It's not uncommon to spot gray-green teucrium clipped as a hedge around a lawn or dark purple tradescantia trailing from a hanging basket. Nor is it unusual to find chartreuse coleonema filling out a border or velvety white centaurea used as a low accent in the foreground.
But to see all of these plants together in the cloud-like drifts of a poolside bank of foliage along with bronze flax and yellow cannas is to experience a kind of horticultural euphoria.
"I don't like monotonous gardens with a limited variety of things growing in them," says Eric Nagelmann, the iconoclastic Santa Barbara landscape designer. "I love gardens where your eyes are going everywhere to see lots of different surprises."
He likens his approach to a recent dream: "I was exploring a shipwreck at the bottom of the ocean and everywhere I turned, I saw gold coins, jewels and other treasures," he says. "That's how I prefer my gardens -- not boring."
Ditto for clients Bobbie and Ed Rosenblatt. About six years ago, the couple lived on a park-like 4-acre spread. But with an empty nest and retirement pending for Ed, a music industry executive, they were ready to downsize. So they moved to a 1-acre lot in Montecito and set about remaking it into a casual retreat akin to the country houses they had seen in Europe.
"We wanted something smaller and more intimate," Bobbie Rosenblatt says.
The couple rerouted the driveway and built an attached garage and motor court on one side of the house. They converted the existing detached garage into a guest cottage for their four children and six grandchildren, then added a loggia, outdoor kitchen, swimming pool and spa.
Nagelmann signed on to weave the old and new spaces into a seamless whole. But instead of tricking out the garden with slick furniture and high-tech toys, he relied on a kaleidoscopic style showcased in his otherworldly cactus garden at Lotusland.
Except for a few mature oak, palm and Monterey cypress trees, the property was barren when Nagelmann began dividing the outdoor space into discrete rooms -- "little destinations," he calls them -- connected by paths of crushed shale, patios of Chinese slate and steps of local stone.
Bobbie Rosenblatt wanted a painter's palette of purple, pink and red rather than blues or orange, and she wanted plants that moved with the breeze as opposed to anything stiff or overly manicured.
Other than that, Nagelmann had license to experiment, so he shunned convention. The winding driveway is lined with Kashmir cypress, an unusual conifer whose weeping foliage frequently prompts passers-by to ask for a snippet. The blue-green trees are underplanted with Spanish lavender and fuchsia bougainvillea, a combination that hints at more offbeat pairings in front of the house, where Nagelmann formed a living screen with green papyrus and vining asparagus, gray-green dwarf olive, burgundy cordylines and red Altissimo roses.
The backyard contains several places for the Rosenblatts to relax alone or entertain family and friends. The dining patio is decorated with potted succulents, purple trumpet vine and fragrant white jasmine. The alfresco kitchen is tucked a few steps away, behind the guest cottage. The loggia provides a cozy open-air living room sheltered from the sun and occasional downpours.
"When it's raining, Eddie and I love to sit outside and read or have cocktails by the fire. It's so romantic," Bobbie Rosenblatt says of the corner fireplace, where creeping fig has begun to envelop the mantel.
Behind the spa at the far end of the pool, Nagelmann demonstrated uncharacteristic restraint in clustering dwarf Buddha's Belly bamboo like a green aura around a Buddha statue. For a private terrace under a venerable old oak, he surrounded a small seating area with a sea of pink-blooming plectranthus.
But he couldn't resist his mix-master tendencies for long. In a secluded courtyard outside the Rosenblatts' bedroom, an allee of olive trees stretches skyward from huge terra-cotta pots. The red clay containers are set in beds of maroon loropetalum that blossoms hot pink on both sides of an emerald turfgrass runway. The effect is classic yet novel.
"I took the English concept of interesting foliage, textures and colors and applied that here with different plants," Nagelmann says. "I love mixing odd leaf combinations. It's all about contrasts. To me, no colors in nature clash."