Out of Asia


JUST PAST THE CREST of a hill in Solana Beach, an Asian gate with carved rafters boldly interrupts the roadside’s nondescript landscape. A small sign announces the office of Rancho Del Mar Travel, the 36-year-old business of globetrotting Barbara Jenkins-Lee.

Even at home, Jenkins-Lee enjoys an exotic getaway, as visitors who step inside the gate quickly discover. Stretching across the almost acre lot is a green, serene garden reminiscent of Far East landscapes that first charmed Jenkins-Lee and her late husband, UCSD physics professor John Jenkins-Lee, in their youth. “My husband had traveled all around the orient and loved oriental things,” Barbara says. “And I admired the peacefulness and grace of those gardens.” 

Thirty-five years ago, prodded by a homeowners’ association, the couple moved fast  to landscape the “mud” surrounding their new home, with help from a Japanese landscape designer. Many redos over the years have built on that original design with its steppingstone paths, koi ponds, gravel-mulched beds and sculpted shrubs and trees.

Three Aleppo pines from the original plantings now tower over the entry garden that stretches from the driveway along the home’s east side. Moon-shaped pavers set in polished river rocks form a path from a dry-gravel bed with bonsai Japanese black pines to a weathered wood deck overlooking ponds where “living jewels” glide. 

Along the way, emerald lawn swells up to meet mounded “island” beds carpeted with blue-green junipers and spruce and edged with ribbons of blue-gray fescue. Rose-red azaleas and clumps of lily turf, fortnight lily, agapanthus and clivia add occasional sparks of color.

Here and throughout the garden, Jenkins-Lee has placed an array of Asian lanterns, statues and folk art collected over the years, mostly from local nurseries and shops, including Anderson’s La Costa and Backyard X-Scapes. Bamboo decorates a tool shed, covers sprinkler risers and clacks in wind chimes. 

Jenkins-Lee credits the San Diego Koi Club for helping her outfit the three-tiered ponds to keep the fish healthy and deter predators like big blue herons. Yellow-flowered iris and papyrus cling to the eroded boulders that line the waterway, also home to floating
water lilies. 

Below the ponds, a covered flagstone patio shelters Jenkins-Lee’s collection of frogs, which are symbols of good luck in Asia. Some of the 350 were gifts from friends, while others, like the soccer frog from Spain, were collected on her travels. 

Ivy and columns of lacy podocarpus and ruby- and green-leafed heavenly bamboo soften the long metal fence on this side of  the property. This bed also is home to Jenkins-Lee’s tiny vegetable garden that overflows two wine-barrel halves.

A 5-foot warrior statue backed by a sculpted clump of bamboo preside over the broad back yard, now largely lawn except for two island beds. Jenkins-Lee’s rescued Bichon Frise, Snoodles, enjoys romps in the grass, but she envisions new drought-tolerant landscaping there to showcase a giant Buddha she’s eyeing to buy. She’s also researching Asian-styled coops for chickens she’d like to raise.

“Those will be next year’s projects,” she says, as upcoming trips around the world beckon. “But whatever I do, I know I’ll never stray from Asian.” 

Gardens: By Mary James Photography by Bob Wigand

Categories: Gardening