Modern/SoCal landscaping

Home improvement Q&A, pictures and news fro Mid Century Modern Homes and Houses(NOT for Real Estate)

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texasdago
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Modern/SoCal landscaping

Postby texasdago » Tue Jun 10, 2003 6:13 am

I'm in the process of tearing out the front bed of our house in order to put in more of a 1950s modern/Southern California look. I wonder if you could provide some ideas of what to plant. I'll have to obviously figure out which plants will work in our hot and humid environment but, if anything, your suggestions will help. Any landscaping pictures would be appreciated.

So far we've planted a Hollywood Juniper in front of a column... it has been trimmed into a topiary (several "balls" on the ends of the bare branches). We're probably going to go for a simpler look with some grasses like purple fountain grasses and some yellowish/lime colored grasses. I'll probably mix in some rocks, as well. Chances are we'll add a couple more Hollywood Junipers. Any other suggestions???

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Postby Joe » Tue Jun 10, 2003 11:17 am

check out the works of Garrett Eckbo, Thomas Church, or Doug Baylis. All three were masters of modern landscape design in mid-century California. All three were well published with new and old books available online and in your better book stores. Note, all three did work for Eichler and Cliff May.

Send me an email and I'll send you a book list. I am just wrapping up a redo of my landscape for my Cliff May home in Oregon. I touch of Thomas Church and A. Quincy Jones in a Japanese garden design. (Japanese gardens were quite popular with modernist architects during the 50s)

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texasdago
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Postby texasdago » Tue Jun 10, 2003 2:07 pm

Joe... good idea. I'll do some digging. I also found a book today called Gardening with Conifers and it looks like it has some nice ideas in there, as well.

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Re: Modern/SoCal landscaping

Postby So_Cal_Native_in_Texas » Tue Jun 10, 2003 3:08 pm

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texasdago
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Postby texasdago » Tue Jun 10, 2003 8:11 pm


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Postby texasdago » Thu Jun 12, 2003 6:04 am

I took the shovel to the front bed last night and took out all of the monkey grass, 6 Indian Hawthorn bushes and a bunch of caladiums. I added 16 cubic feet of landscaping soil but I need to get some more. Hopefully I'll be able to get some plants tonight. I have my eye on a cool pom pom juniper topiary.

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50'S Gardening Fan

Postby khummer » Thu Jun 12, 2003 8:01 am

Hi! I commend your efforts to recreate that amazing Eckbo like experience. Shoot for any Oriental theme - esp. Japanese influenced. Juniper San Jose Bonsai - seek out that one. Oriental pompon add more height - Hollywoods are great down there, as they are less succeptible to spider mites and the like. Don't know the color of your home, but an upright blue cypress (Cupressus semp - humidity might be an issue or a Naylor's blue leylandii) might be great eye candy. 50's landscaping applauds new and different plants as many great plants were found in that era. Besides using new colorful plants of the time, many great 50's landscape touched on texture using Birds of Paradise, Bamboo, and Giant Philodendrons (there are dwarf ones on the market now). www.monrovia.com is a great way to find those plants that offer interesting color and texture, and many were found at the height of mid century modernism. Indian Hawthorn had to go it sounds, but it is wonderful around a water feature (which was also an element used frequently in 50's-early 70's designs). It also a great plant to shape unless it already too mature. Hope that helps. Can't wait to see the results on-line

Think texture with unique foliage shapes, Oriental (esp. Japanese), and fresh colors like blue/gray.

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Postby texasdago » Thu Jun 12, 2003 7:36 pm

Well... I have a long way to go... I still need to fill in the gaps but here's sort of a before and during (I can't say "after", yet)...

Before:

Image

During:

Image

You'll notice I left one Indian Hawthorn behind... I was planning to move it by the hose reel but I think the roots are *really* in there. The Hollywood Juniper in the middle of the bed is about 7 feet tall. The juniper underneath the window is a Henzai (I think... trying to remember the name... it's a Chinese variety).

I'll probably get some landscape boulders and insert some grasses... purple fountain grass, etc.

