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A Green and Serene Water-Thrifty Landscape

Sculptural shrubs, verdant groundcovers, and dappled sunlight create the magic in this canyon-hugging property in Los Angeles.

Entrance to green and serene front yard
Outside the entry gate, rings of privet surround gray-green westringia, a plant combination that is repeated along the stone steps leading up from the street. A trumpet vine is just starting to climb up over the entry arch.
Mark Lohman

Delve into the history of landscape design, and you see certain ideas over and over: strong geometric forms, energetic use of contrasting colors, a balance between managed and wild. There’s good reason for the repetition—these ideas work.

Designer: Janet Lohman Design; 310-471-3955

Dreamy Landscape Behind a Handsome Gate and Structured Landscaping to Match the Tudor-Style Facade
The arch-topped entry gate offers some privacy from the street and frames the approach to the house, which is paved with local flagstone. Layered hedges of privet and boxwood set off by globe-shaped shrubs provide a structured framework in varying shades of green for the 1948 Tudor-style house.
Mark Lohman

Studying pictures of classic gardens while taking landscape-design courses at the University of California, Los Angeles, about 10 years ago, interior designer Janet Lohman found herself especially drawn to tidy, globe-shaped shrubs. She saw them in gardens in France, England, Italy, Spain, Portugal—all of Europe, it seemed, and dating back to medieval times. There were even references to their use at the beginning of the Roman Empire.

Dreamy Landscape Behind a Handsome Gate

"Some things are just right," Janet concluded. "They stand the test of time." She thought that globe shapes, with their strong structure, would look good almost anywhere: modern gardens, traditional gardens, rustic gardens. And she had the perfect canvas for testing her theory—the 1948 Tudor-style house she shared with her photographer husband, Mark, in Los Angeles.

Structured Landscaping to Match the Tudor-Style Facade

Back then, the front yard was just a blank lawn, fully exposed to the street. The only plants with any heft on the half-acre lot were two mature sycamores, one pepper tree, several eucalyptus, and a large camellia by the front door. The backyard held a kidney-shaped swimming pool. The west-facing side yard, with its lovely evening light and its view into the canyon below, had only a narrow concrete path hugging the house. Below that, the yard dropped off, too steep to use.

Memorable Front Yard

Green backyard path with seating
Tall sycamore and eucalyptus trees block the heat of the summer sun but still leave the yard shimmering with light.
Mark Lohman

During their early years in the house, the couple added a deck cantilevered out over the hillside and a stone path from the street to the front door. Then, just as Janet was working to expand her design business into gardens, there was a pressing need to build at least a fence to separate the front lawn from the street. Mark and Janet had twin boys, then toddlers, plus two Lab puppies. And they all loved to run.

Romantic Arches Put to Work as Useful Trellis and (Small) Deck View of the House
From left: Two romantic iron arches found in a Ballard Designs catalog mark the entrance to the hidden deck and frame the view of the canyon. They also form a sturdy trellis for ‘Iceberg’ climbing roses. The view from the smaller, hidden deck back toward the house, framed by columns of waxleaf privet.
Mark Lohman

Romantic Arches Put to Work as Useful Trellis

Seizing the opportunity to experiment with some of her landscape design ideas, Janet set about creating a plan that would enhance the look of the house, which has hefty timbers, a steep slate roof, and leaded-glass windows that remind her of an English country house.

She wasn’t interested in planting a traditional English cottage garden, however—too much dividing and deadheading, and besides, foliage colors and textures enchant her more than flowers do. The canyon by the house is blanketed in oaks, ceanothus shrubs, and other native plants. “These are the dry, scrubby hills of L.A.,” Janet says. “When I look across the canyon, I see mostly gray-green, with the bright green of new growth.”

When a record drought triggered water rationing, the lawn's time was finally up. Janet took it out and installed a gravel mix in shades of yellow, gray, and brown that blend into a medium gray that mimics the color of the mortar in the flagstone front path. Overhead tower drought-hardy sycamore and eucalyptus trees, which block the worst of the heat and leave the garden dappled in sunlight, creating a dreamy, relaxed feeling.

