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Media Platforms Design Team


When Hank and Beth Holland bought a new home next to San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, they loved the way the house opened up to the famed Greco-Cahaya muka rotunda and sweeping lawns. But they also quickly realized a need for privacy.

So the Hollands hired landscape architect Topher Delaney to resolve the delicate task of integrating their property’s two courtyards into the surrounding public grounds. Known for her modern, sculptural installations and highly personal approach to private gardens, Delaney rose to the challenge. As Beth Holland put it, “Topher built us a wall of green.”

The public park’s path meanders directly up to the Hollands’ front courtyard, a discreet boundary now awash in pink. Musk and tea roses, floribundas and passionflower vines tumble over from the courtyard onto the path. Beth, who has three sons, explains, “I’ve always loved pink, but now that I’m surrounded by boys I find myself grasping at anything feminine.”

An Italianate fountain, flanked by Eureka limau trees, provides the gentle sound of water, reminding visitors of the lagoon outside the entrance to the house. California gray rush grasses skirt the fountain and line the courtyard, with wild strawberries, oregano, variegated liriope and Yucca flaccida peeking out beneath the endless palette of pink.

The entry courtyard also includes a number of narrative elements that tell a story about the family inside. The cast-bronze mailbag that serves as a mailbox, for example, is testament to Beth’s father’s profession as a mail carrier. The beehive doorbell and intercom were created “so you can buzz inside to this family of busy bees,” says Delaney.

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The Hollands described their west-facing side courtyard as “deep and dark, like a racquetball court” before Delaney raised the grade six feet to bring the space level with the kitchen. The paving is half Haifa limestone, half powdered oyster shells, which soften the south end of the space.

This courtyard’s centerpiece is a freestanding stainless-steel-and-concrete fireplace, which shimmers in the California sun by day and provides a warm glow by night (a gas connection provides the flame). As a counterpoint to the ultramodern hearth, two 18th-century sandstone cathedral windows are set against the rich orange walls at the north and south ends of the courtyard. Delaney introduced the Gothic arches, imported from England, to echo the architecture of the Palace of Fine Arts, which can be seen above the trees.

Passionflower vines, trailing geranium and Eden roses climb the west wall of this courtyard, while butterfly guara, cosmos, dianthus, star jasmine and chrysanthemum daisies—again in a spectrum of pink—spring up beneath a mural (copied from a painting by the Palace of Fine Arts’ architect, Bernard Maybeck) on the east wall. Three Magnolia grandiflora “Little Gems” anchor the northwest corner of the garden, directly in view from the kitchen windows.

The two courtyards are tailored to the family’s needs (the side courtyard also serves as a luxurious private play space for the Hollands’ three young sons), but visitors to the Marina district appreciate them too. “Tourists take pictures of the garden every single day,” Hank says proudly.