis


With degrees in botany, biology, and education, Nan Sterman channeled her passion into a career as an award-winning journalist. Her work has appeared in major gardening publications on the regional, national, and international levels. Sterman spends much of her time working on her Emmy award–winning TV show, A Growing Passion, which airs on public television in San Diego and is posted online at AGrowingPassion.com. She speaks, teaches, and writes about low-water, sustainable, and edible gardening, and designs landscapes for private homes and public spaces.

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