At their home on San Francisco Bay, Kay and Jack Keohane's passion for gardening takes root.

By Carla Albright
August 12, 2008
Saxon Holt

Over the years, Jack and Kay Keohane have learned that success-in gardening as in marriage-requires cooperation. "We enjoy collaborating on projects because we both like to add artistic touches and found objects to the garden," Kay says. "Sometimes we work together, but not too closely in the same area because we're too often telling each other what to do," she adds with a laugh. So, at home in Corte Madera, California, the couple divides gardening tasks according to taste: Kay tends to the vegetable patch, fruit trees, and herb garden, while Jack handles the hardscape, fences, arbors, and ornamental plants.

Gardening here isn't always easy. In addition to the Bay Area's deer, clay soil, and lack of summer heat (which makes it hard for tomatoes to ripen), Kay and Jack can expect that every two years or so, high tides and heavy winter rains will fill their garden with floodwaters up to a foot deep. But Jack looks for the positive in what could seem disastrous. "It's a chance to change and improve the gardens," he says. Last year's flood brought new silt, he explains, while the rain helped mitigate the amount of salt in the tidal waters, making survival easier for the plants.

The Keohanes have learned that the key to successful coastal gardening is an array of carefully chosen plants. Some are native, others more exotic, but all are highly adaptable. Calla lilies and annuals such as sweet alyssum and snapdragons bloom here well into December. With the help of raised beds, well-drained soil, and Jack's drip irrigation system, the couple also has seen native Mediterranean plants, such as rosemary, lavender, and salvia, flourish. To anchor their perennial beds, Jack combined colorful flowering plants with ornamental grasses, and placed New Zealand flax with coral-and-gray variegated leaves throughout the garden.

Even more than planting, Jack likes to design focal points such as trellises and arbors covered in climbing roses and autumn-blooming clematis. Though the gardens stretch nearly 60 feet toward the bay, Kay keeps her favorite bed close to home. Just outside the kitchen door, berries, vegetables, and herbs thrive.

Kay and Jack work to keep raspberries, roses, and everything in between looking their best all year long. Though nature's surprises may discourage other gardeners, Jack doesn't complain. "The panoramic views of Mount Tam and San Francisco Bay are well worth the challenges of gardening so close to the water," he says.