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.

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.

Sedgey evergreen garden of Pat Mozersky for Foliage Follow-Up

Austin designer Mark Word (see my profile about him) designed this serene, green San Antonio garden that you can see on the upcoming Watersaver Landscape Tour on October 24. I got a preview last Friday thanks to Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer.

The garden belongs to Pat Mozersky, the longtime, recently retired food writer for the San Antonio Express-News. Pat generously allowed us to photograph her garden one day before the Mark Word maintenance crew came for a late-summer clean-up and refresh. Thanks to the garden’s good bones and evergreen plant palette, it looked photo-ready anyway.

Simple, restrained hardscape and swaths of evergreen foliage are the key to year-round good looks. Pat and her husband built this home, downsizing from a larger property and reducing their home and garden maintenance in the process. The new house sits on a small lot, and in place of a traditional lawn, a meadowy swath of Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) needs little care and stays green all year. Greening up the garden walls and providing additional privacy from nearby houses are understory viburnums, clethra, redbuds, and Texas persimmons. Live oaks shade nearly the entire garden.

The front yard is protected from deer by a handsome stacked-stone wall and gated entry.

This is the view from the front porch looking toward the gate and the street beyond. As you can see, it’s green and unfussy but has a naturalistic look.

Lueders limestone pavers spaced by ribbons of river rock make up a contemporary front walk and allow runoff to soak into the soil.

At the front porch, on each side of the steps, steel planters are filled with round-leaved ligularia, feathery foxtail fern, and abutilon for seasonal flowering.

Pat took us through her house and out the back door onto a covered back porch. A zinc-topped table and an old factory light from Germany blend well with the custom steel gate.

A few pots filled with low-maintenance succulents offer interesting foliage texture and colors.

Lueders pavers in random widths keep the eye from running straight to a separate patio. An oversized teak bench is the simple focal point. A built-in corner bench offers additional seating that doesn’t take up much space.

The view looking back toward the porch

In the back corner of the garden resides a nearly life-size metal bison, a gift from Pat to her husband and a smile-inducing sculpture in the otherwise serene garden.

Tufty sedges are planted around back of the house too, as pavers thread a narrow pathway through them.

Pat has two friendly cavalier King Charles spaniels, Layla and…I forget the other one’s name.

They appear to enjoy the garden, especially the bamboo muhly! My dog, Cosmo, also loves to nosh on bamboo muhly, so this didn’t surprise me. Luckily, it’s pretty tough and able to recover from dog browsing.

Near the driveway, outside the walled garden in a hot, sunny side yard, evergreen, glossy-leaved star jasmine climbs a wire-panel trellis to hide the A/C unit from view.

And here’s a last look from outside of the front garden wall, of native Texas persimmons standing ghostly amid Berkeley sedge — a tough and drought-tolerant combo.

My thanks to Pat for sharing her lovely garden with us! If you long for an easy-care, evergreen garden because of a busy schedule or physical difficulty in keeping up with maintenance, Pat’s foliage-based garden is an inspiring example.

This is my September post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is going on in your garden this month, or in one you’ve visited? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I really appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

Up next, also from my San Antonio visit last week: A modern garden that’s a cactus and succulent lover’s dream. For a look back at the gorgeous courtyard xeriscape garden of Linda Peterson, click here.

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