Step By Step
When landscape architect Andy Spurlock and John Richardson, a former Kensington bookstore owner, purchased their Hillcrest bungalow, it was with an eye for the possibilities of a major remodel of the home and garden.
A primary objective of the remodel — to open the home to the garden as much as possible — was achieved with the help of architect Kathleen McCormick, who also helped work out plantings and hedging to frame the garden.
“We wanted to use the wall built in the 1930s with the original steps and create a bigger landing and garden in front,” Andy says. Palm and juniper trees that were out of scale were removed and replaced with New Zealand Christmas trees. The symmetry of the new gravel-covered landing was offset with the use of potted plants and a more organically arranged planting of succulents behind the front wall.
The rear garden was originally sloped and unfenced and was used as a neighborhood pathway. A tier was created to form an upper courtyard and add visual interest to the step-down garden. Privacy was an important consideration here, so Andy designed and helped construct a “floating screen” between the courtyard and the adjacent apartment building and installed a corrugated steel wall along the alley.
A guava hedge along the wall “helps create a barrier, but is visually open,” he says. “We also planted a sycamore tree in the courtyard because it is native and deciduous, giving shade in summer and [allowing the passage of] light in winter,” John adds. “The tree cools the courtyard by 10 degrees in the summer.”
The three layers of landscape between the garden and property line increase the sense of space. In the lower tier, Andy designed a rectangular garden bed with a 2-inch header.
“I liked the feel of linearity, plus it’s very practical and easy to maintain,” he says. Andy’s firm, Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects, concurrently was working with Robert Irwin on the three-acre central garden at J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Andy used his own similarly oriented garden as a laboratory, developing ideas for the garden.
Vegetables were planted, but they didn’t do well because of poor drainage. They replaced fast-growing, water-demanding plants with succulents and low-water-use plants. “Now we grow what we like taking care of: self-sowing annuals, such as nasturtium and coreopsis,” Andy says.
John maintains the grounds with watering, seasonal planting and “pot tweeking.” Andy handles major pruning jobs and “moving things around.” John is a political activist, and he and Andy use the garden regularly to host parties, events and fundraisers for the LGBT community and local political figures. They also used it for their wedding ceremony.
By Will Gullette