When it came to landscaping his Santa Monica front yard, writer-producer Richard Albarino faced a common challenge: how to get the most from a small space overlooking an open street corner. His house needed privacy, his son needed room to play and he and his wife, Kim Fleary Albarino, a TV executive, wanted a view of something other than passing traffic. The garden style that appealed to Albarino--and harmonized with his updated Mediterranean-flavored house as well as California's climate--hailed from Provence. "Their landscapes have a look I like," he explains, "half-formal, half-ruined, with things mixed together over time: Roman elements, cypress, fan palms, English garden bits, lots of flowers. Very relaxed and well-used."
To bring his thoughts down to earth, Albarino hired landscape architect Katherine Spitz, who designed a frame of low, neighbor-friendly stucco walls to enclose the 37-by-60-foot yard. Inside, she organized the space into two main parts. One, in front of the living room, is formally structured and lushly planted, with a cutting garden at its heart and a fringe of artemisia, mixed lavenders and rockrose. The other, adjacent to Albarino's home office, is a field of decomposed granite decked with potted succulents and edged with more lavender, sage, westringia and echium. A path of pavers from a medieval French town bisects the two areas but ties them together with its warm clay tones.