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Before & After: ‘Delightfully Sculptural Elegance’ in Flora Animalia’s Gravel Garden in Los Angeles

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Before & After: ‘Delightfully Sculptural Elegance’ in Flora Animalia’s Gravel Garden in Los Angeles

March 24, 2021

Rozae Nichols made a name for herself in the fashion industry designing smart, pattern-happy pieces for her label Clover Canyon. She showed at New York Fashion Week and counted discriminating celebrities like Solange Knowles and Olivia Wilde as fans. But then in 2016, she decided to shutter the brand. For those paying attention, there were hints as to what she was planning for her next act: her spring 2016 collection, vibrant with flower motifs, was “a ‘celebration of the mightiness’ of [weeds] and their knack for ‘breaking their way through cracks in cement,’ ” she told Vogue.

The following year, she found inspiration for her next project in Los Angeles’ Mid-City, a diverse neighborhood that is, as its name suggests, in the middle of the city. In the neglected yard of a commercial building, Rozae set about creating a beautiful and productive urban garden—and in the process, she also discovered she had more to offer in fashion. But this time, her new venture, Flora Animalia, would combine her love for fashion with her passion for gardening.

Flora Animalia specializes in chic unisex gardening clothing and is as understated as Clover Canyon’s pieces were bold. (The throughline? Both brands have strong points of view, but whereas Clover Canyon trafficked in elevated patterns, Flora Animalia makes a statement via striking silhouettes.) Today, Flora Animalia’s studio and garden is an oasis in the urban landscape. “We are a very small team of six, and we spend our time together both inside the creative space and outside in the garden. We make all of our small batch production here in studio. We do not have a store per se, but some of our clients come over to visit during our open-door Friday afternoons,” Rozae tells us.

Cultivating a connection with community and giving back is important to her: a portion of the company’s proceeds goes to Mercy For Animals and The Sea Shepherd, and they offer free workshops to people interested in growing their own edible gardens or starting a plant-based diet. But even those with no intention of doing either may find themselves drawn to Rozae’s inspired space: Dominated by cement sewer pipes repurposed as planters, the garden she has created is as considered and chic as the clothing and wares she designs for Flora Animalia.

“These planters will last for decades and hopefully always contain earth and plants, and provide a delightfully functional, sculptural elegance,” she says. Below, she explains how the urban sanctuary came to be.

Photography courtesy of Flora Animalia.

Before

This is what the yard, approximately 4,000 square feet, looked like when Rozae found the property.
Above: This is what the yard, approximately 4,000 square feet, looked like when Rozae found the property.
And here&#8\2\17;s what it looked like after clearing it out. &#8\2\20;The outside space is enormous, much larger than I had imagined I would ever find when I set out to search for a creative space where I could build out an edible garden for community workshops and gatherings,&#8\2\2\1; says Rozae.
Above: And here’s what it looked like after clearing it out. “The outside space is enormous, much larger than I had imagined I would ever find when I set out to search for a creative space where I could build out an edible garden for community workshops and gatherings,” says Rozae.
A surprising source for the planters: municipal sewer and water pipes. &#8\2\20;With my fondness for the Bauhaus and streamlined architecture, I thought the juxtaposition of giant concrete pipes and living plants would be very beautiful against the vegetation and in sync with the surrounding cityscape,&#8\2\2\1; says Rozae.
Above: A surprising source for the planters: municipal sewer and water pipes. “With my fondness for the Bauhaus and streamlined architecture, I thought the juxtaposition of giant concrete pipes and living plants would be very beautiful against the vegetation and in sync with the surrounding cityscape,” says Rozae.
&#8\2\20;Deciding on the sizes and heights was a challenge&#8\230;. So to determine the final proportions, I mapped out the sizes with core board disks that I cut at the scale of the pipes I had already chosen in order to envision the exact positions prior to the delivery of the pipes.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: “Deciding on the sizes and heights was a challenge…. So to determine the final proportions, I mapped out the sizes with core board disks that I cut at the scale of the pipes I had already chosen in order to envision the exact positions prior to the delivery of the pipes.”
&#8\2\20;The pipes were brought in by a very, very long Flatbed truck and then a forklift to position. My contractor&#8\2\17;s team, who worked on the interior and exterior renovations, hauled in and placed the heavy pipes. The entire process was like a dance performance of brawn and grace.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: “The pipes were brought in by a very, very long Flatbed truck and then a forklift to position. My contractor’s team, who worked on the interior and exterior renovations, hauled in and placed the heavy pipes. The entire process was like a dance performance of brawn and grace.”

