A COUNTRY GARDEN FOR A WILLIS POLK CLASSIC IN ATHERTON

Willis Polk, the famed turn-of-the-century architect of Filoli and many other important bay area buildings, designed this historic building. Built in 1906 for the McCormick family of steamship fame, it once sat gloriously on an 18-acre site. By the time the current owners purchased the property, there was just one acre remaining. The original carriage entrance had become a tennis court, the rear of the house had become the guest entry, and though the side terrace was meant to take the place of the entry, guests often missed it. Our clients asked us to help clarify access to the house, reconfigure the brick pool and entertainment terrace, and most challenging, give life and meaning to the old deserted tennis court, which languished in disrepair at the far end of the entry hall. Everything that could be saved from the old garden was recycled into the new. Our clients went searching for brick to match what existed on site, and stacked and hauled it to the site themselves. We re-used lamps from the garden to call out the enlarged brick entry walk, and eliminated distracting plantings along the walkway.

Overgrown shrubs and small maples from the long shrub borders were lifted and replanted. Guests now find the intended entry easily, and once in the long entry hall, they can see through the new leaded glass door to the French limestone fountain centered in what was once the tennis court. Outside this door lays the clients' dream.... a formal kitchen garden, with fruit trees, herbs and berries. The white arbors tie the garden into the house architecture, and connect the formal gardens to the raised vegetable beds and harvest tables in front of the old utility shed. Decked out with a new facade, the old structure now houses a garden office/potting shed at one end, and a chicken coop on the other. Just beyond the newly whitewashed brick planters is the rear of the house, where the reconfigured brick terraces surround the existing swimming pool. As this garden ages, it will be impossible to tell the old from the new, and the whole will be a seamless evocation of that timeless quality, today in such short supply, known as graciousness.

Landscape design: Chris Jacobson
Landscape architecture: Beverly Sarjeant
Landscape installation: Chip Krug of Turner Fine Gardens