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Iconic European garden designer comes to L.A.

November 7, 2010 |  7:28 am


The sculptural work of Belgian designer Peter Wirtz and his family's landscape architecture firm Wirtz International may be familiar to readers of glossy European magazines and fans of certain U.S. shelter titles. After all, they have published many spreads of his iconic hedges, clipped to resemble some abstract blobject or curved into rows of giant quote marks made of hornbeam or yew. (Look at the firm's website and you'll see what we mean.) The result is a garden that can appear thoroughly modern and timelessly formal at the same time.

Peter-Wirtz"We like very sculptural, almost muscular plant structure in gardens," said Wirtz, right, by telephone while traveling recently in Spain.

When a Santa Barbara couple commissioned a design three years ago, he selected ficus, westringia and viburnum, as well as boxwood and privet, plants that can be manipulated into architectural forms, to ensure "good readability in all seasons," he said. The same could be said of the Belgian landscape pictured here.

The firm's approach is featured in the pages of "The Wirtz Private Garden" (2009) and an earlier two-volume compilation of projects called "The Wirtz Gardens" (2004), both photographed by Marco Valdivia. They will be outlined in a lecture Tuesday in Los Angeles, a benefit for the Garden Conservancy. Wirtz will speak at a similar event in San Francisco on Thursday. Keep reading for more on the event and the formality and informality in garden design ...


Founded by his father, Jacques Wirtz, in 1948 and run by Peter and his brother Martin for the last 20 years, the Belgian design firm Wirtz International has made the Carrousel Gardens at the Louvre in Paris, as well as the Jubilee Gardens and the Antwerp Law Courts in London. Private commissions include several in California, Idaho, Florida, Massachusetts and New York.

Peter Wirtz visited Los Angeles earlier this year at the invitation of interior and furniture designer Rose Tarlow, for whom he has designed a garden in the south of France.

"Los Angeles is a very interesting place for us, because it's very close to Mediterranean climates, but with more extreme drought," Wirtz said. "It reminds me of the south of France, Spain and Israel."

Many of the firm's landscapes, whether urban or rural, corporate or residential, feature strong forms of foliage plants. When asked why, Wirtz insisted that "we are flower freaks ourselves." But, he says, if those flowering plants are incorrectly maintained, they become a drawback to the design. "Restraining yourself to structural plants means a landscape will age better and be more gratifying."

In a Wirtz landscape, the clipped hedge, which for centuries symbolized formal Italian and French landscapes, is an exciting and organic form. Wirtz said that his lectures next week will explore the debate between formality and informality in landscape design.

"We like to apply controlled informality as a sub-form of naturalistic garden design," he said.

The Garden Conservancy event Tuesday at the California Club in Los Angeles starts with cocktails at 6:30 p.m. followed by the talk at 7:30 and dinner at 8:30. Tickets are $100 for the cocktail reception and lecture, or $250 for cocktails, lecture and dinner. Registration is required through the Garden Conservancy. Information: (845) 265-2029.

The San Francisco lecture Thursday will be held at the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio. Cocktails start at 6:15 p.m., and the talk is at 7 p.m.

-- Debra Prinzing

Photos from the Garden Conservancy

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