LA dreaming…

There’s not much rest for gardeners in spring! If we’re not working in our own gardens, we are out and about seeing what new design ideas, plants or structures other gardeners have brought to life in their spaces. The gardening community is open and generous and likes nothing more than to share successes and commiserate with other gardeners over failures.

GBFF Judi and I are on the road again in Southern California–this day to Los Angeles for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program.

Those of you who read my series of Mendocino madness posts (June 2016) have all ready been introduced to the Garden Conservancy. For anyone new to the blog or who just can’t remember what it was all about here’s a quick summary straight from this year’s Open Days Directory: “Since 1989, preservation has been at the core of the Garden Conservancy’s mission to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public. We have helped dozens of gardens across the country make the transition from private paradise to public garden. We also help to rescue gardens after natural disasters and to rehabilitate public gardens so that they preserve their cultural relevance and where possible, recover the brilliance of their historic designs.”

California has nine Open Days this year with eight taking place in April and May and one in September. Across the United States there are over 250 gardens involved in an Open Days programs in 18 states. The areas in California featured are Mendocino County (2), Pasadena, Los Angeles/Santa Monica, San Fransisco Peninsula (2), Marin County and San Jose. The number of gardens to see on each day varies from 4-7 and you can see all or just one as tickets are purchased for each garden. Funds raised benefit the Garden Conservancy’s preservation projects. Check out the website for more information or go to for dates and locations.

Last year’s Mendocino trip was worthy of a road warrior–the county is quite large (and the gardens were too!) and it was all I could do to even make it to them all on a very tight time schedule. Six of the seven gardens on today’s route are very close to each other, with three on the same street. Six of the seven are very small gardens on small city lots. The one outlier is less than 5 miles north so Judi and I may even get to SIT DOWN for lunch rather than eating on the run!


An amazing 200 year old Quercus lobata, common name valley oak, was both the focus and inspiration for an new drought resistant California native landscape installed to replace a more traditional front garden in 2015-16.


It was not possible to back up far enough within the walled estate to get the entire tree in the photo! We met the the garden’s designer who gave us a little insight into this transformation from broad lawns, camellias, azaleas and seasonal color to the new landscape which, to me, looks exactly like what belongs in front of this home. In addition to the designer, the job had dedicated professionals for the riverbed, lighting, and the permeable decomposed granite driveway.


The hardscape front walkway takes us to a pedestrian bridge crossing a recirculating water feature designed to mimic a stream spilling into a small pond.



I’ll admit to grimacing when I read the garden description of a front yard putting green but I would not have found it had I not been looking for it. It is hidden behind a berm to the right of the pedestrian bridge and almost invisible.


There is a dry stream bed running down into the putting green to soften the look of the artificial turf when it is viewed from the house.



Even the front porch pots, with a variety of succulent and desert plants, reflect the garden’s theme.


Care has been taken to offer a beautiful vista from the home to the street. The driveway blends seamlessly into the landscape.


Santa Monica is filled with interesting small older homes with architectural styles ranging from Spanish bungalows to redwood, glass and corrugated metal modern cottages worthy of the cover of Sunset magazine. The homeowners of our next garden stop purchased an all ready remodeled home in an older established neighborhood. The home’s modern architecture feels upbeat and young. They set about to add garden spaces that would extend their living areas outside, be drought tolerant and very child friendly. Our first glimpse curbside reveals a modern raised bed veggie garden accented by blooming California friendly plant material.


Enclosure for the garden area is provided by a minimalistic low wall streetside and Pittosporum tenuifolium. Australian natives such as the Kangaroo Paws seen in the foreground are becoming very frequently seen in dry California gardens.


I loved seeing a mature specimen of Phlomis purpurea among a group of shrubs in the narrow bit of yard on the driveway side. The varieties with yellow flowers are much more common in the retail nursery trade. I have this variety in my holding area waiting to find a home in the dryer parts of my garden and now have a much better understanding of its ultimate size and form.


Entering the lawn free back garden there is a comfy spot to sit among colorful perennials and dwarf fruit trees. The dark purple blooms of Salvia guaranitica soften the wall of the backyard studio. In the foreground left Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP’ is in full flower. A dark red Anigozanthos, possibly the cultivar ‘Bush Sunset’ draws you into the outdoor living space beyond.


What a great space to host family and friends–plentiful seating and a built in fire pit make this the space to gather on a cool evening!


A unique irrigation system incorporating low volume drip equipment and a weather based irrigation controller  keeps this garden of California, South African and Australian natives in fine form. The urns and rain chains flanking the front door are part of a rainwater catchment storage and reuse system adding to the efficiency of the design.



