Succulents, Serenity and the Deep Blue Sea
The 1994 malibu fire erased the big rock home of jeannette and ken chiate but it left something behind: their swimming pool. Brick-edged, oddly angled, hemmed in by patchy lawn and eucalyptus trees, it wasn’t beautiful, but it worked. So when they rebuilt their house, a contemporary stucco and glass affair, they kept the pool, and hired landscape architect Pamela Burton to give it a face lift. Burton and her associate, Mary Sager, began simply, by urging the Chiates to lose the trees that blocked their heart-stopping ocean view. “At first I couldn’t,” recalls Jeannette. “After all, they survived the fire!” Next, the designers decided the brick had to go, too. “It needed softening,” says Sager, “to make it more one with the horizon.”
But what really changed the pool’s look was its transformation by Malibu Colony Pool & Spa into an “infinity” pond. Instead of a rigid container, the contractors designed it to appear as an open-ended water spill--which flows into catch pools below and is recirculated. They also eliminated the pool’s deep end so that the Chiates could play water volleyball--even if it meant losing a few over the cliff. To enhance the area’s recreational potential, Burton and Sager designed curved walls, “like enclosing arms,” explains Sager, on either side of the pool. Suddenly, there were places to walk and areas for entertaining that hadn’t existed before.
Then came the question of what to plant. That was easy, says Jeannette. “I’m from the desert, I live at the beach. I wanted elements of both.” She showed the designers pictures, they drew up a plan, and they all went to Serra Gardens, a succulent nursery in Malibu. For Jeannette, that was the end of any planting plan. “I went wild. I just picked out things I loved.” Her selections included a tall, branching trichocereus cactus that Burton positioned outside the living room as well as other offbeat succulent cousins--aloes, agaves and yuccas--for garden beds and Mexican pots. In her revised compositions, Burton tamed these tough customers with blue oat grass, silver plecostachys and yellow-blooming kangaroo paws. She also placed feathery old olive trees along the entry drive, where blue-green basalt gravel hints at the cool vista beyond.
“There’s a serenity, a calm,” says Jeannette, “that wasn’t here before the fire.” The flames showed the Chiates what they had, she adds. “We’re more connected with the ocean now, which is why people live up here--in spite of everything."The sparkling water of this renovated Malibu pool blends almost seamlessly with the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Around it grow plants with striking profiles: rushlike horsetail, pointy agaves, the flowering scaevola ‘Mauve Clusters’ and the mounding succulent Euphorbia resinifera.