Viva Mexico

South-of-the-border style inspires a California garden

Lauren Bonar Swezey,

For Karen Rudolph and Jimi Simmons, a garden is a place to celebrate one’s heritage. So the couple ― whose family is a blend of native Californian and Native American ― filled the landscape around their house in Los Altos, California, with objects that remind them of their ties to Mexico and the Southwest. Flowers, furnishings, and cushions in vibrant colors mingle with playful art objects to complement the family’s casual, sun-country lifestyle.

Rudolph describes her garden’s style as rascuache, Chicano slang meaning a haphazard collection of things that express pride in your culture. It’s the Mexican American version of shabby chic ― a mix of Mexican pottery, Native American art, souvenirs from travels, and Rudolph’s own fanciful creations, including a chandelier made from an old wagon wheel and a painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe on a screen door.

In the front yard, an extended porch serves as a gallery for Rudolph’s many collectibles, such as wood carvings, tinwork, and clay masks. The east-facing front porch provides plenty of comfortable seating for basking in early-morning sunlight. Here, a joyful blend of flower-filled pots lines terra-cotta walls and turquoise posts adorned with Native American plaques, woven baskets, and more.

The backyard pool area, designed by Cynthia Hayes, is the hub for family activities and entertaining. Its look is a bit calmer, in honor of Simmons’s Northwest Native American heritage, but Rudolph is slowly making her mark here as well. A chunky ramada decorated with colorful flags and glowing lights serves as an outdoor dining room. Not far away, an outdoor kitchen with a kiva (Southwest-style fireplace) wraps around a flagstone patio.

The garden is not only the family’s personal space but also a reflection of the Mexican and Native American roots of the surrounding Santa Clara Valley. “It’s important to respect the spirit of the cultures that were here before us,” Rudolph says.

Next: See how to put it together

Get the look

Karen Rudolph and Jimi Simmons find many special pieces while on vacation, in places such as Milagros in Seattle’s Pike Place Market (www.milagrosseattle.com or 206/464-0490) and the biannual Spanish Market in Santa Fe (next market Dec 3-4; 505/982-2226).

Design: Cynthia Hayes, Mozaic Landscape Design Group, Sunol, CA (510/494-8500)