Artful Revelry

The project initially began as a house addition for the homeowner’s painting studio and soon evolved into a more extensive home renovation with updated materials and large new windows and glass doors to invite the landscape views and light inside. With her children grown, the homeowner’s new lifestyle filled with art and entertaining was actualized alongside her vision for a sophisticated and harmonious contemporary design inside and out.

The landscape was designed to act as an extension of the interior, and as such provides visual appeal year-round with seasonal color and lush foliage. The rear deck was leveled to the interior living room producing an expansiveness that improves circulation, provides abundant seating for gatherings, and invites the views of the backyard into the home.

Crisp lines are repeated in the concrete pavers, corten steel walls, planters other structures throughout the garden, while the planting provides a blurring of edges to soften and add a playful counterpoint to the hardscape. Dappled sunlight dances through the mature Oak canopy into the garden throughout the day. The garden provides solitary refuge and inspiration while the renovated deck area allows for the vibrancy of family and community to fill her home.

Another important part of the renovation was updating the driveway. Instead of a tree box which is bulky and hard to work with, we worked with the landscape contractor who custom designed and fabricated a steel tree grate to surround and protect the existing mature Oak, enabling the creation of an additional parking space.


Majestic Oaks in Rancho Santa Fe

A new garden of Aloes, Agaves, Succulents and Ornamental Grasses complement this vanishing edge pool. The new curved steps connect the existing patio to the sun bathing area. The color and texture of the drought resistant plants contrast with the existing body of water to bring life to this landscape.

Photos courtesy of Amelia Lima, FAPLD.

by   Gary Kernick     Change of Seasons , Sacramento, CA


With an attention to detail reminiscent of a bygone era, this East Sacramento home reflects quality workmanship. A carved stone bench, a custom fountain and lush plantings all contribute to the overall vision.

Eco Retreat

This Mid-Century Modern home features a homebuilt music studio. To bring the groovy vibes outside, we ripped out the back lawn and installed terraced patios with drought tolerant plantings. A custom ‘pipe organ’ fountain supplies the water music. The biofuel fire bowl is a hot spot for a midnight jam session…just make sure you invite the neighbors.

Photos courtesy of Gary Kernick.

by   Laura Morton  , FAPLD    laura morton design , West Hollywood, CA

by Laura Morton, FAPLD
laura morton design, West Hollywood, CA

Casa Madrina in Palm Springs

Essentially when we first bought the place there had been no irrigation on the garden for 2 years so what was left were well established native palms and others adapted to the Palm Springs climate Sunset zone 13. We moved rocks and some underlayer plastic sheeting. I mounded our extra soil/sand from digging elsewhere to create contours and berms. I decided to use mostly native and other “desert” plants. I went to Mountain States Nursery and had a good long chat with Wendy Proud who helped me understand this new zone I was working in. I knew I would add a zone of irrigation to get these established and then cut back enough to just keep them fresh. Some have reseeded and others I lost to rabbits. Working around the palms I needed to leave enough space as you really can’t get much in that competes with the rope like roots of palms. Agave pups have done well and I let them fight their way—some are spreading now.  

Surviving on rainfall only, the native palms and opuntia making up the flat front yard lined an unremarkable straight, narrow walkway. We recycled some palm trunks as pillars and stained broken-up concrete to build a low wall. Now desert plantings are growing in fast, and the new walkway is softly off center for a graceful approach to the house.

Photos courtesy of Laura Morton, FAPLD.

by   Matthew McKelligon       Hillrise Design , Los Angeles, CA  Photo by Steven James Scott.

by Matthew McKelligon
Hillrise Design, Los Angeles, CA
Photo by Steven James Scott.

