Royston Garden, Mill Valley, CA
Royston garden, Mill Valley, CA

Mill Valley,


United States

Royston Garden

Developed in 1946 in partnership with architect Joseph Stein, this garden served as a laboratory for landscape architect Robert Royston’s design ideas for more than 60 years. Following their work on the Ladera cooperative housing project near Palo Alto, California, Royston approached Stein about exchanging professional services to develop two homes for their families on a single plot of land: Royston would design the landscape and Stein would design the houses. The site selected by Stein, which was regraded and expanded by Royston, was a natural shelf set into a steep slope overlooking Mill Valley. The two compact residences, identical in design but flipped, face away from each other at a 45-degree angle. Separated by a shared central driveway, the homes are surrounded by gardens and patios designed by Royston, which create a seamless relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces. While the Stein garden remained static throughout the decades, the Royston garden was continuously transformed to reflect the owner’s evolving Modernist design principles.

In the postwar period Royston tested atypical, low-budget building materials, including retaining walls made from concrete laundry sinks and a rose garden consisting of planters in caster wheels. Royston mixed plant material and architectural features to create a vibrant composition. An espaliered apple tree and honeysuckle vine added contrast around a free-standing blue wall that framed the home’s entrance and mirrored a panoramic view of the sky. Royston later expanded the house, adding a courtyard enclosed by redwoods and a deck and workroom overlooking Mount Tamalpais. In the garden’s final iteration during the 1990s, Royston removed plantings that had shaded both the north garden and southern terrace for decades, obscuring their original arrangement. Other trees, including a mungo pine that sheltered Claire Falkenstein’s sculpture The Guardian, were kept in place. The workroom was replaced with a rose garden, while a garden screen exhibited at San Francisco’s MOMA, comprised of an open frame entwined at times with painted Canarian ivy vines and featuring tiles by artist Florence Swift, was restored.

Location and Nearby Landscapes

Nearby Landscapes