Any other suggestions?

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Photos

Postby khummer » Fri Jun 13, 2003 9:03 am

Thanks for the photo. Nice oriental pompon! My only recommendation is to move the Hetz pompon away from your wall. As when its arms grow, they'll have nowhere to go, and you will have to saw off some that are leaning into your wall. As ones that are hitting the wall will be more prone to all sorts of plant diseases. Perhaps cut an oblong type of shape in your sod and display it as an accent? You are on your way!

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Postby texasdago » Sun Jun 15, 2003 11:31 am

Good idea... I moved the pom pom a little further out to give it more space to grow.

Image

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Postby Drew Ready » Mon Jan 10, 2005 12:18 am

This topic begs the question, just what was the intent of modern architects, and how should we preserve this intent through our efforts to preserve and restore these homes. Furthermore, is it ok to take the initiative to continue to develop upon those intentions?

It is widely agreed that many mid-century architects espoused the virtues of modern design and its ability to blur the line of inside and outside.

Why should this end at the property line. A well sited and designed house and grounds, in the opinion of this enthusiast, should blur the lines not just between the aforementioned boundaries but between those of the home site and the greater landscape.

Never have I seen a more perfect design union than that of the modern home and the native plant garden.

For Southern California I might suggest visiting Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont http://www.rsabg.org. You can also find alot of good information at: http://www.laspilitas.com . There are other region specific resources available, a simple google search will return articles, books and websites for you area.

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Postby morbank » Mon Jan 10, 2005 8:28 am

Drew Ready asks:
This topic begs the question, just what was the intent of modern architects, and how should we preserve this intent through our efforts to preserve and restore these homes. Furthermore, is it ok to take the initiative to continue to develop upon those intentions?

These are great questions, but I don't believe that I can fully answer them because I don't consider myself a preservationist of modern architecture. I live in a modern house. My house was built in the 60's, but I live in the the 21st century. Design should look good, but be functional, especially when you have to live in or around it. And in terms of landscape, it should be functional, but look good too! I don't think that is always possible when trying to match the natural landscape of your surroundings.

I guess I'm saying that although I think your ideals hold true and you are saying something poignant, my life is quite far from ideal! Bummer for me, huh?

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Postby SDR » Mon Jan 10, 2005 11:23 am

The "natural landscpe" in any locale would be able to teach us a lot about what "works" functionally (in terms of plant materials appropriate to climate, soil type and terrain) -- if it could be found in its natural state. What we find in any residential neighborhood is likely to be far removed from that state, however. The tendency of garden-enthusiast homeowners to introduce dozens of non-native plant materials -- in NoCal we see palms and other tropicals that "just don't belong," in my view -- means that the owner of a newly-purchased property in a developed neighborhood is going to have a lot to consider when trying to "connect" his or her landscape choices to the surrounding properties. The homogeneity so valued by designers -- Italian hill towns built out of one local stone, with the local tile covering virtually every roof -- is just not available to us in the western US, where every architectursal style is represented, sometimes on the same block! Architects and landscape designers for at least 300 years have sought and sugested ways of visually extending their clients' holdings by "borrowing" extra acreage and views from neighbors; one way of accomplishing this was to blur the actual boundaries by utilizing the same landscape elements as found on neighboring land. This achieves both the desired expansion and a desirable homogeneity -- a "naturalness" -- to the local landscape. Just as indoors, so too in the garden, a principle of modernity -- restraint -- pays off with the luxury of repose and calm. Or so it seems to me.

SDR

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Postby Joe » Mon Jan 10, 2005 11:36 am

Drew Ready: "Why should this end at the property line. A well sited and designed house and grounds, in the opinion of this enthusiast, should blur the lines not just between the aforementioned boundaries but between those of the home site and the greater landscape."

I completely agree. Community landscaping it a great step towards creating beautiful communities. These were goals of many mid-century architects, planners, and landscape architects. In my community, I rely on "borrowed landscape" of tall douglas firs and cedars beyond the property-line to create a backdrop. Architecture in the mid-century was designed to be less pretentious and blend into the landscape. That's not the case today.

