the light is left on at Rancho Reubidoux


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I’ve been dreading completing this post, but since Reuben and Paul have officially decamped from their house and garden at Rancho Reubidoux as of last week and moved into their new home, it’s time to unpack these last images and move on as well.

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Another reason I’ve been avoiding finishing this post is the new format, which doesn’t do justice to horizontal photos, like the above photo of the front garden.* I apologize for that, but onward nonetheless. Mitch’s photos are most affected by the new format, while I tend to mostly shoot vertical anyway.

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We all have our touchstones — books, movies, music, people, places that resonate on an unexpectedly personal frequency. The garden world is no exception, and Rancho Reubidoux has been a touchstone of mine for more than six years. Now that it’s changing hands, a final pictorial is in order.

These containers of African Milk Tree and Oscularia deltoides are also in the front garden.

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The remaining photos are of the back garden.
Thankfully, the new owners bought the property as much for the garden as the house, and Reuben will be involved in the ongoing caretaking and oversight.

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To all flea-marketeers, lovers of desert gardens, salvage, land art, assemblage, repurposing forgotten pieces of industry, e.g., the rusty side of life, Rancho Reubidoux will speak directly to your oxidized hearts.

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For everyone else, right out of the gate the question has to be why. Some of the stuff that has passed through Rancho Reubidoux has literally weighed close to a ton (like that incredible soapstone industrial wash basin sold long ago). These aren’t whims but carefully thought out intentions. In discussing his work, I’m trying to be as deft and light-handed as Reuben, so I’m trying to avoid explanations like:

Maybe it could be argued that including man-made detritus in our gardens makes possible an irresistible study of our fraught and complicated place in the natural world, especially those objects whose sculptural qualities derive from pure function, just as nature designs, drawing intriguing parallels and contrasts.

Um, no. That would never pass muster with Reuben. It’s either cool or it’s not, thumb’s up or down.

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Reuben takes this inherent tension between the built and natural world further than I thought possible. Here billowy acacia and palo verde trees overlook the stern, street-side sentries that were possibly industrial kilns in another life.

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In using these concrete test cores to build a monumental garden bench, Reuben doesn’t just decorate the garden with salvage but builds the pieces into the garden’s bones.

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Plants, rocks, cast-offs, construction materials are seamlessly united, all elements presented as equally and inherently valuable. In less practiced hands, kitsch can be the result, whether intended or not.

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It all carries a similar weight and presence, as well as similar endurance, as that possessed by the crisp, architectural outlines of the tough desert plants.

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One of the reasons for the move is that the scale on which Reuben works has not been kind to his back.

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In the desert climate of Riverside, California, mass, line, and spatial delineation are achieved without thirsty topiary or hedging. Thinking with your hands and body takes its toll.

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The back “wall” to this sitting area alone is composed of so many myriad pieces, I’ve lost count.

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We both are equally addicted to chairs. Or chairs as sculpture.

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I think some of the power and inevitability that the Rancho conveys comes from the fact that Reuben insisted it be professionally graded. No wonky, haphazard angles to mar the placement of a collection of manhole grates on gravel over which improbably float heavy cement containers with rusted ruffs, balanced on plinths, a single agave in each.

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Over the years I’ve watched as Reuben distilled the bulk of the garden’s elements into simple geometric shapes, less emphasis on the industrial, with some containers devolving into simple stone vessels. He’s had serial yard sales, where he jettisons pieces to accommodate new acquisitions. I was out of town for the last sale held this month, mostly of remnants kept in the garage. Everything in these photos remains for the enjoyment of the new owners.

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Not only a feast for the eye, the Rancho is a churning story factory. Reuben was out on one of his “constitutionals,” his daily walks, when he chanced upon the perfect scaffolding for his collection of tubular bells (oxygen tanks). A quick call was made to Paul, his partner of 37 years, to inform him of the find — which is often how acquisitions were finalized. Paul has always been a ready accomplice and enabler. But there are always multiple other accomplices and ensuing labyrinthine twists and turns before a piece finds a home at the Rancho. Reuben has enlisted countless others in these creations, a performance art-like component that has resulted in a very protective, loyal following.

