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How to give your garden a California-style makeover

Twenty years ago, while California was experiencing a drought and I was dealing with financial uncertainty, I decided to create a garden. During flusher times, I had purchased the empty lot next to my bungalow in the Elysian Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles with the express intention of making a beautiful oasis. As a painter I generally worked late at night, which left plenty of time during the day for other pursuits. Although I had no clue how to begin, working on my garden became my magnificent obsession. In the making of my own garden, and later gardens for many others, I learned a lot about designing landscapes and met a number of kindred spirits who share my passion for all things outdoors …

The only real gardening experience I had was from my childhood, planting tulips for my mother at a nickel a bulb, growing carrots in a raised bed and collecting cymbidium orchids and African violets. My lack of experience didn't deter me from jumping in once I became focused on creating my own garden. My head was full of images of Sissinghurst, Barrington Court and Tintinhull – just a few of the many grand and wonderful English gardens I had had the good fortune to visit. It wasn't the vast lawns and multitudes of clipped hedges that spoke to me; rather, it was the gorgeous and colourful ornamental borders full of exotic blooms and intoxicating fragrance that I found completely captivating …

Having grown up in Santa Monica, it would be easy to think that this is a uniquely Californian mind-set. Southern California has historically been a hub of activity for modern outdoor living since the mid-20th century. It had the perfect ingredients for realizing the dream of outdoor living: great weather, lots of available open space and a continual influx of new residents ready and willing to pursue that goal. As that trend has continued into the 21st century, I've come to realize that this attitude is not limited to a small section of the West Coast. It flourishes all over the country, from rooftops and terraces to beachfronts and forested areas and, of course, in urban yards nationwide.

My first client in New York hired me because she wanted a "California-style garden." I took that to mean a dynamic and beautiful outdoor space that could really be lived in, which is exactly what she and her family now do. I have been to parties there in spring and summer and heard stories of Halloween celebrations, snowmen and all kinds of events and activities held throughout the year in their compact outdoor space. The art of outdoor living can be practiced anywhere.

So when I travel to other parts of the country and encounter the same attitude toward outdoor living, I feel right at home. California is a state of mind. I take inspiration from seeing what people have done in all kinds of climates and environments. I find it endlessly fascinating to see how different people's imaginations have sparked their creativity and been put into play. I appreciate both the quiet peace of a wooded property enhanced by the subtle design of a thoughtful garden and the pop of a brightly coloured poolside hangout that shouts out "join the fun!" Add a casual approach to entertaining and plenty of good food, drink and conversation to the mix and you have what I consider California living at its finest.

Excerpts from Gardens are for Living: Design Inspiration for Outdoor Spaces by Judy Kameon (Rizzoli, 2014).

Erik Otsea

Gardens are for … welcoming

Simple stairs made of rough-hewn lumber jog up a front slope, with a slight undulation from side to side, to create an informal entry. Flanked by ornamental grasses, kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos ‘Red Cross’) and the variety of lavender used in the perfume trade (Lavandula x intermediaGrosso’), the rustic ascent smells as good as it looks.

Dana Gallagher

Gardens are for … art

Period marks the spot. An avid art collector punctuates his garden with a giant period by the artist Fiona Banner. Installed on a raised platform of decomposed granite, the shiny black orb reflects the surrounding garden, including the strappy foliage of bronze flax (Phormium tenaxAtropurpureum’).

Tom Mannion

Gardens are for … relaxation

At our home, a pair of upholstered chairs always invites relaxation. Tough outdoor fabrics, like Sunbrella, ensure that your cushions will be long-lived and easy to clean.

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