Foreign Gardeners: Andrés, from Madrid to San Francisco

A few months ago on LinkedIn I received an email from an unknown contact that turned out to be a surprise, that wasn’t spam.  It was a message from a landscape architect named Andrés, who recently moved from Spain to California and saw that we had similar interests regarding our professions. We had both made our long distance moves to our current countries roughly around the same time and found ourselves in the same boat regarding the difficulty of finding work in our fields in our new environments.  Emails were soon sent back and forth exchanging advice and addresses to helpful websites, organizations and professional contacts and over that time a friendship was fostered. Thank you for reaching out, Andrés. – James


Blending among the tall spires of Echium wildpretii in Tenerife, Spain

Hello Andrés. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to interview you for the ‘Foreign Gardener’ series. Can you share with us at Plinth et al. what country were you born, where you moved to and your occupation?

Hello, I am Andrés and I moved from Madrid, Spain to the San Francisco Bay Area in the USA..  I define myself as a Landscape+Architect; it is the shortest way I have found to explain my backgrounds and interests.

Chapiner°a (Madrid)
The tan fields of summer, known in Spain as the agostado effect, in Chapinería, Madrid

When was it that you moved and why California?

Almost a year ago, the opportunity to move arose, so I decided to take my chances to develop my landscape half, as in Spain it is not a recognized profession yet. Besides, California’s climate is Mediterranean as well; I was expecting to learn some new plants and techniques I could use in my home country.


Chapiner°a (Madrid) 2
another time, another season showcasing a tapestry of blooms in Chapinería


Madrid R°o 2013-04-10 14.04.42
The flower clouds of Prunus avium, Madrid Río park

What is your current job and what does it entail?

I work as a Landscape Architect for a medium size Landscape Architecture company in San Francisco, where I am involved in varied and interesting residential projects right now, although the scope of the company is much wider. On the side, I try to keep my own blog going (, where I write about the things I am learning every day or I am interested in. Writing them helps me to acquire that knowledge.

Earlier you mentioned landscape architecture is not really a recognized profession in Spain yet, so how has moving to California been beneficial to your profession?

First of all, architects, landowners and administrations take a landscape architect’s job as seriously as any other technical profession with public liability and the main public know what a Landscape Architect is, or at least that it is a profession. Besides, the real estate market is still growing crazy here; However, Spain was struck by a huge real estate crisis very recently, and hasn’t yet recovered, so I take this whole boom situation with caution, as I have experienced it before, which means I am trying to grow professionally and personally instead. Building much is easy but short-term, building good takes more effort, but will remain over booms and cracks.

San Francisco
a different view of home: San Francisco, California

As with any type of change, there’s always an adjustment period, be it good or bad. What have been some of the difficulties  encountered while getting settled in San Francisco, your new home?

Sprawl, with its two sides: the good one brings more residential projects to work for, the bad one: long journeys every day to get into the city, because the transit system is so bad, also because sprawl makes it unaffordable for public stakeholders. Also, public commissions and public spaces aren’t as common as in Europe.

Coastal California
With Madrid centrally located in Spain an upswing is being so close to the California coast

On the flip side tell us some surprising changes that you have welcomed and enjoyed in California?

The climate, it is just perfect. In the Bay Area there are several micro-climates, but is almost never too hot or freezing, and the summer nights are chill enough not to have to use the A/C the whole day. This means, outdoors is widely enjoyed, although more in private, rather than in public spaces as opposed to the Mediterranean basin. Many plants thrive here too, but the drought is a big concern and limitation for the species you can use. San Francisco´s micro-climate is one of its own, with significant differences among neighborhoods. I have seen Zantedeschia thriving on neglected yards without irrigation, just because of the condensation of the very common fogs that cover the city almost every night.

A cross section of life in a big city

What have some of the struggles to adjust to the U.S. been during the transition?

Lots of paperwork for the visa, building a ‘credit history’, which is almost mandatory in the U.S. to be able to have a normal life without spending thousands of dollars in deposits, the whole sprawl thing, the technical vocabulary at work. Most of it is solved after a couple of months though, but the price of things is something very important to take into account before moving or accepting an offer, the Bay Area can be unaffordable for many.

rendering for Devenir Animal, Chaumont-sur-Loire garden festival (co-author: Violeta Ferrero)

How did you find your job at the Landscape Architecture company in San Francisco?

I used several ways.  I sent my cover letter, résumé and portfolio to the offices I liked most, disregarding if they were hiring or not; I got a couple interviews that way. For the company I am working for now, I found an open position at, which seems to be the main job search site on the Bay Area.

For other people who are thinking of moving or are about to experience a similar situation, what advice would you give to them to be better prepared for the transition?

