Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Spanish-Style Front Garden

Here in Southern California, one of the major architectural influences is our Hispanic heritage. Our Mediterranean climate, rich Mexican history, and the system of 21 missions established by the Catholic Fathers from San Diego to Sonoma have shaped our architecture and gardening.

Unfortunately, this look often gets bastardized or sanitized. It's easy to find homes--even entire housing developments--where the Hispanic look has been so distorted the buildings resemble cartoons or Taco Bell drive-throughs.

Today, I want to show you a house in my neighborhood that does the style right.

This house is a beautiful example of a classic Spanish-style home. (I don't know the owners, so I had to snap these photos from the street.) But even just standing in the street, you can see how the owner carries out the early-California look, from the top of the roof to under your toes.

Starting from the top, there's a traditional clay-tile roof with heavy, timbered rafter tails. Under that, a wooden attic window painted a dusty teal adds a decorative accent to the pale-yellow stuccoed walls. The windows are also wood, with a set of six small panes over a larger pane of glass, a very classic arrangement for an older house. The garden wall--a traditional feature in Early California architecture--features a brick-capped top and a row of cylindrical clay tiles (echoing the roof tiles) that admit light and breezes to the inner courtyard.

They also make a wonderful design element and visually "soften" the potentially unfriendly look of a wall that's about as high as a man's nose.

The plantings are drought-tolerant California natives and Mediterranean imports. Look how the leaf size and shape varies from flat, broad leaves to small, soft spikes. And do you see the cactus in the picture below? Also very traditional:

Near the street, several huge agave plants punctuate the front line of the property. Their broad, tooth-edged, bicolored leaves contrast beautifully with the soft plantings below and beside them:

And the saw-tooth-edged leaves look magnificent against the sloping sides of this granite boulder:

What I love best about this boulder is its size. It's really big, and so it makes a real architectural statement. It no doubt required a small forklift to place it in position. It seems to me when people use rocks in their landscaping, they often under-do the size of them. This one gets it right.

I'm repeating a shot so you can take another look at the weathered wood gate across the driveway in the photo below:

See it? Here is a closeup of its hinges, below. The rusted metalwork and sinuous plant motif work beautifully against the rough lines of its planks.

And here is a view of the top of the driveway gate, with its rusted-metal decorative panel. See how the circles echo the shape of the clay cylinders set into the garden wall? The little bits of leaves echo the sinuous plant motifs elsewhere. And the "peek-through" quality of the gate reiterates the peek-through design of the garden wall:

That's doin' it right.

In front of the garden gate, the owner has placed this decorative metal accent in the pavement. Again, sinuous lines, rusted metal, and plant motifs in the corners and central boss re-emphasize the themes set up in the driveway gate:

Succulent plants are a big part of the California look. I adore the fat, blue-green "coins" that are this plant's leaves:

A closeup of the well-weathered driveway gate, and a rusted bolt holding it together:

These agaves are huge! Won Ton is standing patiently to give you a sense of scale:

Remember the garden wall that has a brick cap and terra-cotta cylinders set into it? In another part of the garden, the owners do a riff on that theme, using the same bricks atop and a fun triangular latticework below them:

A piece of portable garden sculpture stared at me as I took the above shot:

Here's the garden gate. The themes of rusted metal, weathered wood, latticework (metal, this time), brick, and stucco are repeated again:

Tomorrow, I'll show you another Spanish-style house that takes off in an entirely unexpected direction!

Talk to you soon....

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