LOCAL GARDEN DESIGN FIRM CREATES URBAN RETREAT
There is a new garden in North Berkeley its residents have lovingly named their “sanctuary garden.”
Despite being adjacent to a fairly trafficked street, Justine Ganzenmuller and Christian Humann can step outside their home and – thanks to many layers of tall, softly swaying foliage and the gentle babble of a lotus-filled fountain and pond – feel like they’ve escaped the stresses of daily life.
“We forget all about what’s happening [in the news] when we are out in the garden,” says Ganzenmuller as we sit in their sunny, lush garden. “It’s like an urban retreat. It’s just what we were hoping to achieve.”
Creating an oasis in an urban environment is what landscape designer Bernardo Lopez of Bernardo Lopez Garden Design, does best.
“I like people to feel that when they’re in their garden– they’re in their own getaway,” says Lopez. His enthusiasm for all things green stems from fond memories of his native homeland, growing up with a father who managed coffee farms.
For more than 15 years Lopez’s design-build firm has married architecture and agriculture to create outdoor spaces that are not only sustainable and beautiful but also enrich the experience of its residents. His firm designs gardens that are inviting, colorful, and require minimal resources. Renowned author, UC Berkeley professor and food activist Michael Pollan and artist Judith Belzer are just some of the many whom have turned to Lopez for help in creating their garden.
When Ganzenmuller and Humann first approached Lopez, their initial request was to create an outdoor living space with some area for growing food. But the project turned out to be a bit more complex. Not only did street noise have to be addressed, but also their property had a steep incline, that created an odd aesthetic challenge and more susceptibility to water runoff. Humann, who is an architect, collaborated with Lopez, to create their ideal vision. Lopez enjoyed collaborating with Humann, and says through working together on the garden the pair became friends.
Now that the garden is complete, maintenance is relatively easy –and the weekly upkeep consists mainly of pruning back overly zealous plants.
Sustainability is key
Sustainability is at the core of Lopez’s work. The firm frequently uses drought-friendly plants, which are often natives of South Africa and Australia, countries with similar latitudes as California. The North Berkeley sanctuary garden is one of many where he’s installed a highly efficient irrigation system, permeable materials and techniques to allow the excess water to percolate back into the root systems instead of washing downhill.
He repurposed existing stone from a fallen retaining wall, creating a modest, rustic planter with pillars to frame the entrance. This classic look, juxtaposed with a contemporary fence and gate honors the past and creates contrasts between old and new.
These considerations for the previous life of the land and the surrounding landscapes make the gardens feel natural and calming while also dynamic. They don’t feel overly strategic (even though they’re meticulously planned), but rather almost effortless. The plants entangle with each other, crawling out onto the pathway and along the fences. Flower blossoms are plentiful for the neighborhood hummingbirds, dragonflies and honeybees.
Lopez emphasizes outdoor living by making space for, say, a hammock, a game of horseshoes, or a barbecue and feasting area. Fruit trees, vegetables, and cooking herbs make frequent appearances.
“I want my gardens to be not only sustainable in terms of water consumption and beautiful in terms of the architecture of the garden, but I also want them to be productive and enjoyable to be in,” says Lopez. “
Ganzenmuller and Humann’s sanctuary garden is home to a robust Meyer lemon tree as well as plum, grapefruit and apple trees. Fresh herbs can be found interspersed throughout the garden, and at the back two big planters are taken up with seven-foot tomato plants. The homeowners are probably most proud of their young plum tree, however, planted in a sunny patch along the walkway.
“The tree produced 130 plums this year!” Ganzenmuller says proudly. Yet the tree was bare, as each one had already been happily consumed.