It’s not often you get to reimagine a project once it’s completed, but the award-winning, multi-disciplinary design firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios recently got the chance to renovate their original 1997 landscape design for a 1907 Mission-style home designed by well-known Los Angeles architect John Austin.
The clients wanted to create a new model for residential landscapes that reduces water use by limiting lawn area. They were looking to make a big change and replace the lawn with drought-tolerant plantings that supported the polished look of their classic Pasadena residence.
The wife, who grew up in a family-run garden supply business and is active at both The Huntington Botanical Gardens and Descanso Gardens, reviewed every species of plant as well as the quantity and location in the new landscape. She wanted to add feature gardens, including a rose garden, experimental cutting garden and edible garden.
The husband, a financial analyst, was determined to decrease water use by replacing the lawn and demonstrating that conservation can be beautiful. He scrutinized the irrigation and lighting design to ensure maximum efficiency.
More than 50 percent of the lawn was removed, equaling approximately 10,000 square feet of turf on the home’s 1.5-acre lot. The team succeeded in reducing water use by more than 30 percent. The irrigation system was also upgraded, with Rain Bird sprinklers providing efficient water delivery while reducing runoff.
“This Pasadena garden renovation was an opportunity to rethink and revisit a residential landscape we had designed originally. The project allowed us to explore new strategies for planting, irrigation and garden programs for a modern, sustainable Southern California landscape,” explains Rios Clementi Hale Studios.
More than 7,000 plants were added including meadow grasses and ferns, and the collective favorite of the team, Bunny Tail grass, if for no other reason than it’s wonderful to say the words “Bunny Tail.” Other grasses used include Fairy Tails and Fireworks.
More perennial gardens were a must for the owners. One of the benefits of adding more perennial beds is the increased numbers of beneficial insects to assist the grounds with pollination and pest control. The Red Garden includes Hot Cocoa, Lady Bird, Pope John Paul II, Paprika and Hot Lips. The Yellow Garden includes roses Julia Child, Golden Celebration and Yellow Simplicity plus Asclepias (milkweed), and Tagetes (marigold). Some features in the Purple Garden are roses Twilight Zone, Neptune, Sexy Rexy, Barbra Streisand, Black Knight and Butterfly Blue. (A complete landscape listing is included at the end of this post.)
The high clay content required testing and the attention of a soil engineer. The landscape design and planting plan includes microclimates that range from sunny and dry to shady and damp.
Interestingly, a block of old mounting steps tipped the team off that the ground floor of the house was originally designed to meet the height of the transportation of the day, a horse carriage. Early work on the house added transitions to connect the elevated living spaces to the lawn and gardens. An old porte cochère on the side of the house was replaced with a planted terrace that provides a shady place to entertain and enjoy the backyard. A raised courtyard with a koi pond now joins the two wings of the house in the backyard and steps down to the lawn and pool beyond.
Within the expanse of the rear yard, hedges are used to make some discrete spaces, one for dining and the other free for whatever fun is on the calendar. Entertaining, especially in the evenings, was a priority for the clients, which provided the opportunity to rethink the lighting.
The lighting strategies are specific to each installation and designed to create different outdoor rooms and experiences. Particularly stunning is the allée of crape myrtle trees in the front yard, which is up-lit to emphasize the canopies. In the backyard, a circular dining area is lit with festoon lights strung between a ring of sweetgum trees. Incredible custom-stacked, broken concrete lanterns hold court at the steps leading to the pool terrace and raised orchard, and light the way for the family’s two King Charles Cavalier spaniels.
“The clients are models of hands-on participation; they were collaborators in design and execution at every phase,” enthuses Rios Clementi Hale Studios. The clients echoed the love of the collaborative process, especially when creating the raised vegetable garden planter. It is clad in corrugated metal panels and painted bright colors that change as you move around the four sides of the planter.
The planter pulls double duty in the form of a vegetable garden while providing a screen between the sports court and the backyard. Its generous size (50 x 4 feet) allows the owners to grow food year-round, with enough room to experiment with different varieties.
