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California seen from Provence

by Louisa Jones
photographs by Louisa Jones

For the full article see The Mediterranean Garden No 44, April 2006.

Author Louisa Jones, who has lived in the south of France for 30 years, spent several weeks in October 2005 visiting gardens throughout coastal California. In her article she uses her knowledge of European gardens as a basis for discussing the design and planting of Californian gardens.

"The famous castle built for Randolph Hearst near Cambria in the 1920s is so visible from everywhere that the American government warned Hearst after Pearl Harbor that it would surely be a target!"

"I much preferred central California, around Cambria, where soft hills offer golden velvety grasslands punctuated by stands of dark green live oak and clearly delineated carpets of chaparral (low scrub). There is far less bare rock than chez nous..."

"Native plant gardens must make the closest connection between the two, but I was there at the worst time of year for these... ... (a) designer assumed that you can meet Nature everywhere, so why imitate it in a garden? It's a good question! Most people I met spoke of native plant gardens as a special, somewhat dubious genre, not mainline."

" imported models now commonly accepted as references even in real estate advertising. These include the Spanish or "mission" style..."

"In Santa Barbara there was a new domain intended to look like a restored Tuscan farmhouse..."

"Terracotta materials seemed often to have a bluish tinge instead of the orange and ochre tones we find in Provence. This turned to pinky-purple at times, and was often set off by a deep-blue turquoise (almost all the swimming pool liners) and lime accents."

"I saw only one garden (by Chris Rimini) that owes much to contemporary English inspiration. Very subtle and beautiful, it was however so full of sub-tropical plants that, even if foliage variation and grasses were predominant, its mood is very different from anything seen in England."

"...the 'outdoor room' as imagined by California designer Thomas Church (active roughly between 1940 and 1970) ... implies a semi-public space, one often used for entertaining visitors. The house entrance plays a major role in Church's designs. And since he had no aversion to asphalt and paving, often a broad driveway took up most of the space in front."

"the 1909 Arts and Crafts 'bungalow'... the drive, which looks like a large path, curves up to the side of the main entrance so that the house may be admired, but the large expanses of outdoor living space are left for other features and uses in front."

"Designer Mark Barton works hard on streetside presentations so spectacular that he calls them - Honey, stop the car - gardens! Some of his are really stunning."
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