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GARDEN STYLE : Dreamscapes

March 06, 1994|Susan Heeger

Sweet spring is upon us, a time of new life and raw earth and a fresh start for growing things. The best part, for the gardener, may come before the spade hits dirt, when a plot of land is full of limitless possibilities. Just how limitless is evident here, where we've asked some of Southern California's best garden-makers to take the blank canvas of spring and paint a fantasy garden for the season.

On a Stroll

The gardens of Los Angeles landscape designer Mia Lehrer of Lehrer Architects tend toward a modernist simplicity. Nevertheless, her spring fantasy is an oasis of explosive blooms and secret sitting spots. It begins with a gazebo engulfed in wisteria. From there, it wanders down a path bordered by a hedge of flowers: a 3-by-6-foot metal frame thatched and seeded with alyssum, strawberries and poppies. The walk ends in a bosque of flowering peach trees and a romantic bench flanked by potted California oranges.

Rill Life

Venice garden artist Jay Griffith has raised some eyebrows with his giant plant towers and fountains spilling crystal pendants into glass "pools." Here he opts for updated classicism, raiding a Persian court for a hedge, gate, water rill and pool. More important than his landscape's plants are its interlocking color planes: lawn paired with purple tradescantia,Scotch moss with flame gazania. Extravagant props fool the eye--a rusted-metal palm tree, topiary orbs that bloom with vines. Griffith plays with the idea of a garden, paring it down to its offbeat essence.

Way to Grow

Artichokes, cabbages and herbs deck the California kitchen plot of Nancy Goslee Power, a Santa Monica garden designer known for elegant but livable outdoor rooms. This one is a walled Eden with a mountain view in which to mix the edible and the sublime. Lavender sprays crown raised beds full of Mediterranean culinary favorites: radicchio, asparagus, rapini, sage and rosemary. Espaliered lemon trees and sweet peas climb sun-warmed walls, a stone seat invites lounging and a fountain offers water music and a basin for washing vegetables.

Moody Views

A trio of landscapes reflect the season's mood for Katherine Spitz of Katherine Spitz Associates, a Marina del Rey design firm. Spitz's best-known gardens often send their visitors on metaphorical journeys. These three, like stage sets for a dream, suggest vignettes of the psyche that might be entered and explored. One (below), ablaze with lion's tail, mixed salvias and bougainvilleas, speaks of passion wild enough to carry off the wanderer. The second (bottom), subdued in tone and spiked with succulents, conveys restraint and apprehension. The third (top right) is a dreamer's garden with a formal structure of rooms that evoke a panoply of emotions--tranquillity, romance and nostalgia.

Court Order

Garden designer Thomas Cox of Santa Monica-based Thomas Batcheller Cox Associates often looks to the Mediterranean courtyard as an inspiration for his own creations. Here, using minimal elements--walls, tree, fountain, chairs and concrete pavers--he has conjured up a city court with all the luxuries of grander space. Wisteria, Dutch bulbs and Japanese maple capture the burgeoning of spring. A glimpse of bamboo through a grilled window suggests the world beyond, while Corsican mint among the paving stones sweetens the air within.

Force of Habitat

Out of her memories of the recent Malibu fire (see photo insets), Pamela Burton of Santa Monica-based Pamela Burton & Co. conjures a landscape of rebirth. Burton's trademark is a garden that tells a story, and in this one, nature rises from the flames. In an earthen room, blackened root crowns spout sumac leaves and turquoise flesh erupts from yucca stumps. Aligned so that the spring sun rises at its entrance, the space is guarded by a pair of Canary Island date palms--scorched but thriving--and encircled by a blooming Valencia orange grove to show the contrast between our cultivation of the earth and its cultivation of itself.

Park Place

Eucalyptus on a gravel ground, a quiet bench, the clean slice of a reflecting pool, spring bulbs, sun--all join forces in this simple vision by Mark Rios of Rios Associates, a Los Angeles architecture and landscape architecture firm known for sophisticated, contemporary gardens. Pictured in plan, perspective and computer-animated detail, Rios' grove is full of fragrance and light, carpeted in leaf litter and washed by the dazzle of glass ornaments in the trees. Spilling water and rustling leaves add sound. Never picked up, never cut back, the garden is changeless except in one respect: Its flowers vary with the seasons.

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