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Garden LessIsMore

A Mission Hills couple finds charm and pleasure in small places

“DOWNSIZING IS LIBERATING,” says Fran Chadwick, reflecting on her move five years ago from Fallbrook to Mission Hills. The CSU San Marcos professor traded an Italianate home with views across groves to the ocean for an historic 1,400-square-foot bungalow hemmed in by neighbors on three sides.

The 1920 home was move-in ready but lacked the eclectic style favored by Fran and Pat Stouffer, the retired businessman she met and married after relocating. Avid do-it-yourselfers, the couple polished the interior, adding custom period details as they remodeled the kitchen and baths. Then they turned to the garden, determined to enjoy all the pleasures of the Fallbrook lifestyle in the bungalow’s small backyard.

“I wanted that indoor-outdoor connection, a place to entertain and the sound of water — it’s so peaceful and calming,” says Fran. “I was sorry to lose the view but we decided we could make our own view here.”

As charmed visitors discovered on the Mission Hills Garden Walk earlier this year, the couple succeeded in creating a cozy outdoor living space with all the amenities of a grand estate — water features, fireplace, barbecue and seating for intimate dinners as well as larger gatherings like their son’s recent wedding reception.

French doors in the study and master bedroom now open onto a new porch with a built-in banquette, antique zinc table and hanging candelabra shaded by a roof modeled after the one over the front porch.

“I like things to look as if they’ve always been there,” says Pat, who did much of the construction work while Fran repurposed and refinished furniture, including treasures from the Fallbrook home and family heirlooms like her grandmother’s rocking chair.

Steps lead down to a flagstone patio where two umbrellas shade a long table and benches built by Pat from weathered barn-wood flooring. Sunbrella fabric cushions, pillows and awnings here and throughout the garden echo the bungalow’s warm terra-cotta and gold palette.

Steps from the table are a barbecue with copper-clad counters and an outdoor fireplace with a mantel of wormwood found by the couple during a visit to Mendocino. In the northwest corner, a light-catching variegated pittosporum marks the transition to a multilevel ledgerstone water feature and planter that help obscure a neighbor’s chain-link fence. Slender boxwood and papyrus rise into a high froth of blue morning glories, embracing the now private space.

In contrast, the refurbished front yard designed by Jeremy Fulmer of Fulmer Landscape Design catches the eyes of neighbors strolling by. Drought-tolerant grasses, ground-hugging evergreens and mounding shrubs hug a boulder-lined stream that flows diagonally across the yard and under the sidewalk. Bamboo, black mulch and a sculpted Surinam cherry add to the Asian influence, an easy fit with the Craftsman-style home.

The design earned kudos in this year’s California Friendly Landscape Contest. But Fran and Pat’s favorite accolade came in a note left by a neighborhood youngster drawn to the trickling water. Fran smiles as she shares the simple message: “Written next to a big red heart was ‘Number 1 Yard.


Gardens: By Mary James • Photography by David Hartig

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As much as I love looking at paintings and sculptures by famous — and in many cases long-dead — artists, I appreciate even more the paintings and sculptures of artists who are not household names. Actually, they are household names — in my world. They are “local artists” that are living and breathing life into new ideas all the time.
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