Send your CV in advance before moving. From my experience, you don’t start hearing from the companies at least until one month later from the time of applying. Avoid sending résumés before long vacation periods, as it is the easiest way to fall into oblivion. It is better to have a job before moving, otherwise, be prepared to spend a good amount of money on settling. I would also recommend to join the ASLA NCC Emerging Professionals group. They meet once a month in SF or Oakland and it is a good way to get in touch with people, learn about the job market, or just do some fun stuff; they are well organized and very active. Least but not last, do your research on LinkedIn, and contact anyone you are interested in. I have come to know people that I have shared my passion about landscape and gardening with.

Was there anything else you did to prepare yourself for this change?

I stayed in touch with the landscape field in the area and followed as many blogs or social profiles from persons, companies and non-profits I found relevant for me as possible, staying in tune with the trends, needs, and technical words. That way, not everything was new to me.

Yosemite_2015_ - 3
Sierra Nevada mountains in Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite_2015_ - 5
Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View

What is the greatest memory you have had so far in your new environment?

The nature is awesome, from Yosemite to the the foothills around Santa Clara Valley (aka Silicon Valley), which remind me of home in its own way.

Yosemite_2015_ - 6
A view of a granite dome, known as Half Dome, can be seen at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley


If you could give your younger self advice for this change, what would it be?

I would send myself this survey and its answers. Many things are different than expected, although I might still make the same choice.

2015-06-20 13.30.48
A shrubby species of wild buckwheat in Southern California

Do you have a new favorite plant now that you weren’t able to grow before?

Lately I am obsessed with a native: St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum. As the weather is Mediterranean here, it would probably grow in many places in Spain, but not in Madrid, where the winter is maybe too cold for this plant. I will give it a try though!

2015-08-16 20.02.15
The giant umbels eventually fade to a rust color before being eaten by birds.

Thank Andrés for sharing your story with us. With your talent and passion I am sure you will be met with great experiences and success in California.  If anyone would like to ask Andrés a question, or reach out, please leave a comment below and we will gladly pass it on to him.  Please click on the links provided below for further reading.   Thank you- Plinth et al.


Andrés Website: Quincunx

American Society of Landscape Architects Northern California Chapter

ASLA NCC Bay Area Emerging Professionals Group Facebook Group: Facebook Group



Tuesday’s Terrace: Holiday Style


We close this year out in true Plinth et al. holiday style with our last Tuesday’s Terrace of 2015, a fountain piled high with festive greens in a Spanish courtyard.  Out came the running water and in went the evergreen branches and all the trimmings to celebrate the holidays. We raise a glass and toast and celebrate with you, to all of your successes, travels and joyous occasions of this year and  wish upon you many more in the next one. We also take this time to wish for and perpetuate more peace,  joy and understanding in the World.

It’s important for us to say thanks to you too, our readers and compatriots in this ongoing conversation about art and horticulture and for continuing the conversation with us.  Each of your comments, likes and shares always put a smile on our face, as it is a reflection of your taste and what subjects suit and interest you most.    Thank you for a wonderful 2015!

We will continue sharing interesting articles and tidbits that we come across but will be back in the New Year with our regular posts and some new and exciting subjects too.  Stay in touch with us and follow some of our shenanigans here too, Eric and James .    See you in 2016!

Thank you and Happy Holidays to all!

Tuesday’s Terrace: Barcelona




Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona… It’s been a few years since I last visited this city so I thought it appropriate to share with you a few terraces that I have been seeing on my trip.  This visit is for a bit of fun and work, as I am keeping an eye out for inspiration for a new terrace I am designing back in Madrid.

Barcelona has more moisture in the air due to the Mediterranean Sea and is less dry than centrally located Madrid.  This first terrace is a lush green haven, protected in part by the fact it is on a second and third floor of an old corner building in the Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona. I look at this terrace and see lots of wonderful greens to cut for inside the house. A lush and tropical green paradise in a sea of stone buildings.

The  second terrace is viewed from a tower of the La Sagrada Familia and as we climbed higher and higher up my sites turned to scanning rooftops for private gardens.  There weren’t many to see due to my limited view but loved this one terrace below, on the right.  I could just imagine creating something wonderful with that empty canvas and the the small structure in the center. Pergolas covered in grapes, fountains, with the church being the main vista for the garden.  Or there is the other terrace on the left which made me smile, for it’s use of astroturf  large purple and mustard yellow fountain, seemingly it’s most important feature of the terrace. Or maybe it’s a pool? Either way, it’s always enjoyable to see how well, or not, others use their terrace and garden spaces.  Enjoy.. –  James (Instagram)



