When Celeste Tubman first saw her acre property in Brentwood, she said: "Bring me a jackhammer." Concrete covered the earth, stretching from a mammoth driveway to a baking pool deck to a giant paddle-tennis court. The hard edges made her blocky ranch house look more severe and dulled the views from her windows. And although a few greens grew in the borders, they were boring mondo grass, impatiens and ice plant.
Desperate, Tubman started demolition and called in garden designer Jay Griffith. In no time, the two were arguing. "I wanted to talk about plants. He wanted to talk about space," remembers Tubman, a film editor with two children. "He sat inside for six hours staring out."
What Griffith was studying were the home's sheltered courtyards, which he envisioned as garden enclaves. He imagined the dining and living rooms overlooking a jungle and the master bedroom with a view of a hill blanketed with hot-colored plants. "There was a certain plantation feel here," Griffith recalls. "The property had the essence but not the trappings of what she wanted--an Italian country house with exotic elements, not the landscape of suburbia."
Before focusing on the details, Griffith had to set the stage, creating "set pieces from a piecemeal jumble" and tying them all together. He began with the pool deck, a clumsy corridor between the front drive and backyard. "Imagine a sunken Roman bath," he told Tubman and her physician husband, Roger Novack, as he squared off curves, raised the surrounding deck and introduced a rusty, slide-away fence. Behind the house, he kept functional retaining walls but swathed them with Artemisia arborescens, suggesting overgrown ruins. He turned the flat paddle-tennis court into a rolling lawn and added a dining/lounging spot complete with burlap shades.