Grounded and Centered

A Fallbrook estate with multiple 'rooms' represents a special project for a landscape designer and a labyrinth creator

Joseph Beebe

It would be easy to get caught up in any one of the gardens on Parker Mahnke and Margie Beebe’s 3.8-acre Fallbrook estate. You could marvel at the assorted plant species within the drought-resistant garden; take a meditative stroll through the labyrinth; or meander along winding paths to discover formal and informal groupings of roses, bottle palms, cycads, bougainvillea and Mexican feather grass.

“It’s a pleasure to be in this garden and to walk and transition through the spaces,” says garden designer Scott Spencer, who conceived the drought-resistant portion of the garden. “Every bend is a revelation. It keeps unfolding in vignettes of design and composition. It’s a wonderful place to wander.”

“The trick of a great garden is to have these separate ‘rooms’ that come together beautifully,” says Pinnacle Design Co. President Ken Alperstein, who designed the labyrinth. “There’s a subtle elegance here.”

Margie notes the many garden beds coalesced into one varied landscape over the 28 years since she and Parker built their Spanish-style house in a former avocado orchard. He jokes that the garden projects burgeoned after he suggested a dedicated place for her prized orchids.

“I gave her a choice when we moved here: Would you like drapes or a greenhouse?”

She chose the greenhouse.

The newest and perhaps most iconic garden on the property is the labyrinth. Low cobblestone walls surround river rock berms planted with succulents, including blue chalk sticks.

“I like the idea of a meditative walk,” Margie says. “It’s not a puzzle.” 

Ken’s firm specializes in golf course and residential landscape design. The labyrinth was a new challenge. With the help of contractors Integrity Golf and Creekside Construction and rock from Southwest Boulder & Stone, he sought to create a design that was three-dimensional, artistic and peaceful.

“It’s art,” he says. “We thought about what would be atypical, interesting and subtle.”

The rocks sometimes fall out of place, but that doesn’t detract from its tranquility, Margie says.

“Picking up a rock and putting it back is kind of like stopping in life and doing something. When you walk back out, you’re just walking out. It’s still calm and peaceful.”

The labyrinth has become the focal point of the property’s diverse landscape. Paths of brick, stone and decomposed granite branch out from the labyrinth and connect the gardens and patios.

Rock is used extensively throughout, from a fountain made of stacked flagstone to gabion walls.

A wood trellis built by Margie’s brother, Mark Beebe, shades brick steps down into the depths of the property. Purple and white wisteria vines swathe the trellis; staghorn ferns hang below.

Margie has cultivated both plants and art over the years. She put together a rose garden with a free schematic offered by English rose cultivator David Austin Roses. She collected garden art pieces, including granite troughs from Bali; a Buddha head from Cambodia; and sculptural work by Max DeMoss, Will Robinson, Lyman Whitaker and Mark A. Wallis.

She doesn’t mind working without a plan. When it came time to design a drought-tolerant garden, Scott mapped it on-site by laying out half-inch irrigation pipe.

“I’d ask Margie, ‘How do you like this?’” he recalls. “We’d walk through and she’d say, ‘Gee, this feels good.’”

Scott incorporated existing Mexican weeping bamboo into his scheme, while layering in shapes, colors and textures — like the showy green flowers of Euphorbia rigida, the curly gray-green leaves of Agave gypsophila, red-barked manzanita and narrow-leaved bird of paradise.

“I make what I consider horticulturally sophisticated gardens that have a really wide range of materials,” he says. “This garden in particular represents just about everything in my plant arsenal.”

“Whenever I visit this garden, I feel like I’m in a privileged place to be,” Scott continues. “It’s unique in my experience of design; this is a special spot for me. There are not many locations on the planet that are like this.”

Margie says that despite its expanse, the property is really just a “yard” for quiet reflection.

“I just walk out and it’s so calming for me,” she says.

“She has the lowest blood pressure in the family,” Parker quips.

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