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Fresh Looks : Landscapers Can Help Breathe New Life Into an Old Garden by Blending It With the Living Area


Of course you love your mother. But that doesn't mean you want to dress like her or decorate your home like hers. You've got your own style.

That goes for your garden too. If you inherited your mother's garden, or one that hasn't changed since the '50s or '60s, chances are it just doesn't feel like yours. And it probably won't until you take steps to make it your own.

You're a prime candidate for a garden renovation.

Or perhaps you moved into a typical suburban house in a typical suburban neighborhood when your children were small. Because you were busy raising a family, you never got around to upgrading the basic Bermuda grass and juniper shrub landscaping the previous owners put in. There were always more urgent priorities.

Now your children are grown and gone. You have the time and inclination to nurture a garden that's more original and ornamental but not the expertise to create it.

You're an excellent garden renovation candidate too.

Or maybe you depleted most of your landscaping budget on the front yard when you moved into your new tract home. Without funds for a comparable job in the back yard, you decided to install the hardscape--such as the patio area, walkways and deck--and add the vegetation later.

Now, a few years later, when you're ready to proceed, you realize that putting in hardscape without a total landscaping plan to guide you isn't such a hot idea, but you can't bear the expense of ripping it out and starting over.

You could use a good landscape designer to help you make the best of it.

As you've probably surmised, these aren't hypothetical scenarios. They are real situations three homeowners--Ann Thompson, Ann Fanning and John Anguiano--presented to the Rue Group, a Fullerton landscape design and installation firm that specializes in garden renovations.

Eighty percent of the Rue Group's work involves solving these kinds of problems, its owners say.

"I sort of fell into this niche," says Kathryn Rue, its president and founder. "People came to me who already had established gardens. Then I got referrals for more garden renovations from people who saw their projects. One thing led to another.

"Where I live may have a lot to do with it too. Fullerton is an older community. We don't have as many new developments as South County."

Perhaps. But John Parker, an ornamental horticulture professor at Orange Coast College who has a landscape design practice of his own, thinks there will be a trend toward more garden renovations throughout the county.

"People are beginning to see there is a limit to mobility," Parker says. "The frenzy for moving up is slowing down, and reality is setting in. When mortgage payments reach a certain point, staying put sounds a lot more attractive."

When homeowners reach that point, he says, they tend to take a fresh look at their properties and literally dig in and put down new roots.

If you have the money to do it, the most dramatic way to upgrade an older garden is to make the garden a more integral part of your home, Parker says.

"The biggest difference between a house 20 to 30 years old and a new one is in the contrast in their indoor/outdoor relationships," he says. "New homes tend to have tremendous glass areas facing the garden so you can enjoy it from the inside. And they devote more space to private courtyards and less to lawns. There's not such a sharp division between indoors and out."

Ann Thompson's home in North Tustin makes a good example. It had been her parents' before it became hers. Although the house, which was built in 1958, was rather unconventional for its time, its front yard--circular driveway, flat dichondra lawn, boxy evergreens, few flowers--definitely was not.

The landscaping was typical for homes built 30 to 40 years ago, according to Rue. "The style then was to frame the house with evergreen foundation plants, put in a few more at the property line, and a green lawn in between. That was about it."

Nowadays, though, she says, people want more privacy and a different ambience. Thompson got both--in abundance--with her renovation.

"The whole thing started because I wanted a wall to screen off the street," Thompson said. "I also wanted to make the house feel more like mine, but that was secondary."

Thompson's wall isn't a standard garden-variety wall. It's an intriguing curvilinear one made of gray stucco set off by glass-brick "windows." Its handcrafted Oriental-influenced and deliberately off-center gate, made of apitong--a Philippine wood in the mahogany family--makes a striking centerpiece.

Rue also suggested putting in a koi pond.

"My son Ryan's eyes lit up at that idea," Thompson said. "He's always liked watching fish.

"We began with a modest woodsy little pond about the size of a dining-room table but ended up with this very dramatic 40-foot-long pool."

It's a body of water large enough to provide habitat for a substantial number of creatures.

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