(This Sunday, May 7th, you have another opportunity to visit this extraordinary garden. Details here.)
The recent APLD watershed garden tour was exemplary in every way that such tours should be; lots of interesting and pertinent design solutions for SoCal dry gardens that illustrated ways to channel and marshall water and plant according to optimal conservation principles without sacrificing design. And there was one garden on the tour which was the home of designers, which is an entirely different animal than a designer-client collaboration. In their own gardens, designers constantly edit and replant, sharpen the focus, ruthlessly remove weak performers.
This garden is a personal laboratory, a freewheeling, unfettered deployment of adventurous planting and design ideas nestled snugly into the Hollywood Hills. During a subsequent late afternoon visit, over glasses of prosecco, I learned a bit of the garden’s story as it evolved over the three major phases of its existence.
The garden in its current iteration is between three to four years old. The terracing is believed to have been started back in 1947, just a few years after the house was built. The first owners unleashed ivy on the terraces and turfed what level areas they could, what you might call defensive landscaping. When Eugene McCarthy and Carla Fry moved in, the ivy and turf became short-timers. Eugene, a property master for many films, is instinctively attracted to the strong, sculptural outlines of plants such as tree aloes, and began clearing and planting as he collected specimens from farmers markets and even the big box stores. A trio of Aloe marlothii he planted are now ten years old and were in spectacularly synchronous bloom for the first time earlier this year.
Sadly, Carla died in 2002, and it wasn’t until Eugene and Johanna Woollcott found each other that the garden’s current form began to take shape maybe three to four years ago. Needless to say, it was their mutual love of plants that brought them together, and the garden vividly celebrates every bit of that bond.
Checking the blog after the visit, I realized I had already seen some of Johanna Woollcott’s design work (Wild Gardens LA) via the Venice Home & Garden Tour some years ago. Johanna brought clarity and coherence to the terraces and planting. Some terraces were knocked down and leveled for larger planting areas, new paths and retaining walls poured. Unless I miscounted, there are now three main terraces holding back the hillside.
In the new framework, with all ivy and turf now banished, only the best of nonthirsty plants were allowed admittance to the garden.
There’s more detailed photos of the stair plantings in a previous post here.
The sitting area at the topmost terrace. Unfortunately, none of us thought to straighten the rug.
Looking down on the big patio on what I’m calling the second or mid-level terrace.
Detail of the original retaining wall, which I’m told is holding up amazingly well decades later. Eugene said a nearby Wallace Neff house gave them the idea of pairing the retaining walls with big saucers of aeoniums.
Serpentine, sinuous, sexy. I love terracing. And so do these deliriously happy plants.
A new retaining wall/bench/flight of stairs starts at ground level at the street-level entrance to the garden and runs up the hillside alongside the house, meeting up with the first terrace. I’ve seen some incredible concrete projects this spring, and this two-tiered retaining wall, done in one pour, ranks up there with the most impressive.
The young trees to the left of the wall are a trio of gingkos planted to shade the house. Other trees include acacias, including the Pearl Acacia, P. podalyrifolia, Palo Verde trees, a cork oak, and an impressively august specimen of the ‘Dr. Hurd’ manzanita.
Upon asking, Johanna said Eugene simply came home one day with the horse, as if that was the most ordinary of occurrences. And for them, I’m sure it is.
Underfoot is alternatively gravel and decomposed concrete, and on the terraces broken concrete is used for paths. Johanna says that, despite appearances, the boundary metal fence is not CorTen.
Many of the objects are collected from their travels.
Like this ornate urn from Morocco, holding back a vast sea of foaming peppermint pelargoniums.
View of the house rising out of the lush planting, with the gingkos mentioned above.
A gabion bench in the lower garden is filled with more treasures and mementos.
The garden unfolds in discovery after discovery of myriad details and autobiographical incidents.
The fireplace on the large patio at the back of the house holds many such trophies from travels.
The large patio seen from overhead. Those are four potted smoke trees against the house. Lots of entertaining/partying happens here. I’m told celebratory prosecco is freely poured on Friday nights, just as it was on this one.
Ruby, the current canine mistress of the garden, is a ringer for this garden statue.
And everywhere, fabulous planting.
If you go (details here), let me know what else you find out about this remarkable hillside garden.
Johanna and Eugene are the nicest garden hosts and historians and will tirelessly answer any questions.
photos by MB Maher.