Always in Season

It may look understated, but a green-and-white garden is far from simple. It takes careful selection of foliage plants in artfully mixed shades of green to paint a scene that looks fresh no matter the season.

Interior designer Suzanne Rheinstein, who owns the West Hollywood antiques and furnishings store Hollyhock, redid her garden five years ago with this goal in mind. After more than two decades in their Windsor Square house, she and her husband, Fred, who is in the TV post-production business, decided to scrap their kidney-shaped pool and brick deck and plant a landscape worthy of their 1914 Georgian home.

Fred likes things clipped and neat, and he wanted the views from indoors to be expansive. Suzanne, an experienced gardener, envisioned a strict architectural plan embroidered with plants, a marriage of loose and formal. Though she also wanted one tucked-away spot where she could "grow vegetables and flowers willy-nilly and experiment," both she and Fred favored a green theme. "We live such full lives," she explains, "we need to come home to something soothing."

For 20 years Suzanne had kept a file on gardens she loved, including some she had seen with Fred on trips to Europe. Among their favorites were French foliage gardens, especially those devised by the late Nicole de Vesian, a designer known for tapestries of mixed topiary shrubs. Because she grew up in New Orleans, a place of lush, humid summers and tropical greens, Suzanne also favored plants such as elephant's ear, fan-like cycads and etched coleus. To keep the palette quiet and focused mainly on leaves, she barred gaudy bloomers or consigned them to her vegetable plot.

Although the Rheinsteins agreed on a medley of textures, they parted company on how to use them to shape their nearly half-acre lot. They both wanted it to feel intimate yet spacious. But Suzanne imagined a garden of "rooms," while Fred preferred an open sweep without walls.

Judy Horton, a landscape designer and longtime friend and neighbor, saw a way to create openness while introducing hedges and paving patterns to suggest gathering spots. Once the brick deck and pool were gone, she established a strong visual axis from the house to the back of the lot, where the clean rectangle of a new pool replaced a paddle tennis court. Using a round pond as the midpoint of the garden, she then "drew" an axis perpendicular to the first to establish a visual link between two garden "rooms." To the right is an airy, elevated porch, and to the left an aged Chinese elm shelters a graveled lounge space enclosed on three sides by a privet hedge.

Pennsylvania bluestone paths connect the rooms, marked by patterned "carpets" of bluestone and recycled brick at the entrances. In the Chinese elm room, where the Rheinsteins set tables for summer dinners, cycads splay beside chairs and white lacecap hydrangeas bloom. In an herb garden near the pool, balled lavender and rosemary nestle among other fragrant or textured greens—boxwood and teucrium, silver stachys and myrtle. More boxwood, pruned into spheres, establishes another garden theme and is used to edge paths and fill pots. Another contrasting color theme is the use of chartreuse and black-green, which repeats throughout the leafy scene. "I do this when I work with clients on a house," Suzanne says. "Theme colors pull the elements together, especially when your furniture doesn't match."

Her own garden furniture ranges from vintage wrought iron and wicker—painted black-green with chartreuse upholstery—to modern rattan. The house trim and pool fence pick up the same black-green color, and the boxwood and variegated potted coleus are chartreuse. Though the garden is far from flowery, white blooms do appear throughout the year, from late-winter Pacific Coast iris and spring acanthus to hydrangeas and autumn Japanese anemones. All have striking leaves that linger after their flowers fall.

More pots, containing thirsty, unusual or high-maintenance greens, can be found among the drought-tolerant Mediterranean natives that fill most of the garden. Such hardy plants as yellow clivia and gold angel's trumpet break the white-only rule. Out of sight is Suzanne's secret garden, which began with vegetables and now has a seating spot veiled in red passion vines and purple succulents in giant urns. "I love gardens you can't see all at once," she says. "Here it's all peaceful and quiet, then you come around a corner and—surprise—another world."


Resource Guide

Suzanne Rheinstein & Associates, West Hollywood, (310) 550-8900. Hollyhock, West Hollywood, (310) 777-0100. Judy M. Horton Garden Design, Los Angeles, (323) 462-1413.