Fire and Water


By Aenne Carver Photography by Bob Wigand


Fire and Water


Expect to find stylish, creature comforts and an innovative plant palette in this garden design…


DEBORA AND JIM CARL’S ENCINITAS HOME is a mile from the Pacific, hidden by a living privacy fence of cork oaks (Quercus suber) and tall white camellias (Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’). Step past this barrier and you’ll discover a landscape filled with sophisticated combinations of flowers, foliage and textures. Typical of the extraordinary detail and harmony found in Debora’s garden designs, a fountain bubbles near chairs ringing a fire. The water juxtaposed with fire is the essence of Debora’s unique landscape palette.


Built in 1955, the home has been transformed by a combination of Debora’s vision and Kevin Farrell’s architectural flare. The two have worked together before and they readily incorporate each other’s concepts. Of this collaboration Debora says, “I knew I wanted a strong axis carved through the home’s structure.

Kevin Farrell translated this into the sight line now carved through the space.”


This design feat carries the once-hidden vista from the back-yard through the front entrance. Their partnership turned an ordinary ranch home into a marvel that marries the craftsman look with a southwest flair. The landscape is pitch-perfect against the home’s neutral-green backdrop: a tall red castor bean (Ricinus communis) complements the spiky forms of burgundy-leaved cannas, tan and blue fescues, ornamental grasses and a bronze New Zealand flax.


Debora is an artistic landscape designer and also a master chef. She owned a Del Mar eatery in the 1970s, and worked with TS Restaurants, a group that includes Jake’s in Del Mar.


In 2000, after friends requested she work her magic in their gardens, Debora switched from creating with food to creating with flora. She developed a tasteful recipe for transforming spaces with plants, color, texture, hardscape, fire and water.


Not surprisingly, the heart of the Carl home is an extraordinary kitchen where organic meets industrial. Expansive black granite counters extend inside to outside. When the adjoining pocket windows are opened, indoor and outdoor become one. Now, Jim (Debora’s husband of 23 years) is the main chef. They host a popular, Saturday night community dinner.


Directly behind the kitchen, the main patio offers plenty of seating amongst lush-looking, drought-tolerant plants. The silvery ground covers like fescue, ‘Snow in Summer’ (Cerastium tomentosum), ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra (Dichondra argentea), succulents and lavender contrast with rustling, blue-green, Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa), orange sedge (Carex testacea) and iridescent ‘Rainbow Sunrise’ New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax).


Seating spots and attractive niches abound on this 1 1/2-acre property. Wide cement steps from the central patio end up at a fire pit facing a triple-tiered stone fountain. The magic of fire and water ensures guests linger.

The hillside is full of gravel paths and along the way the steep beds are woven with drought-tolerant favorites: acacias, lavender, rosemary, agaves, aloes and succulents. Unusual plant choices like smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria), ‘Lavender Cloud’ (Hypoestes aristata) and Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri) add flair. Other high-lights include diverse alcoves, a place for propagating plants, a fenced, raised-bed vegetable garden and a bench carved in the retaining wall.


At the backyard’s furthest edge, just before the native canyon steeply drops, is another ideal spot for entertaining. Defined by a recycled-cement retaining wall topped with mounds of lavender, this location offers panoramic views that are anchored by a vintage, horse-trough fountain, a wood-burning firebox and a bocce-ball court.


Though the garden feels timeless, modern aspects are thoughtfully woven throughout. Contemporary details like hid-den speakers piping music, inventive lighting and the latest in drip irrigation make the space low maintenance, yet luxurious.


Turning a troublesome, practically unusable hill into a multi-terraced, entertaining masterpiece, seems easy when you listen to Debora: “Look at your interior and translate what you love to your outdoor space.”

Categories: Gardening