Nature’s Trail


This garden’s winding canyon paths and
natural boulders provide a park atmosphere for homeowners, family and guests


AFTER 14 YEARS IN THEIR SPRAWLING Rancho Santa Fe home, Kent and Candace Humber were ready for change. Their three kids were almost grown and Kent, a veterinarian, and Candace, an interior designer, were looking to retire and downsize.  

On a walk one day in 2005, Candace spotted a for-sale sign just up the hill from their house. The overgrown 2-acre property had been cleared and for the first time, she noticed the long view to Cardiff and the blue Pacific.

 “I had wanted to be higher on the hill,” she says, “and thought, ‘This will work.’” 

Over the next three years, the couple collaborated with architect Alan C. Campbell to build a tri-level prairie-style home accented with mahogany, stacked stone and leaded glass. Acclaimed pool designer Skip Phillips was tapped to build the west-facing vanishing-edge pool. For landscaping, the Humbers turned to landscape architects Greg Stone and Kirsten Larson, having admired the duos work on a neighbor’s expansive estate.

Among Stone’s challenges were smoothing the hard edges of construction grading, designing a welcoming entry around a long motor court and creating access and destinations around the property for the outdoors-loving family. Plus, the green-minded owners, who had solar pool and water heating, wanted a waterwise landscape with “less lawn and less gardening time” than at their previous home.

Ledge-stone walls with planters at the base now undulate along the driveway with its decorative swaths of seeded, stained concrete and bluestone flagstone. Banks and planters mix showy succulents and the “vertical blast” of Euphorbia ingens with shrubby jade plants, ’Zwartkop’ aeoniums, bronze loquats and purple hopseed bushes that echo the mahogany’s rusty reds. Blue-flowered prostrate rosemary cascades over the wall, in easy reach when needed in the kitchen.

Here and throughout the garden, boulders — 75 truckloads in all — bring a boisterous naturalism, whether inset into circular planters, stacked to form stairs, edging decomposed granite paths or tumbled down a culvert to create an inviting canyon.

“It looks like a national park,” says Candace, who roams the garden regularly to harvest her kitchen garden and the citrus orchard.

The walkable canyon is overlooked at one end by what Stone dubbed “the palapa patio” and at the other by the broad bluestone patio around the pool. Here Mexican fan palms, lacy shoestring acacias, silk oaks and sycamores sway above native oaks original to the property. Tall cape rush, variegated furcraeas and tree aloes punctuate ground-hugging succulents that warm the shady half-acre with winter color. 

A path at the canyon’s base wends past the pool overflow to a putting green and a patch of lawn for games enjoyed with friends and family. All are adjacent to the home theater, billiard room and gym on the home’s lower level and steps away from a semi-circle patio that houses the barbecue.

Most of the time, though, the couple relaxes by the fireplace of the outdoor living room, or in the pool floating on sleek rafts as the sun turns the sky a brilliant orange. 

“No matter the time of the year,” Candace says, “we’re always out here.” 

Gardens: By Mary James Photography by Shelley Metcalf

Categories: Gardening