Citrus Groves, Mosaics and Vintage Ironwork Add a Mediterranean Flavor to a 1920s Garden

Liv and Glen Ballard searched a long time before they found a finely detailed, Spanish-style house designed in 1926 by architect Roy Sheldon Price. The grand beauty they discovered features arched walls and doors, vintage ironwork and hand-painted California tiles. But in contrast to these riches, the garden had little character. Beyond palm trees and two small existing fountains, there was little that reflected the spirit of the house. Lawns dominated the front yard; yellow daisies and rhaphiolepis crowded planting beds; hardscape (yards and yards of driveway, motorcourt and a ‘60s-era pool deck) consisted of blank, decrepit concrete.The Ballards hired Brian Tichenor and Raun Thorp of Tichenor & Thorp Architects to make a landscape worthy of the house and extend indoor living spaces into terraces framed with plants. The architects literally took the home’s layout outside, mirroring its strong central axis in an entry path edged with westringria, campanula and bronze flax. Beside the front door, they restored an old fountain, adding a tiled pool and extra water jets and installing a bench nearby so the scene could be enjoyed. “Previously,” says Tichenor, “there was nowhere to sit. The outdoors wasn’t articulated or defined, except as leftover space from the house. Our job was to create those specific, missing places.”

The clients had a few requests. Liv Ballard wanted sun-loving lavender and roses; her husband, a music producer, asked for bougainvillea and something “dazzling” in place of the mundane front lawn. Given existing trees and screening hedges, which cast heavy shade but provided privacy, the designers restricted Liv’s flowers to a bright corner of the motor court. To enliven other areas, they got creative with shade borders, layering ‘Chocolate Mint’ geraniums amid Agave attenuata and bronze flax, and pairing Heuthera micrantha var. diversifolia ‘Palace Purple’ with chartreuse Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’ and snowy ‘White Doves’ camellias.

For extra dazzle in the front, Tichenor called up the Spanish flavor of the house and installed a citrus grove with an angled channel in its midst that carries water from a tiny tiled and bubbling pool to a star-shaped fountain. And he looked to Spain for new mosaic-like hardscape that sets off paving stones with grouted-pebble seams.

Elsewhere, he and Thorp used potted plants to break up the concrete deck around the pool. “Pots bring garden to seating areas and make them feel roomlike and inhabited,” Thorp says. Annie Kelly, who did the Ballards’ lush, Andalusian-style interiors, designed the wrought-iron garden furniture. She also contributed details to a walled garden terrace off the dining room, working with architect Michael Mekeel, for example, to design an outdoor fireplace.

While such amenities draw the Ballards out in all seasons, the couple also revel in the garden from inside the house. “As we worked, we considered views from every window,” recalls Tichenor. Adds Thorp, “We also considered scent.” Near the bedrooms, they planted heliotrope, ginger, gardenia and stephanotis, specifically, Liv says, “for summer nights. Throw the doors open, crack the windows, let the fragrances drift in.”