By Marjory Harris
I met Harland Hand in early 1982, on my first Western Chapter field trip. We were having a picnic at the Santa Cruz Arboretum when a tall, silver-haired man walked up to me and asked, by way of introduction, "What kind of car do you have?" Over the years, as a close friendship developed, I realized that Harland would often start in the middle of something, knowing the beginning in his own mind but not voicing the preliminary thoughts.

When he learned that I had a hatchback car, Harland asked if I would take a painting from Santa Cruz to El Cerrito for him. I had no idea who this man was, as he had neglected to introduce himself, and I did not at the time have any reason to want to go to El Cerrito. After a brief conversation, I discovered I was in the presence of my horticultural hero, author of "The Color Garden" (Pacific Horticulture, Spring 1978). I had read this article many times, seeking guidance and inspiration as I struggled to develop a garden on my steep hillside in San Francisco.

The following day I made my first visit to Harland's garden. Full of rocks, concrete, and thousands of plants, its design and emotional effect were inspired by the landscape of the High Sierra, in particular around Silver Lake (52 miles east of Jackson on Highway 88, on the Kit Carson Immigrant Trail). This was Harland's favorite place, the "most thrilling, intimate, and puzzling space" he had ever experienced. Harland described the lake as "a deep blue arabesque sunk in swirling masses of pale gray granite." By the lake were granite-floored "rooms" with shelves, benches, and boulders from which sprung trees gnarled by the alpine winds. Shrubs and flowers crept between the granite slabs, forming natural rock gardens.

In his rockeries Harland grew temperate and sub-tropical plants. He had a huge succulent collection, with many species and cultivars of echeverias and sedums tucked in among the rocks and concrete, often next to little roses or thymes. Harland did not like following rules, particularly in garden design. He would often say, "It works!" And that was what mattered, not that in nature one might never find such combinations of plants.



What struck me about Harland's garden were the beautiful color combinations, his rare plant collection, and the emotionally evocative sense of space. I was overwhelmed at my first visit and went home feeling depressed, wondering how I could ever approximate the beauty of color and space. Harland had a special genius for space, which was particularly evident to me when he remade my steep slope in 1988 and recycled the old brick and cobblestones from the paths and terrace to suggest the remains of a village near an ancient, unseen castle. In Pamela Harper's recent article in Pacific Horticulture ("Harland Hand: the Artist as Gardener," Spring 1999), she described various Hand gardens. Mine is the "nearly vertical garden" in the small space behind an urban rowhouse, the garden's upper level higher than the roof."

I remember watching Harland from the upstairs window, as he worked directly on the land rather than from detailed drawings. Early in the morning he would walk around the mounds of dirt, absorbed in inner thought. When the workers arrived, he knew exactly where he wanted to place the rocks or the wet concrete. One time I arrived home after a long day in tedious depositions to find a little wall of San Francisco cobblestone outside the back door, a surprise wall not on the schematic drawing Harland had shown me before beginning construction. I telephoned him and mentioned the wall. "Isn't it wonderful!" he exclaimed, a statement more than a question.

Several years ago, as Harland was writing his book (which was bought by Chronicle Books and has not yet been published), he told me that the chapter he was having the hardest time with was the one on space. Articulating his theories and concepts of space was naturally difficult, as it is much easier to describe things, such as plants, or colors, for which there is a large vocabulary. He rewrote the chapter on space many times, and recently, when I read the last version, I felt that he had indeed succeeded in describing how to think about space in the garden, and why some spaces are so inspiring to us, and others so dull.

Harland preferred the arabesque to the axis. He liked to repeat curves, layer horizontals, and mass verticals to create a sense of calm. He would contrast verticals and horizontals, angles and curves of various sizes, to invoke a sense of drama and power. Essentially, if one imagines curving lines flowing up from the earth into the sky and back, like giant figure 8's, contrasting with linear elements (benches, yew-like plants), one has a good head start to creating that special sense of space that is characteristic of the Harland Hand gardens. Continued

For a humorous description of the construction of the San Francsico hillside garden, see:

"How I Began to Garden and Began Again"

by Marjory Harris

Reprinted by permission of Bulletin of the North American Rock Garden Society, Spring 1990, Vol. 48, No. 2.

Web Author: Marjory Harris  Photographs by Marjory Harris unless otherwise noted
2007 by Marjory Harris  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED