But here she is today, in the morning room of her two-story colonial, gazing at a landscape where she gathers hibiscus flowers to make her own infusions, picks fruit for preserves and cuts blooms that fill her house in the hills of Westwood.
Holtzman's friends fondly call her "Martha Stewart," but she didn't become a serious gardener until she and her husband, Dan, completed their home. "I knew I wanted a cutting garden and a vegetable garden," says Holtzman, who, when her children were young, planted vegetables at their school in Sherman Oaks.
"At that time in my life, I didn't have much knowledge [about gardening]," says the petite former preschool teacher who has also once owned a clothing company.
Her backyard is not one garden but three, each with a distinct look and purpose yet unified in a landscape full of surprises. The vegetable garden not only yields food but also looks beautiful. The cutting garden provides a panorama of explosive color. At the rear of the yard, the poolside garden is a tranquil retreat, the plant palette changing to peonies, lilac and drought-tolerant yarrow, Australian trees and shrubs.
"I wanted a formal yet informal garden," Holtzman says, "one that was messy and still neat." There are gravel paths, a green marble urn fountain and a brick patio with a fireplace designed by the couple. Flowers and fruits pop out in unexpected places, while the hedges tame with structure.
The yard embraces visitors with a sense of abundance and well-being. It has evolved over 10 years with the help of designers Stephanie Wilson Blanc, who built the bones and chose many of the plants, and more recently Lisa Moseley, who suggested some of the hedges and herbs.
Upon entering the yard, a visitor first sees herbs growing between the concrete pavers of the path. Boxwood and rosemary, pruned into balls, give a formal edge to the sprouting basil, cilantro, oregano, lavender, chives and thyme. A concrete ball adds a whimsical touch. A Helichrysum saturates the air with the scent of curry.
Beyond the Santa Barbara daisies that cascade from the side of a raised bed, a sweet pea-entwined arbor marks the entrance to the vegetable garden, where trellised fava beans, gigantic artichokes and the variegated lemons and foliage of Citrus limon 'Pink Lemonade' add texture.
A crab apple tree soars over voluptuous broccoli, rhubarb and Swiss chard. Cilantro, lettuce and celery are going to seed, but the tomatoes are ready to pick. The plants are arranged for an ornamental effect, freely without the formal sections or shapes often found in more traditional vegetable gardens.
The question is what to sample first: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or blackberries? Holtzman walks to the back of the kitchen garden and points out the dark pink flowers of Hibiscus sabdariffa, the purple-leafed shrub from which she picks flowers to dry for tea. Next to it, hugging a wall, is the gorgeous hyacinth vine, with its magenta-purple beans, considered toxic by some but parboiled and eaten by others. Holtzman only uses them decoratively.
THE CUTTING garden, in an adjacent raised bed, is divided into two elongated triangles separated by a gravel path that runs along the perimeter of both beds. To give the beds a more dynamic form, Holtzman planted hedges, an airy gray-green Helichrysum italicum on one side of the path, boxwood 'Green Beauty' on the other.
Three weeping mulberry trees, a free-standing apple and espaliered Dorset and Anna apple trees add a painterly beauty. The tall, leggy purple blooms of Verbena bonariensis reign supreme over both beds. Under them a sign reads, "Relax." Holtzman, who loves entertaining and rarely sits, says a friend gave her the sign and another in the vegetable garden that commands, "Grow."
Holtzman says that most of her flowers return each year. "These have all reseeded themselves," she explains. Pointing out black hollyhock, verbena, Canterbury bells and sweet peas, she says, "Originally when I worked with a landscaper, everything looked uniform. You have one on this side and one on the other, and you spend a fortune putting in your flowers. This year I did an experiment. I let everything go to seed. I take the pods, and sprinkle or store them in packets, so I can sprinkle the seeds later. I think they come up sturdier when they reseed."
Holtzman has had failures. She can't grow sunflowers. She wonders, "Maybe my soil's too rich or too wet."
The third garden is hidden behind a wrought-iron gate. Holtzman leads the way along a grass path and up nine brick steps with Boston ivy growing between them. Willow trees, their branches dangling on each side of the gate, shelter the entrance to the pool area with an arch-like elegance.
AMIRROR at the far end of the pool gives the illusion of a larger garden. Small white and light pink yarrow flowers, Achillea 'Pastel Shades,' grow between a broken concrete path around the sparkling pool. Seeds were high pressure-sprayed, or hydroseeded, into the soil when the garden was first planted. Rather than planting sod, designer Blanc had recommended hydroseeding the path.
"If you seed or hydroseed, whatever you plant will naturalize because it is growing in native soil. Sod lawn, from most lawn growers, often is planted and cut out so many times that it's growing in subsoil," Blanc says.
Holtzman takes a sprig of pinkish tan flowers off one of several Dodonaea viscosa 'Purpurea' trees and places it next to a royal blue hydrangea flower. "I use these together in flower arrangements," she says. At Thanksgiving, she picks the autumn red leaves of a persimmon tree growing nearby and uses them to decorate.
Many of the plants in this part of the garden are drought-tolerant and need water only once a week or less, rather than two or three times weekly for the other areas.
Holtzman credits horticulturist CJ Forray, of Cottage Garden Design in Sunland, for keeping her garden healthy. Twice a year, Forray delivers several truckloads of what she calls "black gold" mulch, a compost of sheep, rabbit and horse manure. In addition, every month the plants are fed deodorized liquid fish fertilizer.
"I couldn't do this by myself," Holtzman says. "It wouldn't look like this." She has a gardening team that includes Armando Valadez, who puts in at least 10 hours a week, handyman Manny Martell and Forray, plus some personal friends. Through her volunteer work with the Garden Conservancy and in classes, she's met people whose ideas she finds invaluable.
"The garden is never done. It's always evolving. I think it's so important that you find people who can discuss the garden with you. I've developed a whole new world," she says.