A family garden makeover
19 Images

Small space, sustainable design, modern look

By Lisa Boone
For proof that parenthood does change everything, just look at the Mar Vista garden of landscape designer Elizabeth Low. The birth of daughter Violet, now 2, inspired her to consider the question: How would the arrival of a child change the landscape. Here’s a peek at Low’s garden transformation and how the outdoor areas now serve as an extension of the 900-square-foot house. Pictured here: Low’s daughter, Violet Cash, 2, draws on the outdoor chalkboard designed by her mother, who rolled chalkboard paint onto the wall and added a painted wood frame. The girl’s father, David Cash, is in the background, by the fire pit. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Low originally envisioned a modern, minimalist garden, but after spending more time at home with her daughter, the landscape designer’s feelings changed. “I wanted everything to be soft and pretty and attract wildlife,” she said. In the frontyard, pictured here, she added succulents, flax, lemon trees and irises around an existing camellia bush and jacaranda tree. She built berms around the property so she could plant higher and create a sense of privacy. The ambience: more of a sanctuary than a play area. The wild assortment of plants means that something is blooming at any given time of the year. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
An aenioum called Sunburst practically glows in the frontyard. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Grevillea blooms in the frontyard. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Wild strawberry fills the gaps in the front walkway. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Low wanted the house -- originally 700 square feet, now 900 -- to feel open and modern. “We wanted it to be bright and clean and slightly minimalist and fun,” Low said. She designed the birch cabinets in the kitchen and lacquered them a pea green “so you can just wipe them off.” The cookie jars on the counter were her inspiration. “I basically designed the kitchen around them,” she says. “I am obsessed with orange, green and yellow.” Wide doors make the garden feel like a natural extension of the house. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
The garden can be seen from the living room. “It’s a really small living room,” Low said. “I wanted it to feel as open as possible. It’s cheery, which is what I wanted.” (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Low opens the doors to the patio off the master bedroom, while Cash plays with 2-year-old Violet. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Outside the kitchen, steps are decorated with pots of succulents that had been in the ground but were getting trampled by children. The deck is made out of gray composite lumber from Lowe’s. “I wanted it to look modern and clean,” Low said. “Like composite decking and not fake wood.” The bright orange awning from Awning Co. helps to keep the house cool. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
A shady corner in the backyard includes the tall agapanthus Tinkerbell, broad-leafed coral bells and African iris. Low painted the cinderblock wall the same green as the house to help gaps in the plantings disappear until the landscape naturally fills out. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
The deck off of the master bedroom. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
After twice planting dianella grass, Low gave up. “It was getting patchy from Violet,” she said. “We were spending all this money on grass, and it wasn’t growing in.” After deciding that she didn’t want to water a lawn, she bought artificial turf from the Santa Monica building supplier Bourget Bros. “It’s the best alternative for us,” Low said. “It is like a carpet.” (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Low’s plan for the backyard included four zones, including a dining area. She didn’t want the pergola to be attached to the house. “It gives the yard some depth,” she said. The pergola and dining room table are made from reclaimed wood from the Reclaimer. The chairs are from Loll. The pendant lamp is from Amsterdam Modern. Low added shellac to the lamp so it won’t fade in the sun and silicone around the top so water doesn’t get inside. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
A fish sculpture hangs from the pergola. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
The blue-gray echeveria called Hens and Chicks, and brighter aeonium called Kiwi. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
A Washington navel orange tree is planted by a fountain Low made by turning a pot upside down and drilling a hole in the bottom. “We bought one of those self-reclaiming plastic bins from Bourget Bros. which keeps the same water circulating,” she said. “You just flip a switch, and it comes back up through the pot. It is actually really inexpensive.” Low likes water features for their ability to mask city noise. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
David Cash lights the fire pit in the backyard as Elizabeth Low and Violet, 2, enjoy the warmth of the fire. “We all love to sit out here,” Low said. “You feel like you’re at a campfire.” The fire pit is a pre-formed unit from Bourget Bros. After her plumber ran the gas line, Low filled the pit with lava rock and colored rock. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Succulents fill the Woolly Pockets attached to the wall of the garage-turned-guest house. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
One of three rain barrels sits on the side of the house. “The only water we have used for the past three months is from the rain barrels,” she said. More homes and gardens: Homes of the Times photo tour archive Follow future coverage: Facebook pages dedicated to home design and gardening in the West. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)