Monarchs and yellow butterflies flit between low-growing plants, resting and feeding on multicolor lantana while noshing on milkweed, yarrow and other plants grown to nurture them.
It’s the fruition of landscape designer Anne-Émilie Gold’s vision for this Rancho Santa Fe garden she first planted for clients in 2016. The garden is now fully mature yet always a work in progress, offering a bountiful, color-filled home to birds, bees and other wildlife as well.
The Pacific Beach-based landscape designer, trained in landscape architecture at the University of Montreal and UC Berkeley, is co-owner with her husband, Steve Gold, of Gravel to Gold Landscape, Inc – Design & Construction.
Their clients had commissioned Gold’s company to update and create a rustic, natural-looking, low-maintenance garden surrounding their ranch-style home built in 1970 on the 3.25-acre property.
The couple, who prefer to remain anonymous, had lived there for about 30 years and loved the location on a winding country road. Now empty nesters, they were ready to re-imagine their property, incorporating more drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plantings to conserve water while creating habitat beneficial to local wildlife. They had given up the horses their now-grown children had enjoyed and wanted to add comfortable paths for easy walks with their dogs and young grandchildren, while retaining still-thriving trees and ornamentals.
“We wanted to reduce our water use. We were surrounded by lawn and took advantage of the lawn-rebate program,” the homeowner said about the county program that pays homeowners up to $4 per square foot when they replace thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant landscape. “We wanted to use native plants and layer the garden with different colors. Now we have lots of birds and butterflies and in spring all the beautiful colors.”
When Gold first saw the Daryl Millard California plein air painting in her clients’ home, she knew she had found the inspiration for their landscape redesign. The painting features rolling hills covered with large swaths of colors contrasting with the soft-textured deep greens of nearby evergreen trees, representative of her clients’ land.
Gold interpreted the image using large groupings of plants, including “the pink blooms of the Muhlenbergia capillaris (‘Pink Muhly Grass’) that veer to beautiful shades of gold in late fall, … layering textures and colors to recall the painting,” she said . “I played with the color wheel — blue and yellow, orange and purple, the colors opposite each other.”
Mass plantings, she explained, produce greater impact.
“I think it’s more restful to the eye when you have mass plantings rather than the ‘polka dot’ effect,” Gold said. “I like to plant close enough for the plants to touch, but not so close that they need regular pruning.” Her designs typically need little grooming because the plants’ droppings meld with the mulch.
For the first phase of the two-phase project, covering about 17,000 square feet, Gold’s team removed about 13,000 square feet of thirsty lawn around the house, which sits atop a rise.
The team replaced the old lawn with large beds separated by walkable broad paths covered in a mixture of rough and fine mulch. She divided the project into four distinct “rooms,” with working taking place over a three-month span in spring 2016.
“It’s important to me when I’m designing to create a destination through the design,” she explained.
The long, winding driveway merges into the first room at the end of a brick paver-covered parking area. Red and yellow lantana mass on one side of the walkway and purple lantana on the other, with a rose arbor over the flagstone-and-concrete pathway leading to the home’s entrance. Nearby is a low hedge of ‘Mia’s Wonder’ (Westringia).
For the room adjoining the house, Gold selected plants that picked up the colors of the sage-green-tinged beige stucco as well as reddish and purplish undertones in the tan and brown stone chimney and pillars accenting the house. Among these are ‘Siskiyou Pink’ (Gaura) and ‘Dusky Chief’ (Phormium). She added purple Agapanthus and pink, white and red roses next to the house and adjacent free-standing garage. On the other side of the main entrance, Gold planted ‘Arabian Lilac’ (Vitex trifolia purpurea), with a distinctive purple under leaf that picked up the stone’s color.
Across the stone walkway, to create more privacy, is a second room featuring a tall pre-existing liquid amber tree, plus mass plantings of red bottlebrush plants ‘Little John’ (Callistemon viminalis), purple ‘Society Garlic’ (Tulbaghia violacea) and white roses along with ‘Agave Americana varigata’, ‘Santa Barbara Daisy’ (Erigeron karvinskianus) as well as several varieties of salvia and native grasses.
Monarch butterflies found their main sanctuary in the garden to the right of the home’s main entrance, in a secluded third room surrounding a small flagstone patio. While the butterflies enjoy landing atop and feeding on the flat-faced lantana, they’re particularly attracted to the milkweed, yarrow and several varieties of butterfly bush (Buddleja).
Near the house is the fourth room, centered on an established purple-flowering jacaranda tree, with an airy canopy offering shade and a bench underneath to enjoy spectacular sunsets. Matilija poppies bloom nearby in spring.
A later second phase, in spring 2017, provided a garden for their grandchildren in the back, near the pool and outdoor entertaining area. Gold also selected drought-tolerant varieties for infill planting to enhance the existing plants, along with colorful pots filled with succulents and other drought-tolerant choices for the terrace.
“Anne-Émilie designed the garden with a variety of color, texture and fragrance to appeal to the kids’ senses,” the owner explained.
Among the plants chosen were velvety ‘Lamb’s Ears’, cushiony Dymondia, yarrow and numerous scented geraniums.
As the garden continues to evolve and mature, the owners value the Golds’ periodic visits to “tuneup” the garden.
“The garden conserves water and is easy to maintain, and we have all kinds of wildlife we enjoy. The results far exceeded our expectations,” the homeowner said.
Nicole Sours Larson is a freelance writer.
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