Dustin Gimbel’s garden in May

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I’ve talked about Dustin’s ceramics a lot lately, but how’s his garden growing this very grey-skied May? Last week Shirley Watts was in town for talks on the next installment of Natural Discourse’s installation at the LA Arboretum in spring 2019 — flush with the exciting news of having received an NEA grant this time around! — and she wanted to fit in some ceramic shopping at Dustin’s home/workshop/garden. Shirley brought with her another avid ceramics fan, Dr. Marie Csete (who I first met when she gave an intriguing lecture entitled “Structure and Function in Stem Cell Biology” at the first Natural Discourse way back in 2013.)

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With the two of them absorbed in Dustin’s ceramics, I had a good, long look at his garden, without Dustin chattering away and distracting me as he always does (kidding! That’s just me projecting…) — the three clipped box balls that punctuate the front planting have really grown in thick and lush, as have the essential privacy hedges growing along the front sidewalk, now thoroughly sheltering the front garden from the busy street. (And we’re talking 24/7 Long Beach busy.) It is a world apart here in Dustin’s garden on the other side of those hedges, the atmosphere thick with plant lust and design schemes to show the many botanical wonders off to best advantage. Outside the hedges, the world may as well be in black and white. Like all stunning gardens, it’s all about that fierce concentration of intention, staking a claim on the sheer gorgeousness of the natural world like your life depends on it (and in my case, it pretty much does), curated through a unique, sensorily restless sensibility.

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High noon but overcast, I did my best with the camera. At the foot of the boundary hedge seen in the first photo runs a lush planting of Bilbergia ‘Hallelujah’ alongside a small footpath, looking in the direction of the driveway past a lemon tree and a large water tank feature with bobbing glass fishing floats. The complex, multi-layered front garden planting has many such footpaths and footholds to tend to the plants. Strategic changes in elevations were sculpted into place when ground was first broken on the front garden, with broken concrete used for retaining walls where needed. For example, the leucospermum is planted on a well-draining berm, although the low urbanite walls are barely visible now.

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Looking from the boundary hedge back at the house, infamous concretion totems on the right. Tree in the distance is Acacia podalyrifolia (which I believe is from seed of mine). Orlaya grandiflora, the Minoan Lace, is in bloom — both Shirley and Marie went home with seed of this annual — and the golden-flowered leucospermum on the left is just about finished bloom. Spires of hesperaloe in the mid distance.

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Dustin carrying just one of the many boxes of his ceramics to Shirley’s rental car, boxes also bulging with plants and cuttings. This is the transverse path running the length of his front garden, starting at the driveway. If I remember correctly, the wood was salvaged from work on a local pier.

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There’s my car on the driveway just seen through the curtain of weeping Acacia pendula trained on a large rebar arbor. Dustin thinks this aloe is A. camperi, and it’s a personal favorite of his, bridging the bloom period in spring between winter and summer-flowering aloes. The tips of pale Agave mitis var. albidior in a small meadow of sesleria are just visible beyond the aloes.

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View from the driveway of Acacia pendula, box, verbascum species, orlaya, with the delicate and lovely but seldom-seen Anthericum saundersiae ‘Variegata’ in the foreground. A peachy Russelia equisetiformis adds to the wash of soft orange provided by the pincushion shrub and aloes in bloom.

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The transverse path deposits you at an intersectional walkway that leads to the front porch or, further on, to the back garden, or a side path back out to the sidewalk and street.

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An outsized collection of potted succulents and shrubs flanks the porch.

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Through the side gate into the back garden/workshop area (potted farfugium, blooming honeysuckle on fence, newly planted Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish just visible in left foreground), leaving the serene front garden and entering what I consider the engine room that keeps Dustin’s ship afloat, including outdoor dining area, ceramics studio, propagation areas, and garden design workshop. It is a mesmerizing place full of experiments, ideas unfolding in leaf and clay, all packed in among the nursery stock he grows for clients’ gardens.

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Along the path to the back garden/ceramics studio, papaya at the end of the frame next to the variegated Italian Buckthorn Rhamnus alaternus (or possibly Pittosporum crassifolium). This side fence is made of water-proof HardieBacker cement board, painted pale mauve-grey.

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That heavily curled Kalanchoe beharensis is some dwarf/compact variant that is intensely sculptural. I covet it. A table with a smoker (?) has been placed smack dab over a big clump of Melianthus ‘Purple Haze.’

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Turning the corner of the screen surrounding the outdoor dining area, which I neglected to photograph. I’m assuming that’s an orchid cactus/epiphyllum clambering up the screen, but with Dustin it’s probably best not to assume. The table was stacked with ceramics and some killer species of stapelia in bloom. The multi-variegated Japanese Star Jasmine, Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘Ogon Nishiki,’ is used as a ground cover along the base of the screen.

