Gardens Explode for Palisades Garden Club Tour

Text by Libby Motika and Laurie Rosendahl
Photos by Lesly Hall Photography

The Pacific Palisades Garden Club’s Annual Spring Tour will feature six distinct landscapes on Sunday, April 23, noon to 4 p.m. Tickets ($30) are still available online at

Tickets are also on sale at Gift Garden Antiques (on Antioch at Sunset) and the Sunday Farmers Market at Palisades High School. Other ticket locations include Yamaguchi Nursery in West Los Angeles and Merrihew’s Nursery in Santa Monica. Proceeds go to community education and beautification and public school student gardens.

Contact (424) 268-8780 or for more information.

This year’s garden tour confirms that landscapers have come to terms with our semi-desert, notwithstanding the healthy winter rains, and have expanded the palette of water-wise plants through careful selection and imaginative design. They have also reimagined the “garden” as an extension of a home’s living spaces, offering areas for entertaining or for solitary peace in the confines of a beautiful landscape.

Old Wood Charm in Santa Monica

On a quiet street off Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, sits an almost 95-year-old, vine-covered house with a magical garden. 


Landscaper Wendy Katz, who owns Santa Monica-based Ruby Begonia Gardens, has created a luscious garden with different areas and plants that take advantage of whether sun or shade is prevalent.

The front yard contains many sections and walking paths, and a newly-installed small vintage gate welcomes visitors.
A French aesthetic is achieved with a fountain and hedging, while roses add to the English-garden areas. Grey patches and assorted English roses are scattered throughout.

The garden is a veritable hodgepodge, containing mondo grass, weeping mulberry, pincushion, artichoke, Japanese anemone, blue bearded iris, sticks on fire, mallow, camellias, hydrangeas, silver dragon, mother ferns, lamb’s ears, donkey tails and the very rare yellow clivia.

Katz jokes that the wisteria, as beautiful as it is, lasts for only “five minutes,” as do the rhododendron.

She likes to plant the edges around the pathways, contributing to the loose English-garden feel. The parkway is planted with boxwood, lilac and an Anna apple tree, which is suited to Southern California. Large pebbles make a textured ground cover.

Parts of the garden have negative space (“You can overdo a good thing,” Katz says), and there’s a hospital in the backyard where ill plants go to heal. “I use everything unless it drops dead.”

A nearby pond is alive with koi and water lilies.

Brentwood Hidden Treasure

Teri Ciarlo, owner of Teryl Designs Landscaping, has crafted a sanctuary in the back of a charming house in Brentwood that belies the fact it’s only a block off Sunset. 

The long, roomy backyard is equipped with a couch and a teak dining table and chairs. Colorful pillows and cushions make the area look festive, and contrast nicely with neutral gravel. Lush Brazilian pepper trees provide ample shade and privacy. In the back of the deep lot are an herb and vegetable garden, pink crepe myrtle and ceanothus. The pink lemonade tree was abundant with its distinctive variegated yellow and green fruit.

Ciarlo struggled with grass that never seemed to grow, and because of the afternoon shade, was always damp and wet. Replaced with high-quality, easily washable DuraTurf, the area has now become a hangout magnet for the owner’s twin teenage boys and the family dog. Plus, Ciarlo adds, it “saves water.”


The yard is punctuated by pops of color, from flowers such as hydrangeas and camellias as well as large, colorful vases and pots. Jacaranda, pittosporum, citrus and magnolia trees create an attractive canopy and add color.

A bench offers a meditative space, and wicker and wood furnishings and decorations add to the comfortable, cozy feel. Lights hanging from a tree help to create a little sanctuary and nighttime Midsummer Night’s Dream vibe.

Outdoor Living Defines Amalfi Home

The lesson for this property is that a street frontage area can be transformed into another room of the house.

The challenge for designer Jill Sullivan (JilzArt) was to transform a lawn and eucalyptus tree setback into a comfortable “front room,” complete with chaise lounge, tables and most dramatically a massive limestone outcrop and fountain from China.


The area is protected from the street by a line of podocarpus. Custom-made lighting embedded in low ashlar base located at the entry gate matches well with the geometric lines of the house. The median strip is planted with a variety of succulents and pineapple guava hedges.

A standout feature as you enter through the gate is the bromeliad garden offering dramatic structure and a variety of colors. Large limestone pavers lead to the front door, flanked on one side by a cycad garden and on the other side a pair of Japanese maples embedded in a cressula groundcover. The main seating area facing the fountain is softened with a pair of bonsai pines adding to the Asian aesthetic.

Further to the north, another seating area is secluded within in a wall of podocarpus and shaded by the large sycamore street tree. Throughout the garden, note the small, sculptural rocks, some planted with tiny succulents, others remarkable for their shape.

Located on the Rustic Canyon rim above Ravoli, the house stretches horizontally north to south. The side yard (or back yard) is the playground of the family. A swimming pool and teak deck are dramatically cantilevered over the canyon. The shady deck area on the south side of the yard encompasses a small cascade that empties into the pool. A legacy oak tree dominates the area, surrounded by a seating area and reflecting pool.

