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STYLE / GARDENS | A Plant in Every Pot

Rather Than Let This Beverly Hills Back Yard Go to the Dogs, Garden Designers Let It Go to Pot. How Plants in Containers--Some Buried, Some Not--Created a Grand Illusin and a Pet-Proof Landscape.

April 21, 1996|SUSAN HEEGER

Instead of starring in a garden, clay pots usually take supporting roles on a deck or terrace, stepping in where there's space to fill but no room for traditional plantings. One exception is this Beverly Hills landscape created by Robert Tainsh of England and David Mason of Oregon, two garden designers formerly based in Los Angeles. Though at first glance its greens seem firmly planted in the ground, many of them are potted, some in containers buried in the soil.

The designers decided that a conventional lawn and flower borders were impractical for this garden--a 50-by-50-foot square of scrubby grass behind a 1960s Italianate house--because the homeowners' rowdy dogs would have trampled anything delicate. So they made use of the owners' extensive collection of empty pots and set to work designing gravel beds in biomorphic shapes surrounded by decomposed granite paths. This fool-the-eye strategy made the small garden seem bigger and more like part of the distant canyon scenery. At the heart of the beds, they planted spiky dog-proof specimen succulents and arrayed the pots around them, imagining a changing cast of container plants to enliven their composition.

The hitch was that the plants got happy: In the next few years, they branched out, rooting themselves, pots and all, to the earth. The haphazard mounds and shaggy curves of these plantings, some potted, some not, add interesting layers and elevations to an otherwise flat plane.

Recently, Sarah Munster, an English garden designer who moved to L.A. two years ago, has been paring down the overgrowth and restoring the landscape's original lines. Since the dogs no longer stray from the paths, she's gradually adding more in-ground planting. The fragrant perennial tableau mixes scented geraniums, lavenders, sages, buddleias, artemisias and helichrysums with the agaves that anchor the beds.

Now that the spectacle is complete, it's hard to believe that a few containers in this small space started the show. Now they're center stage.

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