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A Rill Runs Through It

Bringing Back the Beauty of an Andalusian Acre in Pasadena

May 02, 1999|SUSAN HEEGER

In a world where landscapes come and go as fast as real estate changes hands, Jim Watterson and George Martin were lucky. The Pasadena house they bought in 1994 was set in gardens from the '20s. True, they were fragmented and neglected. But like the house, a 1929 Mediterranean designed by George Washington Smith, they had enough integrity to guide their reinvention. Created by celebrated landscape architect A.E. Hanson, the original layout included a sunken rose garden and a water rill that led from the house to a distant pond. Since the property had been subdivided in the '80s, the pond was gone when the couple arrived, and the roses were a shambles. But wisteria rambled along a pergola, palms towered in the motor court and a crowd of sculptural succulents lined a walk. In short, the sprawling acre captured the spirit of the house--Andalusia in California.

Experienced gardeners with a passion for the Mediterranean, Martin and Watterson expanded on the theme. Armed with Hanson's plans, they restored the rose beds, replacing aged plants with a mix of English Austins and hybrid teas, arranging beds by flower color. The pinks, for instance, range from pale 'Dove' and 'Dapple Dawn' to redder 'Mary Rose,' while purples deepen from 'Silver Shadows' to 'La Reine Victoria.' Snowy 'Iceberg' roses fill a white bed with summer bloom and, at its center, a stone figure of the angel Gabriel spreads his wings.

A few steps up from there, through a Moroccan gate the men found in the garage, is the showy side garden, their second project, which unfolds as the view for an outdoor dining and lounging room under the pergola, heavy with wisteria. Martin, a design director for the retail industry, enclosed the area with a wall and built a fountain as a visual end point for the rill. Next, he and Watterson, who recently retired after 20 years in public relations, moved and edited the garden's succulents, regrouping them around one end of the central path. At the other end, near the fountain, a patterned herb garden supplies flavorings for summer meals on the terrace.

A walk up the path through the succulents leads to a second gate and a rear lawn edged by a slope of drought-tolerant plants. Formerly a single swath of iceplant, the hillside tapestry was inspired by an article Martin saw on a garden on the Cote d'Azur. "The concept," he says, "was to draw a series of mounded shapes in different colors that would catch your eye from a distance." Though selections have changed over time, the most prominent include rosemary, rockrose, artemisia and westringia. "Some things work awhile, then fail," concedes Watterson. "Or we buy too much because we see something and fall in love with it."

The landscape is full of horticultural impulse buys such as a white-blooming floss silk tree, a pink tabebuia and a variegated Western redbud. Just as eclectic are the garden's ornaments, which run the gamut from faux antiquities such as the fiberglass urns Martin fashioned for a store display to swap-meet torchieres and wicker furniture. Still, says Watterson, it all relates to the garden's character. "Our goal," he explains, "was to make the most of what was here from the beginning."

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