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Theresa Gonzalez | December 12, 2018 | Story Architecture

Unconventional thinking has become a hallmark of landscape architect Jarrod Baumann’s style, and it’s something his clients, some of the most brilliant minds in Silicon Valley, have come to expect. “They’re constantly challenging me to think outside the box,” says the founder of Zeterre Landscape Architecture. Checkerboard French parterres, brick turrets inhabited by plants and goats, and even a living retractable gate that he describes as the first of its kind are just a few surprises he’s pulled off in recent years. “I like the unexpected. It’s really important to me to use plants and other design elements that our clients would not see at their friends’ houses.”

Baumann’s team recently completed a $3 million project for a Los Altos Hills bachelor pad, carefully planting some 2,600 succulents at the surface of the innovative living gate. Beyond the gate lies a private botanical oasis: a terraced garden with a three-level cascading infinity pool built into the hillside. Foliage such as an 80-foot-tall blue atlas cedar and a family of icy blue podocarpus complement the home’s striking midnight-blue facade while offering extra privacy. As for Baumann’s signature element of surprise? Inside the pool sits a miniature island on which a rare dragon tree from South Africa displays a sculptural scene and a bit of shade.

Baumann has been a collector of rare plants and antiques (he’s an antiques dealer on the side) for decades. “My grandmother would hand me seeds as an allowance,” he says, and, by age 12, he had planted a secret garden on his family’s ranch near Yosemite of more than 200 plants, including heritage roses, black arum and Californian native redbud trees. “Every penny that I could get my hands on went into collecting rare plants.”

At just 23, not long after graduating from California Polytechnic State University, Baumann scored his first solo project in Los Gatos for a billionaire tech chief executive officer. The 26,000-square- foot property was home to 7 acres of garden space, which took Baumann and team nearly seven years to fully landscape. “They wanted it to feel like the garden had been there for a long time,” says Baumann. That meant bringing in 80 full-size hybrid madrones, an ancient bonfire Japanese maple that rests at the center of an interior courtyard and ancient desert willows, which Baumann says nod to the past, but still feel contemporary.

“It’s like another language,” he says of his encyclopedic knowledge of horticulture. He geeks out with 250 of his peers through a group called Leaders of Design, which offers architects and designers private viewings of properties around the world. His favorite inspirations hail from Lake Maggiore and Lake Como in Italy, the Bastide gardens of Provence, and the Lotusland garden and estate in Montecito.

But, while inspired by classic European and Japanese gardens, Baumann exhibits a range that suits his diverse clientele. “I would say we are site-specific and architecture-appropriate,” he says about what makes a design a Jarrod Baumann design. “I’m helping my clients design their dream gardens, not my dream garden.” Still, from a modern Zen garden to a Southern-inspired plantation in the heart of Northern California, Baumann’s designs uniformly show a restraint in ornamentation with an inventive and sophisticated simplicity. “My clients wear tailored suits and drive cars built to their specifications. They expect the same excellence in their homes and gardens, and I make sure I deliver on their high expectations.” Mixing the personal with business isn’t taboo when projects can span several years. “Three of my closest friends were, at one point, clients,” he says. “The more I know my clients, the better I can design for them, and so I make a diligent effort to really get to know them.”

Now that he’s nearly 20 years into his career, Baumann has found ways to give back to the community. He’s on the advisory council for the Marin-based nonprofit Slide Ranch, which educates children about the importance of nature and conservation. “I knew I had to be involved—and, of course, I grew up on a ranch!”

Baumann’s also been in discussions about reinventing the gardens of the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco (no formal plans have been made). “It’s a big deal to leave that legacy. I want to make sure I absolutely love it,” he says. The design—stretching beyond the expected—might even include a collaboration with installation artist Ian Ross. “A garden is an investment like art,” Baumann says. “If it’s a unique and original design, it’s like an art piece.”

Originally published in the December issue of Silicon Valley

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