Tuesday’s Terrace: Toledo Style

Palacio de Galiana, ToledoThis Tuesday’s Terrace takes us to the city of Toledo, Spain at the Palacio de Galiana.  From the cool interior we are able to savor both the garden and architecture, with the archway framing straight lines and referencing the similar shape of the cypress trees.  We are able to appreciate the bands of green and the columnar trees that pierce through to a blue sky.  – J

A study of detail: El Escorial, Madrid


North of Madrid, standing at the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, is the enormous complex known as the Escorial Monastery, which was built at the end of the 1500’s. Originally created as the retreat of King Philip II, the historical Spanish site includes a monastery and is surrounded on two sides with formal gardens.  These gardens, which were built on a large terrace, hug right up against the vast and impressive building, softening the transition into the open mountainous landscape just beyond the reaches of the palace. Scale and proportion are functions in unity between the building and the garden, with perspective playing a key part to the success of its layout.

The finer the view, the simpler the garden should be and this holds true here as the formal gardens are largely made up of clipped hedges, save for the white roses grown against the foundation of the immense building. In the past, the beds between the hedges were filled with bedding plants to look like beautiful carpets when viewed from the windows above, though this type of planting is no longer executed.  All is not lost on the design though, as the long unbroken walks used throughout are perfect for strolling and philosophizing, which was probably the purpose this garden served when the king walked these gardens during his time..


“There is no “The End”…


“There is no “The End” to be written, neither can you, like an architect, engrave in stone the day the garden was finished; a painter can frame his picture, a composer notate his coda, but a garden is always on the move.”     –   Mirabel Osler, English writer and garden designer

finding golden gems

Patones de Arriba, Spain
Patones de Arriba, Spain

Mr. Eric,

As I sit and type this, I wonder what type of spring weather you are having at the moment. From here, it seems that the East Coast of the U.S. has been buried under many snow storms this winter, something I don’t get to experience living here in Madrid, and to be honest, I do miss it.  The only snow I see is the view of the snow capped mountains from the terrace, which is a wonderful sight but is not enough for me.  So, with arrival of spring here already, a group of friends and I decided to seek wildflowers in those same mountains, near a very small village called Patones de Arriba, just a short drive outside of Madrid.

IMG_4575 IMG_4572The almond trees are the first to flower here and from afar they seemed to be the only plants in bloom, lighting up the rocky hillsides.  The olive groves we passed through were sometimes the perfect backdrop to the white blossoms, a picturesque scene of the beginning of a Mediterranean spring.

IMG_4669Trudging further up the loose and stony paths, higher up into the mountain, the flora changed from open grassy areas to a shrubby layer of Cistus and large areas of the faint blue blooms of Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis. It’s a funny sight when when you see your herbs all grown up. For a short while there was a light snowstorm which felt like I was in a dream, similar to when Dorothy was in the field of red poppies in the Wizard of Oz. It was a beautifully surreal moment.  IMG_4658 Then there was a glimpse of gold, near the base of a Rosemary shrub. I was shocked at finding Narcissus and it was in bloom!!  This is my first time I have seen Narcissus in the wild.  Since hunting for wildflowers in Israel, when I found my first wild tulip, it has always been a goal to find Narcissus but never succeeded.  Either it was too late or I only found the remaining greens swollen with seed. So this was an exciting moment for me, another wildflower off the list.  These Narcissus were Narcissus pallidulus and were usually were found in small groups here and there, never in large swathes,  only a cluster 1-3 plants in an area.  After that moment of discovering them, I saw them growing near the Rosemary seen throughout the hillside.  Now I hope to find more types of Narcissus throughout other parts of Spain. Seeing these in there natural state makes their more common showy cultivars currently growing on my terrace, seem so brash and vulgar now. IMG_4702  I look forward to more plant excursions like this in the future and will keep you updated on any new finds. Hope this finds you well and with spring at your doorstep, finally…  Speak soon my friend- James


Tuesday’s Terrace, Valencia

Valencia, Spain, Tuesday's TerraceIt was difficult to decide which image to use for this weeks edition of Tuesday’s Terrace so I gave you options.  This vertigo inducing view is one of my favorite vistas in Valencia, Spain.  This is an honest slice of Spanish life with each terrace as individual as any of us. Often I sit staring out at these terraces as if I am watching a film, no different to Rear Window by Hitchcock, except this version has Spanish subtitles.  – James


IMG_6495        Let me start by translating, you see, PEIM! PEIM! PEIM! really just transcribes to BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! At least this is what I was told by a true Valenciana, but I choose to believe her since she is a reputable source that I have known for a few years. I have visited Valencia many times in the past few years, since having family here, but never had I been during Las Fallas. I knew it was going to be loud, crowded with visitors and extremely chaotic but needed to experience it firsthand since my family has been talking to me about it since first visiting them in Spain. Las Fallas is a celebration that takes place over five days, happening each March to commemorate Saint Joseph in Valencia and the surrounding area. Valencia is the third largest city in Spain.


