Blood, Sweat & Years
A CARLSBAD COUPLE BUILD A GARDEN OVER TIME WITH RECYCLED MATERIALS AND ROCKS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
PICTURE THE PERFECT GARDEN PARTY. A sea breeze wafts through a sun-drenched and delightfully designed garden that feels like you have landed in Europe. Linen and old pitchers overflowing with newly cut flowers grace the tables. The guests are erudite and artistic. Your hosts serve a relaxed meal of homemade foods and freshly baked, rustic bread. She holds court. Later, as coffee and tart made from apples grown on their own trees arrive, he breaks out his guitar and transitions into a minstrel, enthralling guests with classic ballads and bawdy pub songs, all in a perfect tenor. You want to stay here forever.
This picture is the norm at the Carlsbad home of Richard and Britta Armstrong, where one is privileged to be among the guests.
Britta was born and raised in Sweden. Because she loves gardens, she attended the Royal Agricultural University in Uppsala, where she received a master of science degree in plant and soil sciences. She then taught there for 10 years.
Richard was born in San Diego and grew up in the Southland. After finishing school, he took his guitar and traveled around Europe, earning his way by singing in such venues as the Paris Metro.
The couple met when he went to Sweden to study the language. After a year, they married.
Eleven years and two children later, Richard convinced Britta to move to California. They purchased their Tamarack Point tract house in 1987. It looked, in Britta’s words, “like a toothless old woman sitting on raw, scraped earth. But on a positive note, we had a blank slate to work with!”
Shutters were added to dress newly installed French doors and windows that open onto the garden. They built a vine-covered loggia and old brick patio that extends across the rear of the house, seamlessly blending interior and exterior.
The plan for the garden began from scratch and has been created with the couple’s combined skills, artistry and sweat. They didn’t want a large swath of grass eating away at the house. Large boulders were chosen from a local rock dealer and placed with a forklift as anchors for future fire and water elements.
Many things for the home and garden have been collected over time. As Britta says, “When we find something beautiful, we bring it home and, ultimately,
it finds its place.”
Most of the garden has been constructed with recycled materials. Wherever Richard goes, if he sees a pile of some-thing, his favorite question is, “What are you going do with that?” The answers have allowed him to acquire materials for a much lower price and often free. Examples are recycled wooden beams for the pergola; ancient terra cotta roofing tiles; cobblestones (from Joliet, Ill.); a massive, cast-iron, dry fountain; and a very tall flagpole from a La Jolla remodel. Their friend, antiquarian Peter Grau, provided large, sculptural, Spanish pots, some as old as 300 years. They arrived to Peter broken; Richard glued them back together.
Gravel softens several hedge-bordered paths. Hard areas are of stone, slate, rocks, roofing tiles and more — often in a circular pattern. One circle is oriented to compass points. The boldest feature is the great wall Richard built over a five-year period with stones from all over the world. The big ones are from construction sites. Others come from mountain hikes and travels in Denmark, Sweden, Italy and France. When friends came to dinner, they brought rocks as presents.
Along with hosting garden parties, Britta offers bread-baking classes, which come with lunch as well. Please pass the butter and take a picture!
Text and Photography by Will Gullette