Welcome to Wonderland
From one corner to the other, the grounds of a North County estate seem magical
THE MANY GARDENS on the grounds of Dannie and Craig McLaughlin’s Olivenhain estate beckon with the music of water, entice through a veil of trees or surprise around the bend of a path. Each is pleasure-filled and personal, as a stroll with Dannie quickly discloses.
Yet there was no overall plan beyond consultations with friends and a few professionals. After the couple bought the 3-acre property in 1999, “One thing just led to another,” says Dannie, a clinical psychologist. “When we started, I had never really gardened before. But I knew it was in my blood. Growing up in Missouri, I always helped my father with the roses and planting tomatoes.”
That memory blossoms throughout the property, starting with a rose garden at the crest of the sweeping driveway lined by stately palms and guarded by two bronze lions. Working with La Mesa consulting rosar-ian Linda Clark, Dannie mixed modern and classic roses in twin beds anchored by an antique fountain.
To the left, towering Italian cypresses embrace another fountain and reflecting pool, where a bronze mermaid gleams amid water lilies. Ahead is the custom wrought-iron front door, also with lion motifs (the couple’s property management business is Twin Lions). It offers glimpses through the Italianate home’s interior to the verdant back yard.
During an initial remodel, Dannie and Craig moved the pool to add an outdoor kitchen and fireplace to the rear patio closest to the house. Above a bed of white roses is a recent addition: a painting by Katie Gaines of Tuscany, recalling the couple’s Florence wedding. The painting is apropos for another reason.
“We’ve hosted five weddings out here, with the sixth coming up,” says Dannie, a San Diego Horticultural Society board member who also has opened the grounds over the years to garden tours and charity events.
The new lap pool is off limits every spring when a mallard family is in residence. Dannie puts out food for them and other wild birds that delight her throughout the garden, now a certified wildlife habitat. Birdhouses decorate the refur-bished gazebo, as well as the new Hansel and Gretel Way hidden between two nearby rows of evergreens. An owl box in a soaring sycamore tree awaits its first family, while a butterfly bog under construction will lure even more winged visitors.
On this plateau, vista points abound, across a canyon to white-fenced horse farms where thoroughbreds prance. One patio includes a bench named for a friend who stayed with Craig while Dannie completed her Ph.D. at Berkeley. Another patio, shaded by a Hong Kong orchid tree, captures sunset views. So does the vanishing-edge spa.
Gardens that slope below showcase many of the 100 trees added over the years and Dannie’s passion for purple flowers. Easy-care drifts of agapanthus, Mexican sage and lantana swirl around bold orange lion’s tail and Mexican marigolds, all edged by fencing draped in fragrant honeysuckle.
A decomposed granite path wends to a succulent garden inspired by a prickly pear cactus discovered growing there. In the midst of ‘Sticks of Fire’ euphorbia and blue-bladed agaves are a rustic wood wagon and a metal planter Dannie has owned for decades. Across the path, ‘Honey Perfume’ roses line a split-rail fence. Straight ahead, past a St. Francis statue and through a long pergola, the sounds of falling water grow louder as a stacked-rock grotto comes into view. The adjacent patio is a favorite spot to watch shaky-legged foals debut at the neighboring horse farms, Dannie says.
Turn left at the statue and the path climbs to a koi pond, the centerpiece of a secluded memory garden circled with remembrance lanterns and illuminated with a flowering pear tree, ‘Iceberg’ roses, verbena and other white-flowered plants.
“Sometimes in the evening, Craig and I sit here with each other and our memories,” Dannie says.
As the path circles back (past a red, white and blue garden that honors Marines the couple host every Thanksgiving), it reaches the landscape’s most secret retreat. A wooden door opens onto a walled patio off the master bedroom, lush with ‘Cecile Brunner’ and ‘Iceberg’ roses, boxwood and the clumps of catmint favored by Keiki, the recently departed cat Dannie and Craig rescued on a Hawaiian trip.
On her walks, Dannie often contemplates additions and changes to the 14-year-old garden.
“As every gardener knows, a garden is a work in progress,” she says. “There is no finish line, nor would I want there to be.”
By: Mary James Photography by Bob Wigand