A Garden Design Called Piña Colada

garden design

I had the best conversation with landscape architect Michelle Derviss last week. She has her own design studio and has created many Bay Area gardens, but it’s the one in her own backyard in Novato, CA, that we discussed.

Over a decade ago, Michelle was dealing with some serious health challenges, and needed a place to completely relax and recover. She decided to echo elements of the places she loves to travel to most: the islands of Southeast Asia.

The 12 x 14-foot concrete patio was already in place. It was in rough shape, and probably original to the 1947-built house. Undeterred, Michelle designed right on top of it, covering imperfections with exotic outdoor carpets.

She had a traditional teak Balinese day bed that she had brought back from Bali the year before, and that has become the centerpiece of the garden. It’s soft and plush, upholstered with outdoor fabric and cushy pillows.

Michelle Derviss

The bed, a coffee table and other furnishings are nestled between bromeliads (many of which were bought from the plant table at San Francisco Bromeliad Society meetings), calla lilies, bamboo, and hakonechloa. The garden really is transporting–you feel as if you’re on a tropical vacation moments after walking through the garage. She calls it her Piña Colada garden, because being in the garden feels like a Piña Colada tastes.

As Michelle regained her health, the garden has entertained more and more visitors, and she hosts her friends from the Bromeliad Society as well as the Hortisexuals, a group of Bay Area plant professionals who have been going strong since the 1980s. Michelle welcomes guests desperate to escape the heat, since Novato is a cooler pocket.
I don’t know that you would technically label this a “therapeutic garden” but it has served that function, and has many of the qualities that intentionally-therapeutic gardens have. After all, much of what research has revealed about therapeutic garden design is also common sense.

A few traits noted by the Therapeutic Landscapes Network:

  • Plenty of shade
  • A sense of safety and security
  • Easily navigable walking surfaces
  • Lush plantings
  • A wide variety of flora
  • A plethora of seating
  • Spaces that allow for quiet contemplation
  • Positive distractions such as water

Are you interested in therapeutic garden design? Read this article about a San Antonio garden designed for wounded soldiers who have returned to the states.

Do you look to your garden as an oasis or an escape for healing? Please share your thoughts below!

Sarah Ristorcelli

Sarah Ristorcelli is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience in publishing and communications. As Director of Business Development at Orlando Content Marketing, she has focused her attention on digital communications and marketing development for landscape designers and garden-related products.

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[…] a decade ago, when Michelle Derviss was dealing with some serious health challenges, she created a garden for herself where she could relax and recover. She already knew when the rest of us are catching on to: that […]

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