Sebastopol yard becomes both beautiful and practical

A large ball-shaped sculpture is the focal point of a garden designed by landscape architect Kate Anchordoguy in Sebastopol, on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)


Award-winning landscape designer Kate Anchordoguy approaches every project by looking for both the challenges and opportunities that come with the territory.

When she was hired to transform a large rectangular field into a beautiful and utilitarian yard for a professional couple from San Francisco, Anchordoguy, 58, immediately recognized that their weekend home was an ideal project.

There was a large space, an ample budget and “delightful” homeowners with clear ideas but a willingness to rely on the expertise of Anchordoguy, owner of Sebastopol-based Anchordoguy Landscaping Inc.

“It’s very rare that I have this much surface area,” she said. “The yard doesn’t have really great views, so the garden had to shine.”

There were definite challenges at the 1¼-acre site in the Sebastopol countryside. The property, sloping in two directions, had to become wheelchair accessible for one of the homeowners, a registered nurse who hoped to grow fruit, herbs and vegetables alongside her wife, a high-tech consultant with a green thumb and a vast knowledge of gardening.

The L-shaped, 1950 California ranch house they purchased in 2003 sits at the top of the property, with an expansive wooden deck and grand stairs leading down to the yard.

When Anchordoguy landed the job, the area “was a blank slate,” she said. “There was absolutely nothing here, just a pasture. It was just dirt and grass.”

The property had countless possibilities, but the homeowners didn’t want anything showy.

“Their house is very modern with clean lines, and that’s what they wanted,” Anchordoguy said. “They knew they didn’t want the grand Wine Country estate look.”

Their intent was a naturalistic space where they could grow food, entertain guests and simply enjoy the tranquility of being outdoors. Wheelchair accessibility was foremost.

The landscape features nearly 1,000 plants, including large evergreen shrubs, succulents and countless flowering plants like the cannas that provide a splash of deep orange drama in the summertime garden. In spring, a softer color scheme emerges.

“I love using colored foliage,” Anchordoguy said. “The yard has to stand up in the winter, too.”

Even bark color was a consideration, with red-stemmed dogwood offering rich wintertime hues.

Anchordoguy’s landscaping plan enhanced the “really strong bones” already on site. Mature trees dot the land, including several cedars lining the property and a valley oak with a broad canopy that was an ideal spot for a fire pit.

Anchordoguy suggested adding some kind of art for a focal point. After much consideration, the couple found a gigantic ball made of Balinese teak scraps that stands taller than a kindergartner. Placed on their lawn toward the end of the garden, it’s organic enough to fit in with their naturalistic landscape yet serves as a whimsical conversation piece.

When Anchordoguy started the project five years ago — a month to design and two months for a crew of three to install — the priority was adding gently sloping ramping for accessibility.

“She had never been able to go on her own property and explore on her own,” Anchordoguy said of her client.

The designer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from UC Berkeley, created a plan with zigzag paths of budget-friendly crushed brown path rock. The diagonal paths traverse a gentle downslope, the rectangular lawn extending from the staircase down through the center of the yard.

“The angled paths come and go straight across the yard,” Anchordoguy said. The series of switchbacks leads to various points of interest, from sitting areas to landscaping that changes with the seasons.

“Every part has a different feel,” she said.

Toward the back of the property, lined with an existing screen of eucalyptus, Anchordoguy created a sunken, 1,200-square-foot amphitheater partially encircled by field stones. It appears as a natural part of the landscape, hidden from the residence.

Today the property is rich with color and texture, points of interest at every turn. One seating area looks out to a neighbor’s open meadow, mountain views in the distance.

Another leads to two higher-than-average raised beds specially constructed for accessibility and ease of gardening. The long beds are lush with a bounty of tomatoes, Swiss chard, strawberries, leeks and other summertime produce, including requisite zucchinis.

Nearby are rows of table grapes, raspberries and kiwis climbing up trellises of welded wire hog panels, an inexpensive option for vines. The food area of the garden also features a walnut tree and fruit trees bearing apples, figs, peaches, plums, cherries and persimmons, 23 total.

To assure a landscape that would mature successfully, Anchordoguy wrapped the root ball of every plant in aviary wire for protection from the gophers that plague West County gardens.

“Every single plant is planted in gopher wire or there would be no plants here,” said Anchordoguy, who once had a client in Graton lose 600 4-inch plants within six months to hungry gophers. “It’s the No. 1 challenge here in the West County.”

The ultimate challenge was recognizing the project’s completion.

“With these country properties,” the designer said, “sometimes it’s knowing where to stop.”

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