Crowned VERANDA’s Best in Outdoor Living

We’ve had to sit on this secret for months… not easy for us, being so excited and all. We’re happy – thrilled! – at long last, to finally share the news…

Veranda magazine’s FIRST EVER Outdoor Living Awards has named our recent Montecito Garden Restoration project one of eight distinct Best in Outdoor Living winners. Calling it A Wildly Beautiful Revival, the venerable magazine lauded the garden’s wildlife-friendly, naturalistic design.”I always look for a strong design plan, and each of the winning gardens had beautiful architecture to it,” says interior designer Bunny Williams, who, together with Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) president Peter Lyden, judged the entries. Lyden agrees, adding that for him, the projects that embraced and built on the natural characteristics of their environments rose to the top. “I really admire the way these gardens and outdoor living spaces did just that,” he says.

Less than a year after disaster struck, a mudflow-ravaged garden reemerges as the thriving wildlife habitat it once was, using the very material that decimated it.

Before the catastrophic Montecito mudflows of 2018, everything that grew on this two-acre property in Southern California was “magic,” says landscape designer Margie Grace. Roses would bloom in the shade; hydrangeas relished the blazing sun. A grassy, serene pond drew ducks and quail and owls, all against an extraordinary backdrop of towering palms and live oaks belonging to a neighboring estate, like a regal army watching over it.

Once cloaked in mud, the Boston ivy on the main house and guesthouse (inset) was cleaned up, and “the roots just started sprouting again,” says landscape designer Margie Grace.

Then came the mud. “Everything was wiped out…plants, fences, animals. It was biblical,” recalls Grace. “We learned the absolute power of nature.” In the eight months that followed, another lesson emerged for Grace and the homeowner, designer Penelope Bianchi of McCormick Interiors: The magic hadn’t been swept away with the sludge. If anything, it had strengthened tenfold.

Behind the main house, a Coast live oak shades a rustic dining terrace.

As they washed two feet of mud from the guesthouse and garage and cleaned up whatever they could salvage, they faced mountains of leftover sediment. “We had to do something with it, and I thought, There’s no reason the land has to be dead flat,” says Grace. So she began working it into the restoration plan.

At the south side of the house, she repurposed a portion of the muddy sediment into a 28-foot hill planted with sycamores and poppies and another into soil for a 12-foot redbud knoll. Along the property line, a four-foot berm became an organic solution for a washed-away privacy fence.

“Everything I put in the ground grew lightning fast,” recalls Grace, who trained in biology and geology. “I thought the new soil would be full of toxins, but the levels didn’t even register. What was left behind was amazing dirt.”

The restored pond borders a 45-acre nature preserve and was critical to the return of wildlife like mallards

And the wildlife returned in multiples. “In California, we have trees like sycamores and redwoods that grow in the stream beds. Winter will come and water will whoosh down, and the trees may get buried with three feet of dirt and still live. They grow character instead of giving up. This garden has always had good vibes, and that’s part of it. But you just get out of the way and let nature fix it. Nature doesn’t give up.”

This article appears in the March/April 2020 issue of VERANDA.

A big thank you to our fabulous clients Adam and Penelope Bianchi. Thank you for your support through the years. And thank you for letting us play in your sandbox!



Next time on The Art of Outdoor Living

A peak behind the etched glass wall at this fabulous award-winning bluff-top garden…




Private Gardens of Santa Barbara takes you through 18 of our favorite gardens as they’ve never been seen before. With hundreds of striking photographs by our award-winning photographer, Holly Lepere, we’re sure you’ll want to add it to your collection. Pre-order your copy today! And don’t forget your friends and family – the book makes a great gift too!

Pre-order Here

Upcoming Events

Check out my upcoming talks and book signings! I’ll be sharing ways you can maximize the return on your investment of blood, sweat and resources in your own garden. Catch my Demand More from Your Garden: Multi-tasking Landscape Elements and Hard-Working Plants at the following times and locations:

Saturday, Febuary 8, 2020 at the Great Big Home and Garden Show in Cleveland Ohio.

Friday, March 6, 2020  at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Thursday, March 26, 2020  at the Festival of Flowers in Mobile, Alabama.

Get Tickets Here

Come join us on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *