Our “endowment” here at the Rancho is probably equivalent to what the fabled Getty Museum spends on toilet paper…for a week. But our two gardens have more in common than you think. It all starts with a great gardener — preferably one who loves California native plants. I told you earlier how Ranch Manager Louis got the head gardener of the Getty involved in our landscaping design. (If not read about it here.) I came back from a trip to LA raving about the succulent gardens at the Getty and armed with dozens of pictures of layouts I wanted Louis to incorporate in our landscaping. Well, Ranch Manager is not one to take that sort of sketchy direction. Instead, he called up the Getty and demanded to speak to the head gardener, the person who is responsible for planting and maintaining the gardens. Surprisingly…or perhaps not, Louis is very persuasive…he was actually put through to the man who has held that position for more than 20 years. As Louis explains it: “We quizzed each other a bit until we were each sure we knew our shit. Then we started talking.” The result were the succulent gardens Louis designed around our house. By the way, I was told by the fire marshal that those gardens — with lots of decorative gravel, hardscaping and widely spaced succulents — were largely what saved our house in the recent wildfires. They effectively created a defensible space that protected the house as the fire came up from almost every angle of our hill. The Getty gardens are similarly fire-safe. Louis reports his best friend at the Getty told him they plant the more arid desert plants on the outer perimeter and keep the plants that need irrigation closer to the buildings for a two stage fire break.

Well, here we are finally having done all the hard work of preventing erosion and replacing all our burned infrastructure and we are on the cusp of the fun part of recovery: replanting. Cue Louis making some long phone calls to his buddy at the Getty. During those phone calls, Louis talked through some of his plans, texted his buddy his designs, and had the Getty’s head gardener weigh in on the design. The specific project at hand is replacing our lavender fields which were completely burned to the ground. It’s a blank canvas now, but Louis and the Getty have a plan.

Here is our blank canvas: a hillside that used to be filled with lavender.

The first thing Ranch Manager Louis wanted to address was creating a more interesting transition between the formally planted lavender and the existing oak and Manzanita scrubland that borders the fields. Louis is big on transitions. He didn’t put in the original lavender fields and it always bothered him that it was formally planted in straight rows, then butted right up to the wonderful randomness of a California chaparral.

Here was Louis’s inspired solution: a long series of steps that curve around the dripline of the oaks and make for easy access to walking through and enjoying the lavender fields.

For the stairs, Louis used railroad ties — including some that were burned in our fires to add that touch of heritage.

The stairs are dug down in the earth so it’s gentle climb and he’s planning to plant some natives along the path, plants that will drape elegantly and soften the line of the stairs.

Oh, and he’s built a small pad where we can place a bench so we can wander down from the house with a cocktail and watch the sunset from above the lavender fields. (Ignore that terrier butt.)

And there is so much more. Louis and I researched a bit and read that lemons trees have a symbiotic relationship with lavender. The lemons are better at attracting the pollinators that the lavender needs and the lavender oils repel some of the pests that bedevil lemon trees. So we’ll break up the straight lines of the lavender with a few lemon trees. Overall, the effect will be less formal and more integrated to the surrounding wild native landscape. And at the very front of the fields, along the wall, Louis is going to plant a small area with his beloved succulents. Just because SUCCULENTS!

Needless to say, the head gardener at the Getty was impressed and gave Louis’s design a big thumbs up.

Another set of critics has also weighed in. The steps have been in for less than a few days and the deer are already using them to wander up and down the hill!

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