I created my first design in the summer of 1985 – it was for a small flower & vegetable garden on our family’s “dacha” (a summer house) hidden in the middle of a forest in the Ukrainian countryside. The garden was planted and maintained mostly by my grandma Lyudmila, who was a passionate lover of plants and gardening her whole life, and who implanted that love in me from an early age. Every year, I helped her lay out our little garden, till and enrich the soil, create the beds, collect and plant the seeds, tend the seedlings, hand-water, weed, and remove the pests. Together with the rest of the family, we enjoyed our beautiful flowers and vegetables through the long Ukrainian summer. This yearly experience taught me a lot about planning, planting and tending a garden, as well as working outside in the countryside.
I spent the rest of the year in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, which was recognized as “The Greenest European Metropolis” in 2017, and where thousands of trees were mass-planted in the 1950’s – mostly European Horse Chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum), Black Poplars (Populus nigra), Norway Maples (Acer platanoides) and European Oaks (Quercus robur). By 1980’s, the city had more than a hundred parks with a total area of eight thousand acres, and a thick canopy covered every street in my neighborhood. Some of these parks and trees became my best friends – they gave me the freedom and companionship I needed when growing up.
Forty years later and on the other side of the globe, I get the same sense of nourishment and companionship from my favorite trees in San Francisco – the California natives Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), California Buckeye (Aesculus californica), California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica), Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), as well as from fellow immigrants like Blue Gum Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), Red Flowering Gum (Corymbia ficifolia), and New Zealand Christmas Tree (Metrosideros excelsa). I have also come to love the native California shrubs and perennials – Bush Lupine (Lupinus chamissonis), California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis), Californian Lilac (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus), Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), and our wonderful golden California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), which was first discovered in the Presidio of San Francisco in 1816 by two botanists from a Russian expeditionary ship “Rurik”.
After twenty years of living in San Francisco, the restored wilderness and planted forests of the Presidio; the coastal dune scrub of Land’s End; the groves, meadows and lakes of the Golden Gate Park, and the marvelous Botanical Garden & Japanese Tea Garden have become my home. The natural diversity, richness and beauty these spaces offer is a source of constant inspiration for me as a garden designer, and as a human being.
My design approach is always client and site specific – I design gardens which meet my clients’ practical, aesthetical and emotional needs, using plants that thrive in local micro-climate and benefit the local ecosystem. I am equally inspired by a seemingly messy yet carefully planned out overgrown old English garden, a deceptively simple yet meticulously designed tiny Tsubo-Niwa (Japanese courtyard garden), and an intentionally wild-looking California native garden of drought tolerant shrubs and wildflowers.
I feel lucky to have an opportunity to add to the natural landscape of our city by transforming my neighbors’ backyards into private nature retreats. I also love working outside and spending time in my client’s gardens, creating and maintaining spaces that bring joy, nourishment and inspiration.
Ultimately, I see an urban garden as a place where, by experiencing the magical interplay of sunlight and wind, soil and mulch, trees and birds, flowers and bees, we can become more aware of our connection to all living things.