Mission Accomplished: A Modern Mosaic Garden in SF, by Monica Viarengo
Italian landscape designer Monica Viarengo thinks constantly about genius loci, the spirit of place. After a couple with three young girls asked for a low-maintenance outdoor play space in San Francisco’s lively Mission District, she transformed their garden to reflect the artistic energy of the surrounding neighborhood.
At the heart of the design is a mosaic path laid with pebbles in a traditional risseu technique. To lay the path, which connects the front and back gardens, and to visually connect the spaces, Viarengo assembled a team of master craftsmen including a muralist, a mosaic master, and an expert contractor. “I’m always trying to find the identity of the place that I work,” says Viarengo, who practices in California and in Europe.
Read on to see how Viarengo and project manager Courtney Yeung transformed the garden:
Photography by Marion Brenner.
Above: Risseu is a traditional pebble-mosaic technique common in Genoa, Viarengo’s hometown in Italy. The first glimpse of it is in the front garden, visible from a busy San Francisco street.
On a trip back to Genoa, Viarengo contacted mosaic master Luciano Bonzini for technical information. He wound up agreeing to come to San Francisco to mentor her landscape contractor, Peter Good of Goodscapes, who was eager to learn.
The risseu features five main circles in two sizes, each different. There are five at the main entrance and then they scatter throughout the garden. “It’s a little private story,” explains Viarengo. She chose the risseu mosaic for its ability to be both elegant and joyful, for a play garden.
Above: The mosaic path wraps around the side of the house to create a connection between the front and back gardens.
The couple wanted an extremely low-maintenance yard, but Viarengo says a complete absence of plants would have been a mistake. “So we directed the client to a green wall,” she says. “This maximizes space and adds softness.” It also provides a sensory experience for the children, with plants at their eye level.
Above: Florafelt vertical planters hold a combination of maidenhair ferns, Italian bellflower, coral bells in various colors, golden Creeping Jenny, Corsican mint, white redwood sorrel, strawberry geranium, and baby’s tears.
Above: A chalkboard runs the length of the side corridor.
Outdoor Play Space
Above: A 12-by-6-foot water wall masks traffic noise and is another space for the children to play. Viarengo consulted Jeff Parker from The Urban Farmer in San Francisco on the fountain mechanics.
Above: Pebbles, water, a green wall, turf, and a red cedar slatted fence provide a sensory feast. Though Viarengo says she never uses artificial turf, it quickly became apparent this was a must for her clients, who wanted as close to a no-maintenance space as possible.
Italian landscape designer Monica Viarengo thinks constantly about genius loci, the spirit of place. After a couple with three young girls asked for a low-