Variety in Brentwood Garden

Designer Russ Cletta updated an existing garden by working closely with the homeowner, who wanted to incorporate the areas of the garden he enjoyed into the new scheme.

With clever massing and placement, the front yard provides a private preserve for the family, shielded from the street. In order to take advantage of the dramatic sunsets, the designer created a seating area on a slightly raised platform, allowing for unhindered afternoon relaxation while at the same time, blocking a view of the street parking.

Beauty spots include a liquidambar and hydrangea grouping anchoring the north corner, matched on the south corner by azaleas and ferns (which were replanted from the backyard). A bed of roses features Jackson Perkins varieties with a preference for fragrance.


The back yard incorporates multiple areas for dining, soaking, swimming or just reading under a tree. Speakers are hidden throughout the garden, each area zoned for remote control. In addition, lighting is customized for each area.

The original barbecue was located on the north side of the property, facing away from the dining area. Cletta repositioned the out- side kitchen so the cook would not be ostracized but could participate in the party. A retractable awning protects this area, adjacent to the swimming pool. Another gathering spot includes a stand-up hot tub.

The dramatic focus in the back yard is a stand of melaleuca trees, small to medium Australian transplants prized for their gray-white papery bark and graceful spreading form. Cletta matched these with another melaleuca closer to the house.

The homeowner has also set aside a featured location for his collection of bonsai plants. Another favorite area is the Japanese garden that runs along the south side of the house, planted with a variety of camellias and azaleas.

Having lived in the home for 39 years, the homeowner has collected a number of plants that hold sentimental value. A 40-year old cumquat thrives in a garden pot; a schefflera that belonged to his mother holds its own in a large pot on the patio. There are several beautiful sculptures placed around the garden: a 45-year old Buddha from China, which was a gift, and a totem from South America that the homeowner’s grandchildren have named the guyamonster.

Cletta, working with the homeowner and a team, has created a world that is ideal for adults and children alike.

Albright Redo Beautifies Corner

This house has the advantage of being located on a corner, opening up the possibility of both a front yard and a side yard to public view. The downside was that this busy corner unfortunately was looked upon as a no-man’s land and commandeered by neighborhood dogs.

When the homeowner decided to remodel the house, he hired landscaper Ethan Whitney to redesign the front yard and come up with a solution for the corner.


The front palette is a symphony of grays, dominated by a beautifully formed European olive tree surrounded by a dymondia ground cover. Flagstone pavers are separated with dymondia insets. A low-branching smoke tree (Cottinue coggygria) anchors the north side of the front yard. Wistringea “highlight” do just what their name suggests: act like spotlights here and there.

Whitney’s solution for the corner is one that invites strollers, yet demarks a garden and commands respect for the homeowner’s privacy.

The scheme includes a pathway shielded from the street by a bed of mondo grass and aloe. A meandering dry stream, lined with pebbles, adds to the country path feeling. The area is lighted at night for dramatic effect and safety. The new beds include a number of unusual varieties of ground cover.

Siskiyou pink features four-petaled, butterfly-like pink flowers. Clusters of pink and yellow achillea (yarrow) make a soft and colorful low-profile ground cover, and convolvulus sabatius are excellent for rock gardens or edging with their low, trailing mat of round green leaves, bearing funnel-shaped violet-blue flowers.

Lemon-yellow cypress trees growing on the southern wall of the house offer a stunning vertical focus. As you near the end of the path, a fountain filled with light-blue river rocks completes the bucolic tableau.

As you pass into the back yard, you pass the side of the garage, which has been softened by a row of espaliered apple trees now in full bloom.

Peaceful Feeling in Rustic Canyon

Isara Ongwiseth and Kate Osgood of FormLA have transformed a standard yard into a modern, drought-resistant garden.

The home, tucked inside Rustic Canyon among mature trees, has a clean architectural aesthetic, and the natural vegetation provides a pleasing contrast.

The large yard has many diverse zones. Ongwiseth and Osgood turned what was once a transitional area with steps that led from the house to the yard into a seating area complete with a built-in bench, large planter box and teak furniture.

Old Torrey pines and redwood trees provide an impressive backdrop. Nearby shade plants thrive, such as Oregon grapes and chain ferns.

Both the landscape and hardscape have a variety of textures, shapes and even sounds, and include large sandstone rocks, gravel and coral bells.

Raised vegetable beds are ripe with kale, collard greens, peas, and chard—all carefully fenced to ward off hungry deer. Native plants include hummingbird sage, manzanita, sagebrush and ceanothus,while the New Zealand Christmas trees’ red flowers bloom during our winter. The tree is related to guava, and has a similar look. The native sage lawn is lush and moves with the wind, giving it a whimsical, inviting feel. “When you see a lot of movement, it really brings the garden to life, and that’s something people enjoy but they don’t know why,” Ongwiseth said.

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