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Garden Conservancy sneak peek No. 2:
A low-water garden where color flows freely

May 7, 2010 |  7:11 am

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Neighbors were aghast 20 years ago when garden designer Cheryl K. Lerner remodeled her front yard by ripping out the lawn, parkway strips included. But she was determined to create a place to dig and plant, not just push a mower. And after a little trial and error, she wound up with an inviting California landscape that more than satisfies her need for green.

Lerner4 “I don’t need peonies or foxgloves or delphiniums,” Lerner says. “I embrace plants from the Mediterranean, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Frankly, it’s the only conscionable way to garden, given that we have water restrictions and live in this climate.”

Shortly after Lerner and her husband, Roger, bought their 1922 red-tile-roofed house, they set about remaking its beige exterior and lifeless lawn and roses into an exuberant retreat. The Windsor Square couple, one stop on the Garden Conservancy's Open Days tour on Saturday, enlisted architect Brian Tichenor to help design a front path, add a side courtyard with a pool and create an outdoor living room around a fireplace behind the house.

Lerner laid out her dry garden parallel to the house, along the path of crushed granite and “stone carpets” that Tichenor devised to match the exterior’s new tomato and pumpkin color scheme. Made of recycled hardscape, the paving features Italian glass tiles that sparkle like pools of water.

Lerner6 A beautiful guava tree fans out over the entry gate, and Lerner framed the front door with potted cypresses and placed senecio, kalanchoe, vegetables and leaf lettuces so they peek out from under a blue palo verde and an old olive. Sprawling roses -- Reve d’Or and Mermaid, both yellow climbers -- contrast with the formality of dwarf yaupon holly pruned into globes.

Lerner screened the garden from the street below with a Little Ollie olive hedge that provides a dark green backdrop for the chartreuse foliage of Diamond Heights variegated ceanothus along the sidewalk. In another bold move, she paired purple irises with orange California and red Flanders Field poppies on the parkway.

"I’m not a frilly girl,” Lerner says. “You won’t find sweet peas here. I like plants that say, ‘Look at me!’ ”

The backyard, previously a dank slope, was leveled and paved with green slate and custom-colored concrete pavers. The stairway to a guest apartment above the garage curves past a lemon tree and Lerner’s cozy fireplace, then up along a wall quaintly decorated with vintage plant hangers. A pergola extending from the original loggia drips with the vivid purple flowers of queen’s wreath in spring and summer.

But it’s out front where Lerner indulges her passion for testing new plants, trying offbeat color combinations, figuring out what works and what doesn’t so she can share what she learns with clients -- and passersby. “It’s amazing how many people I’ve met because I was gardening in my front yard,” she says. “I’ve made some very dear friends that way.”

What’s more, there are signs that a few of her neighbors have come around: At least four other front yards nearby have sprung up with new looks.

-- Emily Young

For more photos of the garden and details on this weekend's tour, keep reading ...

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Above: The front of the house, including bright Joseph's Coat roses.

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Above: Sprawling roses contrast with tidy shrubs.

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Above: The garden runs alongside the house on a path of crushed granite and “stone carpets.” Italian glass tiles sparkle.

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Above: Vintage plant hangers decorate the wall.

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Above: The view from upstairs.


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Above: The outdoor living room, centered on a fireplace.

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Above: Another sitting area, with potted succulents providing some tabletop color.

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Above: In the front yard, where Lerner's gardening odyssey began, vegetables poke out of raised bed. 

Lerner's garden is one of six featured in the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour Saturday. Participants can see as many as they wish from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Regular admission is $5 per garden; discounted tickets and maps will be available from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Getty House, the official residence of the mayor of Los Angeles, 605 S. Irving Blvd. Information: (888) 842-2442.

Corrected: An earlier version of this post referred to architect Brian Tichenor as a landscape architect. An earlier version also referred to the drawf yaupon holly as boxwood.

Photo credits: Christina House / For The Times

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