“I’m on the edge, the edge, the edge…of glory,” Bronwyn shouted as we rumbled through southern California looking for the best landscaping and maintenance projects of the year. This was the second of three days, each day started at 6 a.m., and our assignment as landscape judges was to see and evaluate more than 80 entries. We were on the edge of fatigue and overload, but inspiration was also just around the corner.
Bronwyn Miller, photographer, graphic designer and contest supervisor, informed me that “ Edge of Glory” was a Lady Gaga song. Here I had gone to the Halloween party as Lady Gaga in the meat dress and I didn’t even know this piece. I need to do a better job of being cross-generational!
As the catchy song lingered in my mind I could feel a theme coming on as I compared projects and their responses to the landscapes surrounding them.
Shady Canyon, a gated Irvine community adjoining the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, is startling in its setting, an intensified essence of southern California’s natural landscape. Native trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses and boulders in a dry and exquisitely beautiful landscape that fits the wilderness park environment at its edge and conveys a feeling of serenity and remoteness from the usual urbanization.
Contrasted with Shady Canyon is Laguna Altura, another Irvine Company project at the end of Laguna Canyon Road, just south of the 405 Freeway. We have recently watched that one take shape. Model homes are now open.
We had just toured at least 10 other jobs built under the strict Irvine Company guidelines and Laguna Altura fits the mould perfectly. Thousands of dwarf India hawthorns are spaced in row after row like humble soldiers in a scheme of uniformity. The shrub sergeants line the walls and the major trees march down the parkways. This army was already thirsty and showing the stress of our recent hot days. The only acknowledgement of the nearby greenbelt and wilderess park is the planting of a few coast live oaks and the grasses out front.
Then there was the estate in Shady Canyon. Right next to the greenbelt open space, with the inspiring naturalistic landscape provided in the community design, yet this estate garden, while meticulously planted and maintained, could have been in any large lot development in our region. Huge water-using lawns in the rear yard extended nearly to the fence, and they had actually screened off the view of the natural hills beyond with tall shrubbery.
There were similar projects that show how conflicted we are in responding to a setting that is different from our childhood images of how gardens and landscapes should be. We try to recreate those ingrained images in our gardens even though they conflict with the realities of the unique and under-appreciated beauty of the landscape that surrounds us.
Yet in Huntington Beach, overlooking the wetlands, was a garden that responded beautifully to the sand, marsh and ocean beyond. A simple pool surrounded with grasses and accessed with gray wood decking reminiscent of pathways through the dunes responded lovingly to its environment.
In Laguna we face these edge challenges, surrounded as we are with the natural open space. On Monday night at the Village Laguna meeting, Celia Kutcher of the California Native Plant Society, botanist Trish Smith and I explored some of these issues, particularly as related to fire prevention. Working with David Horne of the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council, Anneliese School, the OC Parks and fire departments, and Trish and I designed a pilot project that restores native habitat within an approved fuel modification program. The field at the corner of El Toro Road and Laguna Canyon Road is no longer dominated with non-native weeds that had to be disked every year to keep down the fire spreading potential. The edge between the school and the wilderness park is safer and the new approach respects and fosters the natural condition.
Designs that are more sensitive to the surroundings are not only more beautiful and harmonious, better for wildlife habitat, but they are better for us and our children. How are we affected by growing up or living within a regimented controlling setting compared to one that flows with nature? Creative thinking…social harmony must be affected. We can always work on that edge, balancing, hoping, trying to ease into glory.
Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former City Council member.