Falling for the Folly Bowl, a garden amphitheater

Twelve years ago, Los Angeles garden designer Susanna Dadd and her husband, artist James Griffith, built a back-yard amphitheater in a ravine alongside their Altadena home. Dubbing it The Folly Bowl, they’ve been hosting free, or nearly free, public concerts each summer, choosing unique performers that will draw a crowd — but not too big of a crowd. I visited with a small group of friends prior to the Garden Writers conference a couple of weeks ago, just before an evening performance.

Using fill dirt, rock, and urbanite (broken pieces of concrete), Susanna and James constructed tiered seating all the way up the steep hillside. Susanna filled the gaps among the stones with dry-loving succulents and other tough plants.

Twinkle lights weave through some of the plants, and hanging lanterns add glowing ambience on summer evenings.

Colorful pillows soften the benches, and low tables are positioned in front of some of them. Concertgoers are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner to enjoy during the show.

The stage is beautifully framed by carved wooden posts and a curved, painted backdrop, and string lights provide soft illumination.

Here’s Susanna, the owner, along with Dustin Gimbel, another L.A. designer whose garden we toured earlier that day. It’s amazing to consider how generous Susanna and James are with their garden, inviting the public in on a regular basis for pure enjoyment.

Bill Thomas of Chanticleer taking in the view

I love the eclectic assortment of lamps and lanterns placed throughout the space.

In the background you can see a wing of Susanna and James’s L-shaped house, which sits atop the hill and enjoys a nice view of the neighborhood.

Small details abound for those who look, like this Buddha head placed amid river stones and succulents.

And another

A verdigris lantern, burro’s tail sedum, and nearly black aeonium make a pleasing combo.

Susanna boldly planted carrion plant (Stapelia) near the benches, and its odorous blooms were open and attracting flies.

The Bowl is very steep, so you must be pretty spry to get to the top. Susanna climbed up and down her steps with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat! I followed at a slower pace, careful of each step.

Looking down from about halfway up. That’s my friend and fellow blogger Diana Kirby talking with Susanna.

And now we’re at the top, at the level of the house, overlooking the Bowl.

A baby head is part of a whimsical handrail along the steps.

To the right of the amphitheater, a long stair of red brick leads up to the house. This garden offers lots of exercise.

After showing us the Bowl, Susanna led us down to the street, where I stopped to admire an agave in bloom on the hillside. Susanna had pruned off the dying leaves, leaving the tree-sized bloom stalk up until it was finished.

A few yards along the street, Susanna turned onto a shady, mulched path that led around the other side of her home. Enormous agaves, yuccas, and prickly pear greeted us with their fantastical forms.

These plants are full of personality.

With their yellow-edged leaves, variegated agaves glow in the late-afternoon light.

A sword-leaved, variegated yucca has been pruned up for safety.

A small sitting area is dwarfed by another large agave.

A fountain-turned-birdbath makes a classic focal point within a circular bed.

In a sunny clearing, columnar cacti add vertical accents amid agaves and aloes.

It’s quite a plant collection.

And the size of those agaves!

Railroad ties make a rustic, winding stair back up to the house.

As Susanna stood there telling us about her garden, I found myself staring at an assortment of faces gazing up around her feet.

Although their expression is placid in repose, the effect is a little eerie. And doesn’t the face look remarkably like…

…Hillary Clinton? No?

They’d found the mold, Susanna said, on their travels and cast multiple faces from it.

Another stapelia was in bloom here.

As was a lithops

Climbing all the way up, I reached the top behind Susanna and ventured a look back down. Steep!

A handsome gate and arbor at the top of the stairs marks the path.

This wing of the house has an upper porch and lower patio…

…both overlooking an oval swimming pool, which was covered to reduce water loss during California’s epic drought.

A fish pot on a pedestal seems to spray a fountain of branches instead of water.

I love this gigantic variegated American agave against a purple wall.

Nearby, a plum-colored pomegranate — ‘Eight Ball’ maybe? — echoes the purple hue.

As the sun set over the palm-studded hills, the Folly Bowl concert was just getting started. Diana and I had hoped to stay for it, but after a full day of garden touring in triple-digit heat, we decided to call it an early night. Even so, seeing the Folly Bowl twinkling with lights and filled with happy people sipping wine and munching on picnic spreads was delightful. My thanks to Susanna for welcoming us into her lovely and imaginative garden and sharing the magic with us!

Up next: A visit to garden shop Big Red Sun in Venice, CA. For a look back at the terraced hillside garden of Joy and Roland Feuer, click here.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Colorful LA garden of Potted maven Annette Gutierrez

I was in Los Angeles/Pasadena last weekend for the annual Garden Writers Association symposium, and boy oh boy, do I have some cool gardens to show you! Not all were on the GWA tours, which were limited to 3 private gardens and one public garden (the fabulous Huntington). My friend and traveling companion Diana Kirby and I spent two days prior to GWA visiting blogging friends and seeing their gardens as well.

