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Archive for Friday, March 10, 2006

Star Gardening

March 10, 2006

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The era of cocooning has transformed homes that once may have been sparse on amenities into indulgent retreats devoted to entertaining, often replete with island kitchens, gleaming Viking appliances and king-sized media centers. The luxurious lifestyle has spilled outside, literally. No longer meant for admiration from afar, the garden is being viewed as a logical extension of the home where one wines, dines or merely contemplates. And, blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor environments is catching on as real estate prices soar.

"Real estate is more expensive than ever, so people realize they can have more breathing room outdoors," says Laurie Lewis, a landscape architect based in the Los Angeles beachside community of Pacific Palisades.

As an entrepreneur and former employee of leading Southern California landscape design firm, Nancy Goslee Power & Associates, Lewis' residential and commercial credits include designing the gardens of actor Tom Hanks and the luxury resort San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Calif., as well as the Norton Simon Museum Sculpture Garden in Pasadena, Calif. A recent highlight is the completion of a residential project involving a garden of about 3,000 square feet in a 1930s Mediterranean manse in Los Angeles.

What once was a dated backyard with a hodgepodge of flora has been transformed into a series of living spaces, including a dining area, seating corner, pool, Jacuzzi and a fire pit, gently flowing into one another through a continuity of color, shapes and clustering of plants and flowers.

It begins in the dining area, which like an Italian loggia, is anything but what's conveyed in a patio furniture ad. Covered by the second story of the home, the eight-seat, banquet table and chairs are visible by a series of archways whose columns sit amid a cluster of terra cotta potted plants, including agave, flame-colored kalanchoe succulents, spiky dracaena and rosette-leaved aeoniums. Paved in golden brown Sweetwater flagstone, the scene evokes rustic charm.

While some chest-thumpers may want to proudly showcase their barbecuing gadgets, Lewis deliberately faced the shiny stainless steel Viking accoutrements of a grill, burner, refrigerator, icemaker, storage unit and two warming drawers away from the garden and camouflaged by the three-inch thick slab of a Sweetwater flagstone countertop.

"I don't want anything high-tech to spoil the garden's natural beauty," Lewis says.

Core to the garden's beauty is that it doesn't provide sensory overload, because Lewis chose to "edit, edit" her vision into a distilled landscape, featuring fewer, but well-chosen fauna distinguished by their texture and foliage colors, all planted in repetition. In this project, that meant the liberal use of potted King Palms, smoky orange-red euphorbia cotinifolia and dracaenas, popping in hues of milky green, orange and bronze, a serene color palette mirroring the home's interior.

"Creating a great garden is not about a cacophony of flowers, but about inviting spaces that your eye can take in at its own pace," she says. "Flowers are simply the throw pillows."

The principal of a muted color scheme applies to the pool and Jacuzzi, plastered not in recreation center blue but a custom hue with flecks of brown, green and black. Sitting at the base of an elevated landing drilled with three stone spills, the pool doubles as a fountain. Left with a narrow 15-foot border alongside the pool, Lewis chose swaying papyrus and the euphorbia cotinifolia, creating a lush verdant layer masking the possible eyesore of a property line hedge.

A modern feature of the rectangular pool and square Jacuzzi are their shapes, defying the kidney and circular standards, which Lewis believes leads to wasted space, a bigger problem for those not blessed with acreage but postage-stamp-sized backyards.

"Smaller gardens work best with grid-shaped landscapes," she says. "There's too much ambiguity with curves."

Guests left chilly from the dip in the pool can warm up at the sunken, Moroccan-themed fire pit reached via a pathway of six stairs lined with potted plants. In the shape of an octagon, the fire pit is the focal point of the gathering area lined with cushioned banquette seating. Artfully placed aged urns, vivid throw pillows in shades of turquoise and rust and an ornate, antique camel saddle are decorator accents encouraged by Lewis when creating your outdoor room minus the ceiling.

"It's what you'd do inside, so why not outside?" she says.

One surprise for some green-thumb purists is the absence of grass in this project. Originally sketched in the plans, the turf concept, however, didn't pan out due to logistics and nobody is complaining, Lewis says, especially since the couple doesn't have children.

"Nowadays we use way too much lawn as it is and it's more labor intensive than people realize," she says. "Taking grass out of the equation frees you up to try new things."

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