Each and every day at 2 pm, there are earth shattering fireworks, known as mascletas, that take place in the main square of the city, Plaza del Ayuntamiento. First thought was why are the fireworks not set off at night, so you can see them? Wrong… It is not about the beautiful display of light but about the incredible amount of noise set off by professionals that erupts from the square, with crowds upon thronging crowds vying for the closest spot, to be as close to the action as possible. People line the streets surrounding the square, every local terrace and even on side streets with no view, because remember you are not here to watch but to feel. Each display starts off slow, not so loud and builds up its tempo during the process, with crackles of light bursting before your eyes. The momentum builds up so much that during the end of the display you feel your face cheeks vibrating from the sound waves bouncing off of them: it is that intense. Each day the momentum is different making the proud people cheer so loud they rival the just finished mascleta symphony. Are they crazy? Yes, and I went 4 days out of the 5, each in a different spot trying to get as close as possible, and loved every intense second.

los ninos
The youngest children are pushed on a wagon while the adults march in the parade.

Las Fallas is a long standing tradition in Valencia with each neighborhood having its own Fallas Club, and since birth you have the choice to be part of everything. The beautiful costumes are usually handmade and worn with pride during these times. The time, thought and effort is apparent in the stunning visuals that make up the details of this tradition of customary dress. Each neighborhood’s club marches in a parade-like fashion, towards Plaza de la Virgen to bring offerings of large arrangements and of flower bouquets to Virgin Mary. Many participants have been involved since children, causing it to be a highly proud, extremely satisfying and emotional experience.  IMG_6797IMG_6803

Marching through the streets to Plaza de la Virgen, you can see that each handcrafted dress is exquisite, ornate, with each more beautiful than the last, with each lady being infinitely proud of her Valencian heritage. Their smiles shine brighter than the expensive and bright textiles that adorn their bodies.


For the women, men, and children every outfit is planned carefully with nothing left to chance.

MaryFrontUntitled-1Upon walking through many small and narrow streets, they reach the square called Plaza de la Virgen, where they first encounter the sight of Virgin Mary, who is fastidiously adorned with flowers upon flowers by volunteers. With each arriving group, each person brings a bouquet of carnations, or other flowers, which are used to fill out the body of the Virgin Mary, previously a wooden framework. This processional parade reaches an apex when arriving in the Plaza, which takes over the course of two days with people marching through at all hours of the day and night.


Untitled-1Untitled-1At this time, flower arrangements, both large and small, are deposited and placed in the square, put to good use in decorating the festive Plaza. It was clear to see how involved the Valencian people of all ages were, from newborns to adults, some of which I am sure have not missed a year in the chance to be involved. Touching it was, to see so many of the women enter the Plaza, kissing their bouquet before handing it over, and even taking a keepsake of a single bloom. Many women and men leave the Plaza while wiping tears from their eyes, understood since this is such a deep rooted experience for them.

IMG_7031Once Virgin Mary is fully adorned with flowers, remaining bouquets are put into walls that encircle the church, as seen on the left hand side of the photo.


Untitled-1Each Fallas club brings a large arrangement with them that has been carried during the course of the parade from their respective neighborhoods.  IMG_7160Each Falla club is also responsible for designing and building large sculptures which are then displayed prominently in the corners of the corresponding neighborhood during the festival. Each year a theme is issued and each club is judged according to how well their idea has been thought out and executed. Prizes are then awarded and on the last night of the festival, the sculptures are burned signifying the end of Las Fallas. Flames lick the sides of each piece until nothing but burning embers, smoldering in the street, are left behind.




It is a week of chaos, with the sound of firecrackers bursting loudly at all hours throughout the streets of Valencia. Coming from a country where I would never witness such an event, I was ecstatic to see and feel so many things during this time. It was incredible to see how another culture celebrates their heritage while mixing in flowers, such as the carnation that so many of us overlook, into something that is held so dear to them in tradition. If you ever have the chance, I recommend at least one day to revel in the festivities: it is an opportunity not to be missed and one that definitely will not be forgotten.


Gracias, Valencia – James

Tuesday’s Terrace, Barcelona

J. McGrath, sketch, Plinth et al.

Like a light at the end of the tunnel, this weeks Tuesday’s Terrace leads our eyes towards Plaza Real in Barcelona, Spain. This colored pencil sketch, with its sun drenched palms,  gives us hope that spring and warmth is just around the corner. A much needed perspective. – James