beyond the lawn; part 2

Leave, my friend (for it is high time), the low and sordid pursuits of life to others, and in this safe and snug retreat emancipate yourself for your studies.” — Pliny the Younger

Another house on the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour in Los Angeles this early May had some wonderful ideas. Right at the curb, the broad, decomposed granite parkway provided stark contrast to the neighboring turfed properties. Even though this house and garden stand out among the others on its street and carry a bit of the shock of the new, the design principles upon which it draws are old. Very old. Ancient, in fact. Indeed, the designer didn’t stray very far at all from the source materials for mediterranean homes and gardens.

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Step away from the street and the double rows of parked cars, up a short flight of steps, and we could be entering a Roman villa.

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And I’m talking about garden principles faithful in spirit. The Romans would have used myrtle and box, not the Australian westringia, but the latter’s small leaves fit in seamlessly.

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Landscape architect Joseph Marek began work in 2011, with more fine-tuning in 2014.

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By a cleverly strategic, stripped-down use of water and plants, a lushness and vitality is nevertheless communicated and felt. Through gestures such as the rill in the front garden.

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From the tour notes: “[I]n 2014…the garden was re-graded and all lawn was removed from both the front garden and the wide parkway. Once cleared, the house’s true scale and presence were revealed…A gurgling iris-lined lily pond, intersecting a richly colored sandstone and gravel courtyard surrounded by Mediterranean, Australian and native California plants now welcomes neighbors and visitors.”

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Step through the portico, follow the path into the back garden, and we could be in Ibiza or Santorini.

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The side path leads to a trellised table area.

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Looking from the pergola, past a small fountain, to the pool.

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Looking down the length of the pool reveals a prioritized, economical use of space. (And to further update a neoclassical setting, I believe that’s actress Rosalind Chao, nee Keiko O’Brien of Star Trek: TNG, under the olive.)

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The chairs and fire pit area are semi-screened from the pergola by citrus and from the neighbors by towering bamboo. Ancient principles are clearly stated here, that irrigation should not be wasted on plants serving as shallow-rooted carpeting underfoot.
Water is prized, framed and contained, where its liquid abilities to brim and spill can be appreciated, but never squandered.

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Looking at the main house. Buxom evergreen plants of box and citrus flesh out the patterned geometric surfaces underfoot. This all just makes so much sense for hot and dry Los Angeles, a frenetic city that requires strong doses of sanctuary (and not just from the sun). As Pliny the Younger puts it, in such a place as this we can leave the “low and sordid pursuits of life to others.” Amen, Pliny.

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Looking at the apartment/studio connected by the pergola to the main house. Materials could be COR-Ten steel, recycled concrete, any neoclassical references on pergolas can be stripped away. The basic premise remains that, weather permitting, it’s outside the home where mundane activities like napping, reading, eating, become heightened adventures shared with the birds, the wind, the sun. Perhaps it’s a primal link to a time when we were outdoors far more than indoors?

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Under a surface luxury lies careful, conservative planning, strategic use of plants, water, shade, based on timeless design principles for summer-dry climates.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re treated to more about this garden.

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9 Responses to beyond the lawn; part 2

  1. rusty duck says:

    Yep, I could live there..

  2. Denise says:

    RD, that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

  3. Kris P says:

    I so admire gardens like this, although I remain too much of a collector to be capable of such restraint. I love that Iris-lined, water lily-filled rill.

  4. Denise says:

    Kris, makes sense that LAs and garden designers would have clients that aren’t collectors or plant crazed, because that would be us — and we’re usually strictly DIY.

  5. Glad I just renewed my subscription.

  6. Tim says:

    This is one gorgeous landscaping achievement. It marries so beautifully to the house, is conscious of it’s environs, but not pretentious. Great plant palette, and although limited and restrained, it is not boring because of the great variety, plant choices and combinations. Not a gardener’s garden: like Kris P, I am a ‘plants first’ gardener and I jam things in, ask design questions later…
    Thanks for pointing out Rosalind Chao; makes me want to go back and watch TNG and Deep Space Nine again (for the hundredth time).
    Your rich prose really added, as well: thanks for sharing this great, great home and landscape.

  7. Denise says:

    @Loree, I think I need to do that too.
    @Tim, I love plant collector gardens, but also really enjoy seeing gardens that ask design questions first, to use your hilarious phrase. Thanks for sharing that 😉

  8. David Feix says:

    One sees the design influences of Joseph Marek’s time spent working for Nancy Goslee Powell’s office, and I have to say I like the fuller, more exuberant style of his own garden which I was fortunate to have seen some 10 years ago. This garden just strikes me as a bit too restrained ultimately.

  9. Denise says:

    David, I think that restraint works for some clients’ needs — apparently, never yours tho! You do have some plant-hungry clients, and the results are a feast for plant lovers. I like the flow and scale of this work. It’s not a large outdoor space but yet feels roomy. I think it’s a great example for Los Angeles in these parched times.

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