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On the garden side of the screen, the concrete-formed trough/water garden pierces through, making it a clever feature of the dining area as well as the garden outside the screen. Hesperaloe ‘Pink Parade’ throwing its first bloom, and apparently having been very slow to do so.

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More flow is created by the viewing “windows” cut into the screen enclosure, literally framing views, as seen in this photo Mitch took last year. I wish I could keep Mitch in my back pocket for all impromptu photo duties.

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Euphorbia cotinifolia is cut back hard to keep it small, multi-trunked and dense with those luscious dark leaves.

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I didn’t get a photo this visit of the fence he built to screen the propagation area so am including one from a visit in December ’16, a much better day for photos than this gloomy day in May. The Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ on the far left is maybe 5 feet tall now.

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Looking back from the blue-washed fence with geometric frames at the HardieBacker board fence. The workshop/studio is out of frame to the right.

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That’s the wall of the workshop/studio, festooned with swags of Aristolochia gigantea now coming into bloom. When the garden was photographed last year for Sunset magazine, it was immaculately styled, not a plastic nursery pot in sight, tables carefully vignetted, Fermob furniture brought in. It looked fantastic, but I think I’ll always prefer this, which is how a busy designer’s garden looks on a day-to-day basis as he workshops ideas for designs and uses every available inch for ceramics and to propagate more plants.

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Here’s a photo Mitch took of the garden styled for the Sunset photo shoot last year, same space as the previous photo.

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A small portion of the nursery stock he grows for clients — nice Aloe marlothii!

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And when he’s not designing gardens or throwing clay, he’s painting. I mean…c’mon!

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I think this is the painting that Dustin said he completed just the day before, when he took a “mental health day” off from work.

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I bet I’ll hear from Dustin after sharing this photo! But it gives a sense of how much fun a space this is to explore. The view is toward the end of the property, workshop and ceramic studio on the left, looking over nursery stock, various projects, and a few raised beds for vegetables and flowers, like the apricot-colored helichrysum/strawflowers coming along nicely for summer. The corrugated fencing separates bee hives from the main space, though the hives are not currently active.

If some gardens can be said to soothe like a pleasant cup of herbal tea, Dustin’s is a triple espresso. I always leave feeling fully caffeinated. If I had to sum it all up in one word, it would be fecund.

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You can set up an appointment to shop Dustin’s ceramics by contacting him via his website here. (And of course check out his garden while you do!)

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8 Responses to Dustin Gimbel’s garden in May

  1. Pam/Digging says:

    So great to have a walk-through of Dustin’s creative garden again, and with such thoughtful and observant commentary to boot!

  2. Nell says:

    That newest painting blew me away. It so perfectly enlivens the space with 3-D effect and lightness. He’s a terrific talent.

    Have you seen or visited any of his landscape design projects? I’d guess most are much bigger spaces than his own garden, but he has so much to offer for people wanting to make the most of a normal city lot.

    The front garden is actually my favorite part — a good strong cup of very tasty coffee to the interior’s espresso. The way the hesperaloe echoes the cairns (especially in image #4) and the Leucospermum blooms the citrus: oh my. The shot of that Aloe camperi under the silver weeping acacia with the pale agave and silky grass: oh my, oh my.

    Marvelous as it would be to have Mitch on call, these are pretty darned excellent photos. Thanks so much for them and the illuminating commentary.

  3. Wow. While I hope the Sunset story eventually appears in the magazine (what’s wrong with them?!) I appreciate this grand tour very much. I’m so glad you snuck in that second to last photo and hope Dustin doesn’t get too upset with you, it’s wonderful to see. Oh, and puhlease! While Mitch’s photos are always captivating yours aren’t too far off. Talent runs in the family.

  4. Kris P says:

    We need you to provide at least quarterly updates on Dustin’s garden. This post reminds me of just how much I love that screen surrounding the dining area. Seeing it again has me itching to cut holes in the fence between my cutting and dry gardens. Of course, that’d also mean the need to redesign the garden areas visible through each window…The Orlaya planted in his front garden prompted me to plant it in my own this spring – but then the bunnies showed up. Bunnies apparently love Orlaya foliage.

  5. David Feix says:

    Thanks for sharing this updated visit. It’s just my cup of tea, but makes me feel like such a slacker with my own garden. And puhlease, a bit of unnecessary modesty about your own photography!

  6. Gerhard Bock says:

    Oh man, I don’t even know what to say. Can you take me there one day and introduce me to Dustin?

  7. Peter says:

    Wow! Is there anything this man can’t do? I always enjoy seeing his work and your posts about his garden. Like you, I prefer the real look to the Sunset-photo-shoot-ready one. What a fantastic and fun space!

  8. hb says:

    This garden looks better and better and better!

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