Tag Archives: courtyards

beyond the lawn; notes on 2016 LA Garden Conservancy Open Days

Since the 5/7/16 tour, Gov. Jerry Brown surprised us all by announcing that mandatory water restrictions are now suspended except for agriculture. Water use policies will revert back to the local level.
So pat yourself on the back for enduring those spartan showers, ditching the lawn, adding in more permeability to your garden, and overall diligent water use reduction efforts.
(But you still can’t hose down your driveway, so get over that.) Even so, this might be a good moment to emphasize the big picture. From The California Weather Blog:

Nearly all of California is still ‘missing’ at least 1 year’s worth of precipitation over the past 4 years, and in Southern California the numbers suggest closer to 2-3 years’ worth of ‘missing’ rain and snow.
These numbers, of course, don’t even begin to account for the effect of consecutive years of record-high temperatures, which have dramatically increased evaporation in our already drought-stressed region.”

And the bigger, possibly more sobering picture is that even in non-drought years, Los Angeles averages only 15 inches of rainfall. So the problem of too little water for too many people is not going away. Ever. And it was a problem long before the governor hit the red alert button. But you know what? Other cultures have already figured this out, this business of crowding ourselves into hot, dry lands. And there’s great examples all around town. Landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power’s garden on the recent GC Open Days tour is a case study of these principles. And while we all obsess over what to do with the lawn, her almost 20-year-old garden suggests we might also think about where outdoors to eat, nap, cook, read, chat with friends, daydream, warm by a fire, take shelter from the sun, catch an ocean breeze, inhale clouds of jasmine — the scope of possibilities extends far beyond the boundaries of that poster child for this drought, the lawn, and what replaces it.

I liked this line from that keen observer of all things Southern Californian, Joan Didion, in the 5/26/16 New York Review of Books. It easily applies to our attitudes about water in Los Angeles:

I have lived most of my life under misapprehensions of one kind or another.” Boy howdy, you said it, Ms. Didion. Don’t we all? (“California Notes” NYRB 5/26/16)

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This little table and chairs is at the front of Ms. Power’s small Santa Monica house, just off the street, entirely screened by plantings.
A short staircase zig-zags up from the sidewalk through retaining-wall beds filled with agaves and matilija poppies, depositing visitors in this shady “foyer.”
A potted cussonia at the entrance to a garden is always an auspicious sign of good things to come.

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Also in the front courtyard is the first of many small fountains and pools. Implicit is the strong affirmative that, yes, water is precious stuff.
Watch it glisten and sparkle in the sun, ripple in the wind, draw in birds. Just don’t ever take it for granted.

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Narrow passage to the back of the house, a jasmine-scented journey this time of year.

The forgotten spaces in most people’s houses — the side yards and setbacks — I look at as opportunities.”
(all quoted material from “Power of Gardens” by Nancy Goslee Power)

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Already you can sense the strong interplay between indoors and outdoors, the feeling of shelter extending beyond the house, eager to envelope and claim the outdoors as well.

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Up those distant steps leads to the banquette in the photo below.

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Ms. Power’s “napatorium.”

Walled gardens offer so many solutions still relevant in the modern world.
They give privacy and safety from the outside environment, often perceived as hostile.
The living spaces of the house open onto exterior spaces, and outdoor dining is possible in courtyards in good weather most of the year

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[T]he more you define a space, the larger it becomes.”

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The view from the kitchen door.

I designed the water to be seen all the way through the house and make a strong central axis that pulls you outside.”

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A small apartment/cottage shares the wall with the rill.

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Dining area off the kitchen, where the colors warm up.

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The kitchen, windows open to the narrow, pebbled side passageway, a nook in the wall for a potted plant just visible through the window.

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More shaded seating just off the kitchen.

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Everywhere were the tell-tale signs that the outdoors were as lived in as the indoors, if not more so.

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From the street, you’d have no idea what lay up that small flight of steps off the sidewalk, so tours like this are much appreciated.
I wanted Casa Nancina to reveal herself slowly…I didn’t want my landscape to stand out.
It needed to be discreet and feel as if it belonged to the neigbhorhood

Pepper Tree courtyard

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Spotted locally around dusk, a front-house courtyard with Pepper Tree (Schinus molle), stone paving “grouted” with Dymondia margaretae.

