Always On Her Mind

Axelrod garden 002

Jennifer Axelrod is devoted to her Olivenhain garden – and it shows. 

Twice a day, every day, Jennifer Axelrod strolls her abundant Olivenhain garden, hand-watering as she checks out her “jillion” plants. Her loop winds past a serene entry garden, across a shaded patio and up a slope’s bark-covered paths where views beckon east to Olivenhain Dam.

Over two decades, the native San Diegan, who moved here with her husband Barry when they were expecting twins, has transformed this half-acre from hard, bare dirt and “uninspired” landscaping into a plant-lovers Eden. 

“Today I garden on every square inch,” she says. “I’ve been a gardener forever and after a tentative start, I now garden with abandon.”

Axelrod’s collaborator for the last 10 years has been Fallbrook designer Scott Spencer, known for his horticulturally sophisticated gardens. 

“I help define the space, adding structure and plant groupings,” Spencer says. “Then Jennifer’s magic takes over. Her under-planting, containers and the artwork she finds — all make her garden such a special place.”

Axelrod constantly scours nurseries for new plant finds — some with the chartreuse or burgundy foliage she loves, or rarities from South Africa and Australia, or, lately, succulents for dappled shade beneath the garden’s mature trees. Spencer often arrives, plant in hand, adding to the landscape’s collection of light-catching variegated ornamental grasses and shrubs.

All are showcased in the sloped garden — a 100-foot-long, 30-foot-tall perennial border along the home’s west side. Here, sunlight plays off plants like golden cypress, ‘Morning Light’ silver grass, ‘Golden Edge’ duranta, and ‘Royal Cloak’ barberry, igniting its purple foliage with a ruby glow.

In this mix are some of the garden’s workhorses, like Euphorbia characias wulfenii with its bold yellow blooms and airy purple Verbena bonariensis. Clustered beneath a pink powder puff tree is another favorite: tall aeoniums with stout stems and plate-size rosettes. 

“I’m crazy for them,” Axelrod says. “They thrive in the shade.”

Lavender-blushed ghost plants (Graptopetalum) — another shade lover — spill over a low cobble wall that edges a semi-circular patio shaded by a mature elm and other trees. For this “woodland garden,” Axelrod tucks in bear’s breech, angel’s trumpet, and, for contrast, plum-leafed coleus, crinums and a Japanese maple.

A second circular patio, a hallmark of many Spencer designs, is part of the revamped entry garden that segues from full sun — home to succulents, cannas, grevilleas, banksias and cupheas — to deep shade where water slips silently over an aged Indonesian urn. 

Opposite is a bed Axelrod calls her “oops garden,” where plants defied expectations for size and shape. Sculpted trees here and throughout the garden are the artistry of Ted Overland, another of Axelrod’s long-time garden partners. 

“He brings out the best in every plant,” she says.

Even when relaxing with family or friends, the garden is always on Axelrod’s mind. Currently, a side lawn she wants to remove preoccupies her. 

“I don’t really see it yet,” she admits. 

“But she will,” Spencer says, “which is why this is very much Jennifer’s garden.” 

Gardens: By Mary James Photography by Bob Wigand

Categories: Gardening