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SOCAL STYLE / Gardens

Hedging Your Bench

Now You Can Have a Seat and Prune It, Too

November 15, 1998|Susan Heeger

It all began with an old stone wall that needed softening and a garden spot that lacked seating: Rather than plant a hedge and buy a bench, Julie Heinsheimer, a Palos Verdes landscape designer, combined the two into a green bower that resembles an overstuffed sofa. Her inspiration was a similar seat she'd seen at Sissinghurst, the renowned English estate in Kent designed by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. "It was a marvelous bit of folly," she explains, and she remembered it as she plotted a formal garden for clients in Palos Verdes Estates.

A self-described fan of hedges, Heinsheimer, who works for the architectural firm of Edward Carson Beall in Torrance, chose English boxwood as the neatest, tightest, easiest-to-grow option for the conditions. "This is a full-sun area, baking hot," she says. "Box will tolerate the heat, and it's the most formal-feeling hedge we have." Another advantage: By planting mostly five-gallon shrubs, closely spaced, she had a mature-looking enclosure almost instantly.

The seat--a battered piece of scaffolding from a plasterer friend--only added to the charm. "It came with ready-made patina. It seemed a thousand years old." For legs, she chose two stout concrete blocks that were quickly swallowed by the hedge.

In its fourth year now, the bench looks timeless and fully settled beneath the bright wash of roses and irises that crowns the hill above the wall. Are its clipped curves hard to tend? Hardly, according to Heinsheimer, who has a boxwood bed in her own garden. "Every two or three months, you just nip off the stray branches. Or better yet, whenever you pass, clip one that's out of line." What you're left with, she explains, is "living architecture--an inviting bridge between your garden and your house."

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