A lush Hollywood garden gets a transformation worthy of a standing ovation.
August 2, 2018
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James Roncal (right) and Stuart Marks, pictured here with their rescue terriers Beethoven and Ricky, had a lot to be happy about in 2018: After five years together, they decided to get married in front of 30 of their closest friends and family. They’d also just completed an 18-month remodel of their Spanish revival home and garden in Hollywood’s Whitley Heights neighborhood. So they decided to simultaneously debut both—their nuptials and their refreshed space—by holding the ceremony outside in their junglelike backyard. “The fact that we were able to share the moment of committing to each other, but also our home and garden, was just an unbelievable feeling,” says Marks, a building developer by trade.
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A New Direction
It’s likely not the first celebration seen on these grounds, given that the 1923 home is ensconced in Hollywood’s first enclave for movie stars. (Rumor has it that their home was originally built for Rudolph Valentino’s paramour.) Although the garden is more than 4,000 square feet—including brick paths and stairways up to the house—senior designer Jenny Jones of Terremoto Landscape (terremoto.la), a firm based in Los Angeles and San Francisco, primarily focused on a back garden that’s half that size and was, at the time, filled with old flagstone, brick edging, and an unruly bamboo hedge. “I think our only direction was to make things green and lush,” says Roncal, a U.S. Army veteran. “We trusted Jenny and her team to do their thing.” Here, basalt pavers connect the master bath to a side yard.
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To get started, Jones incorporated classics that dot the area’s grand estates—Agave attenuata, Australian tree ferns, Italian cypress, and tree philodendron. When possible, she used what she had on hand, including some impressive tree aloes that had been hidden by other plants. “There were double-trunked specimens that were very tall and Dr. Seuss–like,” she says. “It was all about the drama.” Jones added region-appropriate natives to create a beautifully hung composition of Heuchera, Woodwardia, and yarrow, plus near-natives like Brahea armata and Furcraea macdougalii. “We relied heavily on shades of green,” she says, “and kept color to a minimum.”
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The Pergola’s the Thing
The most striking detail is a new pergola, which came about after an existing enclosed patio situated right next to the house had to be destroyed due to termite damage. Instead of rebuilding, Jones placed a covered seating-and-dining area in the center of the back garden, accessible by a series of boardwalks made of mangaris wood and by 18-inch-thick basalt steppingstones.
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Love Takes Center Stage
Once the pergola was complete, the couple decided to exchange vows beneath it and follow the ceremony with a meal for their guests on the top deck of the house. Since then, the shaded tile floor has become a part of Roncal and Marks’s routine of relaxing in silent contemplation outside. Marks, in particular, enjoys being among the tangle of contrasting plants, while Roncal, an active pruner, is apt to also get his hands in the dirt. “No matter how much time we spend in the garden,” Roncal says, “it doesn’t get old.” This centerpiece includes a landing of handcrafted Moroccan tile in cooling blue, reminiscent of a water feature but with much lower maintenance. (Medina Deco Versus, from $26/sq. ft.; xsurfaces.com). This touch was chosen by interior designer Leslie Shapiro Joyal, owner of Shapiro Joyal Studio (shapirojoyalstudio.com), who led the remodel indoors.
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Where once was a cluttered collection of plants gone wild outside the kitchen door, today features a composed river of evergreens—including Agave attenuata, century plant, Leymus condensatus, pride of Madeira, and Schefflera elegantissima.
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Thunder from Down Under
Australian tree ferns have adjusted well and grow alongside the master bedroom window.
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An Understated Performance
The tone is set with potted Furcraea macdougalii and trailing Senecio radicans at the main entrance.
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Hitting All the Marks
The brick path and stairs wind elegantly through one of the side yards lined with citrus.
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An All-Star Cast
Tree aloes, and tree ferns mixed with rhododendron, Leymus condensatus, and palms thrive outside the house. “We drew inspiration from the city’s collective consciousness about Old Hollywood—notions of grandeur achieved through planted form,” says Jenny Jones, of Terremoto Landscape.
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Clearing the Way
To show off an existing tree aloe at the home’s entrance, Jones removed overgrown shrubs. To round out the cast, she added Achillea millefolium, Eastern redbud, Euphorbia rigida, Jupiter’s beard, tree ferns, and a weeping spruce.
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Monotone is anything but monotonous when a garden is awash with shapes and textures. Pictured here are coniferous deodar cedar in the background with Euphorbia ingens, pride of Madeira, honey bush, and century plant in the foreground.
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Termites rendered the original enclosed patio unusable. “It was a blessing in disguise,” says Roncal. Jones and the crew at Terremoto Landscape switched it up, pulling the living space into the center of the garden and creating boardwalks to reach it—all while preserving the existing deodar cedars.
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Exit Stage Right
Leaving the house, tree aloes break through the canopy bordering stairs down to the street. “It’s a definite escape from the city—an oasis of green and serenity amid all the asphalt, buildings, power lines, and cars,” says Roncal.
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