Unfortunately, today's building and design trends tend to ignore the natural landscape. Lot sizes have shrank with increased house sizes. Community landscaping is an afterthought with three car garages dominating the street. Second story construction in the norm, with very little access to the outdoors. The patio's existence is on the endangered list.

But history shows building cycles. Like my good friend Bob Marley once said, "where there's action, there's a reaction." Eventually the urbanization of our suburbs will slow and, like 60 years ago, folks will look elsewhere to live.

Morbank: you don't need to be a "preservationist of modern architecture" to enjoy beautiful landscape design and good community planning.

What's significant of design and planning of the mid-century is that architects were more involved with building communities, not just designing houses. This faded by the mid-'60s, along with popularity of Modernism.

One of the great overlooked legacies of Modernism is landscape design, which still dominates today, even though it's homes do not.

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Postby johnnyapollo » Mon Jan 10, 2005 12:06 pm

My opinion is a mixed bag of what works and doesn't work within the context of your yard. I have over 45 years of legacy growth involving hardwoods and non-native flowering shrubbery. To accurately represent the intent of the architect I would leave the yard close to its current state - apparently my house was designed to be hidden in a grove of trees with very little access from the street (even today there is no path or walk to the front door). The back yard was for "living" and featured concrete patios and terraced lawns with specimen plantings. I'm taking these themes to the next level and introducing several different environments - the front yard I'm basically leaving as-is, only further opening up areas next to the front door for entertaining - the woods you look through from the street have many native species that have found their way between the azalias, camillias and rhodies. I'm thinking of a meandering path that connects to the street, but hope to add the oriental notion of "expectation" by directing the casual strollers eyes up the path to my front door to new surprising vignettes as each bend is turned. Of course you need to use materials and plantings that work well in your climate.

My back yard will become more oriental in nature compositing natural stone, fern and flowers as a semi-formal statement. The cool thing about gardening and landscaping in general is that you may always change things around if it doesn't work the first time. I say you try different ideas until you come across what works best against the background of your house. Get it close and then hone things with time - patience is key with gardening. To see the mess I've been working with, pics here:

http://wildtoys.com/house/
http://wildtoys.com/house/Spring2004.html

-- John

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Postby nichols » Mon Jan 10, 2005 3:22 pm


Drew Ready
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More thoughts on modern modern landscape design..

Postby Drew Ready » Mon Jan 10, 2005 8:12 pm

Modern architects also shared the goal to site structures unobtrusively. For a few landscape architects in the west this meant landscaping with plant material that was well suited to the climate and native soils.

The Japanese have been doing this for centuries.

Indeed, we have to get up off the Eames lounge chairs and trade our loafers for boots to find it, but its there. Yes, the immediate viewshed has long been obstructed, land was graded, native animals and plants cleared for farms and ranches, ranches bulldozed and subdivided for tract homes. But where ever you are wilderness remains nearby, even in the most developed of urban areas. I live in Los Angeles and find inspiration in the foothills of the San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountains, Griffith Park even.

I have yet to see a bird of paradise let alone palms, philodendrons or bananas in any traditional Japanese gardens. In fact, most of the plants utilized are native to Japan. They've simply looked to nature for inspiration.

May be its time we follow suit.

In Texas
http://www.wildflower.org/

In Southern California
http://www.theodorepayne.org/
http://www.treeoflifenursery.com
http://www.rsabg.org
http://www.bewaterwise.com

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Postby texasdago » Tue Jan 11, 2005 11:39 am

The current (or last?) issue of Atomic Ranch actually provided some good inspiration for us. We had some leggy and overgrown liriope in a planter underneath our living room window (by the entry). We pulled out the liriope and planted three green/gray "Mother-in-Law's Tongue" (aka: Snake Plant) in the planter. Rather than use mulch, we put in gray river rock... similar to a house in Atomic Ranch. It looks great and is much more sculptural.


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