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 Griffiths, 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.

Playful plant-lover’s garden of LA designer Dustin Gimbel

Concrete orb shish-kabobs in Dustin’s garden

The Death Star was blasting mercilessly when I visited designer Dustin Gimbel‘s garden in Long Beach, CA, last week — not at all in the mellow, sunny-L.A. way I’d been led to expect. But perhaps Diana and I are fated to bring Texas weather with us wherever we travel.

We were in Los Angeles for the Garden Writers Association conference but had set aside a day and a half to visit friends and their gardens. Annette Gutierrez, whose garden we visited first on Saturday morning, had generously arranged a day of private garden visits for us. Slathered in sunscreen, we arrived at mid-morning at Dustin’s garden, and he met us at the gate wearing a big-brimmed straw hat and an even bigger smile. With him was Bill Thomas, executive director and head gardener at the amazing Chanticleer.

I knew Dustin slightly from his blog, Non-Secateur (a punny title that perfectly exemplifies his quirky sense of humor), and from other bloggers’ posts about him.

Dustin is the mastermind behind an L.A. event that brings together creative people from multiple fields — gardeners, designers, writers, artists, etc. — for dinner in his garden. These Cross-Pollination parties, as he calls them, are a terrific idea that I fantasize about copying in Austin — or, even better, being invited to myself. (If only there were an energetic and welcoming Dustin in Austin!) Dustin is a plant geek extraordinaire who’s worked with Dan Hinkley at Heronswood, Bill at Chanticleer, and ornamental grass guru John Greenlee, as well as at Great Dixter in England. Today he operates Second Nature Garden Design in L.A.

His own garden, on an unusually large lot in an urban neighborhood in Long Beach, is a place of artistic experimentation. A tall hedge shuts out the busy street, putting the visitor’s attention on the mix of plants and Dustin’s handmade art, like these cast-concrete spheres skewered on rebar stakes, which resemble stacked beach stones. A narrow trail of hexagonal pavers winds through the sunny garden, leading the visitor on a slow, deliberate exploration. ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena adds a meadowy ribbon of pink pom-poms to the scene.

Dustin went all-in on the concrete-orb creation, as evidenced by the pile of balls next to a small pond. A cast-leaf fountain trickles water into the pool.

On the porch, potted plants share space with a twisted old vine, a natural sculpture.

This pot of buffalograss is meant to be a seat, Dustin told us. At first glance I thought it to be an ironic tribute to the Bermudagrass that blanketed the yard when he bought the house, which he eradicated in the process of making his garden.

The most dramatic feature of the front garden is a gracefully arched weeping acacia (Acacia pendula). Its silvery leaves sparkle in the sunlight and surely glow in moonlight. Dustin’s trained it on a rebar tepee frame that straddles the path, but the rebar is nearly invisible, giving the impression that the tree has simply been pruned into an arched doorway.

Wired to the tree, along with Spanish moss (I think), was a tillandsia with a beautiful lavender flower.


Looking back at the front garden from the driveway (which leads to the back garden), you see a wealth of textural leaves and shades of green and gray. Touchable ‘Cousin Itt’ acacia is in the foreground.

Entering the back garden is a wow moment. A thick-limbed dead tree, painted pale yellow, stands as a sculptural centerpiece near an L-shaped screening wall constructed of horizontal boards. Strategically placed windows offer teasing glimpses of the garden beyond. By dividing his garden into distinct rooms but allowing peek-a-boo views, Dustin has made the garden feel larger than it really is.

Golden bromeliads and a variegated ponytail palm, as well as yellow glass floats in a trough pond, amplify the yellow of the tree. The colors were intense at midday but must glow beautifully in the softer light of morning and evening, perfect for al fresco dinner parties.

The raised trough pond — mortared concrete block cloaked with fig ivy — is positioned in one of the “windows,” thus figuring into the gardens on both sides of the wall. Through the top window you get a glimpse of a dusky purple wall, with burgundy and chartreuse plants in front.

Yellow echoes yellow echoes yellow

One bromeliad was in bloom.

Walk around the screening wall, and you see a gravel garden with a meandering path of concrete pavers. A circle of Dustin’s cast-concrete gnomes catches your eye…

…what are they up to?

Plant worship?

At a small table nearby, a gnome appears to be standing guard over a bowl of diamonds, another creation of Dustin’s — from an ice-cube tray mold, I believe he said. At Dustin’s invitation, one of these came home with me as a souvenir from his garden. The gnome was kind enough not to bite my fingers as I selected one.

Around the corner, another dining table offers extra space for guests.

