Laura Morton is captivated.
While giving a tour of her Los Angeles garden, the landscape designer notices a meticulously crafted bird nest in a Tibouchina tree with two tiny hummingbirds inside. "Look at the pieces of blue in their nest," she whispers with admiration. "Their mother must have incorporated bits of blue paint from our house."
Her regard for nature permeates the gardens that surround the 1921 blue-and-white concrete home in Hollywood Hills West that she shares with photographer husband Jeff Dunas. "Gardens reestablish our connection to nature and the environment," she says.
FOR THE RECORD:
Open Days garden: In the May 10 Saturday section, a photo caption accompanying an article about a garden on the Garden Conservancy's Open Days tour identified a tree as a lemon tree. It was a grapefruit tree.
Throughout the grounds, Morton has planted several separate garden areas that will be open to the public on May 10 in conjunction with the Garden Conservancy's Open Days tour. It's a magical environment, made even more delightful by Morton's infectious enthusiasm for plants.
Taste, color and scent figure prominently in her gardens as fruit trees share space with vanilla-scented heliotrope and lemon-scented geraniums. In most homes, edibles are planted in the ground or in raised beds. In Morton's edible tea garden, she has planted herbs and vegetables in concrete chimney liners she found at Bourget Bros. in Santa Monica. Spotting some sorrel, she reaches down and plucks off a leaf and tastes the lemon-flavored perennial.
"Try wrapping it around salmon," she suggests before moving on to an Angel Red pomegranate she has espaliered against the wall of a Moroccan-inspired pavilion. "This is what I love," she says, noting a star pattern at the top of a pomegranate.
An avid plant lover, Morton says she has gone through "hundreds" of plants in the 20 years she has lived here. She is always experimenting to see what works, she says, and has incorporated low-water Mediterranean plants with California and Australian natives. "I'm not a strict native person," she says. "I'm more about climate-appropriate plants. You have to design within the plant communities."
Water is utilized instead in a pretty water fountain lined with Moroccan tiles and filled with reeds, butterfly koi and goldfish.
A shaded side garden features hints of black and purple courtesy of bamboo, Heuchera 'Crimson Curls' and Vitex Trifolia 'Arabian Nights.' "I have always loved Japanese gardens where things are partially revealed," she says of the views from the antique Chinese kang bed she installed for reading and contemplation.
Other details in the garden include romantic Moroccan pendants illuminated by low-voltage lighting and handsome wood doors from Morocco. "A door adds so much to a garden," Morton says. A new alfresco dining area with whitewashed paneling has been added since the garden was on the tour a decade ago. And vintage Bauer pots planted with succulents add bold color and texture against the home's spare lines. Look closely at the pavers surrounding the pool and you'll find the former jewelry designer has embedded leftover items from her travels: pearls, shells, marbles and African beads.
After years of experimenting, Morton says she is most interested in creating a healthy garden for Southern California. She also is a proponent of shaping and grooming plants, noting that several plants, such as her purple wisteria, have taken years to develop.
"I like to gently torture plants," she says with a laugh before noticing another fragrant offering. "Have you smelled a California incense cedar?" she asks, crumbling the leaves in her hand. "You have got to smell this."
Garden Conservancy Open Days
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 10
Where: Maps and information will be provided at Greystone Mansion and Park, 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills. The self-guided tour will highlight five gardens in Beverly Hills and one in Los Angeles.
Price: $7 per garden or $35 for six tickets
Info: (888) 842-2442; www.opendaysprogram.org