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Quick Takes With: The Terremoto Team

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Quick Takes With: The Terremoto Team

May 5, 2024

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Terremoto is a 26-person landscape architecture studio with offices in northern and southern California, and today, we’re fortunate to have three of them respond to our Quick Takes questionnaire: co-founder David Godshall and landscape architects Diego Lopez and Dawn Wang. “Our work is an intentionally eclectic mix of residential, cultural, and oddball institutional work, and we also love a renegade ecological restoration project,” says David. “Favorite themes in our office right now are critical examinations of landscape architecture’s relationship to labor, having hippy-dippy tea ceremonies in rogue restoration projects, drifting towards more closed-loop methods of garden-making, and learning how to be environmentalists in a field whose dark secret is that most ‘new’ landscape projects are actually pretty tough on the environment. But we’re hopeful and we’re having fun!”

Intrigued? Read on to learn which plant Dawn says gives “bad vibes all around,” the Instagram account that Diego deems “fuego,” and “the ultimate baller move” in the garden according to David.

Above: David, in the hat, pictured here with Dawn and Diego. Photograph courtesy of Terremoto.

Your first garden memory:

David: My great grandma Edna was the first person in my life who talked to me about gardening. She lived in a tiny little house in Ventura, and when we would visit her she would tend to her roses and I’d bop around with her in the garden. I clearly recollect her talking to me about the flowers of a passionfruit vine and how beautiful they were.

Dawn: When I was about 4 or 5, I lived across a small campus zoo and some farm fields. My parents took me to there to go look at cows and peacocks all the time. Not really a garden, but it was my first experience with nature.

Garden-related book you return to time and again:

Diego: John Greenlee’s The American Meadow Garden is without equal and a constant reference in the office. It’s an amazing book because he really gives the recipe away and tells you exactly how to do it, whereas most landscape books try to keep the secrets.

David: I’m presently obsessed with a mysterious land art book called Sitings that was published in 1986 by the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art that is absolutely delightful. All books by James Rose rule because he’s funny in this sort of sly way, and most garden books lack humor, so I enjoy returning to those. And lastly I just got an advance copy of Shrouded in Light, by Kevin Philip Willams and Michael Guidi [in bookstores later this month], and it absolutely shreds—it’s useful and both approachable and challenging.

Instagram account that inspires you:

Dawn: @aiww [Ai Weiwei’s account]

Diego: @pangeaexpress, because their memes are FUEGO.

David: @danpearsonstudio, because everything they do is so insanely next-level it makes me want to scream. And @grassroofco is constantly dropping low-tech, ecologically progressive knowledge and design bombs lately.

Describe in three words or less your garden aesthetic.

Terremoto is a champion of ecology-centered landscape design. Here, they reimagined the garden of this midcentury gem, designed by Quincy A. Jones, to include more drought-tolerant California native plants. Photograph by Stephen Schauer, from What Will Gardens of the Future Look Like? A Report from the Garden Futures Summit.
Above: Terremoto is a champion of ecology-centered landscape design. Here, they reimagined the garden of this midcentury gem, designed by Quincy A. Jones, to include more drought-tolerant California native plants. Photograph by Stephen Schauer, from What Will Gardens of the Future Look Like? A Report from the Garden Futures Summit.

Diego: Forever changing.

Dawn: Dynamic, personable, plant-oriented

David: No Dominant Mode.

Plant that makes you swoon:

David in his backyard with his son Calder (now 5), surrounded by towering prickly pears and a field of buckwheat. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson for Under Western Skies. For more images of his inspired garden, see &#8\2\16;Nuance and Unplanned Fun&#8\2\17; in a Landscape Architect&#8\2\17;s Echo Park Garden.
Above: David in his backyard with his son Calder (now 5), surrounded by towering prickly pears and a field of buckwheat. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson for Under Western Skies. For more images of his inspired garden, see ‘Nuance and Unplanned Fun’ in a Landscape Architect’s Echo Park Garden.

Diego: Opuntia [prickly pear], because it’s sculptural, drought-tolerant, and edible. Checks all the boxes!

Dawn: Salvia apiana (white sage), which I acknowledge is basic. But come at me, it’s fine.

David: Yesterday, Dawn, we were at a meeting and had a client smell a white sage leaf and he said it smelled like “old sweat” to him and I kinda loved that. I’m a complete fool for Lyonothamnus floribundus (fernleaf Catalina ironwood), because it magnificently has qualities of many other Californian natives somehow manifested in a single tree.

