Every Sprout Thrives at This California Creative’s Magical Redwood Home
Where all the wild things are.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:49 AM
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Finding that corner with optimal sunlight, the perfect pot, and the trick for guiding a little sprout to its full, wild potential—is there anything more gratifying than helping a leafy, living thing thrive? In our new Plant Parents series, we spotlight flora lovers and their tips and tools for raising happy, healthy buds and blooms.
Surrounded by gardens, topped with beehives, and filled with heirloom treasures, Alex Tieghi-Walker’s home in Berkeley, California, has a mystical quality about it. The former carriage house, built in 1906 entirely out of first-growth redwood, emits a radiant glow when the sunlight filters in just so. Unsurprisingly, the plants inside this woodsy cocoon are a contented bunch. Much like his approach to letting the structure do its thing (small updates were done slowly and mostly by hand), Tieghi-Walker (a writer, editor, and creative director) also sees the greenery in his life as something not to tame or fuss over. “I try to strike a balance between maximum visual value and minimal work, otherwise gardening and houseplant-ing just becomes a full-time job,” he explains. Here, he invites us in and tells us about his ideas on creating a lush, Mediterranean space; the herbal teas to make at home; and the monstera that gets carried off with every houseguest.
On Displaying Florals and Greenery I’ve always liked having greenery and fresh florals around my space, but I’d never loved making my own until I moved into a house surrounded by so many trees and plants to snip and trim. Whenever I walk through my garden, I’ll take a handful of something—catnip, white sage, basil flowers—and place it in a ceramic pot or jug. I’ll put sprouts of nasturtium into old inkwells and leave them on a stool somewhere. A recent trip to Japan showed me that arrangements don’t always have to be grand or eye-catching; sometimes my favorites are just buds or a single stem in a small vessel and popped somewhere quiet and unassuming.
Find a Plant’s Happy Corner There aren’t many different types of plants growing in the space, but there are several of each kind. I know that monstera like dappled light, so I keep those in the main room, where they’re protected from bright light by canvas shades installed over the skylights, and they seem to be turning into very adventurous triffids. I chose ferns for the bathroom, since they prefer a darker, damper environment. In my bedroom and the upstairs nook I spend more time reading and sleeping—there is more light in those spaces so I have spider plants, because they clean the air.
Bring the Garden Inside… I had some experience growing stuff back in the U.K., but the climate here in California turns plants into beautiful giants. I’ve planted fruit trees in pots—lemon, Buddha’s hand (my favorite fruit), fig, olive—so they don’t grow too big. They make the dining area feel lush and Mediterranean. It’s fun when friends bring their kids over and I can show them how to pick fruit straight from the tree, smell it, and eat it. I also planted a lot of geraniums in pots because I love the smell.
…But Not Everything RIP the beautiful maple tree that I tried to plant indoors. I saw a full-size maple growing in the living room of a home in Cape Town and tried to replicate the scene. Sadly, I forgot to take the tree outside during the winter, which must have totally confused it, so it died. No more outdoor plants inside.
What I Say to My Plants I know some people attach a lot of emotion to their plants, but I’m very pragmatic about their existence: I value the joy they give me visually. If I were to talk with them, I might apologize for constantly cutting off their limbs to give as presents.
Best Plant to Give as a Gift The night-blooming cactus that sits on a stool upstairs was originally brought back from Morocco by my aunt, then came to the U.S. with me. There are clippings from that plant all over the world that I’ve given to friends. And I regularly prune the monstera on top of my fridge, so nearly every visitor to my house gets a clipping.
Favorite Plant Art I contribute regularly to Pleasure Garden magazine, which I think is a truly beautiful publication. I also love the Encyclopedia of Flowers (both volumes) by flower artist Makoto Azuma and photographer Shunsuke Shiinoki. The pages are so alive and full of color; they make members of the plant kingdom look like alien species.
Cooking With Plants and Herbs I have so many herbs that are useful for cooking, including more unusual ones such as lemon balm, anise hyssop, and rue. I cook with my plants a lot (preserving lemons is a favorite). In the summer months, I’ll pick chamomile flowers from the garden, then dry and store the rest to use throughout the year. Steeped in hot water and paired with my homemade honey, they make a delicious bedtime drink. Same for any herb, really—tea made with dried sage leaves is great if you have a sore throat, and mint is so simple but comforting. I like a plant with a purpose.
Plant Tool Kit My go-to tool is a little hori hori by Nisaku. I had no idea that was even a thing until my friend Quincy showed me his; it’s a Japanese handheld shovel for both digging and chopping through weeds, with a serrated edge on one side of the blade. I love it! I also use Felco hand pruners for trimming things back and Printed Peanut Gardener’s Soap, which I buy whenever I’m home in the U.K., to rinse the dirt off my hands since I don’t wear gloves.
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