A boring lawn is now a lush Mediterranean garden that provides privacy

Walk through the family room, pass through the comfortably furnished lanai, and the garden rises before you. From the patio, the framed view is of meandering flagstone paths laced with thyme, romantic dwarf olive trees, purple wall germander and hardy fan palms. As the sun dances on the plants, the garden feels like an extension of the Spanish Revival home.

“When I lived in New York, I used to dream that I would open a door and find another room outside my apartment,” says Amy Lippman, co-creator of the television series “Party of Five,” and “Masters of Sex.” She’s referring to the lush new garden, a soft, multi-layered landscape that sways in the Bel-Air breeze. “That’s what my new garden feels like,” she continues. “Another room.”

The Bel Air lawn and patio before the lawn was removed.
(Naomi Sanders)

Although Lippman and her husband, writer-director Rodman Flender, have lived in the 1938 home for more than 20 years, they rarely used the backyard in its previous configuration.

Sure, there was a pool in the lower garden, and a narrow patio off of the living room, but the “backyard” of the home, the former residence of writer/producer/director Ken Hughes of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” fame, consisted of an immense and uninspired plot of grass.

“We never spent time in the backyard because the covered portion of the patio was very narrow and we couldn’t sit there formally,” Lippman says.


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About two years ago, following a long search for a Los Angeles-based landscape designer, Lippman hired Naomi Sandersto help them “revive the garden, use less water and break up the space” after seeing her work on the gardening website Gardenista.

Sanders started by removing the lawn and replacing it with silvery-blue and purple drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants in a variety of heights, widths and textures.

“I was nervous about filling up the space with plants and losing its expansiveness,” Lippman says. “But it seems three times bigger now.”

Because privacy was a priority, Sanders broke up the garden with trees — Japanese maple, grass palm, and dwarf magnolia among them. And in the center, a fast-growing, sun-loving California pepper tree separates the main house from the guest house where Flender works. It also allows easy access to the pool area below.

“We added layers and created focal points because Amy spends a lot of time on the patio working,” Sanders says of the landscaping, which cost about $150,000. “It’s all about strategy and figuring out what we want to hide.”

Architect Rachel Allen, who remodeled the couple’s Carpinteria beach house, extended the patio by 3 feet to create an outdoor room that serves as a living and dining area. A new Spanish tile roof, large exposed wood beams and boxed stucco columns continue the language of the house while ceiling fans keep the temperature comfortable year-round.

“It is an classic California Mission Revival example of a large outdoor ‘room,’ a less formal mirroring of the parlor on the opposite side of the wall,” Allen says. “We wanted it to be so comfortable that all summer could be spent out there.”

Agave Blue Glow, dwarf olive, Madagascar jasmine and potted plants frame the new patio overlooking the backyard.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Indeed, Lippman installed several electrical outlets outdoors so that she can write comfortably in the shade (her “Party of Five” reboot, featuring an immigration plot twist, will return in January, after a 20 year gap).

A nearby bubbling fountain cuts down on noise from nearby UCLA (the marching band can be heard in the distance), and dramatic freestanding planters filled with succulents attract the eye throughout the gardens.

For homeowners who are interested in saving water and implementing their own turf transformation, Sanders suggests thinking of the garden as a room addition. “What is the desired program?” says Sanders. “Are you looking for more room to entertain, relax, explore or all of the above? Consider what elements you might want to include such as a shade structure, dining table, water feature, fire pit, seating or path. This establishes a framework for design and allows you to get the most out of a space.”

Lippman and Flender are now able to experience the garden, and live outdoors, in an entirely new way, after many years of underuse.

“The garden completely changed the way we use the house,” Lippman says. “We have breakfast out there. We work out there. It’s never too hot because we installed fans. It’s shaded and lovely. We use it all the time. It is like getting a new house, in a way.”

Just like in her dream.

A pepper tree breaks up the yard and creates privacy between the main house and the guest house. Thyme grows in between flagstone pavers.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s a look at some plants used in this project:

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio,’ Dwarf maiden grass

Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast,’ Spanish lavender

Vitex trifolia ‘Purpurea,’ Arabian lilac

Hedera helix, (Ivy)

Solandra maxima, Cup of Gold vine

2 36-inch Magnolia Gradiflora ‘Little Gem’, dwarf Southern magnolia

5 36-inch Chamaerops humilis, Mediterranean fan palm

5 24-inch Podocarpus Macrophyllus, Yew podocarpus

3 15-gallon Olea Europea ‘Montra’, Little Ollie dwarf olive

6 5-gallon Cordyline ‘Design-a-Line Burgundy,’ Design-a-Line burgundy grass palm

5 5-gallon ‘Blue Glow’ agave

16 1- gallon Teucrium Chamaedrys, Wall germander

31 1-gallon Festuca glauca ‘Elija Blue,’ Elija Blue fescue

1 24-inch Acer Palmatum ‘Bloodgood,’ Bloodgood Japanese maple

1 15-gallon Pittosporum Tobira, Japanese mock orange

3 15-gallon Pittosporum Tobira ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf,’ Wheeler’s Dwarf Mock orange

2 5-gallon Fatsia Japonica, Japanese aralia

100 1-gallon Liriope Gigantea, Giant Lilyturf ground cover

1 15-gallon Stephanotis Floribunda, Madagascar jasmine (trellis form)

1 15-gallon Bougainvillea ‘Purple Queen,’ bougainvillea