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 March Wiseley. March was introduced to Virginia Robinson Gardens by Superintendent Timothy Lindsay when she attended one of his classes at UCLA. As a result of that meeting, several of her gardens, including her former garden in Bel Air, have been part of the annual …Into the Garden Tours. She has recently designed a new garden for Friends member, Ellen Lipson.
We asked her these six questions:
- What garden changed your life or made an impact on you?
The garden at my former home on Stone Canyon Road in Los Angeles. I have always loved growing plants and the intricacies of natural living things. As a child growing up in the Midwest, each spring I would prepare, plant, and harvest flowers and edibles from my plot in our yard. Eventually, I would go on to study and teach life sciences as a public school teacher.
Over the years, I have gardened in hot and dry Oklahoma and Texas, verdant North Carolina, South Florida where vegetables are planted in the fall instead of the spring and Connecticut with its long dormant season that explodes into fields of narcissus every spring.
Along my path to Stone Canyon Road, I felt as if I had a more than average understanding of how to create, design and care for a garden in any climate, but California’s tricky micro-climates thought otherwise. My first attempts were embarrassing failures. This was the genesis I needed.
With the four acres we purchased in 1995 of towering coast live oaks and immense camellia plants in addition to masses of matilija poppies and a striking Aesculus californica tree (that I mistakenly thought needed water when it dropped its leaves mid-summer one year), I was spurred to act.
I felt overwhelmed with a sense of stewardship for the land and garden we now owned. The cultivated and uncultivated spaces had so much to offer and teach, and I clearly needed to watch, listen and learn. This was an opportunity to start a new journey of education where I immersed myself in classes at UCLA and self-guided studies to understand California’s unique growing opportunities.
- Who is your favorite landscape designer (living or not living) and why?
I have many designers I love, like John Saladino, Frank Lloyd Wright and Addison Mizner who mostly used gardens as a backdrop for their innovative architecture. In fact, most exceptional gardens creatively meld the architecture with the landscape. Historically, Andre Le Notre, Capability Brown, Thomas Jefferson, and Fredrick Law Olmsted, among many others, all changed the course of garden history from which we draw inspiration to this day, and they are special favorites of mine.
I think my favorite landscape designer and the person from whom I have derived much personal inspiration is a Southern California resident, Nancy Goslee Power. She approaches each landscape as a unique experience. Even though there is an overarching theme, she syncs each garden seamlessly to the unique flavor of the individual for whom it was designed. Her knowledge of garden history and her attention to detail as well as her expertise in understanding the plant world give her gardens a “staying power” that is exemplary.
The results Nancy achieves in each of her gardens encompass two of the principles I strive to achieve in my gardens and that are exceedingly important to me as a designer. That is that my gardens reflect the personality of the individual for whom they are designed and that they hold their form through the fourth dimension of time.
- Which historical garden in the world is your favorite and why?
It is hard to pick just one. Giverny is probably my favorite because of the way it was created and the beautiful result that we can still enjoy today. This garden is full of life and color. It embraces an organic natural aesthetic that was designed in a very deliberate way, mimicking nature on steroids.
What Monet did with plants, focusing on how one color enhances or detracts from the colors in the immediate proximity, and the way various textures catch and disburse light, reveals an understanding of the natural and the artistic that is his true masterpiece.
With no formal training, the innate skill he brought to the creation of Giverny speaks to the hope that we all can make the spaces in which we live a beautiful embodiment of our soul.
- Can you please share photos of your garden and/or projects you have worked on?
My personal preferences lean toward designing spaces with movement and surprise within a definite structure. My gardens repeat and diverge throughout the seasons within a scheme that contains them and is revealed in winter when the garden is at rest. I try to encourage the eye to move through the garden with anticipation, searching for a surprise not quite in view. My gardens always have pathways and spaces to explore.
I feel that plant selections should be diverse for garden health and boldly planted for the greatest impact. To personalize each garden, it is important to take risks by making a few plant choices that are not on the “tried and true” performers list. I also like to leave small pockets for annuals so that the owner can have variety over time and to encourage involvement in the gardening process.
Click photos to view them larger
Bel Air Road
Copa De Oro
East Valley Road
Saint Cloud Road
Stone Canyon Road
Stone Canyon Road
- What is the book that inspires you the most?
Recently I discovered Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. This inspired me to read other selections she has written. I think I am a Brené Brown “groupie.” I listen to her podcasts too.
- What advice on gardening has been the most impactful to share?
As with life, it is important to admit when you don’t know something -- trust your instincts, work hard, and truly listen to your plants, your friends and your clients.