Our Garden Tour Star Mia Lehrer

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 honored to feature internationally renowned landscape architect Mia Lehrer. In addition to the beautiful gardens she has designed on Garden Tour, she was featured in a fabulous documentary, “Women in the Dirt: Landscape Architects Shaping Our World,” which was screened twice at the Virginia Robinson Gardens for our members. She also took the Friends on a wonderful tour of two of her projects, the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan and the Beverly Gardens Park on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

We asked her these five questions:

1. What garden changed your life or made an impact on you?

The gardens at the Huntington Library are a rudder in my design life, a real touchstone that has drawn me in and guides my own work and view of the world. This garden in San Marino is the most inspirational garden in this region for me, and it succeeds because of its integration of garden and topography, the relationship of the architecture and the landscape. There are wonderful collections in the museum. The landscape illuminates our history and showcases plants from around the world that Henry Huntington worked to make thrive in California’s accommodating climate.

2. Who is your favorite landscape designer (living or not living) and why?

We’re all so inspired and captivated by Cornelia Oberlander in Canada. She created landscapes with beautiful gardens that are cultural icons. She was one of the first women to graduate from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where I studied. During her career, she created wonderful places including such modern works as the Vancouver Public Library and the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, among others. Her landscapes are linked by her highly contextual sensibility, always responsive to place, and she works with plant material reflecting the native flora and local habitat in a very creative way. She has taught us so much about working with nature, and celebrating regional ecologies, while adding value and minimizing impact to our wildlife and natural systems. She is a champion Landscape Architect and was clearly ahead of her time, being associated with climate change and resiliency planning.

Another favorite is the Brazilian Roberto Burle Marx, a truly exotic and wonderful man. I visited many of his gardens in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia, and you see why he was known as a “nature artist.” He innovated in so many ways: in his public urban spaces and in emerging as one of the first to call for the conservation of Brazil's rainforests. He pioneered tropical garden design in the 20th century as part of modernism, popularizing many of the tropical plants that now seem ubiquitous. He traveled into the Amazon and brought orchids and bromeliads back to his gardens to study how they would do in a more controlled setting. He also integrated amazing water gardens, graphic design, tapestry, and folk art into his landscape designs. Not only was he a landscape architect, he was also a painter, printmaker, ecologist, jewelry maker, naturalist, artist, and musician. His parks and gardens made him globally famous, such as his curving promenade on Copacabana Beach, with native, sea breeze-resistant trees and palms.

3. Which historical garden in the world is your favorite and why?

Such a difficult question! But among my favorites is Huntington Gardens, for a local choice. Worldwide, I love the botanical garden in Barcelona, which is very modern and beautiful. But one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen is the Alhambra in Granada. When you arrive, you instantly understand the integration of the garden with the topography, and the relationship of palace architecture to the way the landscape and garden were designed in harmony with the surroundings. Just seeing the way that water travels through the gardens, that alone is worth traveling from anywhere to see. The way trees create spaces is fascinating. It is just beautiful and joyful to discover the many areas and gardens around the Alhambra. It’s impossible to see everything at once, so you meander and uncover something new as you go.

4. Can you please share photos of your garden and/or projects you have worked on?

Carmelina - Photos by Tom Lamb 

Malibu - Photos by Studio-MLA 

Rancho Mirage - Photos by Studio-MLA 


Brentwood - Photos by Tom Lamb/Studio-MLA

5. What is the book that inspires you the most?

You know, my geology professor created a seminal book that has influenced me and serves as a touchstone for perhaps all of my projects. It has influenced my life, too. First published in 1973, the book Understanding Earth is written by the geophysicist Frank Press from MIT and Raymond Siever of Harvard. It’s all about plate tectonics, how the earth is shaped, the forces of nature -- basically, everything I do! It brings the worldview of the working geologist to anyone, even if you aren’t into science. It shows how this field of knowledge impacts our lives.

Another book I would add provided an awakening about plants and the importance of water, vegetation, and respecting and valuing the existing nature of site features. This is so important to garden design regardless of scale. You need to work with everything under and around you. The book is Design with Nature by Ian L. McHarg. It radically redefined the fields of landscape architecture, urban and regional planning, and ecological design. Lewis Mumford said it well in the intro, where he wrote that the book offers a new idea to “replace the polluted, bulldozed, machine-dominated, dehumanized, explosion-threatened world that is even now disintegrating and disappearing before our eyes.”

Contact information:
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4 Responses

  1. Regina Drucker
    | Reply

    I may be wrong, but I recall touring a newly restored garden and its’ cascade you recreated at Deanna Durbins’ Los Feliz home in the 1980s…it just swept my imagination to the enchantment at Greenacres long lost. Cascades, they are best. I had a Wallace Neff property once, with gardens by A. E. Hansen. I hired Emmett Wemple to create a Cascade on the steep hillside overlooking the city from downtown to the ocean with the concrete infused with shimmering crushed Mother of Pearl. Most unfortunately he took ill and passed away. It was one of his last commissions, and his wife Meg said he had been so eager to create it. You are lucky to be able to sprinkle Enchanted Pixie Dust on Mother Earth for others to enjoy!

  2. Krista Everage
    | Reply

    I love hearing about your inspirations Mia! Thank you for sharing your gorgeous garden photos too~ lovely.

  3. Gary Jones
    | Reply

    It’s wonderful to get some insight into what inspires you and what’s important to you as a designer. Thank you for taking the time to write such thoughtful responses. You are a Los Angeles treasure. Not only do you design wonderful residential gardens, but it’s clearly important to you that we (all of us!) have beautiful and functional public spaces as well. Thank you.

  4. Kerstin Royce
    | Reply

    I feel privileged that I get to see everyday the lovely resilient landscape that you created for the home on the corner of Elevado and Alta drive in BH. Love the color against the stark modern design.

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