Garden Conservancy Open Days season (Pasadena)

The Garden Conservancy Open Days season is upon us, and I want to go to every single open garden, from here to Maine. Be sure to check the schedule for when gardens reasonably close to you will be included on the tour. Pasadena gardens already had their star turn this past weekend. I was determined to be a good blogger and document the garden visits, despite it being mid 80’s at high noon. I did try, truly, though very few photos were usable. So often when events occur mid-day, I leave the camera at home and don’t even make an effort to document the sun-bleached scenes. The results are always a poor substitution for “magic hour.” But look at it this way: pretend I was shooting with a Lomo (though I assure you I am not a member of The Lomographic Society International).

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I found lots to like at the private home of landscape architect Nord Eriksson, the first garden I visited on the tour and where I expended most of my documentary energy before getting beat down by the sun. Very crisp transitions accomplished with a variety of media, including concrete pavers, gravel and lawn, with the garden divided into generous upper and lower levels separated by a low retaining wall and short flight of stairs. Privacy handled on all sides.

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The upper gravel terrace overlooks a sunken lawn used for family sports and the lap pool. The change in levels was accomplished by using fill from the pool project.

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A deep overhang shades the back of the house, and an umbrella provides shade for dining outdoors near the built-in cooking station.

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The foreground orbs are what happens when you faithfully pinch ‘Little Ollies’ from a small size — dense perfection. My ‘Little Ollies’ were left unfettered and are an 8-foot privacy hedge now. Very versatile dwarf olive that obviously handles the blast furnace heat of the foothills with aplomb. In the distance a cork oak towers next to what I’m guessing is the former garage.

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It’s a long, searing summer in Pasadena, sometimes as much as 10 degrees hotter than my home in maritime-influenced Long Beach about 30 miles south. The heat comes early in spring and stays late into fall/winter. Planting here is comprised of a no-nonsense contingent of dry garden trees and shrubs laid out in mediterranean-influenced, broadly drawn strokes, with an emphasis on evergreens and privacy. Potted cacti and succulents add architectural flourishes. I love how the big Lavatera maritima is given full, blowsy expression at the end of the retaining wall on the left, where the pavers descend in stairs to meet the lower level.

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Here’s a bleached-out view on the other side of the retaining wall which is ringed in box on the lower level.

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Crisp geometry of the transition areas.

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Almost too deep in shadow to see in this photo, these are Fermob loungers overlooking the lap pool that Nord found at Flora Grubbs in San Francisco then ordered locally through Potted.

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I never could get the shaded loungers in focus, but the photo gives a sense of how the house opens onto the upper terrace.

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Looking across the lawn from the pool.

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Beyond the row of agaves is another graveled seating area which appears to me to be the former driveway. I was told the young trees here are London Planetrees.

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Looking out past the agaves to the lawn and pool.

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The trunk in deep shade at the end of the agaves belongs to the cork oak.

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The side path for access to the back garden, leading to the graveled seating area with the blue molded plastic chairs.

Some notes from the Open Days Program: “Part laboratory, part sanctuary, the gardens surrounding landscape architect Nord Eriksson’s Pasadena home bring together a lifetime of influences. The 1949 ranch-style home won over Nord, Cynthia, and their two sons six years ago, offering the chance to develop artful garden rooms on the 18,000-square-foot lot. Largely a blank slate, the grounds beckoned for something new. Six years later, hints of Nord’s appreciation of Scandinavian, Japanese, and Mediterranean design can be found in the remade gardens. The gently sloping land, anchored by a magnificent native Engelmann oak, was terraced to create interest, retain rainwater, and create a variety of spaces for family life and entertaining. A tapestry of textural paving weaves throughout; concrete, brick, slate, gravel, and pebble are crafted into a soulful mix. Walls of arroyo cobble and concrete block trace lines in the garden, originally laid out by pioneering landscape architect Edward Huntsman-Trout. A sojourn to Spain and Mallorca allowed Nord to study resilient landscapes and influenced his design of the lap pool and plantings of the rear gardens…Today, the garden grows, teaches lessons, and brings deep satisfaction. It’s a joy to come home to…and a gift to share.”

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7 Responses to Garden Conservancy Open Days season (Pasadena)

  1. Kris P says:

    A great space for family time – and parties. I love the Lavatera. I grew it many years ago in my former garden but it never looked that good.

  2. ks says:

    I hear you Denise-if I ruled the world GC gardens would open at 8 , which would help somewhat with the crappy lighting for photos. But I guess the goal of GC is not to make photographers happy. How about you double the price for those who want to get in early? If I knew the garden was good I wouldn’t mind that at all. As far as this garden goes, well to me it’s not a garden. Nice but kind of soulless. Am I being over-critical ? If I had a zillion bucks and bought this house I would rip out the whole thing and start over.

  3. Denise says:

    @Kris, yes, exactly.
    @Kathy, those are all good fund-raising ideas. This is not a plant-driven garden, true, but I still found lots to admire. There were details in deep shade, bright sun, I couldn’t get photos of, so it’s not really a fair record. Lovely bamboo in gravel on the side entrance. It was so funny to overhear a woman approach the owner about her plant-collecting husband who had no sense of design and could he help them?!

  4. Nell says:

    I’m glad you talked about the clipped ball shrubs, because I would never have guessed that they were ‘Little Ollie’ olives. They’re so green; are your unclipped ones more silvery, or at least grey-green?

    I like a lot of things about this garden. If it became mine I wouldn’t rip much out, but I’d for sure add a lot of plants, some in large containers (which the garden’s crisp modernist horizontals seem well suited to handle).

  5. Denise says:

    Nell, the ‘Little Ollies’ were probably a little more grey than the color in the photo. My unclipped ones are very greyish. I feel the same way about this garden — great bones for more plants!

  6. Nell says:

    Thanks also for the pointer to a medium I had no idea existed: lomography (Lomography?). So many fascinating rabbit holes…

  7. hb says:

    I think I’m with kayess on this one. No plant passion in sight. And I like your ‘Little Ollie’s way better.

    Still, a garden is always interesting to see.

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