In Santa Barbara, a lot of living gets done outdoors. Our clients’ personal enjoyment of their gardens–where they sip their morning coffee, entertain friends, play with the kids, read a book, take a nap–is factored into our plans as we shape their outdoor spaces. But sometimes, we get a gardener: a hands-in-the-dirt, dyed-in-the-wool gardener whose lifestyle turns around the garden. Someone who needs a garden. Someone who languishes without a garden. For these folks, collaboration is crucial to the design process. Such was the case for our client in Santa Barbara’s Shadow Hills neighborhood.
A one-time garden writer who contributed to Sunset magazine and the LA Times, she is also a highly accomplished rosarian (an accredited judge, no less) who divides her day between her writing studio and her garden. This woman had gardening gravitas — she even had a Begonia cultivar named for her! And this gardeners’ gardener was coming to us to “resolve a few things” that stood between her and her ideal garden. (I’ll admit right here, given her CV, I hoped to learn from her—I kinda felt like a kid at the knee of the master…)
Her number one challenge was varmints. Battle-weary from repelling raiding hordes of gophers, rabbits, moles and voles from the adjacent greenbelt, she was throwing in the towel. She wanted a varmint-free zone where she could garden in peace—a DMZ, if you will. In addition, she required abundant planting space and the ability to pop in and out of her studio to the garden—without having to change her shoes in between. A shaded sitting area from which to enjoy the fruits of her labor in the company of a few friends was needed too. And finally, she envisioned the garden brimming with pink and orange blooms – her favorite colors.
It was an interesting wish list—a floriferous pink and orange DMZ for intensive clean shoe gardening overlooked by an observation point. Hmmmmm…
The solution? We created a varmint-exclusion zone with perimeter walls (pink stucco!) that extend three feet below grade with beautiful tight-fitting gates that can’t be squeezed under, gone around or hopped over.
For “clean shoe gardening”, we reckoned lots of narrow beds bordered by paths or narrow strips of lawn would allow her to reach the planting spaces without stepping in the dirt. The long, skinny, sloping yard wasn’t ideal. Terracing solved that problem. And a formal layout with primary, secondary and tertiary axes provided paths aplenty. The intersection of the paths gave us a spot for a fountain to provide music and draw winged creatures, T-intersections gave us places for benches to rest and to take in the view, path termini gave us room to feature pots—and prized plants—and rose travertine for the paths gave us the color our client craved.
Beyond the garden fortress’ walls, the panoramic ocean view and sweeping greenbelt were brought into the composition by blending naturalistic plantings to the edge of the space and the thoughtful placement of a bench to draw the observer into the scene. The broad, calming sweep of the backdrop is the perfect counterpoint to the voluptuous, barely-contained profusion of orange and pink blooms—and the borrowed view makes the small walled garden feel grand. A new, slightly elevated pergola on the back of the house features generous shaded seating; its perimeter seat wall invites visitors to linger over it all.
Ultimately, the design choices we made were a response to how our client —a true gardener’s gardener—gardens, and how she wants—no, needs—that experience to be, whether she’s tail-up with her hands in the dirt, or taking a brief restorative break from writing or feasting on the vista from the new pergola. The new garden suits her needs perfectly. That’s just how it is for her—the garden feeds her soul. And isn’t that how all outdoor spaces should be?
Sneak peak into our next blog post…