West Marine Park has artistic and whimsical touches – Marine Independent Magazine

Succulents grow in one of several Verdura wall systems on Ben Manilla and Eliza Lape’s Lagunitas property.

In 2017, Eliza Labbe married Manhattan-born Ross and Ben Manila and honeymooned in Hana, Maui.

“We both had second marriages and fell madly in love,” Lappé recalls. “Days later, we both fell ill. Weeks later, we were diagnosed with a rare parasitic meningitis and admitted to hospital. Ben was in hospital for eight months.

Lappé, a consultant to technology companies, had been living in San Anselmo and Manila had been living in San Francisco before they returned from Hawaii and moved into their recently purchased home in Lagunitas.

Manila is an award-winning audio (radio and podcast) producer and former continuing lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. For 25 years, he produced the syndicated radio show hosted by Dan Aykroyd, “The House of Blues Radio Hour,” later called “Elwood’s BluesMobile.” The series, along with primary interviews with blues legends, is now preserved at the Library of Congress.

“By the time we moved (to Lagunitas), Ben was really sick and was honestly fighting for his life,” she says. “Being here in this amazing place and the community has helped bring it back to life.”

Manila, who says that even “houseplants were a mystery to me,” soon began exploring the novelty of backyard landscaping.

“He started gardening and creating garden pockets throughout the property,” says Labbe. “Getting out in the sun gardening, doing yoga, watering, staying connected to nature and the seasons and cycles, watching things grow and grow, flourish and die, and then do it again.”

Its four “pockets” include four buildings – the main house, Lapi’s office cubicle, the Manila office and sound studio, and the garage workroom.

“We also labeled the different surrounding park areas to easily identify spaces,” says Labbe, citing Curling Field, Benny Hill, Diorama, Cactus Hill, the Creek, and Chicken Run, which “was previously the only place the area could not Deer are coming in, so we planted roses, flowers and fruit trees.

But what the deer couldn’t eat, the four hens did – Rockelle, Flo, Mary, and Shirley.

Courtesy of Ben Manila

One of the four “Tree Spirits” in Ben Manila and Elisa Labbe’s exotic Lagunitas Park.

“The girls pretty much destroyed anything living,” she says.

But acceptance of nature’s ways informs their resigned approach to gardening.

“We don’t have a fence around our property because we live on a creek 365 days a year, and we allow critters through to get to the water,” Manella says. “We support the Darwinian approach to plants. Anything that deer and other creatures don’t eat, we water.

With the exception of two citrus trees, a raspberry bush, some milkweed and other California native plants, their garden is mostly a succulent garden with plants from their favorite nurseries, as well as San Jeronimo annuals and gifts for sale.

“Friends and family know I love getting things back to health, so it’s not uncommon for someone to drive up and drop off something that needs taking care of,” she says. “If the deer don’t eat it, and it can handle the climate here, it will have a home.”

She credits her mother, Marilyn, an avid gardener, and her son, Chase, who is just starting out in the landscaping business, along with many others, for contributing to the success of their garden.

They loved the Verdura retaining wall systems that were on the property when they moved in. The couple has reinforced several other areas with the same wall system, and Manila recently unveiled another area, hidden behind a fence, where it has placed 100 pieces of retaining walls. The juicer.

“Have you heard about the Great Wall of China?” Manila says when asked about retaining walls. “This is called the beautiful Lagunitas wall.”

They started the Cactus Hill project out back because “nothing else seemed to thrive there,” she says, “and we have been known to start planting cactus from a little paddle we found while walking.”

Just as easily as Lapi and Manila go with the flow in their garden, they do their best to offer subtle and subtle touches.

Courtesy of Ben Manila

Ben Manella, with the family dog, sits on the steps of his audio studio in front of the family’s totem pole in his Lagunitas park.

Manilla might say it’s all about “whimsy, whimsy, whimsy” in their garden, and Labbe defines it as “anything that tickles our imagination and lives in an unexpected place.”

The latest quirky addition is a series of water hose holders, commissioned from Manila and made by a welding artist he met at an Alameda flea market.

“There’s whimsy no matter where you look,” says Labbe.

There is a totem pole created at the site by West Marin MOT artist (Tom Gardner) to honor the joining of the two families – Labbie and Chase and Manila and his son Griffin.

“Each of us represents our own spirit animal,” Labbe says. “Ben is the bear, I am the deer/elk/horse, Griffin is the mountain lion, and Chase is the owl. The woodpecker at the top is MOT’s contribution because while he was making the pole there were woodpeckers in abundance and it was driving him crazy.”

When the pole was completed, they held a pole dance party where each guest painted a message on a rock that was placed under the pole. Two of their beloved pets are buried under the family column as well.

MOT also worked with Manila “to create his vision for his hobbit house,” she says. “The MOT designed the door, handrails and roofline and a third generation welder built the railings.”

When PG&E removed some endangered spruce trees, Manila’s penchant for whimsy struck again.

Courtesy of Ben Manila

Ben Manilla and Elisa Labbe began redesigning Lagunitas’s whimsical, nature-friendly park in 2017.

He found a visiting German artist with a high-speed chainsaw to carve faces into the remaining tree trunks. One face overlooks their property while the other three face a walking path gifted to surprise and delight passersby.

And it certainly won’t be his last bizarre idea for his garden in Lagunitas.

If you ask him how long it took to create his garden, he will say, “When will it be finished?”

Why should it be?

Gardening, he says, “is the greatest therapy of all.”

Here, Manila shares his top tips:

• “Know when to prune each plant.”

• “Anything you don’t like in your garden is a weed.”

• “Weed as much as you can.”

• “Let creatures eat whatever they want.”

show off

If you have a beautiful or interesting marine garden or a newly designed marine home, I’d love to hear about it.

Please send an email describing one (or both), what you love most about it, and a photo or two. I will publish the best ones in upcoming columns. Your name will be published and you must be over 18 years of age and a Marin resident.

PJ Bremier writes about home, garden, design, and entertainment topics every Saturday. She can be contacted at PO Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at pj@pjbremier.com.

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