The transformation of the 1997 design is an inspiring model of the evolving landscape for residents of Southern California…one can’t help but wonder what another 20 years may bring.
Red Garden: Floribunda Roses: ‘Scentimental’, ‘Hot Cocoa’, ‘Lady Bird’, ‘Munstead Wood’, ‘Papa Meilland’, ‘Pope John Paul II’, ‘Secret’; Helichrysum (Strawflower) ‘Dreamtime’; Salvia (Sage) ‘Mojave’; Verbena (Vervain) Temari® ‘Patio Red’; Dahlia ‘Babylon Red’; Scabiosa (Pincushion Flower) ‘Tall Red’; Achillea (Yarrow) ‘Paprika’; Anigozanthos (Kangaroo Paw) ‘Bush Sunset’; Penstemon (Beardtongues) ‘Red Rocks’; Salvia Microphylla (Baby Sage) ‘Hot Lips’
Yellow Garden: Roses ‘Julia Child’, ‘Golden Celebration’, ‘Yellow Simplicity’; Leucanthemum Superbum (Shasta Daisy); Gladiolus; Dahlia ‘Kelvin Floodlight’; Ruta Graveloens (Rue) ‘Jackman’s Blue’; Asclepias (Milkweed) ; Tagetes (Marigold); Euphorbia (Spurge) ‘Dean’s Hybrid’; Phlomis Fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage); Calylophus Berlandieri (Sundrops) ‘Texas Primerose’; Alstroemeria (Peruvian Lily)
Purple Garden: Roses ‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Neptune’, ‘Sexy Rexy’, ‘Barbra Streisand’; Lavandula Intermedia (Ble Lavandin ‘Provence’; Lavandula Stoeches (Spanish Lavender) ‘Otto Quast’; Aster ‘Monte Casino’; Iris; Eustoma Grandiflorum (Lisianthus) ‘Florida Blue’; Nemesia ‘Cherry Blue’; Scaevola Aemula (Fairy Fan-Flower) ‘Blue Wonder’; Dahlia ‘Alauna Clair-Obscur’; Dahlia ‘Thomas A. Edison’; Scabiosa Atropurpurea (Pincushion Flower) ‘Black Knight’; Scabiosa Columbaria (Pincushion Flower) ‘Butterfly Blue’; Verbena Bonariensis (Purpletop Vervain); Alstroemeria (Peruvian Lily)
Trees: Chionanthus Retusus (Chinese Fringe Trees); Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle) ‘White’; Arbutus (Madronas); Pittosporum Tenuifolium (Cheesewoods) ‘Silver Sheen’; Jacaranda; Citrus Auratiifolia (Lime); Citrus Meyer (Meyer Lemon); Citrus Sinensis (Orange); Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine); Malus Domestica (Apple); Prunus Persica (Peach); Nyssa Sylvatica (Black Tupelo); Acacia; Ginkgo; Platanus Racemosa (Western Sycamore); Corymbia Citriodora (Lemon Eucalyptus); Acer Palmatum (Japanese Maple); Platanus Acerifolia (London Planetree)
Hedges: Ligustrum (Privet); Buxus (Boxwood); Prunus Caroliniana (Carolina Cherry Laurel); Podocarpus Lawn: Festuca Arundinacea (Marathon II®) Meadow Grasses: Pennisteum ‘Fairy Tails’, ‘Bunny Tails’, ‘Fireworks’ (Fountain Grass); Muhlenbergia lindheimeri (Lindheimer’s Muhly); Sesleria Autumnalis (Autumn Moor Grass); Libertia Peregrinans (Orange Libertia); Carex Praegracilis (Clustered Field Sedge); Miscanthus Sinensis (Porcupine Grass) ‘Strictus’ Ferns: Pteris Cretica (Cretan Brake) ‘Albolineata’; Microlepia Strigose (Lace Fern); Blechnum Spicant (Deer Fern); Rumohra Adiantiformis (Leatherleaf Fern)