Sunday, April 11, 2010

Casa Fantastica!

When you think about garden tours, you usually think about seeing new sights, wonderful new inspirations, getting new ideas. But one of the truly wonderful aspects of gardening is that it's an exercise in change. So it was a thrill for me that one of the stops on the Theodore Payne Foundation's Native Plant Garden Tour was a repeat from last year - I would have a chance to see how it fared over the last year.

The house in 2009

The garden surrounds a magnificent old house in the section of Los Angeles known as Mid-City. Huge homes built just past the beginning of the 20th century line broad avenues. The neighboring houses are in various stages of repair - some restored, some dilapidated, and others sporting graceless alterations that took place in an earlier era.

According to the owners, this house was in a state of deterioration when they found it, but that was a blessing, for it had not suffered the indignity of "improvements" in past decades. The house was painstakingly remodeled, and then the grounds were landscaped to create a low-water-use garden using native plants.

Both the house and the gardening remodel uncovered a lot of cumbersome debris, and rather than junk it all, the clever gardeners decided to use these artifacts as garden sculpture. Instead of classical statuary, the garden features the undulating forms of rusting old steam radiators and iron cisterns and tanks. Because of this junkyard decor, the home's creators have dubbed the place "Casa Apocalyptica."

Chunks of broken concrete create retaining walls for monkeyflower bushes to sprawl over. Rusted trailer hitches are buried in a kind of constellation in a bermed garden bed full of annual California poppies and baby-blue-eyes.

Here, a cluster of old tanks, chunks of sidewalk, and rebar form a sculptural note beneath a silvery olive tree and the raised flower spikes of echium "Pride of Madiera."

This year, the owners graciously opened the first floor of the house to us, showing off the magnificent Arts & Crafts dining room and the beveled glass windows. We walked through the spacious kitchen and out onto a deck space shaded by a pergola, where an outdoor dining area overlooked a swimming pool.

Most of the backyard was hardscaped with concrete pavement, though garden beds surround the side and back. There were cozy nooks for sitting, dining, and lounging, all cleverly tucked into private garden rooms by careful plantings or the placement of containers. The back of the property was screened by a wall of tall bamboo.

A magnificent fountain trickled into a large free-standing pool, surrounded by broad brick walls that were perfect to sit on. In the water, huge koi swam. Last year, the tank had been new and bare - this year its plantings were lush and its brick walls were softened by climbing vines.

A screen of espaliered fruit trees separated the swimming pool area from a small dining space off the main house. In addition to fruit trees, a passionflower vine twined among the cables, and today it was magnificently in bloom.

Although the plantings look lush, the use of pavement to shape and define the space makes maintenance easy. This is a view of the back of the house. The larger pergola leads to the kitchen. Above it is a sleeping porch off the second floor - sleeping porches were very popular during the Arts & Crafts era, as Southern California doctors promoted breathing fresh air while sleeping for improved health.

My favorite plantings are in the front yard, though, and here is where you can see the greatest change from last year.

The front garden in 2009

The front yard had been cleared of its older lawn, and gentle berms had been created, and planted with sages, ceanothus, penstemons, and artemisia. What last year was a promising start

The same spot now. Click to "embiggen"

Is this year a full and fabulous landscape. A magnificent clump of white sage, Salvia apiania, rises up over the oddly sculptural artifact of an old steam radiator. In the hollow formed by rocks and boulders, a blaze of bright California poppy - a specific variety selected for its deep orange hue - draws the eye.


The shrubby native monkeyflower, with its flowers of tender apricot, is at the left. Selected varieties of monkeyflower, in shades of cherry or ruddy vermillion, are planted elswhere in the yard.

At the north side of the central walk, bush lupine and a great spiky ornamental grass range with yellow tree poppies and deer bush.

This garden visitor seems to appreciate the multiple hues of a low-growing native penstemon

with flowers that fade from deep sky blue to violet.

Here's another view of the front garden this year, with the plantings filled out lushly. Compare this view to the one from 2009 at the top of this post.

It's always a rare privilege to be invited into a private garden to see another gardener's work. But it's even more wonderful to be invited back to see how the gardener's vision has developed. I'm already longing for 2011 to see this garden again.



Although I'm not a fan of the type of landscaping in the front yard, I'm so pleased to see the property cared for. What a wonderful treasure. It's so sad to not maintain these beautiful homes and gardens.

Thank you for the tour. I love admiring the work of others and enjoy the inspiration.

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness. That front door is just amazing. I can not believe what a difference one year has made. It looks so lovely. Awesome.

I thought of you each time I drove by a house with a pretty garden yesterday knowing that you were on your tour : )

Gilly said...

What a fantastic garden! I can't believe how quickly the plants in the front garden have grown! All that in a year!

And I love the fountain, that little face peeping over the plants is charming!

Its so interesting seeing how gardeners from other countries make their own ideas blossom.

Mary Bergfeld said...

You are my heroine!!! Not only do you give us gorgeous pictures, you know about about ginger root. I'm thrilled and hope this will work in my climate. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you took us along on the tour, and that passionflower was spectacular!

ani phyo said...

wow, I love this garden and house. the owners have amazing style and taste. and the garden makes for a water efficient, eco landscape that's easy to care for. beautiful. thanks for the post!!