After

Above: The gravel garden oasis that now greets visitors. “I was interested in creating a more sculptural setting that would provide a different type of edible garden experience. Since I planned on hosting families with kids, I had imagined large, soft, round shapes that children might enjoy—the scale, curves, and recesses of hidden space around which to play and plant.”
&#8\2\20;I plant and harvest nearly everything. This is my physical and mental therapy, my spiritual grounding and my joy of sharing with others. On occasion, I invite someone  to help out. But I really enjoy the entire process from seeding, transplanting, feeding the soil, pruning, to harvest and cleaning. I always knew I would become one of those middle aged woman who falls in love with gardening—now, here I am.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: “I plant and harvest nearly everything. This is my physical and mental therapy, my spiritual grounding and my joy of sharing with others. On occasion, I invite someone  to help out. But I really enjoy the entire process from seeding, transplanting, feeding the soil, pruning, to harvest and cleaning. I always knew I would become one of those middle aged woman who falls in love with gardening—now, here I am.”
Flora Animalia&#8\2\17;s creative operations manager, Aleta Caraco, raking the gravel. She&#8\2\17;s wearing the label&#8\2\17;s Workers Apronette (for something similar, try the New Apronette), Crop Pant, and Field Shirt—all made from GOTS-certified organic textiles.
Above: Flora Animalia’s creative operations manager, Aleta Caraco, raking the gravel. She’s wearing the label’s Workers Apronette (for something similar, try the New Apronette), Crop Pant, and Field Shirt—all made from GOTS-certified organic textiles.
&#8\2\20;The \1\2 foot fences are lined with passionfruit vines that gives us so much fruit that we peel and freeze a lot of it and share it with local neighbors and friends,&#8\2\2\1; says Rozae.
Above: “The 12 foot fences are lined with passionfruit vines that gives us so much fruit that we peel and freeze a lot of it and share it with local neighbors and friends,” says Rozae.
The corrugated walls were in the original space. &#8\2\20;I embraced keeping it. It&#8\2\17;s so stunning and humble. I could never recreate that beautiful collage of metal and storied patina,&#8\2\2\1; she says.
Above: The corrugated walls were in the original space. “I embraced keeping it. It’s so stunning and humble. I could never recreate that beautiful collage of metal and storied patina,” she says.
Above: “Depending on the season, we grow everything from herbs to beets, carrots, corn, loads of leafy greens, assorted nightshades, squash, beans and fruits— blueberries, citrus, persimmons, pomegranate, and passion fruit.”
&#8\2\20;We eat everything from the garden and share with people in our local community. And now with the spring weather and continued caution and social distancing, hopefully we can start our garden and outdoor workshops with a little less fear. The edible garden is all about sharing and inspiring others to embrace gardening at any size.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: “We eat everything from the garden and share with people in our local community. And now with the spring weather and continued caution and social distancing, hopefully we can start our garden and outdoor workshops with a little less fear. The edible garden is all about sharing and inspiring others to embrace gardening at any size.”
&#8\2\20;I love, love watering the garden by hand. That is a special time when I feel very connected with the plants, the bees, the worms,&#8\2\2\1; shares Rozae. &#8\2\20;It&#8\2\17;s a quiet time when I can observe the subtle phases in the growth and health of the plants and observe the beneficial insects. I believe that plants are sentient and thrive on our human kindness and attention.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: “I love, love watering the garden by hand. That is a special time when I feel very connected with the plants, the bees, the worms,” shares Rozae. “It’s a quiet time when I can observe the subtle phases in the growth and health of the plants and observe the beneficial insects. I believe that plants are sentient and thrive on our human kindness and attention.”

For more gravel gardens we admire, see:

And be sure to check out:

To learn how to make your own concrete planters, head over to Bob Vila.

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