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Wild Things

A Couple's Fondness for the Unexpected Is Reflected in Their Colorful Home and Garden

August 01, 2004|susan heeger photographed by dominique vorillon

Anyone who visits Jorge and Veronica Gonzalez Pardo in Mount Washington must take the angled steps carefully and watch for pushy succulents and errant, low-lying banana leaves. This isn't a landscape you can sleepwalk through--but why would you? It has more plants per inch than a botanical garden, and more odd couplings than you can count: roses threading around agaves, opuntias among euphorbias, red fountain grass lolling against chorisia.

From spring through fall these plants leap from beds in a tumult of color and texture that goes unchecked. "Overblown and left alone is how they wanted it to look," says Ivette Soler, a garden design associate with Los Angeles-based Elysian Landscapes who created the wild setting for the house that Jorge, an artist, built six years ago as part of a Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition.

The house, Soler explains, all but designed the garden. A sculptural construction of redwood and aluminum, with walls of glass that face the garden, the house follows the contours of the sloping 10,000-square-foot lot. It steps up and downhill and curves around itself so that one wing faces another across a jungle of plants. Where the house descends, so does the garden. The private master bedroom suite looks out on a private lawn curtained by banana trees. The living room conversation pit finds an echo in a sunken gravel court. Walking through the house--an unpredictable adventure in which passages narrow and widen abruptly, spaces flow together without doors and there are no square angles--is very much a stroll through greenery.

"Every part of the house lets the outside in," says Jorge, a Cuban native whose furnishings, lamps, architecture, tile work and computer-generated paintings straddle fine art and design. When the house was completed in 1998, 5,000 people toured it as part of MOCA's Focus Series, which showcased aspects of various artists' works. Pardo designed many of the home's built-in features and furnishings: kitchen cabinets, sofas, lighting, curtains and the multicolored laminate cabinets and shelves along the stairs in a space he calls the library. That shelving, in shades of gold, pumpkin, burgundy and tangerine, inspired Soler's garden color palette, which includes blue-green senecio, deep-red kangaroo paws, brassy 'Brass Band' roses and sparky Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire.'

When Soler first saw the place while on the MOCA tour, the ground was bare except for sycamores that Pardo had planted and a lavatera he had grown from a cutting. "The sycamore was our first negotiation," says Soler, recalling how, as her plan developed, they agreed to move the trees so the garden would have an open feel.

A self-described "inexperienced gardener," Pardo added to his plant knowledge by accompanying Soler to the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino. She noted which ones he responded to; he gave her carte blanche to choose the particulars. He wielded more control in the design phase, taking a pen to her initial plan. "In my early drawing, everything lined up square," she says. "He opened all the angles and suddenly it was dynamic."

Veronica, a fiction writer, shares his fondness for the asymmetrical and unexpected. "I love the fantastical quality here," she says, steering their daughter Penelope, 2, along a path beside a giant canna. Such large plants structure and balance Soler's design, which is stitched together by smaller elements such as sages. Rich soil and fast hillside drainage allow pairings of plants with different cultivation needs (i.e., roses and succulents). Except for an annual dose of organic compost, the garden isn't fertilized, which keeps the dense collection from overgrowing its bounds before its January cutback. Still, the banana trees are getting taller every year and tendrils of something are always snaking across a path.

"It's a challenging garden," Soler says. "Just like with the house, you have to move through it consciously. It asks you to pay attention."


Resource Guide

Jorge Pardo Sculpture,; Ivette Soler, Elysian Landscapes, Los Angeles, (323) 226-9588.

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