Sunflowers reach for the sky.

Now we’re looking through the screening wall’s window from the other side, toward the back of the house.

A most unusual vine drapes from a corner of the screening wall: giant Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia gigantea), a Brazilian native. Its inflated, burgundy flowers look a bit like lungs before they open.

And when they open, they resemble…ahem…well, I’ll leave that to your imagination. It’s a conversation starter, for sure. Check out A Growing Obsession for a wonderful photo of this vine, in the softer light of evening, strung along Dustin’s dusky purple wall.

At the back of the lot, Dustin keeps an artfully arranged assortment of plants that he’s propagating or putting into clients’ gardens.

It’s like a mini-nursery.

I noticed that Dustin has made stacks of cast-concrete teeth as well — to go with plants that can bite, like this agave?

Bill and Dustin, two gardener rock stars

Thank you, Dustin, for welcoming us into your creative, plant-lover’s garden! It was a treat to visit, even with the Death Star on high-beam.

Dustin himself is on high-beam all the time, I suspect, cooking up ideas for his gardens and for dinner mixers that bring creative people together. It was great to meet him, and Bill too (check out his new book), and I’d see them both again later that afternoon at other gardens we visited.

Up next: A magical hillside oasis created by Joy and Roland Feuer. For a look back at blogger Kris Peterson’s lovely ocean-view garden, click here.

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

Late garden party at Kris Peterson’s ocean-view oasis

Kris Peterson, Los Angeles blogger at Late to the Garden Party, saw her blog title unexpectedly come true last week. Or rather, my friend Diana and I did. With flight complications, we arrived in L.A. four hours later than planned and were indeed late to the garden party that Kris had generously planned for us: lunch on her patio with two other L.A. garden-blogging friends, Denise of A Growing Obsession and Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden. By the time we got our rental car and fought our way through traffic, it was closer to dinnertime and Denise and HB had naturally had to go home.

Luckily, this story has a happy ending! Kris was still at home and welcomed us into her garden, which enjoys a spectacular view of the Port of Los Angeles, dotted with cruise and container ships.

The view is enjoyed from the rear garden, and Kris has managed the difficult trick of making an interesting and lovely garden that complements rather than competes with the view. A paver terrace juts into the center of the garden, capitalizing on the view and offering a pleasant place to take it in. A low clipped hedge serenely repeats the line of the horizon and protects visitors from the hillside drop just beyond. In front, low-growing perennials, grasses, and succulents enliven the curving border. An echoing bed runs alongside the house, with turf functioning as a path in-between. Hard hit by the drought, the lawn was scheduled for removal on the day after our visit, and I’ll be reading Kris’s blog to see what she does with the space instead.

Kris has a knack for combining structural yuccas and agaves with softer plants. Here, ‘Bright Star’ yucca makes a surprising contrast with frilly Eustoma grandiflorum ‘Echo Pink’.

She also has a number of pots filled with low-water succulents, like this cute frog planter.

A delicate vine climbs an animal-motif trellis on the back porch.

The back garden may have the most arresting view, but the front garden is lovely as well, especially in the glowing light of late afternoon. A curvy stepping-stone path leads through the lawnless garden…

…past flowering grevillea and gaillardia…

…and a strawberry tree (Arbutus) with its flaky, cinnamon-colored bark.

There were even a few orange fruits hanging from the strawberry tree. Do they resemble strawberries to you? Only in the bumpy skin, I think.

A wide circle of mulch around a large magnolia tree not only protects and cools the roots but makes a casual patio. A bench around the tree provides occasional seating and a place to display potted plants.

Here’s the pretty entry garden, with an arbor-shaded bench by the door and a welcoming garden on either side of the walk.

Lavender looks especially purple against golden foliage.

Aeonium (I think) glows purple too.

In the baking hot strip that slopes to the street, Kris has planted agaves, aloes, and other succulents to take advantage of the good drainage and dry conditions.

I love the crisp white margins and teeth on this agave.

Hummingbird magnet — an aloe in bloom

Kris has so many nice succulent planters in her garden beds, and this one may be my favorite. Notice how the blue-gray and rose-hued pebbles match the plant colors.

As the sun set behind the hills, it was time to say goodbye to Kris and her garden. Despite our late arrival, and though we were sad to miss Denise and Hoover Boo, it was a wonderful start to our L.A. visit. Thanks so much for the late but lovely garden party, Kris!

Up next: Designer Dustin Gimbel’s experimental and artistic Long Beach garden. For a look back at the colorful bungalow garden of Annette Gutierrez, click here.

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