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Planting includes euphorbias, agaves, phormiums (or dianella) a small Cercis ‘Forest Pansy,’ and purple irises in bloom near the side gate.
There may possibly be bauhinias as well (pink flowers at roof height).

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Plantings are repeated the length of the entrance garden, including a cercis on either side of the front walkway, another pepper tree at the far end.
Aeonium-filled black urns flank the arched entranceway.

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It struck me as such a vibrant example of reimagining the space from the front door to the sidewalk.
Imagine how dreary and perfunctory the same images would be if replaced with lawn.
Private yet still inviting, full of interest but mindful of an overall quiet balance, showcase and shady retreat in one stroke. Nailed it!

a Greene & Greene rebirth and other tour notes

There was a small tour of five local historical homes on Sunday presented by Long Beach Heritage. The star of the tour from a rarity perspective was this Greene & Greene, one of only three here in Long Beach. Even on such a small tour, I only managed to see three of the five houses. Must build up some tour discipline! It’s just that these old houses and gardens have so very many stories to tell…

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Some houses in my neighborhood contributed panes of the old “wavy” glass for the restoration of this “National Historic landmark…this 1904 house survived by moving three times. Designed by the Greenes as an oceanfront home for Jennie A. Reeve…the house is one of the brothers’ earliest ventures in Arts and Crafts style. Moved to its current location in 1924…Henry Greene was rehired to design a significant two-story addition and garden. The house is currently under restoration.”

I’ll say it’s under restoration. History-making, monumental, meticulous restoration undertaken by the current owner, a restoration architect, using the original Greene & Greene plans, which include not only plans for the built-ins, but the furniture, fixtures and landscape as well. There are only a few of the original decorative items and light fixtures left. The original porch light is temporarily on loan to the Huntington while the house is restored. All other decorative fixtures, and there were over 100, have long since disappeared during the house’s various moves — no one seems to know how or to whom, but someone was made very rich by the pillaging. The floors are quarter-sawn oak, the built-in cabinetry and mouldings Port Orford cedar, which due to its rarity arrives in well-spaced, restoration-prolonging shipments. With restoration still underway, the Reeve house was completely empty, lath and plaster still exposed in some rooms, which provided a fascinating look at the painstaking process of restoration. Completion of the house is estimated for the end of this year, but there’s still the furniture, fixtures and landscape to be finished.

No interior photos were allowed in any of the homes, only the exterior. I was excited that a couple homes on the tour were reputed to have extensive gardens.

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This enormous garden belonged to a home on the tour that sat on three lots, but its allure now is mostly its ghostly state of disrepair.
There were mature fruit trees, overgrown roses, daylilies, agapanthus, the garden seen through this glassed-in outdoor patio draped in jasmine.

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At one time in its past, an oil derrick was moved onto the property and pumped for one day. The docent kept repeating this story with no other explanation. Why just one day? Was it removed because of the nuisance factor, or could they tell the well was dry after one day? Many of the homes here still sell with their mineral rights.

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Other survivors were ropes of epiphytic cactus.

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And a collection of succulents on the back steps

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The kitchen garden was still in active use.

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A Spanish Revival home on the tour had a sweet courtyard, viewed here from a secret garden

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The courtyard opened off the back door and also led through a doorway to the front of the property

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Along with an armoire for storage, there was a massive brick fireplace, a small fountain, low-light plants like the fiddle-leaf fig and staghorn fern

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the arched doorway leading to an inner graveled garden

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the secret garden

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Just outside the walled courtyard on the path to the street, a chair is nearly hidden by bougainvillea
The swath of green on the left is Salvia spathacea, so it’s obviously a hummingbird-viewing station, right?

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Before heading home, a quick stop for a nearby parkway abloom in Salvia clevelandii and Salvia canariensis.

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Salvia canariensis is one of my favorite salvias and ruled the garden last summer. This parkway was double-wide, so it had all the space it needed.
With lavender, artemisia, stachys, nepeta

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A lush gift for insects, birds and the neighborhood to enjoy…and the occasional itinerant tour-goer.