John and Ali Stephenson can tell you that a 200-plus-degree panoramic view is a double-edged sword. One on hand, their unending views of the ocean, soft hillsides, and of both the sunrise and sunset can safely be considered spectacular. On the other hand, the price of spaciousness is frequent cold winds and brisk, foggy mornings.
When we discussed their goals, we found that not only did they need a reprieve from the elements, but they wanted the orientation of their landscape to lead their guests in a particular direction for a tour of the garden. “We wanted our guests to be drawn through the side gate,” John says, “so that they’d see the garden and the ocean in one go.” Like many houses, the Stephensons’ home is oriented such that in order to get to the front door, they have to traverse the driveway and pass behind the house.
The solution was brightly colored kangaroo paws, with their elegant, winding stalks, and striking succulents to catch the eye and visually direct a hesitant guest toward the garden. Once through the gate, the flagstone path offers a meandering tour of the plantings, which run like a soft mantle between the long ranch-style home and the slope leading to the ocean. The light tan stucco walls of the home present the perfect canvas against which to highlight a diverse Mediterranean plant palette, and we took full advantage. To soften the edges of the house, we installed bright purple verbena with its airy stalks and delicate rings of petals; warm ‘safari sunset’ leucadendron; and a young grape vine, eager to colonize the trellis. We planted cheery Mexican sages, grape-like clusters of dwarf sedum, and soft ‘pig’s ear’ cotyledons to welcome visitors. A small sea of smoky blue “no-mow” carex echoes the soft blue of the distant Pacific. Here and there, kniphofia blooms add their signature sunrise-like splash of color.
“Gabriel had such a tactful way about him,” Ali says. “If a plant wasn’t going to work, he would tell John, ‘You know, I think that plant would look really good on the other side of the fence.’ Meaning outside of the property.” But in truth, the Stephensons’ contributions were excellent. They collaborated with us from start to finish, sharing their goals and inspirations as well as their beautiful plant material. Their own lavender, olives, figs, and more contributed to the design. Their olive trees, while small now, will soon provide year-round sun and wind screening, along with a trio of cypress beyond the west wall.
Past bed after bed of color and texture, the pathway culminates in a semi-protected patio, whose stone floor gathers the sun’s rays during the day and slowly releases heat into the evening. At its edge, a sculpted bed of sage, thyme, oregano, and chives (all of them from the couple’s own stash), waits for the next culinary adventure. “The garden has definitely changed our lives,” says John. “It's become an extension of the interior. It provides nooks to enjoy a morning cuppa, read, relax, sunbathe, admire and sip a glass of wine.” The Stephenson’s garden is not simply a collection of plants, but a charming companion that invites a stroll with bold, repeating plant shapes, earthen pots, and elegant lighting for night viewing. It gives direction with colors and textures, proffers fresh herbs to the kitchen, and provides respite as it softens the breeze at their backs.
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