It all began with a trip to the Cotswolds, where Los Angeles gardening enthusiast Yvonne Caan toured the estate of English landscape great Rosemary Verey. There, amid soft lawns and flower borders crafted by the legendary designer, was a clipped collage that caught Caan's eye. Woven of dwarf boxwood and phillyrea hedges, flanked with variegated topiary hollies, it was an old-fashioned knot garden based on a 17th century embroidery pattern.
Such intricate compositions were common in Elizabethan England. Forged of intertwining ropes of evergreens and herbs, they were often framed by an additional, enclosing hedge, creating what Caan calls "a garden surprise."
Intrigued by the possibilities of Verey's knot, Caan returned to the English-style Brentwood house that she had just bought with her husband, Michael. Their half-acre was very much a work in progress, and Caan found a vacant spot beside her rose beds where a knot design would fit nicely. "I don't like predictable gardens," she explains. "I thought to myself, how many places do you need for sitting? We had those. What we lacked was the element of the unexpected."
Diana Green, Caan's Santa Monica-based landscape designer, agreed, and went to work transforming an unused lawn into a delicate piece of petit point. For the garden's form, she created a pattern inspired by knot gardens that she herself had seen in England. For its interlocking skeins, she opted for hardy shrubs with contrasting colors and textures that would make the lines read clearly, especially when glimpsed from an upper terrace. Beginning with a variegated euonymus, she added fragrant rosemary and boxwood, both appropriate, she says, for the climate and conditions. To ensure a quick fill-in of the hedges, she installed one-gallon plants closely spaced, and a year later, in the spring of 1997, the knot pattern was complete.