Whimsical Garden Ideas from the Ultimate Palm Springs Backyard
Friends and family flock to an in-the-round Palm Springs garden that celebrates indoor-outdoor living.
A typical weekend evening for the endless supply of visitors at Casa de Ardillas (which translates to “House of Squirrels”) starts with a negroni and an “over-the-top” cheese plate. “After that, guests and I usually cook together—Mediterranean-style with grilled fish and vegetables, or Mexican food from the local farmer’s market with tamales, grilled vegetables, salsa, guacamole, and chiles,” says owner Charlie Kimble, the chief revenue officer at Ponto, a blockchain infrastructure company, who splits his time between New York and Palm Springs. Next comes dinner in the olive grove, and after that, expect a dance party by the infinity pool, where guests use the raised edge as a stage.
In other words, if you’re looking for a lovely end-of-summer party, Casa de Ardillas is the place to be.
The garden is the work of James Lord and Roderick Wyllie of Surfacedesign landscape architecture firm in San Francisco, who say they channeled multiple influences to create it, including Palm Springs modernism, old-school glamour, and the idea of an oasis in the desert. Meanwhile, Lord and Wyllie, who are partners in work and in life, first met Kimble back in 2012, when he rented the first floor of their house while living in San Francisco. “They invited me to dinner a lot,” says Kimble, “and we became friends.” So when it was time for him to install a new garden at his Palm Springs home, he knew whom he had to ask.
To design the garden, Wyllie says, they looked to what they knew of their friend for guidance. “We knew what kind of garden he’d want to hang out in, because we’d hung out with him,” he says.
“We were designing it a little bit for us, too, because we knew we’d go visit him and hang out with him,” he adds with a laugh.
One enters the garden through a steel tunnel that leads to a concrete zig-zag path. Because the entry is offset, there’s the feeling that you’re entering a space that’s deliberately sectioned off from the street. “The portal in front is like a speakeasy situation,” says Lord. “It feels like if you know the password, you’re let in.”
The garden itself is intentionally free-flowing, however, as opposed to sectioned off into outdoor “rooms.” Surrounding the glass-walled modernist home on all sides, there’s a fire pit and seating area in the front, and an olive grove with a dining table beckons in the back, just steps from the kitchen with a Caesarstone countertop that extends onto the patio for socializing.
Commanding the backyard is the infinity-edge pool. The home can be opened to the yards from so many access points that Kimble says he may have overdone it on the indoor/outdoor lifestyle.
“I once had a roadrunner coming into my kitchen,” he says, “and I had a friend literally come out of the guest bedroom with a sparrow on his finger.”
Throughout the garden is a sense of conviviality, along with personal touches that hold special meaning. From the neon squirrel sign above the pool to five cactuses planted just outside a window that represent Kimble’s immediate family, this is a garden that’s meant to have a sense of play. Even those spiky guests by the pool are invited. “The soldier cactuses that reflect in the pool are a playful thing where you always have your friends at poolside whether they’re present or not,” says Wyllie. “They’re like party goers—it makes the pool feel lively and full of people.”
The result is a garden that celebrates friendship, which is not a surprise since that’s how it began. “How often do you have to have a project with your close friends?” says Kimble. “I want to do it again.”
Designer Roderick Wyllie breaks down how the plants complement the colors of Palm Springs.
Santa Rita Prickly Pear
The designers “wanted to layer this light violet pink color,” Wyllie says, “which reflects the pink of the mountains in the morning at sunrise.”
Pink Muhly Grass
This grass has “great bright pink seed heads in late summer” and turns blonde when dormant. “A garden doesn’t have to be an eternal spring.”
Yellow flowers add to the composition. “It’s like a fresh announcement that it’s spring in Palm Springs, plus the bright green trunk is beautiful and unusual.”
“This cactus is a deep green all year round, and we love how wild and sculptural it is. It punctuates the site with an animated form.”