New homeowners make thoughtful additions to their landscape—a 2013 San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles Gardens of the Year stunner
Mark and Melissa Howard were considering remodeling their Cardiff home, cherishing its whitewater views, when a Realtor’s postcard spotlighting a Tuscan-inspired home with magical gardens dropped into their mailbox in early 2017.
They paused. What if they could achieve what they wanted in a home without the disruption and trauma of a remodel, they wondered. They decided to go look at the house, located on 2.6 acres in Olivenhain.
“We were in awe. It was much more than we ever thought we’d have,” Melissa says, recalling her first view of their new home.
It emerged atop a hill at the end of a winding driveway lined with majestic Mexican fan palms, brilliant red bougainvillea, purple-flowering Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum) and green-and-yellow euonymus shrubs. Vivid pink crape myrtles flanked the vine-covered stone-and-stucco home. A two-story central tower opened onto a balustraded limestone-paved courtyard with a broad staircase surrounding a reflecting pool filled with lily pads and rescued koi swimming around a bronze statue of a nymph.
Lush lavender wisteria climbed over a Romeo and Juliet-style balcony overlooking the south-facing rear patio while white roses adorned several nearby windows. A wooden footbridge over the lap pool connected the patio with a trumpet vine-covered gazebo, ideal for a relaxing al fresco meal or casual conversation. It was just one of many seating areas in the gardens surrounding the house.
The 5,800 square-foot house with its mature gardens, which cover about 80 percent of the property, captivated them.
“I always wanted a terraced garden, Mark says.
As a child he enjoyed gardening near Mount Helix with his father, who planted a large vegetable garden along with fruit trees, grapes and berries. Mark was eager to grow more edibles than he could in the limited space at their Cardiff residence and wanted to share the experience with their now-10-year-old daughter Gracie, who, like her parents, is an avid cook. You may recognize her. She’s been on MasterChef Junior with Gordon Ramsey twice—most recently in season six that aired this past spring—so she’s keen on developing new recipes using her family’s home-grown produce.
Before buying their new home, the Howards evaluated the amount and type of care such extensive landscaping would require and decided they were up for it. While Mark, who owns two medical supply companies, enjoys gardening, he and Melissa, formerly a registered nurse, draw on a team of skilled gardeners and other professionals to maintain the grounds, including a formal rose garden, koi pond, varied collections of succulents and more than 100 trees.
Mark admits that, after a year of helping care for the gardens, he’s still learning about the plants. Until he has a better understanding of the landscape, he’s reluctant to make major changes. Right now, he relies on advice and guidance from knowledgeable friends—especially the previous owners, Dannie and Craig McLaughlin, who owned the property for nearly 20 years and developed the gardens.
“It made me so happy to know I was turning over the gardens to the right people who’ll take loving care of them,” Dannie explains.
Dannie, a talented and enthusiastic gardener, transformed the landscape, taking sparsely planted acreage and creating a Gardens of the Year winner filled with decorative structures and statuary. She designed and planted the gardens that, through trial and error, evolved over the years to include an extensive network of trails winding down the property’s slope linking the garden’s many ornamental features and distinctive rooms.
Mark has begun to make some additions on the west side of the house.
“I wanted to incorporate more edibles. [The McLaughlins] had an orchard of citrus and avocado trees as well as olive trees,” he explains.
Over the last year he’s added more fruit trees, including fig, grapefruit, Cara Cara orange, mango, apricot, nectarine, greengage plum, pomegranate and peach, as well as five raised vegetable beds. There he’s growing savoy cabbage, Swiss chard, Russian white kale, plus peas, carrots, onions, artichokes, tomatoes and shishito peppers. Cilantro, rosemary, tarragon and mint sprout in the beds, while raspberries, boysenberries, blueberries and strawberries thrive nearby in half wine barrels.
Near the pool, shaded by Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), cypress, star pine and strawberry trees, Mark and Melissa expanded the existing fairy garden for Gracie, adding more fairies, fairy furniture and accessories, as well as fairy lights, birdhouses, gnomes and several fanciful flowering hanging baskets. Nearby pendulous succulents accent a wisteria arbor.
To the northeast of the house is an expansive rose garden, planted with nearly 100 varieties of classic and modern roses in every color (Linda Clark, a rosarian in La Mesa, tends the plants and labeled each one). In the center sits an antique fountain; benches are scattered throughout for quiet contemplation.
Drought-tolerant plants and succulents enhance the winding trails, supported by retaining walls, built into the western slope. At each bend visitors discover a special garden such as one to beckon butterflies and one to honor the Marines, dubbed after their motto “Semper Fi” and planted with red, white and blue blooms. Statues pepper the path along the way as do secluded seating areas that offer magnificent vistas of the countryside. The trail dips to a stone grotto with a waterfall by an arbor-covered entertainment area that overlooks neighboring horse farms, then climbs to the koi pond and ends at a lavender wisteria arbor-covered staircase.
“We love that people can roam and go for walks in different areas,” Melissa explains, adding that the gardens are ideal for hosting parties and family weddings where guests can spread out and enjoy the varied environments. Lights guide guests for evening strolls, and thanks to speakers throughout the grounds, music can accompany the journey.
Mark and Melissa expect they’ll make more changes and additions as they grow to understand the garden better. They intend to plant more edibles, including, perhaps, grapes, and are considering adding a well as a supplemental water supply.
“We’re trying to move more towards succulents and native plants because of the water,” Mark says.
Whichever projects they pursue, their goal is clear: the preservation and enhancement of their home’s glorious gardens.