A Garden Across the Miles
Despite distances, a close-knit family revamps a landscape together
A Garden Across the Miles
A garden makeover as a family affair? Yes, if you’re retired educator Pamela Boynton and count among your closest relatives award-winning landscape designers and a home design-build pro.
“One thing just led to another,” Pamela says, relaxing after yoga in her new color-splashed contemporary garden that reflects her Florida roots and decades in
La Jolla. “I just didn’t see how it would work from a distance, but it did.”
Thousands of miles separated Pamela from her makeover partners—her nephew Benjamin Burle and his mom, her sister Debra Yates, an in-demand interior and garden designer based in Lake Worth, Florida; and oldest daughter Carly Boynton, a home designer, builder and skilled carpenter living in Portland, Oregon.
This backyard garden collaboration took nine months to complete, and luckily coincided with Carly’s desire to transition her business back to California’s sun and surf, which led to frequent visits and longer stays at her childhood home. Her lament to her mom about a lack of “places to lounge” sparked conversations with Pamela about redoing the bare-bones rear garden.
“I played around with some ideas,” says Carly, who has a master’s degree in architecture. “Then I suggested we reach out to Debra, who instantly had a vision for a garden room. It became my job to execute that plan down to the smallest detail.”
During construction, the trio stayed in constant contact via emails, photos and phone calls. As Carly worked, Pamela often was by her side, wielding tools, moving lumber, painting fences and more, as they built everything from a stylish outdoor living room to retaining walls and stairs. “Mom told me working together reminded her of helping her dad—passing him bricks, finding misplaced tools—when she was a kid,” Carly says. “It was fun for her then…and now.”
The wedge-shaped backyard was basically a blank canvas even though Pamela and her late husband George had lived there since the 1970s when they bought a new modernist view home in Mt. Soledad’s scenic Hidden Valley neighborhood. Busy with careers and raising two daughters, the couple kept landscaping minimal, adding a flagstone patio and lawn, and dotting an ivy-carpeted slope with soaring Mexican fan palms that reminded Pamela of Florida.
Recently, when a property changed hands next door and the new owners razed the existing home for new construction and landscaping, Pamela worried her privacy might diminish. She also wanted to cut water use with less lawn and more water-wise native plants in the garden.
Those needs meshed perfectly with Debra’s lauded coastal garden designs she calls “subtropical modernism.” “We incorporate indigenous plants in stylish spaces that are minimal, colorful, tranquil and private,” she says. “I’m always looking for a balance between nature and a cultivated look.”
To seclude the backyard, Debra created a “living wall” of Indian laurel trees on the slope and along the inverted-V property line. On the phone with Carly as more than two dozen trees were craned in, Debra specified a site and tilt for each. “I wanted a natural forest feel, not all upright in a straight line,” she explains.
Layered in front of the trees to the east is a second privacy layer, a new 10-foot-tall black-mesh fence that also hides tree trunks. Filling in there and on the slope, 18 feathery kentia palms whisper and sway for a touch of the tropics Pamela relishes. California lilac, Cleveland and white sages and ornamental grasses nestled among them were selected by Debra after native plant research that drew, in part, on visits to Torrey Pines State Reserve.
All of this lush greenery is jolted by a new sunny yellow poured-concrete retaining wall that separates the slope from the remaining patch of lawn, kept as a playground for visiting children. “Natives tend to be mostly grays and greens, so I put bold color in hardscape,” says Debra, who also topped part of the wall with black-and-white striped cushions for added seating.
Within the now-sheltered setting, Debra added two “destinations”—one public, the other more private and both just steps away from the patio outside the home’s kitchen, dining and family rooms. “Pamela can have coffee on the new deck in the morning,” Debra says. “Then in the evening, she can enjoy the sunset sky in a secluded space at the top of the slope.”
Part of the wooden deck holds a curtain-sheathed pergola that shelters a cozy outdoor living room with sleek synthetic mesh seating and comfy Sunbrella cushions. A kilim-style rug made from recycled plastic bottles brightens the floor, while pillows, throws, tables and other accents echo its citrus hues.
On the pergola’s rear wall, partially clad with corrugated galvanized steel, a large rectangular mirror reflects lush garden vistas and “enlarges the space,” Debra says. The rippled metal, a Caribbean building staple, brings back cherished memories for Pamela of a five-year sailing odyssey around those waters with her late husband.
Accenting a sunny deck corner is what Debra calls “the garden’s folly,” a bold triangular bench that points to stairs Carly carefully carved into the rock-strewn slope. Wide gravel-filled treads climb through a fringe of palm fronds to a shady nook, a favorite retreat for Carly who lounges in the hammock there, and for Pamela, who meditates under the watchful eye of a Buddha statue or enjoys a glass of wine with friends.
Since the makeover, gatherings ranging from Pamela’s book club to baby showers and birthdays have filled the welcoming garden. Carly, who returns regularly from her new home in Ventura, joins Debra and Pamela in a rave review of their family affair. “Love it, love it,” she says. “I love the vision, the style, the places to relax. And I notice my mom sits longer now. So I know she really enjoys it too.”