“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.
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.
“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 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.
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
For more on landscape design in Southern California, see:
- Before & After: ‘Delightfully Sculptural Elegance’ in Flora Animalia’s Gravel Garden in Los Angeles
- Landscape Revival: A Secluded, Historic 1920s Estate in Santa Barbara (Rose Garden Included)
- California Cool: A Photographer’s Ojai Oasis, Inspired by an Iconic Garden in Provence