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Land Rich

A Space-Loving Family Finds Its Own Private Arcadia in a Sprawling Ojai Citrus Grove

February 11, 2001|BARBARA THORNBURG

Richard Hertz and Pamela Burton had lived near orange orchards as kids, so when they saw the 1920s stone house set amid a five-acre citrus grove in Ojai, "it was really love at first sight," says Hertz, a longtime administrator at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The find culminated a long search by the couple for a weekend retreat, and Hertz's delight was doubled by memories of spending pleasurable summers in the Ojai area as a child.

In the 15 years since they purchased the property, which they named Rancho Dulce, Hertz and Burton have added a mix of casual furnishings: a pair of Thonet cafe chairs, assorted rattan and wicker pieces, a comfortable sofa, a couple of daybeds, topping them with colorful textiles purchased on trips to Guatemala and Mexico. "We wanted it simple and comfortable," Burton, a landscape architect, says of the Ventura County retreat. The two-story house, with a spectacular view of the Topa Topa Mountains, was in good condition. All it needed, Burton says, was a coat of white paint and some new Saltillo tiles in the kitchen.

The garden was another matter. Near the entrance to the house was a dead avocado tree, and the rest of the surrounding garden was overgrown with ivy. "It looked as if it had been severely neglected for a long time," Burton says.

She started with a playful touch, adding a swing to a graceful jacaranda tree for their two children. She replaced the dead avocado with a large, lacy pepper tree to visually anchor the front of the house. Just outside the kitchen, on a patio with a 50-year-old grape arbor, she built a large fireplace of stones from the nearby arroyo. "It's become our living room," says Burton, who likes to cook there as well as gather with friends and family. She separated the garden from the orange grove by extending existing 2 1/2-foot stone walls, creating a series of small outdoor rooms planted with buffalo, grama and meadow grasses. "The best part is they don't have to be mowed," says Burton.

Every other weekend the pair head north from Brentwood, where they share a home with Hertz's mother, to work their land. Burton often experiments with ideas that she might later incorporate into clients' gardens. "I like to try things out on myself." One endeavor was inspired by the "Avenue of 100 Fountains" at the famed Villa d'Este in Italy. In their own garden, it became what Burton laughingly calls the "Walk of 100 Trees," admitting that there are only 15 pairs of fruit trees so far.

For Hertz, weekends mean putting on his oldest clothes, checking on the honeybees' hive and making sure gophers haven't eaten through the irrigation hoses, as well as clipping, picking and raking. "It's such great exercise and it allows you to get in touch with the earth in a way you can't do in L.A," says Hertz. "We've found our Arcadia," says Burton.

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