Philosophy of Design

Harland Hand [1922-1998], inspired by the principles of fine art and rock formations in the High Sierra, designed this hillside garden with breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay.

Using concrete, curving lines and dramatic color combinations, Hand created an emotionally evocative space that houses an extraordinary plant collection.

Emotional power, originality, and efficiency of maintenance
Harland Hand's philosophy of garden design grew from his experiences as an artist. Trained in abstract expressionism, he saw objects as moving, expressive shapes that had to "do something" and "work" in a composition. Looking for emotional power, originality, and efficiency of maintenance, he was constantly redesigning and editing. He believed that gardens could be works of fine art. Go to The Garden as Fine Art

The granite glacial washes of the High Sierra inspired the use of concrete as the building material. Go to The Concrete Garden and Silver Lake

Trails, shelters and lookouts evoke emotions

Hand believed that a garden must be more than a pretty, pleasant place. It should evoke emotions at the core of all peoples: the need to explore and anticipate (trails), to find safety (shelters), and to sense power and exhilaration (lookouts). Go to Shelters, Trails & Lookouts

Beds, borders, and rows bored Hand, who preferred curving lines

Hand was known for his remarkable sense of space. He would choreograph the visitor’s passage through the garden by narrowing and widening paths, creating shelters, trails, and lookouts, essential garden elements he believed connected modern man to tribal ancestors. Eschewing beds, borders, and rows, which he found boring, Hand worked with curving lines. His use of mounds, islands and winding paths made the property seem bigger, while creating a mood of mystery. He also encouraged the eye to move in certain directions by pruning or building benches to incorporate sweeping vistas or framed views of a mountain or a city in the distance. He believed that in a well-designed garden, every view, from every direction within the garden, should work perfectly. Go to Space

Hand's daring use of strong colors and unlikely color combinations

Hand was also known for his daring use of color, mixing orange and pink, purple and red, and other strong combinations. His work as a florist while finishing his studies influenced the later use of islands in the garden. He thought of them as outdoor floral arrangements, and followed the same principles of florists: tall plants placed off center, low ones around the edges. While the basic color concept is light and dark, with the concrete being light and the plants dark, within each area is a predominant color, mixed with bits of brilliant colors from across the palette. The clear light allows dramatic and brilliant color arrangements not generally seen in English or East Coast gardens. Go to Color

Hand planted for succession of bloom, combining an artist's palette with a plantsman's knowledge

Hand designed for succession of bloom, so that the garden is not a “spring” garden or a “summer” garden but one for all seasons. While there is no real “winter” in El Cerrito, there is the rainy season during the late fall and winter when growth slows down but camellias, magnolias, and early spring bulbs bloom.

Hand appreciated the drama of Golden Gate light

Hand designed with thought to the effect of light. He arranged plants that glow to take advantage of the slanting light of sunset, and planted gray and silver plants along the concrete paths so that they would seem to widen during moonlit nights. Hand took full advantage of the drama of the sunsets and fog off the Golden Gate. Go to The Effect of Light