Small, Private Deck

Small, Private Deck
In addition to the large deck used for entertaining, the couple added a smaller, hidden deck. It’s a perfect place to read a book or visit with a friend or two. Containers soften the wood structure with succulents and nandina, a shrub with finely textured leaves in orange and red.
Mark Lohman

Inspired by that color palette, but wanting a more structured look, she dug into the perimeter of the lawn and planted privet around the edges, then boxwood inside that, and added westringia and other tough, drought-tolerant shrubs. She also put in several maples, sword ferns, and hardy geranium groundcovers with pink, purple, and magenta blossoms so tiny they almost get lost in the foliage.

Janet added only a few plants with showy flowers: ‘Iceberg’ roses, ‘Richmondensis’ begonias, and ‘Alaska’ azaleas, all with white blooms. Gradually the lawn grew smaller as the beds expanded with plants that caught Janet’s eye, mostly easy-care shrubs that grow naturally in dense mounds, such as ‘Golf Ball’ kohuhu.

Roomier Main Deck

Roomier Main deck
The revamped main deck holds a comfortable lounge area with seating for eight. The finial-topped posts that secure the deck’s railing complement the structured look of the sheared hedges and mounding shrubs in the landscape.
Mark Lohman

On the west side of the house, the gravel becomes a path leading to a small deck entered through a double arch. It's just big enough for a couple of people to sit and talk or read. "It was the ugliest part of the yard," Mark says. "Now it's the cutest spot."

Tranquil Perch for Canyon Views

Tranquil perch of canyon views
A bench at the back of the side yard, near the pool and just beyond the entertaining deck, offers a quiet spot for looking out over the canyon below.
Mark Lohman

Beyond that is the 34-foot-long main deck, which guests generally access from inside the house. The Lohmans rebuilt it a few years ago, adding 6 feet to the original 16-foot depth. Like the old deck, it has horizontal supports anchored to the home's foundation and vertical supports of reinforced concrete sunk into the hillside.

Foliage-Flanked Swimming Pool

Serene pool in yard
The kidney-shaped swimming pool has a built-in spa. Installing a retaining wall allowed for more plantings and a wider patio area, as well as a spot with seating. The white flowers and strappy foliage in the foreground belong to African iris.
Mark Lohman

Over time, the backyard gained a lot of usable space. By excavating for a 95-foot-long retaining wall, the Lohmans pushed the hillside back about 10 feet around the pool, creating a level area in which to plant. Janet added 30 trees, many of them there. She also created a seating area shaded by birches, where one can look out over the canyon, breathe in the scent of lavender, and listen to the hum of bees.

The most recent change solved a drainage problem that plagued a flagstone patio behind the garage and turned that area from a catchall for old barbecues, ladders, and bags of potting soil into a gravel garden lined with water-thrifty plants.

Gravel Area Stocked with Herbs and Veggies

Gravel Area Stocked with Herbs and Veggies
Behind the garage, a gravel area with herbs and a few vegetables replaces what had been mostly a storage spot. Planted just a year ago, the lavender and heliotrope have already established under the Southern California sun.
Mark Lohman

Mark had wanted a yard that made it easy to entertain; Janet "one that felt enclosed and private, one that felt safe and secluded and lush." Now, it's abundantly clear, they have both gotten their wish.

The Garden Plan

Illustration of garden plan Ian Worpole

The property includes a formal front garden, a large deck for entertaining that looks out over the canyon, another smaller deck, a hillside garden and a pool in the back, as well as a new gravel garden behind the garage.

  1. Memorable Front Yard
  2. Structured Landscaping to Match the Tudor-Style Facade
  3. Tranquil Perch for Canyon Views
  4. Roomier Main Deck
  5. Small, Private Deck
  6. Romantic Arches Put to Work as Useful Trellis
  7. Steps and Westringia Set the Stage
  8. Foliage-Flanked Swimming Pool
  9. (Small) Deck View of the House
  10. Gravel Area Stocked with Herbs and Veggies