Every month, we are highlighting “Our Garden Tour Stars” — landscape architects, florists, and interior designers who have participated at our annual Garden Tour and Showcase Estate at the Virginia Robinson Gardens. We want to let you know about these very talented designers, their inspirations, and their creations.
This month, we are featuring landscape designer Laura Morton. She has designed many beautiful and creative landscape vignettes at the Virginia Robinson estate that have been on Garden Tour.
We asked her these five questions:
1. What garden changed your life or made an impact on you?
If I were to narrow the geography down to Southern California, I would identify gardens associated with Spanish Revival architecture or the Early California Romantic period, like the Adamson House & Casa del Herrero. The gardens of these homes exemplify graceful outdoor living, incorporating a rich, distinctive style suited to our climate and embrace an abundant use of fine craftsmanship both in the house and in the landscape (ironwork, stone, tile, ornament). These early 20th century styles embrace a wide range of design possibility. The monastic simplicity of a Mission or Andalusian farmhouse or the more stylized geometry of the early Persian & Moorish gardens are very rich; then you have color, the wonderful and essential element in a Mediterranean climate garden alongside the dream of California. It struck a chord and continues to inspire me.
Honestly though, the garden that has most impacted my life is probably my own. When my husband and I acquired our home in the mid-90’s, and when I began studying landscape architecture and horticulture, my garden has been both a laboratory and teacher. It evolves, mirroring my knowledge, dreams, earnestness and pride as well as my neglect and frustrations. And on it goes….
2. Who is your favorite landscape designer (living or not living) and why?
Impossible to list just one! Off the top of my head: Topher Delaney, Martha Schwartz, Ganna Walska, and Tony Duquette immediately come to mind. These designers are visionary artists, layering wonder and mystery into living works of art. Delaney dives into subtext and expresses it with such style! Schwartz’s work rises to life as three dimensional sculpture of precision. Walska designed her Lotusland, demonstrating her passion for life, plants, drama and whimsy. And Duquette? Well…his sleight of hand, sense of scale and theatrical flair transformed space to influence your mood.
Designed space is layered and meets many criteria, but it also harbors intent. It must also inspire one to connect more deeply to nature and curiosity of oneself.
In our field, one studies geometry, design history, plants & soil biology, construction methods, and ecological responsibility. But all that gets filtered through the designer’s heart into a personal expression of beauty. The end result hums with uniqueness.
3. Which historical garden in the world is your favorite and why?
Ah….The Sacred Wood of Bomarzo, near Viterbo in Italy, Parco dei Mostri, (Park of the Monsters) was designed by Pirro Ligorio in the 16th Century. Abandoned and then restored, it’s an absolute marvel. I list this as a favorite because of the unique genius of the place and the nobleman whose grief spawned it to life. There is such spirit wandering amidst these mythical stone structures! The human soul is enchanted and humbled. There is also a harmony with the plant community that embraces it…a wildness you wouldn’t wish to tame.
And if I could live for a time in a historical garden, it would absolutely be the Alcazar Palace in Seville, Spain. By day, I would contemplate the geometry and forms that frame the gardens under sharp sunlight, and wander aimlessly in moonlight inhaling the perfume of orange blossoms while flamenco rhythms fill the air.
4. Can you please share photos of your garden and/or projects you have worked on?
Casa de los Arcos – A Spanish Revival
This project was inspired greatly by the Early California and Pasadena gardens. The guiding rule was to make it feel authentic to the period, but modernize and maximize the sense of space. It was a complete transformation. Everything in the landscape was installed new and the house re-stuccoed. To that end, we hand-finished our concrete flatwork and sourced original tile and fixtures that referenced the 1930’s. There were fun flourishes too. My website shows some before and after photos.
Ozeta House – This is my garden, the one that challenges me! It’s a concrete prototype house from 1921, possibly designed by Irving Gill. We love traveling around the Mediterranean, and so we bring that spirit into our space against a backdrop of whitewash and bohemian touches. The effect is Greek-Moroccan in feeling. Over the years, I have explored blue and aqua. There is an almost mature citrus orchard, and I am always experimenting with the planting areas. The addition of the pavilion with fire pit was a great addition to enjoy the garden and entertain friends.
Dar BenLisa – This extraordinary project was fun. My clients wanted a complete immersion to an exotic vacation spot — Morocco! A true jewel box, this smallish backyard was completely customized to extend seamlessly from the master bedroom and incorporate a spa, lounging area, breakfast spot, fountain, and some storage. I played with scale, color, vertical planes, and oblique lines to trick the eye into thinking this is much bigger than it is.
Catalina Dreaming – This project started with a big open yard and a couple of trees. The goal was to provide some outdoor rooms for gathering with friends and family, resulting in a large entertaining space with a crenellated brick and tile fire pit and a separate spa room with a tiled feature wall and lounging area. The colorful tile and upholstery really anchored the spaces visually in what feels like an old Hollywood jungle garden.
Hollywood Hills – Hillside projects provide interesting opportunities to work three-dimensionally. Essentially, you are carving and leveling areas in order to circulate and present a moment or a purpose. Selecting the correct plant material is important too as it will help stabilize the slopes, but you don’t want to obscure important views. This project, only recently completed, is settling in nicely. From very little, we added fountains, dining, edible gardens, orchards, a treehouse, and a large living room with a fireplace to take in the views.
5. What is the book that inspires you the most?
I have long been attracted to Japanese aesthetics and folk art: Wabi-Sabi, is a small book by Leonard Koren, that attempts to open the eyes to the beauty and appreciation of time and its passage. Examples could be the patina of age on an object caused by the elements or a burnishing that reveals the traces of care, or even the wear and love that become worn into cloth. It speaks of our humanity. It’s a concept that I return to again and again which inspires me to observe differently the world around me.