Bernard’s motto: sculpt and shape and plant but keep it natural. His footprint is discreet, his plant palette pure. Clients are lining up to commission him to create their gardens and landscapes.
Read on and be inspired.
And you know I love to give you the inside scoop—and lots of insider and expert information. Read down to the end, and you’ll find Bernard’s Favorite Plant Selections.
Now Bernard has a beautiful new book about his designs in print—and the world can see and experience his dramatic, original, and very beautiful landscapes.
Some of the images below are from his book, ‘Landprints The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor (Princeton). The book was written by the great Susan Heeger, a fantastic garden writer with whom I worked at GARDEN DESIGN magazine.
Some images are exclusive to THE STYLE SALONISTE.
Come with me for a visit—and dream of these California scenes. Note that they are very specific to the landscape, the weather patterns, the native plants and the magical and very subtle California color palette.
I met Bernard Trainor some years ago when I was an editor with GARDEN DESIGN magazine (I was one of the founding editors, when the great Dorothy Kalins was the editor-in-chief).
I was researching the new California landscape designers, the ones who were updating and changing California gardens, and moving away from the Tommy Church aesthetic to a more vibrant and only-in-California approach.
Who was re-imagining California landscapes, and letting go of the English parterre, the French formalism, the riot-of-color flowers? Who was using native plants? Who was taking a ‘natural’ approach? The answer: Bernard Trainor, a trail-blazer.
At a design seminar at California College of the Arts, I presented Bernard and his drifts of grasses, his swathes of meadow, his glassy pools, his glorification of the natural. The two hundred interior designers, landscape designers and architects present were entranced, and at the end of his humble and beautiful and beautifully illustrated lecture, everyone rose to give him an extended standing ovation.
The natural California landscape is the enduring inspiration for Monterey-based landscape designer, Bernard Trainor.
His exquisitely fine-tuned work, with subtle gestures and an often almost invisible plan, pays homage to the craggy Big Sur coast, the undulating silhouettes of Carmel Valley forests, and the graduations of green of the Napa Valley hills and hidden valleys.
It’s important to know that this coastal region is a very specific climate and terroir. The soil can be rocky and inhospitable.
It’s stormy and exposed and rainy in winter.
I generally does not rain—at all—from around April—October when a glorius ‘Indian Summer’ arrives.
This is not a ‘floral’ region where landscape designers create flourishes of vivid blooms. Lavender does well, and ‘Iceberg’ roses and other rose varieties.
Bright color generally looks vulgar in the bright and ultra-bright Pacific coast light.
And in the wild there are voracious deer, gophers, and other critters.
And…there’s not a lot of water. Spending hours with a hose in these settings simply cannot happen.
Take these criteria and others in mind as you gaze in wonder at Bernard’s walled gardens (to protect from wine and marauding deer).
Olive trees are happy—and families harvest olives and make delicious organic olive oil.
Native manzanitas love it and are so at home, their blazing orange peeling trunks visible for miles.
The grandeur and California landscape endlessly encourages Australian-born Trainor to be even more creative, he said, but always to keep a very low profile.
Trainor lived in Melbourne and still carries traces of an Australian accent in his lilting voice. It’s interesting to note that the Australian East Coast landscapes and soil and weather and indigenous plants are rather similar to those in central coastal California. Early settlers in California brought over eucalyptus trees (which impart that wonderful resin/gum smell) as well as bottlebrush and other natives. From Provence we got many varieties of lavender.
Now Bernard is fully at home in Northern California—enhancing the groves, rocky coast, ranches and valleys and Manzanita-scented hillsides.
In Trainor’s gardens, you experience the fragrance of old oaks, the mysterious arrival of fog, clouds reflected in a pool, and always a sense of peace and tranquility.
In his concepts, handcrafted dry-stacked walls of indigenous stone curve sinuously to enclose a terrace, and manzanitas or olive trees offer gradations of green to frame a distant view of redwoods, madrones and ancient oaks. His goal is to form a simple and harmonious connection between the new planting and ancient groves and forests.
“I love the natural hardscape of California and I’m always working to highlight the seasonal foliage, the rocks and boulders, and the handsome native trees,” said Trainor. “My goal is always to create and shape a new landscape that is entirely at home in its setting. I like to keep planting very simple and elegant, often using native grasses like carex and muhlenbergia that move gracefully in the wind.”