Favorite go-to plant:

Diego: Festuca mairei (Atlas fescue). It’s a great meadow grass with a subtly varied color that adds movement to a garden.

David: Eriogonum fasciculatum (California buckwheat). Their inflorescences go from popcorn creamy white to a deep rust color from spring to fall, and it boggles my mind.

Plant that makes you want to run the other way:

David: I have no patience for fire sticks.

Dawn: Golden barrel cactus. Bad vibes all around.

Diego: Mexican feather grass! Don’t do it!

Hardest gardening lesson you’ve learned:

Coast live oak trees in an Iverness garden. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson, courtesy of Terremoto.
Above: Coast live oak trees in an Iverness garden. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson, courtesy of Terremoto.

Diego: Providing proper drainage to trees! I killed an oak tree recently, and my boss will never let me live it down.

David: It’s true, I’ll never let you live it down, Diego! But I still love you. For me, just understanding that things take time, patience, patience, patience. Getting our clients to understand this is presently a large part of my job.

Unpopular gardening opinion:

Dawn: All path lights on the market presently are ugly and boring.

David: Sam Webb in our office thinks that the wildly invasive Tree of Heaven (Alianthus altissima) is beautiful and I’m always quite scandalized when I hear him say that.

Gardening or design trend that needs to go:

Permeable surfaces in a Terremoto-designed suburban garden. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson, courtesy of Terremoto, from The Future of Gardening: A Plan From Terremoto.
Above: Permeable surfaces in a Terremoto-designed suburban garden. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson, courtesy of Terremoto, from The Future of Gardening: A Plan From Terremoto.

David: Filter or weed fabric is an entire industry that, if I could, I would delete with the push of a button. Weeds go through it, it’s plastic, you always see it (and it’s ugly), and it impairs the ability of insects or worms to move through soil horizons, and that seems incredibly unkind.

Dawn: Impervious surfaces in general! We should really stop pouring concrete.

Old wives’ tale gardening trick that actually works:

Dawn: I talk and sing to my plants at home, and they’re happy.

Diego: Love your plants!

Favorite gardening hack:

Dawn: Sticking my finger in the soil seems to answer a lot of my client’s questions.

David: I love that answer, Dawn! I have a bathtub in my garden and I use it to water my Sycamore Trees (which like a bit of water). Feels like a solid hack to me.

Diego: Hire Carmen Orozco of Barranca Landscape. Everything comes out beautifully.

Every garden needs a…

Diego: A low-tech water fountain for birds and insects.

Dawn: A birdbath!

David: Well, I don’t want to ruin this, so I will also say birdbath, but it’s true—inviting wildlife into your garden is the ultimate baller move.

Favorite hardscaping material:

Dawn: Reclaimed brick! The classics never go out of style.

Diego: Urbanite (broken concrete). We’re increasingly trying to use recycled materials in our projects and urbanite transcends aesthetic worlds in a really cool way. We’re trying to learn how to build mostly native, spiritually Japanese gardens out of trash—that’s one of the present goals of the office.

Go-to gardening outfit:

Terremoto&#8\2\17;s Flap Hat is \$43 at Plant Material.
Above: Terremoto’s Flap Hat is $43 at Plant Material.

Dawn: My old Terremoto shirt.

David: I have a flap hat that protects my red neck from getting even redder, and when I put it on and put glasses on, I go into GARDEN BEAST MODE.

On your wishlist:

Dawn: Owning a fucking house someday hopefully.

David: A small cabin in the woods next to a creek. Ideally with no cell reception.

Favorite nursery, plant shop, or seed company:

Plant Material is the retail arm of Terremoto. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson, courtesy of Terremoto.
Above: Plant Material is the retail arm of Terremoto. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson, courtesy of Terremoto.

David: Absolutely shameless plug alert, but Plant Material! It’s our Los Angeles nursery with three shops and an ecological point of view. And, of course, shout out to Theodore Payne and Artemisia Nursery. It’s a big city and we’re trying to push it in an environmentally positive direction together, which is lovely.

Dawn: N-K Bonsai Tree Nursery.

Diego: Plant Material!

David: Hey, Diego, you’re getting a raise—awesome answer!

Not-to-be-missed public garden/park/botanical garden:

Diego: Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City.

David: California Scenario shreds. The Test Plots in Elysian Park (and everywhere) are a constant source of joy for me.

The REAL reason you garden:

Dawn: Mental health!

David: Yeah, kinda also mental health and well-being.

Diego: Community and bonding, with co-workers and soil.

Thank you, David, Dawn, and Diego! If you want to see what the team is up to, follow them @terremoto_landscape.

See also:

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