Written by Anna Bitong Photography by Richard Gillard
Pat Carlson describes the garden of her Lynn Ranch home as a “city desert,” but her water-wise collection of flora in whimsical shapes and ombre shades is anything but bare.
In fact, it could belong to the world of “Alice in Wonderland.”
The names of the natural life that abounds in her garden might also have been borrowed from a children’s book: Buddha’s Temple, String of Buttons, Scarlet Ribbon and Gold Breath of Heaven are among the hundreds of richly colored plants, flowers and trees that wrap thickly around Carlson’s home.
The verdant oasis was created three years ago by designer Mark Matthews of Nordic Nursery in Newbury Park. Matthews says his design process starts with a satellite image of the property. He also takes photos of the home and forms the landscape in Photoshop.
“I also create art. This is just another extension of that,” he says.
Matthews says Carlson gave him a lot of freedom with her garden.
“I told him I wanted it separated, sparse. In the desert plants have room. You can walk in between. That’s what I wanted,” says Carlson, a volunteer at the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden in Thousand Oaks.
As a result, the garden resembles an art showroom. Lime-green and violet succulents do not go unnoticed between the winding gravel paths and spaces of dirt and rocks.
The many varieties of Californian and Australian plant life in the garden are drought-tolerant. Drip watering tubes transfer moisture directly into the ground once a week to prevent evaporation. The grass lawn Carlson used to have, now replaced by hardier dymondia ground cover, required watering every other day.
“All of these plants are succulent or desert-type plants,” says Carlson, who lived in Arizona when she was a teenager. “We don’t want to waste water. We have so little in Southern California.”
Matthews says water-wise gardens are a common request. He designed a vineyard for one client whose water bill decreased from $500 to $100 per month.
Beauty is not sacrificed by the arid ground. Picturesque details dot the landscape of Carlson’s garden: bell-shaped blue-and-white columbine flowers and red-leafed trees that tolerate dry soil. On the cusp of spring, a bare copper-leaf euphorbia tree is ready to bloom.
Carlson’s garden is also bountifully practical. There are trees brimming with apples, grapefruits, oranges, lemons, figs, peaches and exotic cherimoyas and Asian pears. There’s a small plot of land for growing onions, peas, potatoes and squash.
Sentimental objects made by Carlson’s late husband, Fred, join the inanimate toads, mushrooms, Buddhas and butterflies placed throughout the property. Among his creations: concrete sculptures of Easter Island moai, a red heart given to her as an anniversary gift and a glowing half-moon.
Carlson says she enjoys everything in her garden.
“They’re all pets. They’re all special,” she says. “It’s just the pleasure of watching things that you choose grow and multiply.”