Bernard Trainor’s New BookTen of Trainor’s superbly focused and compelling designs are presented in his new book, 'Landprints: The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor', written by noted Los Angeles author, Susan Heeger, and published by Princeton Architectural Press, Included in his first book are a ridgetop landscape in the Santa Lucia Preserve and a rocky setting right on the Pacific edge.
“I’m so fortunate to work in this majestic region,” said Trainor, who is assisted by his seven-person staff at Bernard Trainor + Associates.
A Berkeley garden with views of San Francisco across the BayBernard Trainor designed this surprising garden for a young family in the Berkeley hills.
Look closely—in one image, framed in trees, you can see San Francisco Bay and a smudge of San Francisco in the far distance.
Look at the simplicity and logic of the design. It’s all very understated, classical, timeless, with architecture by Craig Steely.
It is also built on an impossible site…so steep, so vertiginous.
BIOGRAPHY: Bernard Trainor
Bernard arrived in Northern California in 1995 and soon after fell in love with this land.
Originally, he was raised on the Mornington Peninsula along Australia's rugged South Eastern Coast below Melbourne. Here he developed a lasting awareness and appreciation of the native landscape that led to horticulture and design studies. Following his apprenticeship, he was awarded a scholarship that allowed him to move to England and study under the famed plantswoman and garden designer, Beth Chatto. Her regionally appropriate planting design further developed Bernard's design philosophy and the direction of the designed landscapes that followed. Her influence was significant. In the years that followed Bernard then completed a Diploma of Landscape Design while studying at the Chelsea Physic Garden.Drawing on thirty years of passionate commitment to the study and practice of landscape design.
Bernard is the founding principal and design director of Bernard Trainor + Associates. Throughout the years, he has completed four academic programs, practiced professionally in three countries, and continues to lecture extensively on the subject of Landscape Design throughout the world.As founding principal and design director, he is involved with his collaborative studio team on every landscape project, from conception to completion. The studio's award winning projects, range from town-scaled gardens to extensive rural properties, have been featured in a wide range of books and publications throughout the world including the New York Times, Vogue Living, Garden Design. In practice, the geographical diversity of his educational and work experiences cultivated a deep appreciation for California’s unique regional qualities and culture. “Whilst traveling I soon discovered my favorite art, architecture and landscapes are deeply connected to the place from which they have ‘grown.’” This simple observation and a keen awareness of the regional context informs every design project.
A Chat with Bernard
DDS: Bernard, I'm delighted to be writing about you again. Let's talk plants. What are your favorite trees to plant in Northern California—and why?
BT: Coastal Live Oak.
I love the architectural quality in the shape of this oak trunk and outspread arms. It’s deciduous, and in the spring it’s so vivid and fresh.
They are so durable and noble. I’ve seen these sturdy old oaks that are four hundred years old. They’re covered in moss, and they’ve found a spring, a source of water, and they are happy. Nothing compares to these natives in California.
BT: Pistache. It’s ornamental, and originally Chinese. Pistacia chinensis. Deciduous with lively green foliage
BT: Any fruit trees, from apples to peaches and pears, olives, and plums and all kinds of nut trees (walnuts, almonds). I enjoy bountiful gardens.
DDS: Grasses you like to use for a soft effect, abstract?
BT: Dune sedge is beautiful and resilient
Deer grass has wands that wave in the wind — kinetic sculpture.
June grass makes a lovely lawn substitute. It’s common in the prairie as well, and in Texas. Koeleria macrantha. Alternate Names: Koeleria cristata; Mountain junegrass, junegrass.
DDS: Your designs don't rely on brightly-colored flowers for effect and impact. They are more natural, more tranquil and abstract. But if you were to plant flowering plants near a pool, for example, or beside a terrace, what might you select
BT: Lavender, Rosemary, Yarrow, Sage, Cistus, Ceanothus.
I love the ambience these Mediterranean climate plants create. They are tough yet beautiful.
DDS: Fragrant plants you like?
BT: Tough old climbing roses, thyme, chamomile, mint, rosemary, yerba buena. No fluff. I like durable plants that smell of the place — not too imported.
DDS: Flowering shrubs that butterflies love?
BT: Buddleja and Asclepias
DDS: Bernard, thank you. I’m so inspired. A million thanks.
Photography courtesy of Bernard Trainor, used here with express permission.
Berkeley garden photographed by Marion Brenner. All other images from the book by Jason Liske, www.redwooddesign.com
Bernard Trainor + Associates