Debra Prinzing

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A tour of the Chartreuse House garden

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

You can't miss the Chartreuse House, seen through the similarly-colored plant palette.

Today’s Los Angeles Times’ HOME section features my architecture/interiors story about Lisa Little and Phil Brennan’s makeover of a pair of tiny cottages in Venice, Calif.

The Venice-based architect and her special effects wizard husband painted the exterior an acid-chartreuse color and trimmed the house in charcoal gray.

Click on over to the story and you’ll see a fabulous web gallery of images shot by photographer Katie Falkenberg.

I also included a sidebar on Stephanie Bartron’s amazing work in the postage stamp-sized front yard, which faces a Venice walk street, which appears in LA at Home, the Home section’s daily design blog.

But you really can’t see much of the garden in the Times’ web gallery.

I promise you – it’s something to behold, featuring a dazzling palette of plants that enliven the small entry garden and play beautifully with the rugged materials Stephanie selected.

So I will share those photos here, along with the sidebar text:

A Chartreuse garden

As a color-packed accent to the renovated 1905 Craftsman bungalow, the Chartreuse House’s front yard is a example of how much great design can occur in a tiny patch of soil.

Yet before choosing a zesty palette of drought- and salt-tolerant plantings, designer Stephanie Bartron, of SB Garden Design, had to address some of the less visible challenges of the property’s postage stamp-sized entry. Prior owners had piled layers of topsoil over the sandy native soil, which created a drainage mess.

A wave-like pattern gives lots more interest to the raised bed.

“I needed to lower the grade of the front yard in order to move water away from the house,” Bartron says. “We calculated the volume of soil to excavate and used that amount to fill two raised planters. That way we didn’t have to haul away any material.”

Divided by a permeable walkway of concrete tile, the raised planters are formed by boxes of thick steel plate that have been roughly finished to encourage rusting. Now weathered, the boxed-beds replicate the Cor-Ten steel used to make the vertical planter in Little and Brennan’s courtyard.

The same weathered steel forms a slender raised planter at the base of the charcoal fence facing the walk-street. It is filled with a ribbon of golden oregano and Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ — which dazzle against the darker fencing.

The chartreuse scheme continues outside the gray composite fence.

Bartron asked the metal fabricator cut a “wave” detail along the top of the larger planting box and in it she installed a sedge meadow, a nod to the nearby beach.  Privacy screening comes from a “hedge” of weeping Mexican bamboo and alternating chartreuse and yellow-flowering kangaroo paws.

“The plants create a punch of color in  such a small space,” Bartron says. The lacy bamboo fronds, the tall kangaroo paw stalks and the undulating drifts of sedge are constantly moving, thanks to the ocean breezes. Little added a eucalyptus tree to the front area, situated so that it will eventually grow high enough to screen the house’s topmost windows.

Such a simple yet sophisticated combination of plants in the smaller of two raised beds.

For the smaller of the two planter boxes, Barton paired dramatic clumps of smooth agave (Agave attenuata), known for growing well near the ocean, with Mexican feather grasses, dark purple Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ and yellow-and-green variegated New Zealand flaxes. The entire bed is under-planted with the chartreuse Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’. Filled with detail, it is a diminutive landscape that causes visitors to slow down and experience while approaching the front door.

The garden has many sustainable features, including low-maintenance plantings and permeable surfaces. Yet, says Bartron, its main design motivation is a response to the architecture. “This is such an artsy, whimsical place and I see the garden as a colorful jewel box for Lisa and Paul to enjoy.”

–Debra Prinzing

I’ll close with just a few more photos:

The larger of the two raised beds is planted mostly with Carex, to emulate the waves of the nearby Pacific Ocean.

This view shows how the Mexican bamboo and the kangaroo paws provide ample screening from the walk street traffic.

Playful and suitable for the setting, the lemon yellow kangaroo paw sways in the breezes.