Padres Trail in La Cañada Flintridge

As we all know, oak trees are protected more dearly than human lives in California. La Cañada Flintridge, where the project site is, is particularly riddled with oak trees, which give the city and its properties so much of its character. We were required to get an arborist out to check on the overall health of the trees, as well as provide him with a plan of the work to be done so that he could make construction recommendations for us to include in the overall design. You'll note in the original photos of the backyard that there were two staircases that forked at the oak tree and led down separate ways to the yard. There was also an old outdoor kitchen that boxed the oak tree in on the lower level, with its back to the oak tree. So although the oak tree is the center focus of the yard when viewed from the patio attached to the house—as well as what you'd face from the old outdoor kitchen—it was boxed in by hardscaping which wasn't very friendly to the tree. In essence, there was a pit constructed around it in which little greenery could flourish.

When you can't get rid of something existing, my thinking as a designer is to celebrate it. So I thought it would be much more respectful to centralize the flow of traffic into the backyard with the wood deck around the oak tree, and fill in the existing staircases by making them raised planters. The wood deck becomes more of a stage or a platform from which to view the rest of the yard, and its steps invite you to sit down and be next to the tree. To boot, it's a challenge to have plants really thrive underneath oak trees, so we removed that difficulty by constructing the deck around it. We were required to have above-ground footings so as not to disturb the tree's roots, as well as make sure that they fell a certain distance from the trunk of the tree (which is determined proportionate to the diameter of the trunk). The deck is anchored into the side of the existing raised concrete patio (which we covered with limestone), so it truly is floating around the tree. We also had to make sure that the planks of the deck can be cut back as the tree ages and its trunk grows in diameter.

Photo courtesy of Matthew McKelligon.


Modern Hilltop Retreat in Tarzana 

This project was located in Tarzana, California, which is one of the hottest neighborhoods in the West Valley of Los Angeles County. When I first arrived, the garden was a poster child for deferred maintenance; a tumble-down wooden fence blocked the views, the paving was cracked and dated, and there was not a single shrub or groundcover worth saving. The site, however, had a lot of potential.   

It was perched on a hilltop, the house had modern lines, and I welcomed the many shade trees that were already there; they helped add a mature element to the planting scheme, and created cooler, shadier areas. The light breeze that blows rustles through the leaves, adding to the sense of tranquility that I was trying to achieve. The trees gave my plants a framework that I could weave in and out of. They also mitigated the hot, dry climate by creating many microclimates within the site. 

I created a small No-Mow Fescue turf area and an Ipe deck around a jacuzzi in the tree-shaded area of the backyard to give them respite from the heat. We had to build the deck around one of the trees to accommodate its trunk because leaving the tree was essential. 

I designed a fence that would showcase the scenery. Mature palms and tree aloes on their neighbor’s side gave the yard a borrowed view that added to the atmosphere. The many mature trees on their outside slope added privacy and created a cozy sideyard that stayed cooler. Large Olive and Pine trees flanked their driveway, creating a sense of seclusion. 

We had an issue around the large Shamel Ash Tree at their front entrance but what seemed like a drawback at first, led to a design opportunity. Fraxinus uhdei is a fast grower and the roots had lifted the area around it significantly, making it impossible to plant around the tree. In order to accommodate the tree’s roots, I designed a CorTen bed around the tree to contain the soil at a higher level than the surrounding area. That allowed me to add a graphic element in the form of large street address numbers. In actuality, this has been a very useful feature for them because they share a driveway with their neighbor and guests are often confused as to which house to go to. We then echoed this idea down at the street with another CorTen mailbox installation. 

The sleek bluestone paving and poured-in-place coping are contemporary and visually extend the space to maximize square footage. The design took its cue from the house, which has big picture windows and modern lines. The result is a graphic and modern landscape complete with jacuzzi and deck, sleek barbecue and many graphic elements. CorTen is used in the raised planter bed at the entrance, mailbox and street number installation, and pool step risers. It blends beautifully with the rich wood and cool stone. The garden is low maintenance and drought tolerant—full of amazing color and texture.

Photo courtesy of Debbie Gliksman.