One of these was the home garden of Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of the lust-inducing garden shop Potted and all-around fun and wildly creative person. We’d been online friends before I met her at the Garden Bloggers Fling a few years ago, and she generously arranged a day of private garden visits for us, starting with her own stylishly livable garden on a palm-lined street of 100-year-old bungalows in the Hollywood Hills.

Our mid-morning arrival during a heat wave of sunny, 100-degree days made photography a challenge, but we were eager to see it all. Here’s the streetside view of Annette’s charming home. A pair of giant pittosporums shelters and shades the front porch. The pinky-purple cordylines towering over the entry steps announce that a playful gardener lives here.

A small lawn bordered by xeric beds fronts Annette’s house, and I was swooning over this corner screen of Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata aztecorum). Be still, my heart! This is how it’s supposed to look, instead of the straggly canes in my own garden, which have endured multiple winter die-backs.

And then there’s the front porch, which is essentially Potted style distilled to its colorful, playful, plant-displaying essence. How could you ever enter this door and not feel cheerful?

A rust-colored City Planter with an orange address plaque and tillandsias sets the stage. Below, on a small table, a potted bromeliad and dracaena (?) add strappy lime and pink accents.

A wider view shows a lime-green bench picking up the window trim color. Also, notice how Annette has mulched the green potted plant with Mexican beach pebbles set on edge — lovely!

To the left, orange Fermob chairs and a vintage green glider invite lounging behind the pittosporum hedge.

Chartreuse and sky blue Circle Pots hang from the porch ceiling, adding another pop of color as they display cascading succulents.

Avert your eyes if the f-bomb offends you. Annette gave us a tour of her home’s beautiful, mod-meets-midcentury interior, and I couldn’t resist snapping this laugh-inducing terrarium in the guest room. She said a friend made it for her because she’s always losing her keys.

Next we went out a side door to explore a shady patio where Annette said the idea for Potted was hatched. She and her partner, Mary, spent a summer figuring out how to make these tile-inset pavers, and by the time they perfected it, they’d decided to open a garden shop together. The pups are Marley (cautiously approaching the stranger with the camera) and Phlea (standing on the side porch).

The side porch: I love this quiet, artful vignette. Phlea is pretty cute too.

Every space has something to look at, even the steps. Annette also likes to put seating throughout her garden, as do I. Chairs make great decor, even if you rarely sit in them.

The eggplant-colored siding makes a nice backdrop for her plants and accessories.

A fig shades the small patio, which is paved with Annette’s and Mary’s pavers.

Big-leaved plants, like philodendron and tree fern, give this space a lush, rain-forest appeal.

Upstairs, a covered porch off the master bedroom invites afternoon naps on a red-cushioned daybed. It overlooks the backyard swimming pool.

Turning around and looking lengthwise across the porch, you see iconic Los Angeles palm trees and…

…yes, it’s the Hollywood sign. What a view!

Staghorn fern enjoys the bright shade of the porch.

The back garden is, I suspect, where Annette and her family spend most of their time. The back wall of the house is a series of glass doors, which fold open to allow for that much-envied indoor-outdoor California lifestyle. The curvy, brick-edged pool looked very inviting on this hot day. A tiled wall at the back of the pool is a colorful focal point and gives privacy. At the right is a guest house, plenty of seating, and lots of potted plants.

Annette’s third dog, Amos, made himself comfortable on a sofa and didn’t mind posing for pictures. Look at that gigantic euphorbia (?) behind him.

I also love the golden succulent in the yellow dish planter on the coffee table.

A tiled outdoor shower gives swimmers a beautiful place to clean off.

Looking back toward the house

On the back patio, just off the kitchen, a pretty tiled table of Potted design offers space for outdoor dining. Freestanding umbrellas provide shade.

A rustic wooden buffet holds a collection of potted succulents, with more crammed in on the back steps.

Esther pots are a favorite of mine. In fact, I bought an Esther bowl while at Potted later that day. (Click for my 2013 post about Potted.)

Annette said cheerfully that she’d taken over the outdoor sink her husband wanted for backyard cookouts. It does make a terrific display space for more plants.

Really, every place in Annette’s home and garden is a perfect space for a potted plant.

I admired this faux grass pillow, which Potted used to carry. Talk about downsizing the lawn!

A small brick patio holds a Cazo fire pit (wish I had one!) and a few chairs, for chilly evenings. Annette’s daughter, years ago, decorated the little playhouse visible at right. The fun, Annette told us, was all in the decorating, and after it was done, her daughter never used it. That’s OK. I agree that most of the fun is in the decorating too.

The garden transitions into shade along the side of the house. Beyond the fence is the side garden with the fig tree that I showed you earlier.

While the pool grabs your eye as you step outside, here’s where I’d spend all my time relaxing: a comfortably furnished seating area right off the kitchen. Three white Orbit Planters hang at eye level above the wooden coffee table, displaying pale green succulents. Acapulco chairs offer comfy seating but don’t take up much space visually.

A peek into Annette’s delightfully styled kitchen. With the glass doors folded out of the way, it’s fully open to the back yard.

Looking across the dining patio

Every nook, cranny, and shelf is used to display Annette’s potted creations.

Nail-head alliums?

Another City Planter filled with succulents

The side yard, which contains Annette’s potting supplies and a work bench, is anything but utilitarian with this eye-catching path of poured concrete and Mexican beach pebbles. A trimmed hedge of bamboo provides privacy and a green view from interior windows. The driveway lies beyond the gate.

Another pretty vignette

Huge thanks to Annette for the delightful and inspiring home and garden visit, and for arranging for us to visit several of her friends’ gardens as well. More on those coming soon!

Up next: The ocean-view garden of Kris Peterson, an L.A. blogging friend at Late to the Garden Party.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Modern gravel garden sips water, amps up architecture

Succulent and cactus gardeners and fans of modern design, you’ll want to see this garden on the upcoming San Antonio Watersaver Landscape Tour on October 24. I recently enjoyed a preview visit, thanks to an invitation from Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer and Heather of Xericstyle.

This contemporary garden belongs to Susan Bhatia and her husband, who live in the same neighborhood as Pat Mozersky, whose garden will also be on the tour (click for my preview). Susan loves succulents and cactus for their architectural beauty and water thriftiness. As she and her husband were constructing their new home, she scoured Houzz for inspiring pictures of drought-tolerant gardens and plants that she wanted to grow.

She and her husband worked with landscape architect Warren Pape of Texas Landscape Nursery to create a garden that complements the modern style of their home. Corten steel retaining walls paired with limestone risers make a dramatic entry walk on the steep lot. An artful arrangement of Corten pieces adds three-dimensional interest to one of the retaining walls, which are softened above by ruby grass (Melinis nerviglumis).

The grasses looked great, but I was drooling over the row of ‘Kissho Kan’ agaves in the first terrace.

Gorgeous! Susan said it wasn’t easy to locate six good-sized plants locally. These will likely need winter protection when it freezes, as various websites say they’re hardy only to zone 9, and San Antonio, like Austin, is zone 8b.

Clusters of cool cactus grow in the top terrace, like fishhook cactus…

…owl’s eye pincushion cactus (I think)…

…and golden barrel cactus.

To the right of the stairs, the garden is terraced with a wall of limestone block and Corten. Fishhook cactus occupies a mid-level niche planter.

Above, a rock garden is studded with architectural beauties like Agave mediopicta ‘Alba’, cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta), and Yucca rostrata.

More golden barrels and ruby grass, as well as a freestanding art piece created from Corten pieces.

It’s a dynamic sculpture.

The gravel garden extends across the entire front of the house, taking the place of a traditional lawn. Live oaks provide shade at right; at left the sunny corner is planted geometrically with dry-loving squid agave (A. bracteosa), variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera), and yucca. The winding line of darker river rock at right indicates a dry stream that carries runoff from the roof through the garden. Corten terraces at the corner display the striking Agave mediopicta ‘Alba’.

I can’t remember the name of this agave, but look at those teeth. Isn’t it pretty? Update: Susan tells me it’s a ‘Mr. Ripple’ agave. (Thank you, Susan!) I have to say, it doesn’t look as wavy-leaved as I’d expect a ‘Mr. Ripple’ to look, but maybe that’s because it’s young?

Agave mediopicta ‘Alba’ — a beautiful agave

I like that Susan includes some softening plants to contrast with the static agaves, like round-leaf firecracker fern (Russelia rotundifolia), which I just planted in my own garden. I hope it soon grows to this size!

Four Corten boxes hold ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) alongside the house. Three remain in their seasonal leafless state…

…but the one at left has put out green leaves. These must be even better at night, with uplights casting ocotillo shadows on the stone wall.

Corten strips make a horizontal-slat fence along the side and back of the house that will never need replacing.

A narrow side terrace contains a minimalist mix of potted succulents and cactus.

Cereus, a tall vertical presence against stone walls, is utterly heat and drought tolerant. I wondered whether Susan would have to protect these from hard freezes. Perhaps the reflected heat and wind-blocking in this narrow space will be protection enough.

‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia blushes in full sun in a tall planter by the garage.

Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), a bog plant, is being established along a garage wall. Susan has bundled them because they were flopping, and she wanted an erect, vertical form. She’s still experimenting here, seeing if she can make it work, and indulging in extra watering in this bed to help it along. Horsetail is invasive in the right circumstances; the concrete driveway and foundation keep it contained.

Around back, past a small lawn for the dogs, is a lovely courtyard swimming pool. The gray tones of the house are enlivened by an orange-painted steel beam and orange pool chairs.

Those glass doors look like they’d slide open for indoor-outdoor living at cooler times of the year.

Another view

Dry-loving lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) grows in the narrow strip along the wall at right.

The lady’s slipper bed gives way to a rock garden near the back door. In a surprising move, the planting area is held back with a curvy stone retaining wall, and drainage is allowed to flow under the wall and out to the front of the house.

It ends up flowing through a succulent and cactus bed planted below the entry steps by the front door. It’s just one of the garden’s many unique features.

My thanks to Susan for sharing her striking dry garden with us! Remember, this garden and her neighbor Pat’s garden (click for my tour) will be open to the public, for free, on the San Antonio Watersaver Landscape Tour on October 24.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.