Our Garden Tour Star Pamela Burton

Every month, we are highlighting “Our Garden Tour Stars” -- landscape architects, florists, and interior designers who have participated in 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 internationally renowned landscape architect Pamela Burton.

We asked her these five questions:

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

My understanding of art and architecture was completely transformed when, at twenty-two years old, I took time off from studying architecture at UCLA to visit Kyoto. There, in the gardens and temples, I observed the power of aesthetic simplicity and the fusion of nature and architecture. Two gardens of particular note include the moss garden at Tofuku-ji and the garden at Ryoan-ji, where the garden of gravel and sand is carefully raked around a setting of fifteen rocks. I was surprised to learn that for three hundred years, Japanese designers had been applying the principles of modernism to their work. Bruno Taut described these principles as “an idealized conception of cleanliness, clarity, simplicity, cheerfulness, and faithfulness to the materials of nature.”

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

My favorite “landscape designers” were midcentury architects working in Southern California. To demonstrate how modernist ideas were embedded in the midcentury gardens and houses of A. Quincy Jones, John Lautner, Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, and many more, I wrote, with Marie Botnick and Kathryn Smith, the book Private Landscapes: Modernist Gardens in Southern California (2002).

By the 1980s, various landscape architects were exploring the spaces between different professions: George Hargreaves, between landscape and graphic design; Martha Schwartz, between landscape and art installations; and Peter Walker, between landscape and formal sculpture gardens. I, in turn, gravitated toward those affinities between the tradition of California modernists Neutra and Schindler, with their focus on the integration of landscape and architecture, and Japanese concepts of gardens as both place of refuge and a journey.

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

The ancient gardens of Kyoto, taken together, represent for me the most provocative gardens ever created. The stroll gardens were comprised of cinematic sequences of spatial relationships. They are a collections of garden rooms and rocks, flowers, shaded areas, and teahouses choreographed into a pilgrimage route. It is not only a collection in space, but an ordering in time.

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

      Ojai, California

In 1986, my husband, Richard Hertz, and I bought a “stone-house at the end of the dirt road.” With a thousand Valencia, Minneola, and Olive trees, it has become our inspiration and refuge ever since. Our children grew up there on the weekends, and, in March of this year, moved in full-time with their families, so that they could escape the coronavirus and so their children could run and play together, attend to chickens, and swim in the pool. They will move back to San Francisco at the beginning of August.

Over the years, our Ojai ranch became a place to experiment and to explore. If I fell, I didn’t hurt myself. I replanted. I make extensive use of retaining walls of native stone, both as a visual element and to create enclosures, including a rose garden that has become a refuge for contemplation and beauty.

Surrounded by our fruit trees, which are spaced on the grid, the vegetation around the house is held together by a quiet structure, within which the Japanese principles of wabi-sabi take place. These include spontaneity, randomness, and the unexpected.

There is a garden swing for the grandkids, a West-facing veranda for viewing the sunset, and a courtyard facing the pool, with an outdoor fireplace, that serves as our primary “living room” for most of the year.

It is the constant process of editing that lets a garden age and endure, deepening and leaning into its own story.

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

The book that inspires me the most is The Sunset Western Garden Book. In that book, I find new species to try out, learn more about the plants I already use, discover details of water, soil, and sun that promote optimum growth. The book is an inspiration and also a pleasure to read.

2 Responses

  1. Kerstin Royce
    | Reply

    Lovely article and so much fun to see the Fellows picture under the wedding tree.

  2. margaret karney
    | Reply

    oh my, Robinson’s gardens always is there in spirit for me. Thank you for the visit to this Ojai Garden. and the inspiration flowing from this garden

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