Tag Archives: Nancy Goslee Power

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

The Kashmir Cypress

A pre-dinner garden tour at Dustin’s.

“What is it?” I asked.

You asked me that last time,” he answered patiently. “It’s psoralea.”

Oh, the Kool-Aid something or other?” (Strange, how memory works.)

Right,” he explained, “from Annie’s.

His psoralea is growing up into a beautiful little tree.


Continue reading The Kashmir Cypress

That Corsican Hellebore

I hope I’m not becoming too tiresome about this hellebore…


I may have mentioned it four times in the past two months, but I just cannot say enough good things about Helleborus argutifolius, zoned 7-10.
Some resources zone it even to 6. From Corsica and Sardinia, so definitely of a maritime temperament.
In late fall it launches a campaign of chartreuse enchantment that lasts all winter long.


No flaming picotee edge or blooms stained the deepest, darkest red. But it does possess a wonderful counterpoint of leaf to flower, something that isn’t always true of hybrids that sacrifice this balance in pursuit of extravagantly colored but demurely nodding blooms that require one to bow down on cold knees to gain a glimpse of the drooping, flower-like sepals. There’s nothing demure about this outsized swashbuckler. And, yes, it’s certainly true that it will seed about, with ambitions to conquer your garden like that other famous Corsican.

Portrait by Jacques-Louis David

It wants no part of the show bench displaying the endless variety of the many exquisite interspecies hybrids, a competition which would be this rugged hellebore’s Waterloo. The rough-and-tumble winter garden is where it reigns, in part shade or more sun than you’d think wise for a hellebore, the perfect consort for phormiums, astelias, grasses, the bulbs of spring. Amazingly drought tolerant in summer. It lends a hydrangea-esque fullness to my winter garden, for which I am its devoted subject.


Landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power does list my humble Corsican hellebore as one of her favorite perennials in her book “Power of Gardens,” but I’m not sure it rates as high for her as strelitzia, the Bird of Paradise, or Agave attenuata, since I haven’t found any photos of this hellebore in her book so far. (You can browse through some of the book’s photos courtesy of Garden Design here.)


The stinking hellebore, H. foetidus, also doesn’t mind the mild zone 10 winter and is a lovely plant, though it doesn’t have the size and landscape impact of H. argutifolius. The H. argutifolius hybrid ‘Silver Lace’ has been a dumpy disappointment, no more than a foot high, flowers buried under its pale leaves. What is the point, I ask you, when the species can make muscular, evergreen mounds of serrated, tripartite leaves up to 4 feet high? Loyal to the Corsican, I’ve never been inclined to collect the myriad crosses, some including H. niger (nigercors), since I simply can’t imagine anything better than the species.

This simple, shrubby, robust Corsican has made a complete and utter conquest of my heart.