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Garden Visit: Native Flowers and Cor-ten Steel in a Santa Barbara Landscape Designed by Kathleen Ferguson

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Garden Visit: Native Flowers and Cor-ten Steel in a Santa Barbara Landscape Designed by Kathleen Ferguson

October 18, 2022

“I’m a huge nature lover,” says Los Angeles-based landscape designer Kathleen Ferguson. “I always have been.” For more than two decades, she has been cultivating this passion by creating climate-appropriate gardens in southern California. She starts each project by studying the site conditions, contemplating the architecture of the house, and spending time talking with her clients. She also thinks carefully about the environment—avoiding any pesticides and chemical fertilizers and selecting varieties for wildlife as much as for people. “More and more, I’m planting for the birds,” she says with a laugh.

For this garden situated at the base of the of Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara, Ferguson played off the rugged, arid natural landscape. Dotted with ochre boulders and shrubby chaparrals, the site also features breathtaking views of the ocean. “It’s a huge contrast,” she says. The modern house, designed by Linda Taalman and Alan Koch (formerly Taalman Koch Architecture,) is constructed from glass, concrete, aluminum with Cor-ten accents. “There’s always a push and pull,” she says of her design. Here are some of the standout elements of her design.

Photography by Trevor Tondro, courtesy of Trevor Tondro/OTTO, unless otherwise noted.

The Right Plants, Right Place, Right Conditions

Ferguson, an arborist who has a degree in horticulture, sticks to a drought-tolerant, climate appropriate plant palette, using as many natives as possible in her projects. Here, hot pink penstemons (Penstemon clevelandii and P. pseudospectabilis) and purple sages (Salvia ’Dara’s Choice’, S. clevelandii, S. ‘Pozo Blue’, S. ‘Point Sal’) provide color and a feast for pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Mature oak and manzanita trees anchor the space bringing shade and a sense of history. Native shrubs, like Ceanothus ‘Concha’ and C. ‘Joyce Coulter’, buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), and coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) offer texture and habitats for wildlife.

A mixture of magenta Penstemon, purple sages, and strappy grey-green Leymus &#8\2\16;Canyon Prince’ line the walkway outside the couple’s home office. Photograph by Michael Ferguson.
Above: A mixture of magenta Penstemon, purple sages, and strappy grey-green Leymus ‘Canyon Prince’ line the walkway outside the couple’s home office. Photograph by Michael Ferguson.
A cluster of native blue sages greet you as you leave the driveway and follow the zig-zag path to the front door. As you venture forward, you pass by large boulders, including one with cascading water (left), and native oak trees, which Ferguson underplanted with shade-tolerant natives like Heuchera ‘Opal’ and ‘Rosada’ and Mahonia ‘Rebens’.
Above: A cluster of native blue sages greet you as you leave the driveway and follow the zig-zag path to the front door. As you venture forward, you pass by large boulders, including one with cascading water (left), and native oak trees, which Ferguson underplanted with shade-tolerant natives like Heuchera ‘Opal’ and ‘Rosada’ and Mahonia ‘Rebens’.
On the path leading to the front door, Ferguson planted tall, reedy Juncus textilis adjacent to the weeping boulder. Along the path’s edge, she tucked in low-growing chartreuse Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ and blue-grey Festuca glauca. For more color, she added the tough and versatile Nandina ‘Gulf Stream’, which flaunts red and yellow-green foliage throughout the year, and gold-flowering Mimulus aurantiacus (syn. Diplacus aurantiacus). In the alcove to the left of the front door, is a monolith sculpture by ceramic artist Stan Bitters.
Above: On the path leading to the front door, Ferguson planted tall, reedy Juncus textilis adjacent to the weeping boulder. Along the path’s edge, she tucked in low-growing chartreuse Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ and blue-grey Festuca glauca. For more color, she added the tough and versatile Nandina ‘Gulf Stream’, which flaunts red and yellow-green foliage throughout the year, and gold-flowering Mimulus aurantiacus (syn. Diplacus aurantiacus). In the alcove to the left of the front door, is a monolith sculpture by ceramic artist Stan Bitters.

Water Signs

“If you want to activate your landscape and bring birds and bees to your yard,” says Ferguson. “Just add water.” She created seven recirculating water features on this property: Cor-ten steel fountains and cascading boulders. They not only support wildlife, but they also provide soothing sounds to drown out the noises that can echo across the canyon.

To work with an elevation change on this side of the property, Ferguson designed large Cor-ten steel planters to encase the existing oaks on the property, so she didn’t have to lower the entire elevation of the area for the patio. She installed two Cor-ten steel fountains, and planted tufts of grassy Lomandra ‘Breeze,’ which sprout from the gravel.
Above: To work with an elevation change on this side of the property, Ferguson designed large Cor-ten steel planters to encase the existing oaks on the property, so she didn’t have to lower the entire elevation of the area for the patio. She installed two Cor-ten steel fountains, and planted tufts of grassy Lomandra ‘Breeze,’ which sprout from the gravel.
Another view of the gravel patio featuring a mature, native oak tree, recirculating Cor-ten steel fountain, and native Mimulus aurantiacus (syn. Diplacus aurantiacus) profuse with gold blooms. Photograph by Michael Ferguson.
Above: Another view of the gravel patio featuring a mature, native oak tree, recirculating Cor-ten steel fountain, and native Mimulus aurantiacus (syn. Diplacus aurantiacus) profuse with gold blooms. Photograph by Michael Ferguson.

Hardscape Heaven

To complement the modern architecture of the house, Ferguson chose Cor-ten steel to make rectilinear pavers, fountains, and planting boxes around the property. Although the metal will get hot, she installed concrete pads beneath them to absorb some of the heat. (The clients, who no longer had young children, decided that they would always wear shoes outside.) She then situated the pavers on crushed gravel, which mirrors the colors of the rusty Cor-ten steel and surrounding ochre boulders. “I wanted the gravel to have edges so it could lock together around the pavers,” she said.

To make a grand entrance, she had the Cor-ten path zig-zag up from the long driveway. It takes you from the surrounding scrubby landscape to one that is more refined. She also moved boulders—quite literally—around the property. She placed two large boulders near the front door, one she had fitted with a fountain so that water would weep gently down the rock face.

Along the entry path, she planted blue-green Festuca glauca, a drought-tolerant grass that will tolerate the heat from the Cor-ten steel pavers. “I love the shadows it makes,” says Ferguson. “The grass is soft and delicate, and contrasts with the hard, geometric shape of the pavers.”
Above: Along the entry path, she planted blue-green Festuca glauca, a drought-tolerant grass that will tolerate the heat from the Cor-ten steel pavers. “I love the shadows it makes,” says Ferguson. “The grass is soft and delicate, and contrasts with the hard, geometric shape of the pavers.”
Above: Since she didn’t want to obstruct the view of the Pacific Ocean, Ferguson designed a low, recirculating Cor-ten steel fountain to provide a gentle gurgling to counter the noises from the canyon.

Credits:
Architect Main Residence and Observatory: Linda Taalman and Alan Koch, formerly
Taalman Koch Architecture
Landscape Designer: Kathleen Ferguson Landscapes
Landscape Contractor: Paysage Landscape Management and Construction

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