Uncovering Hidden Charms in a Tudor Estate
APLD Silver Award for Residential Design (2020)
I love a transformation project. Bring me your overgrown, forgotten garden, where abandoned nature has created a tangled mask—and let me find the beauty therein! Who knew this existed in Beverly Hills?
This 1937 house was as charming as it could get—like some old manor house in the English Cotswolds. Though the clients were restoring and renovating it with a lot of care, the landscape looked “tired” in so many ways. It required a new vision for contemporary times; efficient modern irrigation and outdoor lighting systems; and thoughtful development and expansion of usable space and gardens. The sloping front yard, with its depleted soil, did nothing to enhance the old-world grandeur of this home.
Here was a wonderful opportunity to create an England-inspired garden—but using plant materials appropriate to Southern California. I envisioned voluptuous, predominantly white flowering plantings contrasted with shapely topiary and espaliered Mediterranean fruit trees. The reduced lawn area would be planted with a native California grass left long and flowing to reduce maintenance and water use, while keeping a lush green color. The overall effect I aimed for could be described as “painterly.”
We reworked the back pool area and adjacent sports court as more active spaces. To increase the usability of the pool area, I originally proposed a deep built-in bench that soon evolved into a large lounging pavilion with natural gas fire pit and television. This became a focal point from the house—a simple folly crowned with a rooster weathervane.
Adjacent and below was an existing faux lawn—a perfect flat area for family badminton. We created dimension and variation to the boxwood and roses, adding variegated varieties clipped into gumdrops and pyramids as well as a Lutyens bench flanked by wisteria trees.
The massive inaccessible hillside rising up behind our pavilion required the most extensive work. Many of the trees were suffering badly from years of neglect, erosion, and drought. First we used landscape timbers and the trunks of the removed trees to reinforce the slopes, defining areas to slow down water runoff as well as to create edges and steps for a park-like trail. A couple of destination seating areas were eased into existing clearings, with one old stump getting repurposed as a table base. New plantings of California chapparal natives “reforested” the slope.
The effect is natural, and now we have the beginnings of a forest of toyon, Catalina ironwood and ceanothus, and oak, along with smaller buckwheats, manzanita, Salvia apiana, etc. Our goal here was to provide some shade and habitat for birds and butterflies.
We finished installation of this garden in September 2016, so it had the benefit of seasonal rainfall to get it established its first year. Now we are monitoring progress and continue to manage its development.
(NOTE: All work was performed by licensed landscape contractors.)
Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God, who made him, sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray
For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away!
— Rudyard Kipling (‘The Glory of the Garden’)