Using plants for dramatic contrasts
One of the design strategies I enjoy using in San Francisco Bay Area gardens, just because we can with our climate, is illustrated by this photo. As we have a climate that is both Mediterranean, yet influenced by a cold ocean current that gives us cooling summer fogs and higher humidity, we can really mix up plantings to represent a range of climatic preferences. When I first started redesigning this garden full of some very mature accent plants, the tone had already been set by the previous plant choices, and I decided to play it up even further.
The entry off the street is classic Mediterranean with lots of bold succulents; Agave americana, Yuccas, and Strelitzia reginae. Colorful green flowering Crotalaria capensis, the Canary Bird flower frames this shot as well. Looking down upon the entry from the street, it reverts to lush shaded plantings of mature Cyathea cooperi, Cordyline australis, smaller tree ferns added as understory using Blechnum gibbum and Dicksonia squarrosa, and lots of colorful Neoregelia hybrid bromeliads and Impatiens for the near perpetual shade.
I love the contrast between the hot and dry at the street and the lush and tropical looking at the house below, and think that both suit the architecture of the house, making it look like a Hollywood stage set. Probably not a look that appeals to everyone, but on all the various garden tours I've lead for this garden, it is hard to get people to actually leave. The best complement comes from the owners, who say living here in like being on vacation year round...
Here's a link to the photo, plenty more in this same set: