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California dream: fresh ideas for outdoor living from two trendsetting gardens.

Something wonderful is happening in California gardens. It's not just that gardeners are turning more often to nature's landscape for inspiration, or that we're growing interesting plants like shimmery grasses and shapely succulents in fresh ways. It's what landscape architect and contractor Owen Dell of Santa Barbara calls "an increasing artistry in garden design, an upwelling of inventiveness." And, adds Dell, "Imagination is blossoming. Our gardens are becoming more fun, less uptight. We're really swinging."

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Landscape designer Greg Sanchez might agree; while revamping a garden in Century City, California, he discovered some circular pavers left on the property by the previous owners. "I knew I wanted to use them, but I didn't know how," he says. Ultimately, those simple pavers inspired the garden's entire design. For a yard in San Diego, artists Don and Jill Young employed their sense of color and form to create a landscape with something interesting to look at around every corner.

Playful and inventive, these gardens have it all--including ideas you can adapt.

CENTURY CITY

Playful geometry

If the garden behind Ann and Sandy Blanchard's sleek, contemporary home has a theme, it might be called "circles and bubbles." A circular lawn framed with a bold poured-concrete strip lies in the center of the backyard. Pavers of various sizes embellish the wide, adjacent path; from a second-story window, they appear to float like bubbles through a river of gravel (near right). Planting beds between the lawn and patio are curved. Another bed--filled with blue Senecio mandraliscae, phormium tenax, and agaves--is circular.

"We wanted to loosen up the garden to play off the home's angular design," says landscape designer Greg Sanchez. The circles have a practical side too: "They visually tie together three outdoor rooms--a dining patio, a firepit patio, and the children's play area."

But geometry is only half of the backyard's story. "The owners love hot colors, so we played with those," Sanchez says. In the curved planting beds, yellow kangaroo paws rise above tufts of blue fescue. Golden Helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight' carries the path's line around the lawn. In contrast to the backyard's rounded shapes, the front yard is all about angular drama.

"We wanted to make the garden more visually exciting." says Ann Blanchard. And that it is. "It's lush, yet open--serene and tropical, with a feeling of romance."

DESIGN: Greg Sanchez, GDS Designs, Los Angeles (www.gdsdesigns.com or 323/466-4266)

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Landscape lessons

Think twice about discarding building materials such as used brick or broken concrete that you unearth or remove during landscape renovation; they might find beautiful new uses. In the Blanchard garden, for example, Greg Sanchez moved circular pavers he found into a wide section of pathway (far left).

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Divide the garden into a series of rooms according to function. The firepit patio (A) is for relaxing and entertaining. The front yard (B) is pure drama; owners Sandy and Ann Blanchard pose there with their boys--Ryland, 2, and Reiss, 6--in front of agaves.

Before getting rid of overgrown plants, try to visualize their potential. With a little pruning, they might be worth saving. In the Blanchards' front yard, a few shapeless pittosporums were removed and others were pruned to reveal trunk and branch structure. A wall behind them (C) accentuates the plants' shapes, and uplights add nighttime drama. Near the dining patio (page 116), Sanchez added more philodendrons to enhance the presence of an existing plant.

Just a few foliage plants can create texture and serenity. In the Blanchards' garden, 'Limelight' helichrysum adds a light green fringe around a deep green lawn (D). Another key tip: Place plants with care. Spiny agaves (E) are limited to the front yard, while softer plants grow in back, where the children play.

Landscape pros are saying ...

* Let the site inform your garden's style. Then let every element--from paving and water features to trees, shrubs, furnishings, and fireplace--conform to the cohesive style. If one object clashes with the others, the overall design doesn't work. Beyond that, create a sense of oasis.--Bernard Trainor, Bernard Trainor + Associates, Monterey, CA

* Visually tie the house to the garden so there's a natural flow between the two. Avoid steps between indoors and outdoors, and place elements like fountains or a great urn where they'll draw your attention, inviting you outdoors. Also, don't try to pack too much into your space; a well-designed garden is like a good sauce that the chef must reduce before its essential flavor comes through.--R. Michael Schneider, Orange Street Studio, Los Angeles

* Take lessons from the agricultural roots of the state--the very beautiful grids and geometry; the clean, natural look. Choose sustainably harvested and obtained materials. Use native plants in interesting ways, in fields or grids or allees. Where water is scarce, add the illusion of water with dry washes or channels. Simplify your use of materials and plants; the pared-down garden is easy to maintain, and it's calming.--Sasha Tarnopolsky, Dry Design, Los Angeles

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SAN DIEGO

Living art

Don and Jill Young, both artists, consider their garden in San Diego's Point Loma community "a three-dimensional painting." "We love the colors of water, stone, and sand," Don says. He adds that such earthy hues are characteristic of early paintings of California and reflect the area's natural beauty. "We didn't want a garden that says we'd rather live in England."

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But earthy hues don't have to mean drab. "Touches of color jump out at you in a toned-down garden," says Bill Schnetz, a landscape designer and contractor who worked with the Youngs on plant placement and selection.

In the back garden, artful plant combinations surround a swimming pool beside the Youngs' art studio. Ornamental trees and shrubs in shades of burgundy, plum, rust, gold, and celery green are backdrops for shapely succulents, phormiums, and kangaroo paws.

Jill Young, a retired interior designer, prefers simple color palettes. She also likes contrasting foliage textures and repeated patterns, as well as bold plants as accents. "Succulents of any kind are sculptural," says Jill, adding that she and Don notice a plant's shape and silhouette even before its color.

Clearly, the Youngs' garden is all about texture, color, and form. It's a dynamic work of art--just right for the private world of two artists.

DESIGN: Jeffrey Rule, La Mesa, CA (619/466-0362); Bill Schnetz, Schnetz Landscape, Escondido, CA (www.schnetzlandscape.com or 760/591-3453)

Landscape lessons

Choose appropriate plants. You needn't use all natives, but you should select plants that thrive in your microclimate and in your garden's soil. In the Youngs' front garden, Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) grows beside fruitless olive trees. The simple streetside planting packs visual punch but needs no upkeep other than cutting the grass to the ground in winter. "In every respect, it's better than a lawn," Don says.

Cluster the some plants throughout the garden for continuity. Repeat shapes as well. In the Youngs' garden, a dry-cast limestone planter in front of a trio of agaves is square and stout, just like the stacked ledgestone wall beneath it (A).

Select plants with foliage and flowers that blend with your home's exterior, hardscape, and natural surroundings. In the Youngs' garden, bluish senecio grows beneath a gray-blue pindo palm (B). Giant phormiums rise above soft Santa Barbara daisy (C). A single Aeonium decorum 'Sunburst' (D) and helichrysum and agaves (E) repeat the blue-gray theme. Finish with eye-catching focal points, like the urn and cluster of stone balls (right), and the stone fountain (far right), faced in handmade Alhambra-pattern Moroccan tiles and filled with fluffy papyrus.

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY ART GRAY
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Author:Brenzel, Kathleen N.; Baldwin, Debra Lee
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:1292
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