Remember being knee-high to a grasshopper? Eye-level with a lily? W. Garett Carlson does, and he built a garden around that feeling for a lucky Westside family. To enter its heart-etched gates, you must be 4 feet tall or shorter, naturally nimble and not averse to getting wet. Lettuces sprout along its winding path. Topiary animals shaped out of myrtle squirt water when you jump on spring-loaded steppingstones. Then there are birdhouses to peek into and a fallen log you must leap across to reach a pint-size willow bench.
"I was after magic here, an obstacle course full of surprises," says Carlson, a Beverly Hills landscape architect. A year ago, he began with an unused, 20-by-100-foot service area on a 3/4-acre property. "For my clients," he says, "this was a gift to their children, and it was the first thing they wanted done outside."
Crucial to the design was a meeting in which the four girls, ages 3 to 8, made a wish list. "I wanted lots of green. That's the color of my birthstone," says the eldest. "And lots of water. When I play, I pretend I'm running through a river."
The other kids requested food crops--and got dwarf citrus trees, grapes, herbs, berries and the mixed lettuces. They also asked for a sandbox and a playhouse, which Carlson created from an existing storage shed, adding paneling, new windows and mint-packed window boxes. Flowers, of course, were also on the list--lavender for fragrance, buddleia to draw butterflies and callas and foxgloves for their whimsical shapes.
But playland doesn't stop there. In a garden below the children's glade, Carlson hung a rope swing from an old eucalyptus tree that has an ocean view, and he designed a lawn around a trampoline.
"It's extra fun here," says one of the girls. "It's a special world just for kids." Naturally, she adds, when she grows up, she'll have a garden, too. And what will she grow? "Forget-me-nots."