The Northeast has many wonderful gardens but the ones that stand out as must see destinations are not built with plants alone. These gardens display structural materials and contours which challenge our formed perspectives in unexpected ways. It is easy to slip into the parochial mentality of using traditional materials in traditional ways. The best remedy for this is traveling! Nothing inspires and excites like unfamiliar architecture and a different climate, which imprint their unique personality upon the landscape. This winter we explored, once again, southern California. Three places stood out, not only for their plants collections and designs, but for their use of decorative stone, tile and brick.
In the community of Montecito, Santa Barbara County, we visited Casa del Herrero. Situated on a 7 acre trapezoidal site, this Spanish Colonial Revival is center stage to the surrounding gardens. While it is impossible to separate the house from the landscape as a unified whole, there are still individual vignettes and motifs that can find translation in New England gardens. During our mid winter tour, Kathy remarked that the grounds were wonderful, even without many blossoms. Molly Barker, the executive director replied, ?Our tiles are our flowers?. Though our cold climate gardens may never have the exquisite tilings of Casa del Herrero, it would take only a few to add flavor and personality to any courtyard or entry garden.
Ten minutes from Monticeto, is Santa Barbara, home to Lotusland, the estate and garden created by the late Polish opera singer, Madame Ganna Walska. Married six times to a series of wealthy husbands, Madame obviously never thought enough is enough. This is equally evident in the gardens, dramatic and lush, living stages set sooo over-the-top that you forget where the bottom is. This stunning, fantastical landscape is another world, which is saying something since, in Santa Barbara, over-the-top is ?whateva!?. Handsome and playful tile work is seen throughout, but the decorative stonework, constructed of small rounded stones (beach pebbles) set in mortar is spectacular. This stone integrates well with many other hard surface materials: brick, cement, natural stone, bluestone and schist.
Another stop on our tour was the Town of Ojai, CA, which shares a personality similar to Taos, NM. Each is ripe with creative energy that manifests in house, garden, public and private space, culture and lifestyle. Throughout southern California, water availability is an ongoing concern and Ojai is no exception. This is, no doubt, one of the reasons that tiles and decorative stone craft play such an important role in the landscape. The aesthetic contribution is colorful and constant. While in Ojai, we stayed at The Blue Iguana Inn. Here they used beach pebbles in several ways: to create the motif of the reptile, to simulate the shadow of a tree in a sitting area, and as a face on stair risers. As New Englanders we never tire of looking at stone, but finding new ways to use it is essential to expand the New England landscape vernacular.
–Chris Tracey, Avant Gardens