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STYLE / Garden : REAL GREEN ROOMS

Like chefs who never cook at home, garden designers often neglect their own back yards. Not Brian Tichenor and Raun Thorp. Evenings, weekends, whatever time they can steal from their Beverly Hills architecture and landscape practice goes to reinventing their outdoor living space. Over the past three years, they’ve put up walls, grown hedges, planted trees and installed fountains. They’ve also laid paths, designed flower borders and tiled a courtyard.

“We experiment all the time,” Tichenor says. “But we had to hang out awhile before we knew what to plant.”

Now the two architects--who met at UCLA and married five years ago--are able to enjoy much more than a gathering of plants. Their hands-on labor has created a series of elegant Spanish-style rooms that expands their small house in the historic neighborhood of South Carthay. From the front parkway to the back fence, the four spaces unfold, each with its own character and function: a courtyard with a fireplace for dining, an informal side terrace to lounge and lunch in, a secret garden with perennial beds and a front court with layered plantings--the anteroom to the house.

Built in 1935 by the Greek developer Spyros Ponty, who designed 146 other modest Mediterranean-style homes in the area just south of Beverly Hills, the house was the starting point for the landscape. With its red-tile roof, stucco walls and multiple arches, it invited a mix of Mediterranean details Tichenor and Thorp love: Persian tile patterns, Roman fountains, palm trees and saturated paint color. They had to start, though, by tearing out a lot of red-painted concrete patio flooring, old chain-link fencing, toppled brick walls and a slew of red impatiens, pelargoniums and columbines. They saved the stucco garden walls around the existing fireplace--the beginnings of their new outdoor rooms--and a few great backbone plants: four monumental Italian cypresses, two magnificent bougainvilleas. They added more walls, tiles and gates as well as scores of new plants tailor-made for the climate.

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In front, a hardy yarrow lawn now grows within shaggy heaps of true geranium, westringia and Santa Barbara daisy. The side terrace, created from a portion of the driveway, features potted succulents, lounge chairs and a table overhung with vines. But where the designers went plant-crazy is in the secret garden. There, against a salmon-pink wall, Tichenor, a painter, played with foliage color and texture. He mixed feathery-leafed, silver artemisias, mounding teucrium and westringia with the sword shapes of red ‘Maori queen’ and ‘Maori king’ flax. Against another wall, this one blue, the single focal plant is a shapely Brugmansia versicolor , which dangles bell-shaped blooms over a simple, bubbling pool.

Though the garden is almost done, Tichenor says, the project is far from finished. “It’s a big canvas we’re constantly repainting--and it changes over time.”

Luckily, Thorp adds, “being our own clients, we can’t overrun the budget!”

Produced by Barbara Thornburg

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