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.

Shooting a garden in Death Star light and a PhotoBotanic GIVEAWAY

Saxon Holt guest posts today!

Acclaimed garden photographer Saxon Holt regularly shares his expertise and inspir- ational images on his blog and at Gardening Gone Wild, helping to educate the next generation of garden photographers, many of whom, like myself, are bloggers or Instagram sharers. In addition to his skill with the camera, he’s a fine teacher who recently published (and promptly won a Garden Writers Association award for) an e-book called Good Garden Photography. Since then he’s published two more e-books about garden photography and has another ready to drop, all through his website PhotoBotanic.

I had the pleasure of meeting Saxon at Garden Bloggers Fling a few years ago. He’s got a great concept going with PhotoBotanic, and I’m delighted to help him publicize his e-books as part of a blog tour and giveaway.

Here’s how the blog tour works: Saxon is guest posting on 6 blogs this week, and today he’s here at Digging! I challenged Saxon to write about photographing gardens in intense sunlight, as we central Texans so often must do. Please read on for his Death Star photography tips, specially written for us. Following Saxon’s guest post, stick around to enter a giveaway for his e-book!

How to Photograph in Death Star Lighting, by Saxon Holt

The best advice for taking pictures in bright, hot light can be summarized in one word: don’t.

The human eye can see detail in shadows and can compensate for the bright highlight areas, but a camera sensor does not have the dynamic range to register all the information the eye can see on a sunny day.

The hot rays of the sun come to earth in unbending parallel beams — death star light, a term I will forthwith steal from Pam. In dry, arid climates especially, where there is no humidity to bend the light into shadows, the sun bores into gardens. The camera sees black contrasty holes or garish steely colors with no softness or subtlety.

So avoid the sun; but keep reading for a sunscreen tip to follow. Hope to shoot on cloudy days, or plan for very early or very late in the day. Late in the day, after the sun sets, is a surprisingly nice color of light. I urge photographers to use tripods to help compose careful photos, but it is especially important if you want to shoot in soft light late in the day.

But sometimes you simply have to shoot in the bright light of our star. If you only want to shoot a close-up of a flower, leaf, or fruit on the vine you can use a sunscreen, literally. A small flexible diffusion disc, found at any decent camera store, and held between your subject and the sun will soften the light so perfectly it will seem like a photographer’s studio.

Here I am holding a disc above a lily in a public garden, where I had one chance on one day to get a photo.

Note I used the dark shade of distant trees to advantage.

If you need to shoot a wide area of the garden and can’t wait for the sun to go down, try using back light, my favorite trick. Photographers were once told to shoot with the sun behind us but, ughh, that’s ugly. Backlight is much more interesting, shooting toward the sun, light behind the scene. You need to be careful to shield the lens from direct rays, but backlight can be great in gardens where the sun creates a rim light around plants or even transparent glow through a leaf or flower.

Again, as in the lily photo above, you can use the dark shady area, where the camera is unable to capture detail, to your advantage, in areas where you don’t want detail.

Do try to avoid the worst light in the very middle of the day, but you can find ways to let even sunny light work for you when it starts coming in from an angle and creates some shady areas for backgrounds. I think we can learn to love even death star light.

–Saxon Holt

And now for your chance to win a free download of Good Garden Photography, the first e-book in Saxon’s Garden Photography Workshop Series! If you’ve never read an e-book, it’s simple; anyone with a computer or an iPad can download and read it, after placing an order online. For this giveaway, Saxon is doubling the excitement by offering his e-book for free to two winners from Digging!

Simply leave a comment on this blog post to enter. One comment per person, please. The deadline for entering is 11 pm on Wednesday, September 16. I’ll draw two winners at random and announce their names the next day on this post. Good luck!

For more chances to win — and more photography tips from Saxon — please visit the other blogs on the blog tour:

Wednesday, 9/9, Red Dirt Ramblings
Thursday, 9/10, Digging
Friday, 9/11, J Peterson Garden Design
Monday, 9/14, North Coast Gardening
Tuesday, 9/15, Cold Climate Gardening
Wednesday, 9/16, Garden Rant

Saxon is also hosting an end-of-summer photography contest where you can put your new skills to work. Visit Gardening Gone Wild on September 25 to submit your photo entry.

UPDATE: The giveaway winners, chosen via Random Number Generator, are #53 Michaele Anderson and #63 Gwen Rose. Congratulations, Michaele and Gwen! I’ll send you an email to get your confirmation. And thanks to everyone for entering.

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

Ta-da! Here’s the cover of my new book, The Water-Saving Garden

I’ve missed you guys! You might have noticed a quiet week here at Digging, and the reason is because I was out of the country. In Toronto, in fact, for the 8th annual Garden Bloggers Fling, which as always was jam-packed with garden visits, socializing with other bloggers from all over the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., and basking in 65- to 75-degree weather. Oh yes, it was pretty nice!

I’ll be sharing my favorite Toronto gardens with you soon, but that’ll have to wait until next week because my last big book deadline (photo placement and copy-edit review) is looming, and, well, that’s pretty important to me. I’m excited about how The Water-Saving Garden is coming together, including — ta-da! — the book cover. Do you recognize any of those photos?

I hope you like it. I sure do! Kara, my designer at Ten Speed Press, did a great job with it and is now hard at work on the page design. I can’t wait to show you more soon.

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