Flamingo Estate Is the Not-So-Secret Garden of Your Dreams
High above Los Angeles on seven acres overgrown with citrus, wild herbs, and flowers, a fantastical estate produces soaps, candles, jams, and tinctures to delight the body and feed the soul.
The gardener and the herbalist pack fresh masa around the seal of a vintage copper alembic still on the porch of the goatherd’s cabin. We’re at Flamingo Estate, high up in the hills of Eagle Rock on the east side of L.A., and, believe it or not, this is the first step to making a cocktail. The masa will keep the steam from escaping and the distillate pure. The still is loaded with the resiny leaves of black sage, a variation of common sage that is intensely peppery and lemony and earthy. As the steam passes through the aromatic thatch of leaves it will take with it the concentrated essence of the herb, amplifying its power in oil that will trickle through the serpentine copper coil and into a jar, drip by drip. Later today the resulting tincture will add earth and backbone to a citrusy garden-to-glass tequila cocktail that will kick off a feast celebrating the spring harvest at L.A.’s coolest urban farm.
Flamingo Estate is seven acres of botanical delights crowned by a 1940s hilltop Spanish house that’s been meticulously reimagined by French design firm Studio KO (they count Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech, Chiltern Firehouse in London, and the Chateau Marmont refresh among their high design projects). And so at Flamingo Estate there are handpainted ceilings, a monolith of a bathing pavilion with walls of blue stained glass, a dramatic office wrapped in green Moroccan tile, countless globally sourced one-of-a-kind objets d’art, a David Hockney screen, and stunning furnishings.
There has been well-deserved breathless coverage of the house in architecture magazines, but the gardens are the soul and the engine of the Flamingo Estate brand, which sells soaps, candles, jams, olive oil, chocolate, and other products inspired by the dozens of varieties of herbs, flowers, and fruit and nut trees growing on the property.
The magic of the place cannot be overstated. First it’s hard to get to, at the end of a steep and narrow road. There’s an imposing steel gate that creaks open with a groan to reveal a path curving up and around to the house and pool, and a set of some 110 stairs cascading down the hill, steep as a pyramid, to the gardens below. A swath of native plantings paint the side of the hill, chickens cluck by the herb garden, macadamia trees sway in the breeze, and up to the left stacks of pink-painted beehives house the insects that produce the estate’s bio-intensive honey, the sweet concentrate of all the pollen of the hillside.
Flamingo Estate owner Richard Christiansen was born in Australia to horticulturist parents, and his love for the land is palpable. While he also runs a thriving creative agency, he’s been known to till the earth himself and handwrite notes that he tucks into the farm boxes his estate started distributing during the pandemic.
The goatherd’s cabin is decidedly under-designed compared to the meticulous house up the hill. It’s a witchy space festooned with drying herbs hanging from the ceiling and vintage garden tools strewn about on rough tables. Jars of distillates and tinctures and hydrosols line rustic shelves. Here is where the estate’s head horticulturist Jeff Hutchison collaborates with herbalist Ash Cornejo to extract the flavors and fragrances that perfume the beauty and culinary offerings in the company’s product line.
Hutchison’s introduction to the estate was as organic as the garden itself. After working in New York as a private gardener and in the Ramble in Central Park, Hutchison moved to L.A., where he watched the slow build-out of the estate from a hill across the way. One day he wandered over out of curiosity and struck up a conversation with the crew installing the garden. They needed a hand, his résumé was perfect, and he was hired.
Cornejo is an herbalist and UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate studying, as she puts it, “plants and capitalism,” and she tends to the still as it works its magic. After an hour or so, the distillate has dripped its last drop into the jar and is ready to add the finishing grace note to the cocktail.
Back up at the house, chefs are preparing dishes that parallel the mashup of global influences that converge on the grounds. Food stylist and writer Saehee Cho is making a vivid beet hummus that will provide a saturated backdrop for a platter of just-picked seasonal crudités, salmon onigiri into which slim coins of pink and purple radishes have been pressed, and a pretty fruit meringue studded with the first strawberries of the season. Josh Buckwald, coowner of fresh pasta kit delivery company Orso, is cooking up handmade cavatelli sauced with mint pesto and enriched with a lobe of local burrata. He’s assembling a counterpoint crudités platter: baby radishes and an herby butter topped with flaky salt. Meanwhile Hutchison plays both horticulturist and mixologist with his take on a tequila sunrise: the Flamingo Sunset, an herbaceous and floral drink of Meyer lemon juice, estate-made rose syrup, and Champagne, finished with a spritz of black sage mist. The essential oils that were teased from the sage leaves earlier today are so powerful they need to be diluted with water. The piney fragrance commingles with the citrus and floral notes, and even before the first sip the aroma itself is intoxicating.
The cocktail is a poetic reward for a successful spring harvest. As any gardener knows, teasing deliciousness from the land is laborious, and the steep slopes add to the effort. At one party at the estate, Hutchison clocked ten miles. Now, for the first time this season, the horticulturist, the herbalist, and the chefs sit down, toast the harvest, and drink from the garden.
What’s Cooking at Flamingo Estate
From the 2021 Gardening Issue
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