Urban farmstead thrives at Pacific Beach home

Tara and Jason Brown had great expectations for the new garden around their recently remodeled Pacific Beach home. Yes, it would be water-wise and eco-sound. But the couple, both doctors, also envisioned an urban farmstead where they and their two kids could gather just-laid eggs, snack on strawberries and harvest fruits and veggies for family meals.

"We wanted to create this natural world for our children," says Tara. "We wanted to grow our own food and be as 'green' as possible. And we wanted a clean, modern look to match our home's interiors."


A Google search and "cold call" united the Browns with Navid Mostatabi, a landscape architect who lived nearby and whose award-winning design-build firm, Envision Landscape Studio, specializes in the stylish, sustainable design the couple had in mind.

Over eight months, their inspired partnership transformed the sloped corner lot into a series of outdoor rooms that include the all-organic growing grounds as well as a solar-heated spa-plunge pool, a Modern Shed prefab exercise room and state-of-the-art rainwater collection.


Plants, many in Tara's favorite shades of orange, chartreuse and red-burgundy, range from fruit trees to dramatic ornamental grasses, papyrus and bamboo. Decomposed granite, gravel, concrete and other eco-minded materials predominate; even the colorful Loll Design patio furniture is made of recycled milk jugs.

Earlier this summer, the new landscape was honored with the top prize in the annual Beautification Awards Program of the California Landscape Contractors Association, San Diego chapter.

To get the makeover under way, vegetation and hardscape neglected for 50 years had to be hauled away. "Walls were crumbling and buckling. The deck was rotting and termite-ridden. There was no fencing, only these gross, half-dead oleanders," Tara recalls. "We never went outside. It was a wasteland."

Stripped bare, the property presented Mostatabi with a host of technical challenges to shape large, usable spaces. Twenty truckloads of concrete were needed, much of it for retaining walls and a new driveway of rectangular pavers edged in black river rock.


For privacy and safety, the lot was ringed with new fencing — stained cedar pool fences along the north and west sides, and slatted cedar and galvanized steel along east and south. Street-side beds were punctuated with 'Little Gem' magnolias, mix 'Elijah Blue' fescue, 'Angelina' sedum, 'Jack Sprat' New Zealand flax and accent clumps of 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass with its bold flower spikes.

The expansive front yard is home to the abundant farmstead, where Tara tends steel, raised beds custom-designed for her petite stature and reach. In late summer, passion fruit vines cover a steel-and-wire trellis, plump watermelons ripen and heirloom tomatoes color in the sun. "I'm new to this, so there's been lots of trial and error," Tara says. "But so far this year, we've picked more than 50 pounds of tomatoes from this garden."

While she works in the garden, the family's three pet chickens free-range, scratching for insects. Other times, they roost inside a deluxe green-roofed coup built by Lakeside's I B Crazy Coups, which counts Sandra Bullock and other Hollywood stars among its clients.

Just past the front door, a gravel path leads past a three-tiered water feature and papyrus-filled planters to a long concrete bench backed by a green wall. There, philodendrons, ferns, elephant ears and other tropicals thrive in Woolly Pocket planters.

Drip irrigation here and throughout the landscape is fed whenever possible with rainwater collected in four 420-gallon barrels that line a narrow side yard. Recent summer rains refilled them, helping to hold down water bills. "It just makes sense," Tara says of the installation. "Why pay for water when it's just draining off the roof?"

In the backyard, a new Trex deck and outdoor kitchen with gleaming black concrete counters are sheltered by sail shades that snap in the sea breeze.

Steps away are the rectangular spa and vanishing-edge plunge pool, designed by Pacific Sun Pool N Spa with a kid-friendly Baja ledge. Along one side, a narrow, glass-topped fire table warms guests when the couple entertains.

"At night with the fire glowing and up-lighting on the bamboo, it's pretty spectacular out here," Tara says.


Despite busy schedules, the family delights in the new landscape. "I had never gardened before in my life," Tara says. "But now I've found myself in gardening. I'm out here every single day."