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Elizabeth Everdell’s Secret Garden

By Sally Fay

Elizabeth Everdell. (Hilary Hood)

A love of natural stone — and her strong Southern lineage — pave a path for this designer’s vision of paradise.

Garden design for Elizabeth Everdell sprouted up naturally from her childhood roots in Lexington, Kentucky. Her mother and grandmother were gardeners and part of a long line of horticulturists dating back to the 1700s. The Hillenmeyer family heritage wasn’t something young Everdell — “Betsy” — paid attention to growing up; it was in the landscape all around her. Her childhood was spent playing throughout the stone terraces that fell away from their hilltop house into the woods in all directions with wonderful wildflowers everywhere.

However, it wasn’t until Everdell and her husband and young family moved to San Francisco that she discovered
her own passion for the land. She wanted her children to have a garden. Everdell studied and experimented with different plants, seeing what worked with sun and shade, making adjustments to San Francisco’s microclimates. Her secret garden emerged. Then friends began calling her to help them with their gardens.

Thirty years later, Everdell Garden Design is thriving with a team of six, and she sits on the board of the Garden Conservancy.

Her work with stone is featured in Carl Dellatore’s book, Garden Design Master Class: 100 Lessons From the World’s Finest Designers on the Art of the Garden, released by Rizzoli in April. “I go to stone and structure first,” Everdell explains. “What is the native stone to that area? What I am looking for is to try and make the garden look like it belongs there, that it feels like it is part of the environment, so that’s the structure. Everything comes from that.”

Photo by Michelle Wilson.

Telegraph Hill Oasis

Chotsie Blank offered to have a small wedding in her backyard, she says, “so I SOS’d Betsy. She came in
and put in the ferns, that had never been in there, and the boxwoods. It was a cute little garden but now it
is spectacular. She insisted on blue hydrangeas. They are sensational! She was absolutely right. The ferns have grown in. There is a fountain and a water feature in the back. It’s a delight!”

Photo by Marion Brenner.

Atherton Family Joy

“The architect was Charlie Barnett. Miles Redd did the interiors. We all worked together. It was a design that developed. It was a complete team effort. It was really fun,” Everdell recalls. “She wanted something blooming every day of the year and she has it! There are seasonal things blooming throughout the year. There are a hundred different varieties of plants in there. It is California abundance. It’s what works here.”

Photo by Marion Brenner.

Marin Garden of Eden

“It sits in a valley with hills and natural streams that flow through the property, so it has an abundant water source and wonderful, rich soil,” notes Everdell. “We changed some of the structural, the hardscape, [and] all around the house we planted. So it was planting, really. Creating a garden. We worked with the environment. That is why I call it the ‘Garden of Eden,’ as everything about it is so rich. You can put anything in and it just thrives.”

Photo by Marion Brenner.

Pacific Heights Roses From Childhood

Jane McLaughlin wanted to turn her small backyard into a garden, and she wanted roses that she remembered as a child. “The beauty of Betsy was her vision of the design; it’s allowed me and the garden to evolve. The anchor plants and anchor roses, her hardscape (antique bluestone) and design are her genius. I started with three varieties of roses. She put in an espaliered camellia that is still here. Right now I have 100 roses,” says McLaughlin.

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