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A Pasadena garden mixes fresh and modern design with a rustic style

When Nord Eriksson started renovating his garden in Pasadena, he knew he wanted a back yard with a swimming pool and a place for his two young sons to play. But beyond that, he decided to wing it. So work began, a hole was dug and then he and his family left for a vacation in Spain.

Eriksson returned deeply intrigued by the Spanish gardens he’d seen thriving in hot, dry conditions similar to those in Southern California. Inspired by his travels, he re-imagined his yard, crossing his own contemporary style with the time-tested traditions of Spain. The result is fresh and modern, yet also rustic and rooted in the past — and it has been chosen as one of six self-guided stops on the Garden Conservancy’s Pasadena-area tour on April 22.

The family’s midcentury modern ranch house dates to 1949, with a garden by pioneering designer Edward Huntsman Trout, who created the much-admired grounds at Scripps College in Claremont. Eriksson, a second-generation landscape architect whose firm, EPT Design, was co-founded by his father, Robert, took Trout’s original plan and gave it a judicious, site-sensitive update.

A new garden with a traditional twist in Pasadena
Rustic gravel, cobble, broken concrete and flagstone suit the grounds of the 1940s ranch house, now painted dark gray instead of beige. Jennifer Cheung

In broad terms, he borrowed from the tried-and-true in older gardens both here and abroad, replicating the sensible ways the Spanish capture and retain water, incorporate stone in many forms and select long-lasting, climate-appropriate plants.

For the pool, Eriksson painted the plaster a sand color reminiscent of the beaches of Majorca. Making use of tons of loose cobble edging beds on the property, he laid a stone wall and walk alongside the water. And he added a backdrop of Pittosporum tobira, which was ubiquitous on the streets of Madrid. “It was exciting,” he says, “to come back and create a memory of our journey.”

Where Trout had enclosed the rear patio with a high curved block wall to sharply divide the yard into upper and lower sections, Eriksson carved out additional levels for entertaining and other activities. He dropped the old flagstone patio several inches, poured long concrete steps and directed storm runoff so that — like the rain in Spain — it flows from one terrace to the next, soaking through permeable gravel and into the ground. The new outdoor living room, outfitted with a built-in grill and fire bowl, invites lingering after casual get-togethers.

A new garden with a traditional twist in Pasadena
The outdoor living room's built-in grill and fire bowl make hosting alfresco gatherings convenient and comfortable. Jennifer Cheung

Eriksson also lowered the block wall to open up sight lines to the pool. “I like how the garden tumbles down and away from the house,” he says. “I come home from work and drink in the view.”

Just below the shortened wall, he installed a pad of broken concrete, reclaimed free from local contractors, as a spot to read in the shade of an olive tree planted by Trout nearly 70 years ago. Lower still, near the guesthouse, Eriksson swapped out a rose garden for a conversation nook. Blue chairs on more gravel are surrounded by eugenia and four sycamores. Massive Agave americana sprouting in rosemary separate the area from the open lawn where the kids, now teenagers, once played soccer.

Instead of the “jittery messiness” of seasonal blooms, Eriksson limited the plant palette to year-round green foliage for a sense of calm. Altogether, he planted 37 kinds of drought-resilient plants, most of them quite common. Boxwood, pittosporum, jade plant, agave and cactus, all proven survivors in decades-old Spanish gardens, appear most often. Tree mallow, one of the few flowering shrubs, adds color and a layer of mystery.

A new garden with a traditional twist in Pasadena
A variety of forms and textures, including those of cereus and jade plant, are showcased in pots. Jennifer Cheung

The redesign, which Eriksson says took shape in phases “as we had money,” was finished in 2017 after six years. He believes the garden — now equal parts retreat and remembrance — was worth the wait: “I’m interested in longevity and things that endure, not in things that come and go.”

Garden Conservancy’s Open Days

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 22

Cost: $7 per person, per garden

Info: (888) 842-2442 and gardenconservancy.org/open-days

Want more garden and home tours? Here are three:

Claremont Eclectic: A Tour of Six Local Gardens: See some creative gardens, talk with their owners and get inspiration for your own gardens. 1 to 4 p.m. April 15. Tickets: $20. claremontgardenclub.org

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West Adams Native Garden Tour: The self-guided tour opens the gates of 10 private gardens that feature native plants in historical settings throughout the West Adams District. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 28. Tickets: $24 in advance. westadamsheritage.org

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The Altadena Guild of Huntington Memorial Hospital’s annual home and garden tour. The event also serves as a hospital fundraiser. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 6. Tickets: $35 in advance. altadenaguild.org

Tell us about your favorite home and garden tour at Home@latimes.com and we may include it in an upcoming Saturday section.

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