A small Forest Pansy redbud tree anchors the corner of the front garden. Plants bordering the decomposed granite path include Erigonum grande var. rubescens (red buckwheat), Cistus salviifolius (sage leafed rockrose), Verbena lilacea ‘De La Mina’ and Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’.


The narrow side yard path to the back garden greets you with a burst of color from Heterotheca sessiliflora ‘San Bruno Mt.’, commonly called beach aster.


A petite patio area accessable from the home or the side path provides a private place of respite. The small scale tree is a Senna splendida or golden wonder senna. My references list this as an evergreen shrub which bears bright yellow flowers. I don’t know if this has been grafted to be a standard or limbed up from its mature shrub form. The low narrow window behind the seating gives the home’s canine inhabitant a view to the garden!


The walled back garden is softened by unthirsty shrubs and trees including the Australian willow myrtle, Agonis flexuosa, in the upper left.

IMG_2435Espaliered Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ will provide bright blue flowers behind the raised veggie beds–check out that monster artichoke!

Bloom of Grevillea ‘Pink Midget’


A diminutive home surrounded by colorful courtyards aptly describes where garden designer Nancy Goslee Power makes magic for her clients and hangs up her own gardening gloves. Known for her work at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, the outdoor learning environment at LA Kidspace and many other public and private gardens, we found Nancy to be charming, approachable and very at home in her (at the same time) formal, chaotic, lavish, discreet and quirky garden. Her New Orleans style cottage sits high above the street and  bears the bold colors of her travels to foreign lands.


After a short climb we reach the door to the lower courtyard–barn red with an opening just large enough to get a little peek.


The lower courtyard is lushly green with more plants than I could ever identify growing just about however and wherever they desire. A romantic balcony overlooks the garden and its twin water features. We were invited to enter the back courtyard via her cozy home. I was excited to be able to purchase her 2009 book Power of Gardens and have her inscribe it for me. I have her first book, The Gardens of California, published in 1995 and it is a classic in the garden design field.


From the open front door you can see straight through the cottage to the focal point of the back garden courtyard–this charming pond and fountain. They are built against the side wall of the back cottage which was originally her college age son’s quarters and now is used as a studio. Pots overflow with annuals, perennials and houseplants needing a respite outside. A seating area nestled up against the home is a perfect vantage point to wind down after a day’s work, cooled by the breeze and climbed by the water.


A shady path leads to the small back cottage which also has a view back into the courtyard.


Even the VERY narrow side yard has style! River stones set in a herringbone pattern lead us back to the front courtyard. Meeting Nancy in the setting of her own charming garden was the highlight of today’s tour.


Landscape Architect Tom Rau, who specializes in waterwise, environmentally friendly and sustainable landscapes, had a hand in all of the last three gardens. His own garden features a sedge meadow inspired by the “American Meadow” designs by John Greenlee and installed in 2011.



Many of the garden’s existing mature plants were kept and a variety of California native and climate appropriate perennials, ferns, bulbs and grasses were added.


Salvia clevelandii has it own way with the back garden, sharing space on several levels with other large scale unthirsty plants. The plant diversity and cover attracts many birds and other wildlife.


Green layers in many forms, textures and colors rise right up to the horizon !


This front garden was redesigned and installed in 2015, removing the turf and replacing it with a colorful assortment of Mediterranean plants, succulents and California natives.


As with the first garden of our day I found this garden to be in totally harmony with the modern architecture and palette of its home. It was visually very pleasing and felt as cohesive up close as it did from the curbside.


This broken concrete serpentine seat wall creates a buffer between the garden and the street.


Between the seat wall and the street, retention basins for two rain gardens have been constructed. The plant materials in these gardens benefit from the runoff from the roof and side yard (both prone to flooding) and filter out pollutants .


Stunning purple Pacific Coast Iris provide contrast to the predominantly warm color palette.


We end our day just across the street from the two previous gardens. In contrast to those lots, this garden was steeply sloped both in front and back. The back garden was the highlight for me.


This slope was previously overwhelmed with colonies of Pride of Madeira and Matilija poppies. Both colonies were thinned in 2014 and the slope was replanted with drought-tolerant plants including lavender, agave, salvia, ceanothus and Santa Barbara daisy. A winding staircase was installed to allow access to the hillside–I am sure the view is fabulous! The turf was replaced with native sedge, Carex praegracilis.


This large agave anchors a raised succulent area at the base of the retaining wall.


A water feature flanked by two Cercis occidentalis (native redbuds) was added to complete the transformation.

It was on this calming note, Judi and I ended our whirlwind weekend garden hopping and headed back home to Orange County. We successful out ran the rain both days and did not get really lost even once–and yes, you can still do that with GPS.

Soon I’ll head back to my own garden dreaming of plants I’d like to try and ideas for new gates and trellis work. While the gardener still lives, a garden is never done!

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