Harmony in the Garden Blog

Texture reigns supreme in the Testa-Vought garden

Welcome to Andrea Testa-Vought’s garden, a textural paradise designed by the amazing Bernard Trainor.

As you’ll see, this garden is truly a feast for the eyes.  But more importantly, it’s also a lesson in the subtle but powerful effects texture can have in the garden.

I first visited this garden in December, on what was one of the coldest days of the year.  After experiencing a week of unrelenting, below-freezing temperatures, I thought Andrea’s garden might look a little worse for wear.  But as you can see from this photo, that wasn’t the case at all.

While I appreciate the brilliant orange globes of the persimmons, I couldn’t help but fixate on the textural power of this view.  The tawny puffs of smoke clinging to the cotinus tree, the crunchy sound of the gravel underfoot, the rosemary’s fine and fragrant needles – and most of all –  the pot.


I love the textural impact made by the subtle combination of this perfectly placed container, the Mexican weeping bamboo (otatea aztecorum) and the nubbly, crunchy gravel. Simple but powerful.

Below is a different view taken in the early days of March, only this time the pot is snuggled next to the oversized, felty foliage of a towering Velvet Groundsel (roldana petasites) with its massive clusters of star-like yellow flowers.  This is a plant that has moved to the top of my ‘must-find-now‘ list!


Continuing through the garden you’ll pass through a seductive Mexican weeping bamboo tunnel that’s just begging you to fondle its wispy foliage.

Temperatures in the twenties didn’t seem to phase this delicate looking bamboo one bit, thanks to the protection offered by the larger trees overhead…

…like this towering Weeping Acacia (a. cognata) with foliage as wispy and delicate as the nearby weeping bamboo.

Normally I’m not a fan of acacia trees with their shallow roots and the seemingly endless mess of flowers and seed-pods, but this one stole my heart. I love the way it dances with the gentlest of breezes, its pendulous branches softly swaying, heavy with soft yellow puffball-flowers.

The shaggy, peeling bark of the Strawberry tree (arbutus ‘Marina’) is equally as impressive as its dangling clusters of pearl-like flowers.

Even the newly emerging figs add a textural component to her garden, with lime green balls topping each bumpy, nubby branch.

A refreshing swimming pool replaces what would otherwise be an ordinary lawn and is surrounded by a mix of drought-tolerant California natives, Mediterranean plants, grasses and succulents.

There’s nothing quite like succulents to provide as much texture and form as you could possibly want in a garden.

One of my favorites is the blooming aloe marlothii, with its candles of orange shooting skyward.  Just look at the texture provided by both the foliage and flowers.  More texture provided by the dried seed heads of the Cape Rush (chondropetalum tectorum).  When I visited the garden back in December, the seed heads looked just as stunning as they do in March, proving the long-lasting effects texture can have in the garden.

One of the most textural leaves of all comes from the Knifeleaf Acacia (a. cultriformis).  Growing to a mid-sized 15’x15′ this is more of a shrub than a tree, and is a guaranteed conversation piece in the garden.  The brush-like flowers of the towering Grevillea ‘Red Hook’ combined with its spiky looking foliage are a dynamic duo.

Towards the other end of her garden is this lovely bocce ball court, long cherished by her children and now by the young neighborhood kids who like to visit.

The open zig-zag pattern of the steel beams not only declares this a separate room in the garden, but keeps the space light and airy feeling.

Bordering both sides of the bocce court are generous beds filled with more textural delights.  All sturdy enough to withstand a poorly aimed bocce ball.

Look closely and you’ll see the banana-shaped blooms of the Octopus Agave (agave vilmoriana) just beginning to make their appearance.  Firm and tightly packed yet feathery at the tip, they’ll soon be the stars of this garden.  Even though they signal the plant’s ultimate demise, they certainly know how to end this show with a bang!

Other sources of texture in the garden come from the frothy, acid-yellow blooms of the Gopher Spurge (euphorbia rigid), the rusty tones of the jade’s spent flowers, the sunburned octopus-like aloe cameronii and the bursting firework display of the aloe and dasylirion.

euphorbia rigidajade plantEven her courtyard table is a lesson in texture with its smooth steel top, its sleek cement base, its warm wooden benches and crunchy gravel underfoot.

