In 2010, I was selected, along with 2 other landscapers, to design a demonstration garden out at the Santa Monica Airport. The inspiration for the garden was actually my front porch, and the delightful blend of privacy and connection to my neighborhood that had evolved most organically.
It is possible to create a garden that evokes the tropics, even here in the Southern California. The trick is to work with plants that have the essence of tropical gardens but without necessarily requiring an abundance of water. In the case of this garden, we worked with exotic colored Cannas, Lush Palms, and delicate Chinese Lanterns. We even managed to tuck in some bromeliads and ferns.
A child’s garden is one of my favorite projects. There are so many opportunities to educate and excite a child, stimulating their senses and increasing their understanding of nature. In this garden we selected plants specifically for their ability to attract birds and butterflies. We tucked in a small vegetable garden that would give the kids a true hands-on experience with gardening. Finally, we installed a small water feature that was enjoyed not only by the family, but by the birds that came to visit.
In just about every garden, there is some little nook you just don’t know quite what to do with. In the case of this Redondo Beach garden, we transformed an otherwise ordinary corner into an intriguing raised seating area. A small stucco wall capped with flagstone was used to build up the existing berm. We then created a seating area of flagstone and dymondia, and surrounded it with lush plantings of camellias, star jasmine, agapanthus and podocarpus.
Each microclimate presents certain requirements and limitations. Though shade gardens may not allow for quite the number of flowering plants, there are any number of beautiful specimens that can be considered to give a garden form and vibrancy: Japanese maples, liriopes, hydrangeas, ferns, coral bells and anemones. In moderate climates even exotics such as bromeliads and orchids can be considered. Fountains can also add a wonderful meditative quality to a shade garden.
Our Southern California hillsides come with their own set of significant challenges: A balance must be found between fire protection, erosion control, native plant communities, and general aesthetics. For this Malibu home we used dramatic succulents nearer the home, where water storing capabilities form a strong defense line. California natives such as ceanothus and manzanita were used further away from the home for both their inherent erosion control properties and their transition to the native planting communities of the surrounding hillside.
One of the glorious pleasures of landscape design is the surprise that sometimes occurs when elements are brought together to create an unexpected impact. In this Santa Monica garden, abelia was used as the foundation planting, while heirloom roses, heliotrope and the glittering silver lace of the artemisia created a graceful, romantic front border.
Though deer have been known to eat even golf balls when they are hungry, this garden was planted to repel them during the average year. None are full proof, but consider plants that have pungent odors, such as salvias or rosemary; textured or fuzzy leaves, such as lamb's ear, and wonderfully enough, many of the herbs.
These days gardens can come equipped with a fully functioning kitchen. This garden made entertaining easy with a grill, refrigerator and sink, as well as comfortable chairs and even a swing. Around the perimeter we planted the fences with climbing 'Joseph Coat' roses and jasmine. The beds were planted with Mediterranean type plantings. One of my favorite combos was the pink carpet rose and the silver of the lamb's ear against the background of creeping fig—giving a modern garage an old-world look.
Sustainable gardens benefit us in so many ways: low water use, low maintenance, increased plant health, increased water retention, and improved wildlife habitat. In addition to a permeable gravel path, all the plants selected were considered drought tolerant and California friendly. Plus, they could handle the heat of the valley! We combined the strong forms of lavenders and westringia, with softer grasses, colorful ground covers such as gazanias, verbenas, and added hot pockets of salvias and penstemon.