Invitation to a View
22nd Annual Gardens of the Year Winner
Neighbors often stop to admire the exuberant, streetside garden that fronts Ryan and Michelle Sit’s Rancho Santa Fe home. Colorful drifts of flowers cascade down a gentle slope beneath olive and ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud trees, accenting the stately façade of the Spanish Colonial Revival residence. The vibrant tapestry is a far cry from the bland, repetitive plantings around the 3/4-acre property when Ryan first viewed it two years ago. “I didn’t even stop to go in. I just drove by,” the internet-savvy entrepreneur says. “Hedges blocked views; the yard seemed narrow and dark. There was no curb appeal.”
After a second look, when Ryan’s design expertise helped him spot the property’s potential, he and Michelle purchased the two-story home perched above The Crosby at Rancho Santa Fe golf course, with bucolic views east to Mount Woodson. Even as they settled in with their two children, Ari and Lucas, and the family dog, Ryan and Michelle knew the landscape designer they wanted to tap. “We used to live at The Bridges in Rancho Santa Fe; and we noticed the most beautiful landscaping at one house,” Ryan recalls “It had won an award, so there was a sign saying it was done by Torrey Pines Landscape Company. From then on, we aspired to one day having them do a full design for us.”
Last year, the company’s founder, veteran designer Harry Thompson, collaborated with the couple on the four-month-long makeover that encircles the home with broad, inter-connected pathways and sun-drenched garden rooms brimming with the abundance of color that Michelle adores. To create the inviting front yard that Ryan envisioned, the slope was “flattened” into two levels with an undulating, dry-stack rubble wall. A decomposed granite path that stretches from the driveway to a side-yard gate and beyond was refreshed, and street-level entry points were delineated with veneer-stone columns. Monochromatic hedges and groundcovers gave way to easy-care, water-wise favorites, including red carpet roses, purple statice, golden sundrops, Mexican sage, kangaroo paws and a few rosettes of aloes, agaves and ‘Afterglow’ echeverias. Hugging the home are espaliered, pink powder puffs; mounded, shade-tolerant shrubs; and an annuals garden changed seasonally. “All this color and our water bill went down,” notes Michelle, a culinary school graduate and now a stay-at-home mom. Two tall urns — filled with jaunty ‘Torch Glow’ bougainvillea and geraniums — flank the wrought iron gate to a guest apartment and the entry courtyard.
“None of the windows or doors lined up,” says Harry of the design dilemma. His solution was a circular planting bed of creamy travertine and faux wood tile punctuated with a ‘Majestic Beauty’ Indian hawthorn tree. Timeless shade lovers in beds and along walkways here include two Madagascar jasmine vines. “It’s Michelle’s favorite flower,” Ryan says, watching his wife cradle the intensely fragrant blossoms in her hands. When they entertain, the couple often invite guests to “just come around back,” says Harry, who designed a “stand-in entry” via a walled side yard. Cannas, penstemons, pentas and a trio of potted lemon trees line a spacious path that passes beneath a new, view-framing arbor. Across the rear lawn, below the pool and spa, are three new specialty gardens, now family favorites. An arched arbor swathed in pink ‘Cecile Brunner’ roses marks the entry to a cutting garden, its formal design softened by bouquet-ready flowers that spill and creep over beds and paths.“I like to mix order and disorder,” Harry says.
A second arbor twined by a young grape vine announces the raised-bed edibles garden. Herbs thrive here, as does an array of vegetables — from carrots to zucchini. A strawberry patch and potted blueberry bushes offer snacks for the kids. “We want them to know where food comes from,” Michelle says. The whir of wings attests to the success of the new bird and butterfly garden, in easy view of the outdoor dining room and indoor breakfast nook. Butterfly bushes, milkweed and lion’s tail — along with bird feeders in an evergreen pear tree — lure winged visitors to the walled garden cloaked in Lucas’ favorite plant: exotic Burmese honeysuckle. With the landscape redo behind them, Ryan and Michelle are focused on family life, including pool parties. “It’s such a nice garden now,” Ryan says, “and all the more fun for us when we can share it.”