Hillside Retreat


San Rafael | 6,000 sq. Front & Back Gardens

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Garden features:

  • Marin-friendly landscaping.
  • Fire safe landscaping.
  • Wildlife habitat.
  • Drip irrigation.
  • Recycled materials.

This redesign project began with the removal of wooden decks cantilevered over the hillside leading to the front entry. Additionally, the conversion of all fire prone areas to more sustainable Marin-Friendly plantings (USDA Zone 9b) and adding irrigation were implemented. Pink muhly grass, germander, manzanita, cape rush, Japanese maples and arbutus are some of the plants featured in this garden. One particular challenge associated with the garden redesign was posed by the site’s location nestled up against Open Space and within the Wildland-Urban Interface. Plant selections and placements were made with this challenge in mind. All juniper was removed from the front yard and replaced with a mostly native, fire resistant and low-maintenance plant palette. A new inline drip system was installed to improve irrigation efficiency at the site and is covered by a three-inch layer of mulch to help prevent evapotranspiration!

Many of the plants bring numerous species of birds, (including hummingbirds) and bees, to the garden. The front steps and new entry deck were renovated from repurposed materials salvaged from the old deck as well as sustainably harvested hardwoods. Old-growth redwood framing from the old deck was used to construct a wood wall at the side yard, creating an opportunity for accessible utility space. Rainwater leaders (downspouts) were connected into the new drainage system that brings the roof water away from the house. That system disperses into the planting areas behind an existing rock wall to allow that water to be used onsite by the plantings!

As lead designer on this project, the designer’s role was to present the design plan taking into account all needs of the client when it came to coordinating with the fire department as well as key personnel to demo and install parts of the garden. Deck demolition and reconstruction were completed by a local general contractor under the designer’s direction and plans. Demolition and grading were done by the owner’s demo contractor under the designer’s direction along with boulder/rock placement. Drip Irrigation, soil, amendments (compost), planting selection procurement and installation was done by the designer as well. Finally, a three-inch layer of mulch was installed to increase soil moisture. We invite you to enjoy the view, sit back and relax in the garden and enjoy some light snacks, spring time refreshments and a smile!¬†Welcome!!

A printable plant list is available to download for this garden.

Fire Safe Landscaping

A fire-safe landscape uses well maintained fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home. Fire resistant plants are great in California because they are often drought tolerant, too.

Fire safe landscaping tips:

  • Create fire-safe zones with stone walls, patios, decks and paths.
  • Use rock, composted or heavy bark mulch, flower beds, and gardens as ground cover for bare spaces and as effective firebreaks.
  • Fire resistant hedges and screens can¬†“catch” embers before they reach your house if placed in strategic locations.
  • There are no “fire-proof” plants, but some are more fire resistant than others. Select high moisture plants that grow close to the ground and have a low sap or resin content.
  • Choose plant species that resist ignition.
  • Choose broad-leafed hardwood trees that are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers.

To learn more about fire safe landscaping and plants in Sonoma and Marin counties visit: