Hillside oasis: the magical garden of Joy and Roland Feuer

While in Los Angeles recently for Garden Writers Association, I spent a day off-conference touring private gardens that Annette Gutierrez of Potted arranged for a small group of us. One of these was the garden of Joy and Roland Feuer, a welcoming and artistic couple who constructed their magical garden themselves by terracing a steep, eroded hillside and turning it into a series of livable garden rooms. Their A-frame ranch sits on a mesa-like hilltop amid a rugged landscape of ridges and canyons, anchored by a massive fir planted by the original owners, a long-ago Christmas tree that lives on.

Joy and Roland wisely didn’t over-fuss the level terrace area surrounding their home. Keeping it simple, in sync with their home, whose front wall of glass doors opens up to the outdoors, they spread wood mulch for a cushioning, water-absorbing floor and furnished it with overscaled wooden tables and benches.

An ivy-covered wall runs along one side of the terrace, providing shelter and privacy. The space is casually welcoming, and Joy and Roland set out platters of fruit, crackers, and cheese for us, along with bottles of wine — welcome refreshment on an unusually hot September afternoon.

Joy is the founder of ART from the Ashes and is an artist herself. Art fills her home, like this striking, painted-book sculpture by Mike Stilkey in the living room.

Wowed by this piece, I asked Joy if I could share it with you, and she readily agreed. Mike customized it for their home, running it over the doorway and under a ceiling beam. A surrealist trio plays for a woman in whose head seem to float cave-art horses. How unique — I love it!

Some of the couple’s art has a carnivalesque theme, like this print in their wine cellar.

A playful sense of magic and mystery pervades much of their garden, which I ascribe to Roland’s influence. Roland, you see, builds amusement park rides. When I asked him what that meant — does he make roller coasters? — he explained that his company, R&S Production Services Inc, creates the whole ride experience, from the mechanical to the surrounding sets to the shows that take place. Cool, right? How did he get into such a career, I asked? “I grew up at Disney,” he replied. His father worked there, and so Roland spent much of his childhood at the “most magical place on earth.”

Roland and Joy’s garden felt like the most magical place on earth on the afternoon we visited. Views are savored from numerous seating areas tucked into the hillside garden.

The garden appears to get a lot of use after dark, judging from the number of lanterns and chandeliers along paths and hanging over tables. This one is suspended from an arching steel arm.

This Asian-style wooden lantern lights the path near the house.

The path drops beyond the house down a steep hillside, past terraces filled with drought-tolerant plants, like this Agave gypsophila

…and this pretty potted succulent.

Roland and Joy did all the terracing themselves, and I think they said they built this wine cellar themselves too. It sits under one of the higher terraces, tucked into the hillside. I was unprepared for the elegance within.

A carved wooden door — distressed to look old, Roland told me — sits within an arched recess.

To the right of the door, a niche holds a few meaningful objects.

And then you open the door and see this: a smooth, domed ceiling bathed in the light of a glass lantern, which hangs over a rustic wooden table with seats for sitting and tasting wine. Roland told us that two air conditioners keep the cellar chilled to the right temperature for wine storage. I’m sure being underground helps too.

The bar sink

And a dartboard for fun. Notice the wine-cork surround.

Opposite the entrance, old wooden doors from Mexico open to reveal a hallway, beautifully lit and lined with racks of wine.

At the end of the hall hangs more carnival-theme art.

Back outside, I stopped to admire an Esther pot. That’s Roland sipping from his glass of wine in the background.

Below the wine cellar, the terraced garden continues down the hill, with succulents favored for good looks, drought tolerance, and low maintenance.

To the left, an arched doorway beckons. And are those Circle Pots from Potted?

Why, yes, they are! And there’s designer Susan Morrison (and my first mentor as an author) as well.

I really love the inventive way Joy and Roland have hung their Circle Pots, with connecting wires keeping them in a grid formation. The colorful circles echo…

…the colored glass circles on the steel-and-glass door.

A stucco wall with filigree iron windows…

…curves around a hot tub constructed to look like a natural pool, complete with pillowy boulders.

A hot tub with a view

Here are Roland and Joy, the architects of this wonderful garden, along with designer Dustin Gimbel, whose garden we visited earlier in the day.

Continuing down the hillside, more terraced patios amid the trees…

…and looking up, more hanging lanterns…

…which glowed with jewel-like color in the afternoon light.

In the lowest part of the garden, mischievous creatures…

…and spooky inhabitants appear.

Gargoyles overlook the lower garden…

…and so does Domino, Joy and Roland’s adorable dog.

Heading back up the other side of the garden, I admired this green-clad terrace.

Fig ivy covers the retaining wall, and lime-green, flower-like aeoniums lean over the top. Above, Agave attenuata adds its starry form.

A garden spirit

Almost back up to the top, with Domino leading the way

A pretty pot, and nice stonework too

These colored glass lanterns, suffused with afternoon light, need no electricity to illuminate the garden.

At the top, a small greenhouse is tucked under the lantern tree.

Back at the house, Domino gets comfy on her blanket.

My thanks to Joy and Roland for their hospitality and for sharing their delightful garden. What a marvelous place they’ve created in one of the most challenging sites I’ve seen. Hillside gardeners, here’s your inspiration!

Up next: The Folly Bowl, the personal garden of Susanna Dadd and James Griffith, which contains a back-yard amphitheater where public concerts are held. For a look back at Dustin Gimbel’s creative Long Beach garden, click here.

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

Hillside Swansea gardens: Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling

For 8 years I’ve been fortunate to attend the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, a 3-day international garden blogger meet-up and city-wide garden tour, organized each year by volunteer bloggers from the host city. This year, in early June, Toronto’s garden bloggers hosted the Fling, led by sisters Helen and Sarah Battersby (Toronto Gardens), Lorraine Flanigan (City Gardening), and Veronica Sliva (A Gardener’s World).

I’ll show you my favorites in a series of posts, starting with a trio of gardens in the hilly Swansea neighborhood, which overlooks High Park‘s scenic Grenadier Pond.

Garden #1

A stone house seemingly straight out of a fairy tale stands high in Garden #1, with a whimsical wrought-iron railing created by artist Wojtek Biczysko, a friend of the owners.

The small gravel entry garden contains a seating area and this glorious red Japanese maple. But the big reveal comes in the back garden.

As you enter, you realize you’re standing atop a steep hillside overlooking the pond. A stone terrace off the back of the house is bounded by more creative metalwork by Biczysko, who was actually on hand to answer any questions we had.

The railing resembles living reeds, referencing the pond below.

To the right of the terrace, a gravel patio edged with sculptural tree trunks holds a small fire pit and a kinetic sculpture — also by Biczysko, I think — made of long, crinkled metal strips.

It makes a sort of scrim amid the trees.

Behind the terrace, the garden plunges down a steep hillside terraced with a quarry’s worth of stone. A narrow stair winds its way down.

Lush vegetation fills all the planting crevices. Imagine the challenge of gardening in these steep spaces!

About halfway down, a flagstone path leads along a level stretch with terraced beds on one side and glimpses of the pond on the other.

Another work of Biczysko’s hangs from a tree here: upside-down metal flowers (I believe he said they were lotuses) strung individually for screen-like effect.

The path leads down to the pond, where a second fire pit awaits.

The fire pit, with Adirondacks and rustic stump seating. This space felt Swedish to me, or at least how I imagine a summer place in Sweden to be.

My eye was drawn, however, to a metal sculpture of a leafy pattern colored in with brilliant cobalt. Gail of Clay and Limestone takes a closer look.

That’s when we realized that the metal panel with leaf cutouts is simply backed with painted plywood to add that pop of color.

I’m totally going to try something like this in my garden. You could even change out the background color to suit the season or your mood.

Garden #2

The next garden along the street was this Tudor tucked behind a richly planted front garden.

A pot of nasturtiums picks up the red of a Japanese maple by the door.

Amid a shade garden of golden yews and hostas, a painted metal bird adds a whimsical note.

Following a side path through the front garden, you reach a wooden screen and wrought-iron gate offering peek-a-boo views into the back garden. A dining patio shaded by a yellow umbrella…

…is framed by a small lawn and lush, leafy garden.

Pat Webster of Site & Insight was working the scene too. Pat is a Quebec blogger, first-time Flinger, and talented photographer. Check out her blog for beautiful pictures and thoughtful writing about artful design.

Below the lawn, a sunken, circular stone patio overlooks Grenadier Pond. That’s Andrea of Grow Where You’re Planted on the left and Laurin and Shawn of Ravenscourt Gardens on the right, fellow Texans all. I’m afraid I can’t recall who the man in the yellow shirt is. The man in the yellow shirt is the garden’s designer, Steven Aikenhead. (Thanks for the info, Helen.)

Colorful geraniums (Pelargonium) brighten the edge of the patio.

Looking outward, here is the lovely view. A gazebo at the lower level makes an appealing destination.

Wooden wind chimes hang from a tree.

The stacked stone steps into the lower garden are beautifully crafted, twisting and turning down the steep hillside.

The gazebo offers a shady spot to admire the picturesque pond for a few moments before climbing back up.

Garden #3

The third garden, on a corner lot bordered by two streets, does not enjoy an overlook of the pond and must create its own views. This large flowering viburnum enticed me over.

A classic scene, including a boxwood parterre and a garden arbor, presented itself in the back garden. The boxwood had taken a hit during last winter’s severe cold and was still showing browned foliage. We saw similar evergreen damage all over town during the Fling. I felt for the gardeners, who I was sure had fretted over it. But as we know, the show must go on.

A long deck along one side of the garden overlooks the parterre. At the end, a charming shed terminates the view and stretches into the garden via a columned arbor.

A retaining wall is dressed up with a planted fountain.

A bench anchors the far end of the garden, tucked amid borders of lush foliage.

Andrea admiring a variegated hosta in a row of alliums

A massive rhododendron was blooming in the long border. I like the way it harmonizes with the burgundy Japanese maple in the back corner.

Coming up next: A visit to the home garden of floral designer and micro-farmer Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard.

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

Geometric design creates modern garden for entertaining

I’ve been lucky to visit a number of new-to-me gardens this spring, and I have one more to show you: Jennifer Lingvai’s contemporary, designed-for-entertaining garden in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The talented B. Jane of B. Jane Gardens designed and installed it for Jennifer, who requested a low-maintenance, mostly green garden with plenty of room to entertain friends and family.

In front, a mosaic-style paver path set in Texas black gravel leads to the front porch through a no-lawn garden of low-water plants.

Block-style planting gives the garden a contemporary look.

Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), and ‘Belinda’s Dream’ roses are each planted in two evenly spaced rows and underplanted with spreading silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea). A Hollywood driveway (visible at right), consisting of two concrete strips set in gravel, is a green solution that reduces impervious cover and helps the property absorb rainwater.

‘Belinda’s Dream’ roses look fussy but are tough and easy-care.

An apron of gravel doubles the perceived size of the front porch and creates openness at the entry. No claustrophobia-inducing, overgrown shrubs here. An airy Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) adds height to a bed of irises at right.

As you enter the back yard via the driveway, you see a beautifully designed contemporary carport that draws your eye across a neat, rectangular lawn to the back of the garden. Additional concrete strips appear in the gravel driveway here, creating a sort of patio that aligns with a small patio with built-in seating directly across the lawn. Immediately to your left is a low, open deck — a holding space, Jennifer told me, for a future house expansion.

A closer look at the built-in seating area reveals two L-shaped seat walls with two blocky planters in the middle. A grid of concrete pavers floors the space and melds with a paver path that runs along the lawn between the deck and the carport.

The strikingly modern carport, which was designed by architect Eva Schone, doubles as a covered party space that protects guests from sun or rain. Misters built into the exposed rafters emit a light, cooling spray in summer, and a fan keeps the air moving. The enclosed section, which is clad in horizontal steel planks, with a ribbon of semi-translucent glass or plastic running along the top, contains a bathroom and storage.

An upward-swooping roof protects front-porch seating. The blue poufs were being kept dry on the chairs during my late-April visit but would normally function as ottomans or extra seating.

I love the plank-like steel siding.

Along the carport, a metal-mesh screen with built-in planters and a bench (extra seating) offers a sense of enclosure and also distracts the eye from the neighbor’s garage.

Fig ivy (Ficus pumila) climbs the metal screen and will soon create the effect of a green wall. Foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri) adds soft texture below.

At back of the carport, a generously proportioned potting bench with a built-in sink is a delightful surprise. It doubles, Jennifer told me, as a catering station during parties.

Ivy on the back fence creates a wall of greenery.

As you come around the other side of the carport, a paver path leads you toward the deck. At right, an old clothesline was preserved for outdoor drying, with gravel neatly paving the space. Just beyond, steel planter boxes contain citrus trees.

This summer (the garden was installed last fall) Jennifer plans to hang a screen on the front wall of the carport and host outdoor-movie nights for her friends. The lawn offers space to spread out a blanket and settle in with a bowl of popcorn.

The deck provides space for additional seating and dining, at least until Jennifer decides to bump out an extension on the house. Currently the garden is accessed via a back door along the driveway side of the house, but no doubt Jennifer plans to add direct access when she remodels.

Contemporary planters on the deck hold an agave, variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), and a rose.

Additional metal-mesh screening and built-in steel planters give privacy to the deck seating. Easy-care, low-water foxtail fern is massed for effect.

There are so many great ideas here. My thanks to Jennifer for allowing me to share her lovely and highly functional garden with you, and to B. Jane for the introduction!

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