A few weeks ago, I ventured down to the 2013 San Francisco Decorator Showcase. This year’s featured house was an 8,000 square-foot Georgian mansion known as Herbst Manor. Built in 1899 atop a hill in Pacific Heights, this majestic lady challenged West Coast designers to transform its 24 rooms and three exterior areas.
One of the most impressive of these transformations occurred in the courtyard at the hands of garden designer, Davis Dalbok, of San Francisco’s Living Green Design, Inc., and his partner, Brandon Pruett. Stepping into the small space was like being transported into another dimension — an otherworldly, exotic and tropical one at that. In an instant, I had exited the urban world and entered a paradisaical oasis.
The inspiration for Dalbok’s design came from his own original Japanese screen paintings that, in essence, conveyed a mythical habitat of wild birds of prey. To help bring his fantastical concept to life, he enlisted the talents of artist, Jane Richardson Mack, and vertical garden innovator, Chris Bribach, owner of Plants on Walls.
Mack, a diverse Bay Area artist whose clientele include guitar great Carlos Santana, devised a careful plan in using Dalbok’s gallery-quality Japanese paintings. With her specialized skill as a verre eglomise artist, she embedded the images in real silver leaf applied to panels of glass. The technique — pronounced “vehr-ray egg-glow-mee-zay” — is a pre-Roman technique of painting and gilding the backside of glass. She then burnished the silver away to reveal the images within an ethereal and mysterious silvery cloud-like aura.
The panels were next hermetically sealed into bronze powder-coated frames and hung as a focal point on one of the courtyard’s neglected, 12-foot high brick walls.
Dalbok further enhanced the space with painterly strokes of greenery including potted Japanese maple trees, a rare Baobab-type miniature tree, dwarf conifers, grasses, and a cohesive woodland understory — all of which came from his San Francisco Living Green showroom.
Dalbok’s poetic imagination carried over to the adjacent brick wall. Since the courtyard was a challengingly small 400 square feet, he employed a tradition used by the French in their own small gardens. Espallier is a technique that trains plants to vertically grow on walls. To actualize this idea, he turned to the genius behind vertical garden planters and self-watering systems, CEO and founder of Plants on Walls, Chris Bribach.
Bribach converted this bleak, brick eyesore into a lush and mesmerizing showstopper using his 2010 patented creation, Vertical Garden Panel, Florafelt Vertical Garden Planters and Wire Systems, and Recirc self-watering systems.
The hand-made planters are designed to use micro fibers in P.E.T. (polyethylene terephthalate) felt so that all plants are watered equally. The felt is made from non-toxic and durable fibers from recycled plastic bottles. The material has been proven to be so safe, pH-neutral and non-reactive that one can freely plant an organic fruit and vegetable garden. More than 1,500 felt root-wrapped plants were used to fill the planter pockets with species reflecting the habitat of birds of prey — such as an assortment of ferns.
In addition to the brick walls, Dalbok treated the courtyard’s once drab concrete ground. With a multiple-layered application of a reactive stain, the concrete turned into an old Roman stone floor with a mélange of warm sunset hues.
To make the space people-friendly and functional, he added a dining table with an inlaid semi-precious stone mosaic top, iconic Michael Taylor garden chairs, and a Verona marble console table. He then accessorized with potted succulents, a partially hidden and sinister ceramic serpent, and a copper bird of prey from Burma.
This year’s Showcase visitors could not help but be swept away by this beguiling, fairytale design. As I stepped back into reality, I was comforted to know that such magical spaces could be created anywhere. You can enlist the help of Dalbok and Pruett, use your own designer, or take this on as a do-it-yourself project.
Whatever your strategy, start by enjoying Living Green Inc.’s magnificent garden portfolio. And, no matter your theme, inspiration, or garden design goal, incorporating a living wall is easier than you may think. Bribach’s Plants on Walls website has detailed, simple, step-by-step instructions and pictures that say a thousand words.
Patti L Cowger is the Napa-based owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her interior design services, visit her website at PLCinteriordesign.com call (707) 224-5651; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Design appears every other Saturday.