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Katherine Spitz sees Mar Vista garden as a green testing ground

December 26, 2011 |  9:05 am


Landscape architect Katherine Spitz has worked with her husband, architect Daniel Rhodes, for more than 20 years to create a series of outdoor rooms for their Mar Vista home. The story behind their garden's renovation is the latest installment of Pro Portfolio, our Monday feature that looks at recently built, remodeled or redecorated spaces with commentary from the designers.

Project: A 15,000-square-foot (one-third of an acre) wedge-shaped lot with its widest portion at the rear of the yard.

Location: Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Landscape architect: Katherine Spitz. Architect: Daniel Rhodes. Katherine Spitz Associates Inc.

Mv9Designer's description: My home garden is a laboratory for experiments, a green testing ground for my husband and me. We have been continually upgrading, rethinking and replanting each outdoor room. This has been ongoing from 1994 to the present, and the experiments with plant material, design, pieces of landscape history and ideas from our travels are never ending. 

This is a paradise garden for the senses in the Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles. The garden is a living record of changing aspirations and desires, as each new room and each new element reflects our increasing design maturity and confidence. 

 Five fountains lead one through the garden, the sound of water guiding you through the landscape. Four green rooms have walls of cypress and privet and luxuriant flowering trees and shrubs. Influences include the cottage gardens of England, with their resplendent floriferous borders; the finely tuned gardens of Italy, with elegant rooms of green; and the stereophonic gardens of Spain. The fountains provide cheerful chatter and bubbles, and lavender, rosemary and sage add delightful fragrance.

The house and gardens are designed to complement each other. We created an Italian garden for entertaining. We love to dine outdoors, and in the summer we have Sunday night dinners for family and friends.

Fotolia_26780149_@Patricia Hofmeester-Fotolia comIn England we fell in love with Hidcote Manor Garden, at right, located on the outskirts of the small village of Hidcote Bartrim, near Gloucestershire. It was created by American horticulturist Lawrence Johnston, and it is often described as one of England's great Arts and Crafts gardens with its collection of rare trees, shrubs and herbaceous borders. 

We re-created a piece of Hidcote with twin follies: 64-foot conical structures, shown at the top of the post, which glow at night through the greenhouse roof. They flank the stairs leading to a rose garden and orange tree border. The dining terrace, set under two 50-year-old mock orange trees and lighted with colorful hanging star lights, is animated with the sound of water from a large overflowing urn.

Another fountain is the focus of the front garden, which suggests a meeting of East and West. After a trip to Japan we started to simplify the design, and as we get older we want it even simpler.

Our biggest issue was the lawn. I wanted less and my husband wanted more. It has been incrementally reduced but remains an issue. Concrete pavers replaced lawn around the circular fountain in front of the follies. The garden changes all the time.

The plant palette includes experiments with California lilac (ceanothus), manzanita (arctostaphylos), Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri), dwarf olive trees, orange trees and roses.

To see more outdoor rooms, keep reading ...


The entrance.


The fountain in front of the house. An acacia tree provides yellow flowers overhead other times of year.


The fountain from a different angle, looking toward the house.


Detail of the fountain.


The Italian garden, for entertaining.


The dining terrace is set set under two 50-year-old mock orange trees.


Colorful hanging star lights illuminate the area.


Euphorbia and flowering aloe.


A small citrus grove.

Douglas Black_Hidcote

The forced perspective of Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire, above, provided the inspiration for ...


Our lawn, which directs the viewers' attention to the new circular fountain in the far reaches of the garden.


Looking toward the house during a party.


 The follies and fountain at dusk, looking toward the house.


The garden before the lawn was ripped out, above, and ...


... today. One folly is a potting shed and the other is for tools. Concrete pavers surround the fountain.


The stairs to the upper garden.


HbaHotel Bel-Air garden renovation

W Hotel ice-rink wonderland

Closet makeover for Palisades fashionista

New look for a 100-year-old Craftsman house

A very small bathroom gets a modern makeover 

Family's front yard turned into outdoor screening room

-- Compiled by Lisa Boone


Pro Portfolio appears every Monday. Submit projects to home@latimes.com.

Photo credits: Steve Lacap, Michael Moran, Linda Jassim, Douglas Black, Tim Considine and Patricia Hofmeester