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Stress And The City

Bubbling Fountains, a Tranquil Pool and a Secret Walk Countrify a West Adams Craftsman

October 08, 2000|SUSAN HEEGER

Ten years ago, Alisa Taylor and Ron Hutchinson snapped up a 1910 Craftsman house in West Adams, a historic enclave near USC known for such architectural gems. But as taken as they were with it, their new house had a serious flaw: no garden. When they stood at its windows looking out, nothing but two trees--a Chinese elm and an avocado--showed them green. From their back porch to a cement-block property wall, the rest of the yard was dirt.

With so little to build on, the couple hired landscape designer Thomas Batcheller Cox of Pasadena, who studied the house for inspiration. What plants did its dark wood and deep eaves call for? What did that porch want to oversee? Inside, Cox went from room to room studying views, and his sight lines became paths and those paths soon led to terraces. One terrace, outside the kitchen, is now an open-air dining room. Another, off the library, is a secret walk with trellised walls, perennial borders and a vine-swagged seating spot. What the porch now overlooks is peace--a simple carpet of lawn with a wall fountain at the end, its trough-like pool brimming with water iris.

"At first, the idea of that enclosing wall was scary," recalls Taylor. "I thought it would make the space claustrophobic." Instead, paradoxically, the entire garden seems bigger for its progression of linked rooms, each hinting at more to come.

Beyond the fountain wall, via a path under a rose arbor, the Chinese elm spreads its canopy across a lawn that's ideal for entertaining. Nearby, physostegia, francoa and Japanese anemones border the swimming pool Taylor and Hutchinson waited six years to put in. "They needed the time to analyze the sacrifice of space," Cox explains. "It helps to live in a place for a while to understand how you're really going to use it."

The arrival of Isabella, the couple's daughter, five years ago, tipped the balance, as did Cox's seductive pool design. Framed with brick and creeping plants and splashed by fountains from an adjoining wall, the pool gleams in the landscape like a reflecting pond.

For Cox, musical fountains were to be a theme. Four fountains now cool various outdoor rooms, suggesting, he says, "happy characters humming separately to themselves." The bubbling water often lures Hutchinson, a screenwriter and playwright, outside to work, as do comfortable chairs and plentiful shade from a number of trees Cox added to the original two. These newcomers--a Chinese flame tree, a jacaranda, a chitalpa, a Western redbud and an Australian tea tree--steal sun from flowering plants such as roses, but Taylor and Hutchinson don't mind. "This is a garden of shapes and textures," says Taylor, "more like the woods than the tropics."

And when a woodsy landscape takes hold in the city, Cox concludes, it's a gift to urbanites: "We start to calm down about what we can and can't control," he notes. "Nature teaches us about balance and gives us the chance, in a small space, to create a universe."

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Thomas Cox's Plants for a Craftsman Garden:

Climbing plants--wisteria, 'Cecile Brunner' and banksia roses.

Trees with light or lacy leaves--jacarandas, redbuds, Japanese maples.

Classic perennials from woodlands and meadows, such as oakleaf hydrangeas, irises, columbines, true geraniums, white anemones and woodwardia ferns.

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