MilkWeed: Succulent Tapestry Lawn

Most seasons, the natural hillsides of Los Angeles can be downright barren. Brown and dusty, what one wouldn’t give for the pop of color we find in January after a few rains. But without irrigation, that’s indeed what mother nature tends to supply. But then I visited the landscape and residential design practice of LushLife LA. Faced with a spacious sloped side yard that acts as more of a front lawn to their side facing entry, they have created an irrigation free “succulent tapestry” that is colorful and blankets the hillside perfectly anytime of the year.

The married team of LushLife LA, Anthony Guida and Kevin Abell, are a perfectly-paired duo of architect and landscape designer, and the home studio they have created in the neighborhood of Montecito Heights overlooking downtown Los Angeles embodies their firm’s principle of a detailed union between the built and natural landscape. Purchasing a hillside structure and lot set against a city park, Guida and Abell took an overgrown conjoined lot with drainage issues and minimal plant materials and have created a sweeping, smoothly terraced “lawn.”

By removing an existing maze of Escher-esqe retaining walls and allowing gentle slopes and ramps to traverse the hillside, the pair treated the landscape with visual brushstrokes of color, pattern and detail. The middle portion contains what they have entitled a “Succulent Tapestry” of color blending together the three levels of the home studio to the landscape. In the middle section a background of Blue Finger is broken by continually contrasted shapes and colors of cactus specimens such as Firestick, Purple Aeonium, several types of Jade and various barrel cacti. The upper and lower swaths contain Prostrate Acacia ground cover with Foxtail Agave plants.

Above and below the Succulent Tapestry drought tolerant plants of various sizes and form detail the stepped entry. Abell designs succulent spheres for many of their clients, and intense color emanates from these orbs as one walks through the garden. Vertical cuts of the garden are like color blocks of texture as different specimens blanket the divided landscape. Horizontally the patches sweep across the hill and tie with the entry. If I lived there, I’d never want to shut the front door.

Guida and Abell have collected natural and earth toned pots of various origin over the years to dot the landscape, empty or full as specimens go to the new homes of their clients, they are refilled to allow new detail to accent the garden’s corners. Guida affection calls one of his favorite, the “Flintstones” planter currently home to Firesticks.

As both an office for their design studio and a home for themselves and their two dogs, Guida and Abell have filled each room with intricate shapes and details reminiscent of the exterior landscape. Through the studio’s multiple balconies, patios and plants of green on the interior, each space claims a visual piece of their verdant exterior.

Peaceful and serene, LushLife LA is a oasis in Los Angeles no matter the season or the overgrown wilderness (or lack of) on the adjacent slopes of Ernest Debs Park. From the front lawn Succulent Tapestry to each interior nook and cranny, shapes, forms and pattern are thoughtfully arranged and composed. It’s a perfect lush life, indeed.

Kara Bartelt is a design strategist in practice at kara b. studio. Kara enjoys the design process on all scales via her architectural practice, Lettuce Office, or by creating botanical art with air plants, via toHOLD. She wishes at 11:11 each day at Kara writes the Design Milk column, MilkWeed.