If you’d like to read a personal account of this garden, here’s an article in Pacific Horticulture written by Andrea herself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual garden tour.  And even though most of these plants want a warm climate I hope it has inspired you to seek out other, less common sources of texture that would work in your own garden.  

In fact, I’d love to what your favorite textural treasures are – please share with us!


Oh, and as a side note I wanted to remind everyone that next week is the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show and with brand new owners and a brand new format, it should prove to be better than ever!

sfgsI’ll be giving a presentation on Savvy Side Yard Solutions on opening day (Wed. 3/19 at 2:45) where I’ll closely examine 5 successful side yards and what makes each one of them so inspiring.  (hint:  if you’d like to see more of Andrea’s garden, I’ll even be including a few from her skinny side yard).

What makes this year better than ever?  Well, besides the fact that for the first time ever they’re opening up the pre-show party to the public (a fantastic way to get a sneak peak of the gardens without all the crowds!!), they’re also offering several in-depth workshops from top experts like Saxon Holt, Dave Perry and Nan Sterman.  Hope to see some of you there!

Enjoyed this article?  Please share it with others: 

Please leave a comment below


  • Thanks again for Harmony and Gossip. I am sitting in Truckee watching it snow buckets but I am ordering the scented blue clematis for sure. I learn something new from you every time.

    • What a sweet thing to say, Dot! I’ve been thinking of you and wondering if you’ve spent much time in Tahoe this year. I heard it’s snowing loads up there today – hope you don’t get snowed in (though that might be a little fun – especially in such a dry year!) Have a good weekend

  • During the Garden Bloggers Fling last summer, I saw this garden on what was surely the hottest day of the year, rather than the coldest, and it looked just as stunning then. Well, maybe fewer flowers, but still, it was incredible. I love your pictures, reminding me of my visit. Sadly, temps in the 20s here in Austin this winter have decimated my own Mexican weeping bamboo. It’s a tall bundle of brown stems now. I’m hoping against hope it’ll come back once the heat returns and one day look as good as the one pictured here.

    • I think you’re right about it being the hottest day of the year, Pam, because I remember you all coming to my garden from hers and everyone looked thoroughly wiped out! The fact that her garden looks pretty much the same in the winter as it did on that day is a testament to the toughness of the plants, isn’t it? I never thought about that! I’m so sorry your weeping bamboo took such a beating. Fingers crossed it recovers.

    • Thanks Candy – ou’d love this garden, Candy, and her beautiful use of succulents with other low water plants.

  • What an incredible garden! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos. I have a grevillea in a pot and have been debating where to put it and now I know where!

    Happy gardening!

    • They both certainly are, Brent! Hmmm…is that fabulous container of hers from Eye of the Day?

  • Wonderful writing and photos, Rebecca! I’m looking forward to seeing Andrea’s garden next week when I’m in the area. See you at the show, too!

    • Thank you, Debra – can’t wait for you to see Andrea’s garden. You will looooove it! And those gorgeous agave v. will be blooming just in time for you, too, as if they knew you were coming!

  • BRAVO Rebecca! Though I’m not sure that Sheila really liked this piece AT ALL. 🙂 Well done my friend, if I get down there on a photo safari I may try to get you to take me to this one if possible.

    • Yeah, Christina, it sounded like Sheila was definitely on the fence with this one. Let me know when you’re down this way – Andrea is the most lovely woman and would be happy to give you a tour of her paradise.

  • Oh Rebecca… you sure know how to draw me into the world you are photographing, Andrea’s garden is simply magnificent. The first shot will keep my design juices going for weeks, it is a textural dreamland. I’m not familiar with the Mexican weeping bamboo and I know I can’t grow it in Denver, but I am in serious WANT mode. And that pot… it’s shape, size, color and location is sheer perfection. (Want #2.)
    Moving along. You know I would be in heaven if I could have aloes outside long enough to bloom. They must be pretty boring to anyone able to allow them to mature outside, but certainly not to me. Then there are the zig-zag beams which are just plain brilliant. Finally… Want #3. The steel table with the cement base and wooden benches is design perfection. I need to win the lottery.

    • Sheila – you make me laugh. But I definitely understand your ‘wants’. It’s a little hard to wander through this magnificent garden and not want to move right in! If you win the lottery I’ll take you there and you can make her a deal she can’t refuse! 😉


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to my blog

Popular Categories

Favorite Garden Books

Favorite Sources for Plants, Bulbs, & Seeds

Helpful Garden Sites