Designed for a bachelor, this low-maintenance, modern garden plays up tones and textures on a small-scale beach lot. Because the 2,700-square-foot lot is consumed almost entirely by the house, leaving very little outdoor space, I was inspired by tsuboniwa or the Japanese courtyard garden. It was important to create a space that was inviting, strong, yet quietly beautiful - well curated. While spatial constraints often challenge design, I also considered how to make the garden relative to its’ locale and prominent from inside the house.
Locating the entry gate on the side allows for a more generous space. The cast concrete steps help create more dimension as they float to the lounge and fire element. Privacy is crucial, so rather than hedging the house, bamboo and Afrocarpus are strategically placed to obscure certain sight lines, while the myriad of forms and patterns of wooly bush, selected vines, succulents and cacti serve as contrast to the course texture of the lava rock ground cover and the smooth anthracite cement board canvas of the house.
After an exhaustive search with the team for trees, Washingtonia palms were chosen for the parkway. A 50-year-old Ponytail palm, a living sculpture, is the centerpiece for the entry court.
The center courtyard, positioned between the house and garage, is a shade garden. Slabs of organic flagstone and tumbled black stones create a dramatic foundation for ficus, mondo grass and dracaena, viewed from the terrarium-like windows of the living room. Bamboo rises at the edge of the garden and provides privacy from the neighbor along with lush burst of foliage viewed from the rooftop garden.
On the rooftop, recycled fiber cement containers house reed grass and a bonsai olive tree. Lizard vines climb the vertical trellis along the rear of the building; a refreshing patch of green in an otherwise concrete jungle. Pedestrian-friendly plantings of succulents, wooly bush, ornamental grape and lizard vines are planted in mass outside the walls of the house and extend the garden to the street.
Private Residence Ocean Parks, California
Inspired by the client’s love of the Sonoran desert, we transformed the outdoor of their recently remodeled coastal home into three distinct and usable rooms.
Streetside, the front yard was initially unusable due to the sloping terrain. A corten steel retaining wall was fabricated and installed to level this area. With an existing blank canvas, I wanted to convey a sense of the desert and worked to emulate that with a coastal palette of plants. I added a Chilean thornless mesquite tree to soften the façade of the house and provide privacy from the street for the children’s bedroom. Wooly bush, kangaroo paw and drought tolerant plants play up color and texture and provide year-round interest, as well as attract birds. African boxwood on the same plane as the wood fence, contrasts with the stepped planes of the corten and concrete block walls and creates additional visual interest.
Between the back of the main house and garage is an outdoor entertainment room. The dining table, set inside of a no-mow meadow of rough textured grass chosen for ease of maintenance, is defined by a steel edge. The blank wall of the garage is used for projecting films to view at night. A bamboo screen creates privacy from the shared driveway with the adjacent neighbor, while the board-formed concrete lounge and firepit add texture and additional seating in this room.
A meandering path of decomposed granite mimics the desert floor and passes through a collection of grasses and perennials. A large organic vegetable bed teaches the children about gardening and provides farm-to-table vegetables for family meals.
Private Residence Venice, California
My garden is my palette. It’s a place where I experiment with plants and spatial arrangements. I think of my retreat in terms of the Japanese word Shibui, which loosely means a quiet feeling. My home is my sanctuary, a place to let my mind wander free and a place for contemplation.
I started work on this garden in June of 2007. The beach lot, 40’x100’ is not grandiose and my goal is to engage different sensory experiences when passing through each room.
At the street, I built an entry gate of 2”x2” redwood which affords security and privacy, yet offers public observance into the entry courtyard. Bougainvillea drapes softly over the cement board wall that buffers the front garden from the street. Inside, lacey tree ferns mixed with flax and asparagus fern serve as the understory to queen palms that transition the garden in from the street.
For the pathways, I chose ¾” crushed rock not only because it’s low maintenance, it also requires no water. And it’s a lot easier to walk on than a rounder stone - these lock into each other. In water-starved California, I think of gravel as the new lawn.
Past the main house, the garden opens to an outdoor lounge layered with a variety of staghorn ferns, antlers, and glass hurricane lanterns filled with beeswax candles. A custom designed teak day bed rests between corten steel planters where olive trees canopy the room.
An eclectic mix of objects weave through the landscape: on the painting shed hangs a red wooden mold of a battleship part; an art piece “Jack”, which is what I called my father, is composed out of my recycled coffee cups; and a play on the classic garden medallion is a cattle feed pan in my orchid nursery.
Purposefully the pathway changes texture, from slab to slate to gravel, to create pause in the different parts of the garden. A backdrop of Boston ivy crawls across the cement board fence behind a row of gingko trees. Both deciduous plants were chosen to impart seasonality in a climate of endless summer.
How often does this garden change? Certainly with the season, my mood, and constant inspiration. I invite you for a visit.
Cold Water Canyon
Private Residence Beverly Hills, California 2010
Nestled at the top edge of Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills, with expansive views to the south and west, this sun-drenched garden with a generous lawn and pool was mostly complete, post-renovation of the home. Yet the opportunity to take a forgotten wooded part of the garden defined by broken concrete, an abandoned Airstream and a shed, badly needed to be addressed.
We said goodbye to the shack, sold the Airstream, and had the Aleppo pines judiciously pruned. We built a mangaris wood deck to extend the living room out to this new woodsy retreat. Here, I repurposed the organic shaped concrete pavers and planted Dymondia margaretae in between them. I designed a corten water feature, planted strawberry trees to impart more intimacy, and an outdoor reading room was born under the shade. Lemon and kumquat citrus trees in containers grace the new deck. Sculptural ornaments, purchased by the owner and designed by a local artist, hang from the trees and add a whimsical touch to the space. A selection of succulents mixed with iris and lamb’s ear serve as a soft transition between the room and hillside edge. Boston ivy and bougainvillea planted at the base of the fence will grow in as a plush background. At night, this lounge, compete with a corten fire pit, is a more intimate space to entertain friends and a perfect gathering place on cool California evenings.
Retail Store Venice, California 2010
A tapestry of succulents and steel elements echo the bold juxtaposition of materials that embody the Robert Graham brand. Plant materials chosen for the site highlight the clothing line’s design details: rich in texture, pattern, and color.
With a directive for the garden to be minimal maintenance, sensitive to water usage and budget conscious, I determined drought tolerant succulents were an ideal solution for the parkway. Instead of grass, a silver carpet of Dymondia margaretae was applied as the understory to the succulents, chosen for its durability with heavy foot traffic. Queen palms interspersed between existing Washingtonia palms were added to bring the ceiling down and create a canopy around the building.
Two original 1920s beach bungalows, renovated for the showroom, are connected by a courtyard and gracious veranda. These community spaces, dotted with colorful Adirondack chairs, recycled tire planters and a fire element, serve as a social gathering place for the store’s clientele.