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I had an opportunity over the weekend to ask Reuben about his influences, explaining that I’m seeing references to broad Mesoamerican plazas, cenotes …

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(Another story: When the large metal grate was delivered, one of the delivery men turned out to be an older, somewhat frail-appearing gentleman, seemingly not up to such a big job, whose uniform of shorts and flip-flops in no way inspired confidence. If someone doesn’t lose a toe, it’ll be a good day, Reuben thought. The men lowered the enormous grate gently onto the concrete base, on which it miraculously fit as though made to order. Just another day in the life of Rancho Reubidoux. There’s a story, a cast of characters, in every object.)

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I told Reuben I see references to Mesoamerican stepped pyramids.
And while he politely listened, ultimately his thoughtful answer was that it’s all intuitive.

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Intuitive for a guy who spent his career as a graphic designer for the Home section of the Los Angeles Times, day in and out filling the frame, juggling mass and shape, constantly testing his eye.

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All paintings are by Reuben.

I’ll devote another post to the sitting areas closer to the house. Like the great landscape architect Luis Barragán, Reuben believes that we should make “houses into gardens, and gardens into houses.”

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You can check out the Rancho Reubidoux blog for more background and follow along with new adventures on Instagram.

Photos by AGO and MB Maher.
*trying out formats to address this, currently Twenty-Ten 5/25/17

This entry was posted in agaves, woody lilies, artists, climate, design, garden ornament, garden visit, MB Maher, pots and containers, succulents and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to the light is left on at Rancho Reubidoux

  1. Kris P says:

    I enjoyed this opportunity for a thorough look at Ruben’s incredible garden space, albeit on the sad occasion of his move. What a boon for the new owners to buy a house and obtain a well-curated art installation in the bargain, as well as ongoing guidance to assist in keeping it fresh! My best wishes to Ruben and his partner with their new chapter. Thanks for sharing your visit, Denise.

  2. Saurs says:

    I hear you on the “touchstone” front. This really is the end of an era. The impact they’ve had on local gardeners of a certain persuasion (and blawgging types, world-wide) can’t really be understated.

    Speaking of understated, I’ve actually never seen RR looking so sedate. Beautiful, intelligent, welcoming, humorous, but stoic in a way I’ve never really noticed. The photography here always seems to capture something both new (to me, the viewer) and familiar (yours and Maher’s eyes are nothing if not incredibly, consistently characteristic). I like looking at gardens I otherwise know, but from your perspective. 🙂

  3. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Wishing Reuben and Paul all the best as they move on. I’ve been a fan of Reuben’s blog and work and am sad that Rancho Reubidoux will be no more. Thank you for sharing this loving last look at the amazing space Reuben created. The new owners are lucky indeed to be inheriting such a gem!

  4. Tim says:

    I’m all misty eyed and I’ve never even been there. These photos reveal a most magical place and althoughthere is so much there, the negative space is a magnificent balance. The artful placement; the incredible sculptural quality of the plants; the incredible, lust-worthy containers; they all combine to make me want to rip out my lush, green, plant-filled garden and start from scratch.
    But mine is a different climate and a different aesthetic. Gosh, Thanks for sharing these mind-blowing photos, Denise.

  5. hb says:

    They left the property far far far better than they found it.

    Those rusty chairs are awesome.

    All we gardeners need to be careful of our backs. Only one per customer.

  6. Saurs’ comment said everything I would like to say and much more eloquently than I ever could. Reuben’s style, creativity, and generosity in sharing it, has changed how I see gardening and the art of display. He is a master.

    The sentence “Everything in these photos remains for the enjoyment of the new owners” made me smile, so very apropos. Thank you Reuben, thank you Denise and MB.

  7. Brent says:

    I gobbled this post up like the delicious and rare treat that it is.

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