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L a n d pr i n t s The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor By Susan Heeger Photography by Jason Liske and Marion Brenner

P r i n c e to n A rc h i t ec t u r a l P r e s s N e w Yo r k

Ta bl e o f Co n t e n t s






R iver m o u th


F ynb os


Fa lco n R id g e


B o u le a n d Olive s


W in d a n d S e a


Oa k Tr a il


Fo othill


H a ll’s R id g e


Gyp sy


Teh a m a


Project Credits and Details

A Coastal Dune

Embracing Essentials

Capturing Water, Borrowing Woodland

California Mediterranean

Pacific Edge

The Spirit of Trees

Wrapping a Ranch House

Connecting the Dots on a Mountaintop

From Hill to Infinity

Rocky Ridgetop

Rivermouth A Coastal Dune Carmel, California, 2006

Trainor met the owners of this ocean-view bluff in coastal Carmel at a San Francisco garden symposium in 2001. Hearing the designer talk about his work, they liked his emphasis on the power of place. Like many of Trainor’s clients, the couple had bought their property because of its character and views and wanted to honor them, as well as the existing 1929 cottage built of redwood and stone. Nevertheless they hardly used their outdoor space, which was alternately battered by winds and blasted by sun, and lacked sheltered spots for lounging and enjoying vistas. Except for old, specimen Monterey cypress trees (Cupressus macrocarpa) and scrappy, storm-ravaged iceplant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum), there were few plants to nestle the house into its wild surroundings. During his first few site visits, inspired by “the spirit of crazy waves, muscular hills, and huge sky,” as he remembers, Trainor developed plans for mediating between the human and natural worlds. One of his biggest challenges was the property’s rugged, ocean-facing slope, which, once the invasive iceplant was removed, threatened to fall away toward the road below. In contrast to some neighboring landscapes, where the land drops in neat stair-steps and enclosed garden rooms, Trainor chose to let the natural contours of the land dictate where swaths of plants and descending paths should go. To shore up the hill, he gathered old grapestakes piled at the property’s edges and installed bands of irregular fencing that recall seawashed driftwood. In the zone between the hillside and the house, he faced a different challenge: to create places where the owners could feel comfortable outside, on the edge of a precipice, without adding elements that would interfere with ocean and mountain panoramas. Working outward from the house—and taking cues from the detailing of its chimney made of local stone and existing landscape walls—he designed linked stone terraces on the most commanding yet exposed point of the site, an overlook above rolling dunes, a lazy river, and the Pacific. To create a feeling of security, the main viewing terrace is tucked a few steps below the others and edged with a low, wind-buffering stone wall. Paths take advantage of the cool shade beneath the trees, amid plantings of aqueous-colored succulents that echo the ocean’s blues beyond. The farther you venture from the house, the more the plants give way to carpeting natives that weave in with those on distant slopes. Trainor loves the look of local coastal scrub—its subtle golds and silver-greens. Yet not content with simply recreating the appearance of an oceanside dune, he called on nativeplant expert David Fross, coauthor of California Native Plants for the Garden (Cachuma Press,


2005), to establish a planting concept. The two roamed nearby hills, Fross pointing out species that would thrive at Rivermouth. “He wasn’t looking for the most beautiful natives,” Trainor remembers, “but the ones that would look best because they belonged. A common mistake people make with these plants is thinking they’re all equally good and good together because they’re natives. They mix up plants from different ecosystems that aren’t necessarily compatible—redwoods, oaks, meadow flowers—in one small space. You have to understand your habitat.” At Rivermouth, the compatible handful he chose with Fross includes wild lilac (Ceanothus), the sturdy California field sedge (Carex praegracilis), and manzanita (Arctostaphylos). These became the core of the landscape’s palette and the slope-holding carpet Trainor exchanged for the iceplant, without amending the soil or even watering once the natives were established. Other Californians sprouted on their own: yellow sand verbena (Abronia latifolia), for example, and coyote brush (Baccharis), contributing splashes of seasonal color. In the entry garden on the home’s sheltered, leeward side, Trainor added climatefriendly plants native to other mild, coastal regions. Rosette-shaped Aeonium arboreum from the Canary Islands, fragrant rosemary from the Mediterranean, and purple-flowering Echium fastuosum from the Portugese archipelago of Madeira all lend drama and deliberateness to the scene that greets arriving visitors. “I’m mesmerized,” Trainor says, “by how powerful nature is. It’s not always easy to fit people in without overwhelming them, or else putting too strong a human stamp on nature. When both are in harmony, that’s when a garden becomes beautiful.”

The lounging terrace, built of local Carmel stone, overlooks the Carmel River lagoon and Monterey Bay.



Heavy coastal winds have dramatically shaped the site’s Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa).




Above, left: Steps of repurposed timber and local pebbles create a meandering path amid the tousled sedge and coastal poppies. Opposite: The small beach house was built in 1929 using local materials. Trainor crafted the grape-stake fence, a dune stabilization device, of wood reclaimed from the site.





Opposite: Local sage, Ceanothus, dune verbena, lupine, Artemisia pycnocephala, and the coastal poppy Eschscholzia maritima weave together in a carpet that supports the slope.




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Monterey Cypress


Viewing Terrace/Firepit


Main Terrace


Grapestake Fence


Steps to Beach


Native Grass Lawn


Opposite: Twisted, weathered steel contrasts with the project’s reclaimed timber steps.


Landprints: The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor  

Australian-born landscape designer Bernard Trainor has made it his life s work to capture the wild soul of his adopted home of Northern Cali...