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Wild Is Best: A Low-Water, High-Spirit Garden in a Small Footprint for an Architect

Wild Is Best: A Low-Water, High-Spirit Garden in a Small Footprint for an Architect

June 9, 2021

File this under Seemingly Antithetical but True: The tinier the outdoor space, the more verdant it should be. “We find that minimalist garden strategies work well on large, vast spaces, while smaller gardens are more conducive to wild, exuberant approaches,” says David Godshall of LA- and San Francisco-based landscape architecture firm Terremoto. “Therefore, in this small space, we got wild.”

The garden in question belongs to architect Frederik Nilsson of Studio Nilsson, a neighbor and friend of David’s, and was, when the pair began, “mostly just dust,” David remembers. Construction had just wrapped on the compact, architecturally forward LA house Frederik designed for his young family, and the remaining space on the lot was tight—some of it set at an incline. Still, the family “wanted to make the most of it. They have a young daughter and wanted to spend family time together outside as well,” David says.

Creating the feeling of an oasis, even in a busy urban environment, was key. “Through conversation and walking onsite together, we realized we want to create privacy from the street, and thus we planted jasmine to intertwine with the steel fence and make the garden smell wonderful,” says David. A mix of native California flora, low-water plantings, places to lounge, and artfully hardscaped paths complete the pocket-sized escape.

Join us for a look at this garden that’s every bit as lush as it is compact.

Photography by Caitlin Atkinson, courtesy of Terremoto.

The house, designed by Fredrik, is set on a petite lot. When Terremoto took on the project, David remembers, &#8\2\20;Fredrik had designed the concrete aspects of the hardscape, and those were in place.&#8\2\2\1; Fredrik had also designed the powder-coated wire-mesh fence: &#8\2\20;It&#8\2\17;s designed to allow vines to grab hold and take over with time while still preserving a visual connection to the street and into the property,&#8\2\2\1; he explains. &#8\2\20;The fence facing the two neighboring properties is cedar planks. It has the same materiality as the house but untreated, allowing it to weather over time.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: The house, designed by Fredrik, is set on a petite lot. When Terremoto took on the project, David remembers, “Fredrik had designed the concrete aspects of the hardscape, and those were in place.” Fredrik had also designed the powder-coated wire-mesh fence: “It’s designed to allow vines to grab hold and take over with time while still preserving a visual connection to the street and into the property,” he explains. “The fence facing the two neighboring properties is cedar planks. It has the same materiality as the house but untreated, allowing it to weather over time.”
Tiered gravel steps lead to a small sitting area. &#8\2\20;The planting plan is really a mix of native Southern California species and low-water regional species as well,&#8\2\2\1; says David. &#8\2\20;The garden is as much for local insects and wildlife as it is for the family.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Tiered gravel steps lead to a small sitting area. “The planting plan is really a mix of native Southern California species and low-water regional species as well,” says David. “The garden is as much for local insects and wildlife as it is for the family.”
A material mix of steel, concrete, and cedar provide an architectural backdrop for the lush plantings. The gravel is a 3/8” crushed grey basalt.
Above: A material mix of steel, concrete, and cedar provide an architectural backdrop for the lush plantings. The gravel is a 3/8” crushed grey basalt.
&#8\2\20;We both agreed we wanted the additional hardscape elements to read as more natural/mineral,&#8\2\2\1; says David, &#8\2\20;and so we buried boulders to act as a foil to the stronger geometry of the poured concrete.&#8\2\2\1; The boulders were all sourced from nearby Simi Valley; the landscape construction was executed by Barranca Landscape.
Above: “We both agreed we wanted the additional hardscape elements to read as more natural/mineral,” says David, “and so we buried boulders to act as a foil to the stronger geometry of the poured concrete.” The boulders were all sourced from nearby Simi Valley; the landscape construction was executed by Barranca Landscape.
A look back under the breezeway towards the sitting area, complete with a hanging hammock chair.
Above: A look back under the breezeway towards the sitting area, complete with a hanging hammock chair.
A narrow natural-boulder path leads from the breezeway towards the opposite street.
Above: A narrow natural-boulder path leads from the breezeway towards the opposite street.
The wire mesh fence designed by Fredrik is overgrown with jasmine in places for a natural (and sweet-smelling) privacy screen.
Above: The wire mesh fence designed by Fredrik is overgrown with jasmine in places for a natural (and sweet-smelling) privacy screen.
&#8\2\20;The sidewalk median had been planted by the previous property owner,&#8\2\2\1; remembers David. &#8\2\20;Marrying old and new is a recurring theme in our work,&#8\2\2\1; and so the Terremoto team incorporated the existing plantings, including roses, into the design.
Above: “The sidewalk median had been planted by the previous property owner,” remembers David. “Marrying old and new is a recurring theme in our work,” and so the Terremoto team incorporated the existing plantings, including roses, into the design.
Above: Stones meet wild, unrestrained gardens. The mix of plantings includes white sage (Salvia apiana), Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii), black sage (Salvia mellifera), and Canyon Prince wild rye grass (Leymus condensatus), all native. Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus), native to the nearby Channel Islands, was added to the mix as well as lavender, pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum), honey flower (Melianthus major), passion fruit (Passiflora edulis), and the succulent Aeonium ‘Pseudotabuliforme’.
The family at home in their outdoor oasis.
Above: The family at home in their outdoor oasis.

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