Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Jana Olson's Berkeley garden

I've written about my visit to Marcia Donahue's garden last December (with my then fellow Pacific Horticulture Society board members), as well as our stops at Keeyla Meadows and Raul Zumba's gardens. We made one other stop that day, at the garden of Jana Olsen.

Jana's home is tucked into a corner on a very step hillside in Berkeley. Some people might consider the site un-gardenable, but not Jana.

Unfortunately she had to run off to a meeting soon after we arrived, so we didn't get the benefit of touring the garden with its creator. In her brief welcome it was obvious she's a warm and generous lady who enjoys what she's created.

That's a very happy fern... am I the only one who thinks of glue dots?

Rather pretty too.

OMG! It just gets better! Palm tree or fern? (fern)

To get to the back garden you pass under a deck. Because Jana isn't the type to leave any space unimproved, this dark area is dubbed "Grotto of Santa Basura" and decorated with the collected trash (Basura is Spanish for trash) found in the ravine behind her home during clean up (now a garden with a stream running through it).

Next is the Graveyard of Rusty Tools...

Here's where you might want to click over to the blog Quirky Berkeley and read the story on Jana: Jana Olson’s flamboyant confidence of style. As for our tour we're back out into the afternoon light and heading down into the ravine...

A timing reminder. This was December 7th. A beautiful day that felt like the best autumn day back home in Portland.

Cordyline 'Cha Cha'


I was awe-struck. The (now) cracked and crumbling retaining wall was the work of a previous homeowner.

Rather than demolish it and pay to have it hauled away (every piece hauled back up those steep stairs and under the deck/through the grotto) she turned it into a feature. In her words: "Yeah, I was thinking since we live in earthquake country, why not emphasize it?  (Although I think the wall is collapsing do to soil movement and lack of footing).  Anyway, it sat there for many years in its crooked state before I decided to embellish it..."

And embellish it she did...

Of course it helps to have artist Marcia Donahue as a friend.

Her pieces definitely add a touch of class to the installation.

As do the plants Jana chose, I believe this Agave vilmoriniana?

From above, looking down.

I could barely tear myself away. This was just so damn cool!

I did eventually move on, where I enjoyed Marcia's turkey tail fungus.

And more ferns.

At the bottom of the ravine was this slippery passage to the other side. I'm a klutz and wasn't wearing appropriate shoes (I never am). I chose to retrace my steps and meet the group back at the top (really I wanted to walk past the broken wall again...).

Looking up towards the house...

And of course, because this is Berkeley, there were bromeliads just tucked in here and there like it was no big deal.

And spider plant? (sorry, that's all I know this houseplant as)

Back up by the house we came out of the shadows and into the sun.

What a garden! Thank you Jana, for sharing it with us. I do hope to return someday.

Weather Diary, June 10: Hi 86, Low 58/ Precip 0

All material © 2009-2019 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. I also love that she turned the broken wall into a feature and embellished it. Brilliant solution, very smart gardener! This tricky ravine is proof that gardeners will garden no matter what.

  2. Jana's garden is an imaginative delight. I'm just a little jealous of all those houseplants happily growing in the ground.

    1. Me too. Just think of all the free hours if we didn't have to deal with the spring and autumn migrations.

  3. And here I complain about my back slope...I love the imagination that went into this garden and would be delighted to examine each element in the Grotto of Santa Basura, contemplating how they came to land in that ravine.

    1. That is a regret, that there wasn't the time to really check out all the small wonders.

  4. This woman and her garden takes me to a wonderful place. It is hers and it is magnificent. The grotto wall and the retaining wall take me to such a relaxing place... they are her vision of fun and beauty.

  5. Spider plant growing outside! That is just too cool. I would have had it hanging everywhere. Cordyline 'Cha Cha'... if only it was available and hardy around here. I love how varied the leafs are.

    1. I have three Cordyline 'Cha Cha' and while they do die back in an extraordinarily cold winter they always return. Of course they don't get as big as this monster...but they're still lovely.

  6. Pretty cool garden. I esp. loved the large pots of grass at the base of the cracked wall that look like water flowing out.

  7. Neat place to garden. Ravines create a good micro climate, damper and cooler than a flat area.

    That spider plant(Chlorophytum comosum)has probably been there since someone missed the trash bin when they threw it outside! back around 1975.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Comment moderation is on (because you know: spam), I will approve and post your comment as soon as possible!