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Motherhood alters garden plans

Landscape designer Elizabeth Low divided her yard into living areas and planted to suit them.

April 16, 2011|By Lisa Boone, Los Angeles Times
  • Elizabeth Low and David Cash with daughter Violet, 2, enjoy the warmth at their Mar Vista home. FOR THE RECORD A previous version of this caption referred to David Cash as David Low.
Elizabeth Low and David Cash with daughter Violet, 2, enjoy the warmth at… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

For proof that parenthood does change everything, just look at the Mar Vista garden of landscape designer Elizabeth Low.

The birth of daughter Violet, now 2, inspired her to consider the question: How would the arrival of a child change the landscape — and not just in a metaphorical sense? Her answer will be evident April 30, when the garden opens to the public as part of the Mar Vista Green Gardens Showcase.

What tour-goers will see is a project that started two years ago, when Low and her husband, David Cash, purchased their home. At the time, the landscape designer envisioned a modern, minimal garden.

"I wanted it to be easy to care for," she said. "I just didn't want to come home from work and have to think about it."

But after Violet was born and Low found herself at home more than before, her priorities changed.

"I wanted everything to be soft and pretty and attract wildlife," Low said. "I found myself looking at the garden at all hours of the day." Low found herself wanting to cut flowers and grow vegetables.

After gutting the 700-square-foot house and building a 200-square-foot addition, the couple's next step was to make the front and back gardens an extension of a house that was still modest in size.


Photos: Small space, sustainable design, modern look

In the front yard, she added succulents, grevillea, flax, lemon trees and irises and kept the existing camellia bush and jacaranda tree. Between blue stone pavers, she planted wild strawberry and dymondia. Berms built around the exterior of the property let her plant higher and create a sense of privacy. The result is something that feels more like a sanctuary than a play area, a buffer from the busy street. The wild assortment of plants provides something in bloom throughout the year.

In the backyard, Low mapped out four zones: a guest house-office in the garage, a lounging deck and patio area off the master bedroom, a cozy fire pit and a dining area.

"I knew we were going to live outside," she said, and they do.

The outdoor living areas are set among a mix of plants that has evolved. When Violet and her friends trampled some succulents, Low dug them out and replanted them in pots and hanging pouch planters attached to the garage. After twice installing dianella grass, Low gave up.

"It was muddy and patchy from Violet," she said. "We were spending all this money on grass and it wasn't growing in."

The solution: Low purchased artificial turf from the Santa Monica building supply company Bourget Bros.

"It's the best alternative for us," Low said. "It is like a carpet."

To the carpet that needs no watering, Low added drought-tolerant and California native plants. A coffeeberry hedge provides a screen for the entire backyard. Low likes the California native because it is not invasive, has pretty red berries in the fall and doesn't require a lot of water. Because native plants can be slow to grow, Cash painted the cinderblock wall behind the hedge the same green color as the house. "The color makes the spare areas disappear," Low said.

A new sycamore tree, meanwhile, has grown quickly in two years. "It makes the pergola look like it has been there for years," Low said.

She has begun using three rain barrels from the Department of Water and Power, and she hasn't used her drip irrigation system for the last three months. Mulching four times a year helps to retain moisture.

Now that all the work has been completed, does she regret not having the minimalist garden she once imagined?

"I would have gotten bored," Low said.

"I had this maternal, feminine side which I wanted to express."

And Violet? "She loves the garden," Low said. "She loves to play in the dirt."

lisa.boone@latimes.com

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